(Updated 4:18 p.m. ET, Monday, Sept. 19)
The Packers are going to have to deal with a pain in the neck of major proportions two games into the season after it was announced Monday afternoon that Bowl FS Nick Collins would be out the rest of the season with a neck injury suffered in the Week Two victory in Carolina.
Early indications were that the injury might not have been as severe as initially feared, and that Collins actually could be well enough to possibly play in the Packers' battle with the archrival Bears this Sunday in Chicago. But seeing him lying face-down motionless on the field after Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart rammed into his helmet while attempting to hurdle over him, it was hard to imagine he would be back in action anytime soon. The worst fears were realized when Packers head coach Mike McCarthy began his press conference on Monday afternoon by delvering the bad news that Collins would be done for the year.
Some better news for a Packers secondary that has been treated rather rudely the first two games by QBs Drew Brees and Cam Newton came courtesy of CB Tramon Williams, who has vowed to be back in the starting lineup in Week Three after missing his first game ever at the pro level with a shoulder injury against the Panthers.
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The Packers' ability to overcome major injuries on the road to the Super Bowl last season was a major story line. It appears the team's resolve will be tested again after losing Collins, who said this offseason that he was in the best shape of his life. Easily one of the league's fastest safeties, Collins was named to his third Pro Bowl in a row in 2010 after making four interceptions in the regular season and a huge 37-yard interception for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV. Collins easily could have led the team in interceptions had he not dropped five more potential picks.
The onus is now on reliable veteran Charlie Peprah to pick up the slack. Peprah did just that very effectively last season replacing SS Morgan Burnett, who was lost for the season in Week Four with a torn ACL.
The Packers' pass defense clearly was hurt in Carolina by the absence of Williams, who said he came very close to playing at the risk of further injury. With Williams out of the mix, veteran CB Charles Woodson was forced to play almost entirely outside — a responsibility that has become more difficult to fulfill in the twilight of his stellar career. Woodson, who was beaten more than a few times on Sunday by ace Panthers WR Steve Smith (six catches for 156 yards), Sam Shields and Jarrett Bush all had a hard time handling Carolina's Newton-led passing game.
As has been its tendency under coordinator Dom Capers, however, Green Bay's defense bent but didn't completely break, hanging tough when it counted most in enemy territory and coming up with key turnovers to help the team remain undefeated heading into Chicago. Ultimately overcoming constant harassment from Smith, Woodson had two interceptions (matching his entire total in 2010) and a fumble recovery. Also coming up huge was Burnett (sack, interception and forced fumble), who has performed admirably the first two games of the season and probably has been the Packers' best overall defender.
But it's hard not to be concerned about the 800 yards surrendered in the first two games from a defense that ranked fifth in passing yards allowed last season, especially with Coillins now out of the mix. It's worth noting that Williams did play in Week One vs. Brees and the Saints — but not close to the standard he established down the stretch last season. Ideally, he and Shields enable Woodson to be a more versatile force in the slot and up on the line in certain situations. If Williams performs as erratically as he did in the season opener this Sunday at Chicago, it could be time to start worrying, considering Chicago's offense, up to now, appears to have really only one big-play weapon worth stressing over — dual-threat RB Matt Forté.