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Packers fill-ins continue filling bill big-time

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted Oct. 10, 2011 @ 6:05 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

As brilliant as Aaron Rodgers has been through the first five games, looking like a lock for league MVP honors according to most leaguewide observers, it's still the sum of the Packers' parts, which have been perfectly proportioned up to now, that are primarily responsible for the team's first-place standing in PFW's power rankings.

As was consistently the case last season, when injuries have made their presence felt this season — like starting OLT Chad Clifton's hamstring injury on the fifth play of Green Bay's second possession against the Falcons in Atlanta Sunday that resulted in him being carted off the field — the Packers' replacement parts have come through with flying colors.

With normal starting ORT Bryan Bulaga already sidelined because of a knee injury, the Packers switched gears after Clifton was carted off, moving second-year pro Marshall Newhouse, who was starting at right tackle in place of Bulaga, to Clifton's OLT spot and inserting first-round draft pick Derek Sherrod, who had played only one snap in the first four games, to right tackle. After a shaky start, the youngsters settled down nicely in the second half, with the Packers' offense steadily picking up steam while cranking out 25 unanswered points to move their record to 5-0. Further evidence of the "team" effort currently spearheading the Packers' success was Rodgers' connection with a league-record-tying 12 different receivers on Sunday night.

The PFW Spin

Head coach Mike McCarthy said in his Monday afternoon press conference that Clifton appeared to have suffered a "significant" hamstring injury that probably would sideline him for a "number of weeks." But for however long the veteran Pro Bowl tackle might be sidelined, it looks like the combination of Newhouse and Sherrod should be able to pick up the slack. Helping matters considerably is the likely return of Bulaga to the starting lineup this Sunday against the Rams. Bulaga has justified his first-round status when healthy with his solid, steady play.

"How we play Marshall, Derek and Bryan will be determined in the next couple of days," McCarthy said.

Newhouse, who played left tackle at TCU, looked increasingly comfortable in protecting Rodgers' blind side Sunday and has impressed daily team observers with his nifty footwork and, more importantly, his fearlessness and confidence. Sherrod, meanwhile, more than held his own at right tackle, where he could see more than a little action this Sunday spelling Bulaga.

As good as Newhouse and Sherrod looked Sunday, however, it's worth noting the Falcons still managed four sacks for 27 yards in losses without late scratch John Abraham, the team's premier pass rusher. As bad as the Rams have been so far this season, talented edge rushers Chris Long, James Hall and first-round rookie Robert Quinn could provide a real test for the Packers' tackles this Sunday.

Also on the injury front, some more positive developments are forthcoming on defense, where high-motor second-year OLB Frank Zombo figures to be back in the mix this Sunday opposite Clay Matthews after missing the first five games with a fractured shoulder blade. The Packers' lack of a consistent pass rush continues to be an issue, and Zombo, who consistently improved as a pass rusher as a rookie (five sacks, including playoffs), should help generate more badly needed pressure moving forward.

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