To stay undefeated, the Green Bay Packers are going to need to D.J. Smith and Robert Francois to do some pretty good impersonations of Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk on Sunday at the New York Giants.
The Packers ruled out their starting inside linebackers and leading tacklers on Friday. Both sustained calf injuries during last Thursday’s win at Detroit. Smith entered the game on the final snap of the first quarter and finished with five tackles. Francois played the second half and contributed three tackles and a key interception.
“Those guys are pros,” inside linebackers coach Winston Moss said on Friday. “They’re real mature. They go about their business. They’re very diligent, they’re prideful, they want to do well. From that standpoint, it’s not a surprise that they’re going to be able to step in and be very effective, very impactful.”
They’ll need to be against the Giants. While New York has the league’s worst running game at just 83.2 yards per game, they’ll potentially have the one-two backfield punch of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs back in the lineup. Bradshaw, who has missed the last three games with a stress fracture in his right foot, returned to practice on Friday. In his absence, the Giants managed just 195 rushing yards. Moreover, underrated tight end Jake Ballard has caught 30 passes for 490 yards and three touchdowns, and his per-catch average of 16.3 yards ranks third at the position.
Even while missing most of last week’s game, Bishop is averaging 10.8 tackles per game, by the coaches’ count. That puts him on pace for 173 tackles, which would trail only Nick Barnett (194 tackles in 2005) and Mike Douglass (180 in 1981) since the team began keeping track of tackles in 1975.
Hawk, meanwhile, wears the defensive headset in games and has been praised by players and coaches alike for his ability to calmly get everyone lined up and adjusted during the heat of the moment.
In their place will be Smith, a sixth-round pick out of Appalachian State, and Francois, who last season was released three times and had three stints on the practice squad. He did start one game last year – against the Giants – finishing with two assisted tackles while starting at outside linebacker in place of Erik Walden and Frank Zombo. He also played 28 snaps at outside linebacker in place of Walden and Zombo in the NFC Championship Game.
As for the headset, Smith will wear it, according to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, with safety Morgan Burnett being the likely second option. Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson also is in the mix and would seem to be the logical candidate, but being lined up on the outside at cornerback might make pre-snap adjustments impossible.
While headsets aren’t allowed in college, Smith said he did all the pre-snap alignments in college.
“It’s really different if you’ve never done it – to have, A, a voice in your helmet and, B, the volume of it,” McCarthy said. “It’s a lot louder I think than people realize, especially if you’re going on the road. It’s definitely different if you’ve never done it.”
Suh's appeal rejected
Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's appeal of a suspension for stomping on an opponent was denied, and he'll sit out the Lions' next two games.
Suh appealed the suspension earlier this week, and it was denied Friday by Art Shell, who was appointed by the NFL and the players association to hear these types of cases. A Hall of Fame offensive lineman, Shell wasn't expected to be sympathetic to the argument by Suh, who stomped on Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith during a loss on Thanksgiving Day.
Suh will miss Sunday night's game at New Orleans and a Dec. 11 home game against Minnesota. He can return to practice Dec. 12.
"We respect the disciplinary process," Lions president Tom Lewand said in a statement. "Obviously, today's ruling does not impact our preparations for this week's game. We remain exclusively focused on the New Orleans Saints.
Packers injury report
Out: LB Desmond Bishop (calf); LT Chad Clifton (hamstring/back); LB A.J. Hawk (calf); RG Josh Sitton (knee). Probable: TE Andrew Quarless (groin; did not participate); RB James Starks (knee/ankle; full participation).
Giants injury report
Out: LB Mark Herzlich (ankle); DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee). Doubtful: WR Mario Manningham (knee; did not participate). Questionable: LB Michael Boley (hamstring; limited); RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot; limited). Probable: WR Victor Cruz (hip; full); DB Derrick Martin (hamstring; limited); WR Hakeem Nicks (ribs/concussion; full); S Antrel Rolle (back; full); DE Justin Tuck (ankle; full).
-- On Thursday, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell had this to say about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ ability to scramble and keep plays alive: “We have to be very disciplined in our rush lanes. But more so than disciplined, we got to get after his [expletive]. If we do that and he scrambles, then that is the price he is going to have to pay because we are going to hit him. We are going to hit him.”
McCarthy’s reply on Thursday: “He’s obviously trying to get something done with his football team. We’re focused on our team. We’ll see what happens Sunday.”
-- Getting back to headsets, teams are allowed to designate two defensive players, one who will use it in the game and a backup should the primary guy get injured. For the Packers, that was Hawk and Bishop. So, the Packers resorted to yelling, screaming and hand signals. “Like everything in this business, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is you can put in hours and hours of preparation but there’s always going to be certain things that come up during the course of the game that you just have to react on your instincts,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “Our guys did a nice job. I think it’s a sign of a mature team to where they don’t panic. They keep their poise and just go about business.”
-- If something were to happen to one of the starting interior offensive linemen, first-round pick Derek Sherrod is the next man up ahead of undrafted rookie Ray Dominguez, McCarthy said.
-- In case you missed it, the NFL has moved the Dec. 11 home game against the Raiders to a 3:15 p.m. kickoff. The game between the two division front-runners was scheduled for noon.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.