Packers Run Low at ILB, Running Back

The knee injury sustained by inside linebacker D.J. Smith could be extremely costly for a defense that already was without standout Desmond Bishop.

In 2010, the Green Bay Packers were 3-3 before embarking on their Super Bowl-winning season.

In 2012, the Green Bay Packers are 3-3 after throttling the Houston Texans 42-24 on Sunday.

Whether this season ends in a championship remains to be seen, but to do so, the Packers will have to overcome injuries, just like they did two years ago.

Already without star inside linebacker Desmond Bishop after a season-ending hamstring injury sustained in the preseason opener at San Diego, the Packers lost his replacement, D.J. Smith.

Coach Mike McCarthy didn't have any information on Smith's knee injury, other than calling it and the knee injury sustained by backup running back Brandon Saine "potentially serious."

It was a painful night for the Packers, who were without receiver Greg Jennings (groin), nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle) and tight end D.J. Williams (hamstring) for this game, and Cedric Benson (foot) for most or all of the season.

On Houston's third offensive possession, first-round pick Nick Perry sustained a knee injury and didn't return. Saine was injured covering a kickoff midway through the third quarter. Finally, starting cornerback Sam Shields was kicked in the shin in the fourth quarter, one series after recording his first interception of the season.

Smith was injured late in the second quarter on a blind-side hit by left tackle Duane Brown that was not penalized. Smith thought it was a "dirty" hit.

"I definitely think there's a double standard in this league when it comes to fineable offenses that comes for defensive players," teammate Clay Matthews said. "A great example is Nick Perry got fined $15,000 for a hit on Andrew Luck, which looked rather legal to me but I don't make the rules, and that hit on Cushing (by the Jets' Matt Slauson) was $10,000. Proof is in the pudding. Ultimately as a defender, you like to see the league take care of not only the offense but the defense when so much onus is put on certain individuals rather than the entire body of the game. I got a great response from defenders around the league. The NFL has to listen to us. Someone had to say something. That was just the straw that broke the camel's back and hopefully something does change. I'm not complaining or to look for sympathy, but we all like to be protected by the same rules."

The injury to Smith potentially is a big deal. The Packers felt good about their inside linebacker depth entering training camp, with Bishop and Hawk as the starters, the hungry Smith as the top backup and Robert Francois adding some proven depth. Now, the depth has been sorely tested. Without Smith, converted outside linebacker Brad Jones joined Hawk in the lineup. Given a week to prepare, it will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dom Capers and position coach Winston Moss give Francois a crash course at that spot; he has worked as the top backup to Hawk.

Either way, the Packers are in a bind in their pass-focused nickel and dime packages. Dime has become Capers' go-to package in passing situations, with Smith the lone inside linebacker in that 2-3-6 grouping. One reason why Capers turned to the dime is to get Hawk off the field in passing situations.

Without Saine and Benson, the Packers have precious little depth in the backfield. The two healthy halfbacks are Alex Green and James Starks, with John Kuhn at fullback.

The injuries to Perry and Shields don't appear to be major, at least judging by McCarthy's early comments. At outside linebacker, Perry had been splitting time with Erik Walden. At cornerback, Jarrett Bush replaced Shields. If Shields is out, the door would be open for Davon House's return — he hasn't played since sustaining a shoulder injury at San Diego — or a bigger role for Casey Hayward, who had two interceptions against the Texans.

"It hurts, but who's going to feel sorry for us?" cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We've still got games to play, and nobody's going to care who we've got in the lineup. They're going to be trying to beat the Green Bay Packers. So, there's going to be some guys again, like there was (in 2010), who have to come in and play a significant amount of snaps, and that's just the way it is. And we expect them to come in and play well."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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