Compare the injury lists, and it’s apparent that the Green Bay Packers face a bigger challenge than simply battling the red-hot Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas will be without only Allen Rossum, who long ago was supplanted in his role as the Cowboys’ kick returner. Five other players — all starters — are on the injury report but all are listed as probable, meaning it’s a near certainty that they’ll be ready for normal duty on Sunday.
Green Bay, on the other hand, will be without one of its biggest weapons on defense (linebacker Aaron Kampman) and one of its biggest weapons on offense (tight end Jermichael Finley). Plus, they’ll be starting a rookie at right tackle, T.J. Lang, rather than veteran Mark Tauscher. And they’re down to their third option at left outside linebacker, rookie Brad Jones, without Kampman and veteran Brady Poppinga.
The Packers are going with Lang over Allen Barbre at right tackle for reasons that have nothing to do with the concussion Barbre suffered last week at Dallas. Barbre has been the face of the Packers’ offensive line woes. According to STATS, Barbre is responsible for seven of the Packers’ 37 sacks allowed.
“I think Allen needs to reset himself,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Friday’s practice. “We’ve taken a step back with him, and we’re giving T.J. a chance based on production. It’s a little bit of a challenge, a little bit of a forecast, I understand that. But that’s kind of the realm that we’re in with this offensive line right now. It started obviously because of the injuries, but we’re trying to build some continuity and consistency.”
Lang spent the offseason practices at right tackle before moving inside to guard and then to left tackle when starter Chad Clifton went down early in the season. Now, Lang’s back on the right side, and with one week of practice, he’s getting the start in what amounts to a must-win game.
“I thought he had a good, solid week of practice,” McCarthy said. “There’s some things going from the left side to the right side that’s an adjustment for him. We had a pass under pressure period yesterday that I think there was a look that our defense gave him that I’m glad he saw during the practice structure. I think he’ll get in there and compete and do a good job.”
Meanwhile, McCarthy is taking no chances with Kampman, who suffered a concussion against Tampa Bay.
“I don’t think so,” McCarthy said when asked if Kampman might have improved over the weekend. “Dr. John Gray is not very comfortable with the progress that he’s made. Like we’ve always stated, we’re going to play the high side with our players.”
Without Kampman and Poppinga, seventh-round pick Jones will be thrown into the fire. Jones is a special teams stalwart but hasn’t played a snap in the base defense.
Asked about Poppinga, McCarthy said: “He was either stepped on or landed on a cleat in the game. The swelling didn’t really start until Tuesday. It’s a little unusual, there’s no doubt about it. I’m not a medical staff member, but there’s just an unusual amount of swelling in there.”
Packers injury report
Out — TE Jermichael Finley (knee); LB Aaron Kampman (concussion); LB Brady Poppinga (quad); T Mark Tauscher (knee). Doubtful — None. Questionable — LB Brandon Chillar (hand). Probable — WR Jake Allen (quad); T Allen Barbre (concussion); FB Korey Hall (calf); DE Cullen Jenkins (ankle); S Derrick Martin (concussion); WR Jordy Nelson (knee); QB Aaron Rodgers (feet); CB Charles Woodson (hip).
Chillar, who had surgery last week for a broken hand, practiced for the first time this week.
“He had an opportunity to put the hand in a cast,” McCarthy said. “We’ll go watch the practice. I spoke to Brandon on the field about what he felt comfortable (with), both special teams and defense. We’ll talk to the medical staff. So, he definitely has a chance to play. Now, I’m not certain what his role will be. We’ll probably take these next 48 hours and visit with him and I’ll probably talk to him tonight based on once I get all the information. But he felt good today in practice with the club.”
Cowboys injury report
Out — CB Allen Rossum (hamstring). Probable — RB Marion Barber (thumb); C Andre Gurode (ankle); S Ken Hamlin (groin); S Gerald Sensabaugh (thumb); LB DeMarcus Ware (foot).
— In a story of he-said, he-said, McCarthy spent several minutes addressing his role (or non-role) in the firing of longtime groundscrew part-timer Mike Wood. McCarthy wouldn’t go into specifics but maintains he had nothing to do with the firing. “I’m going to be honest with you. He is ... I don’t really know the man. He made a comment to me, I made a comment to him. It’s not the worst thing ever said. But I would not say that to a fellow employee. That’s as far as I’m going to go with it.”
— McCarthy said “you won’t be surprised” who returns kickoffs on Sunday. That means the gig probably belongs to Nelson, who was averaging 29.3 yards per return before suffering a knee sprain while trying to recover his muffed punt against Detroit on Oct. 18.
— Bruising Marion Barber and speedy Felix Jones get the bulk of the work out of the Cowboys’ backfield, but beware No. 3 back Tashard Choice. “I didn’t know too much about Choice,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “You watch Choice, he gets his hands on screens, those third downs where they’re dumping balls, he’s making yardage. So, they’ve got three different style running backs and they play all three of them. Barber’s a really physical running back.”
— Jason Spitz had back surgery this week to release an impinged nerve, and the hope is he’ll be ready for the offseason program.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.