The Green Bay Packers’ offensive line went from possibly not having starting left tackle Chad Clifton to possibly not having Clifton and his backup, T.J. Lang.
Clifton is trying to come back from a hamstring injury sustained during the third quarter of the Thanksgiving game at Detroit. Lang sustained a concussion during Thursday’s practice. Clifton took part in the jog-through part of Friday’s practice before departing for a rehab workout, which coach Mike McCarthy said went well.
“Traditionally with players coming back on hamstrings, tomorrow will be the key, how he responds,” McCarthy said, looking ahead to Saturday’s practice. “He did the individual work and the work outside of his rehab, so tomorrow will be a big indicator.”
McCarthy didn’t think Lang would be able to practice on Saturday. With the distinct possibility that the Packers will be without both, they could be lining up against a talented Ravens defense with Daryn Colledge moving out to left tackle and undrafted rookie Evan Dietrich-Smith stepping in at left guard.
Asked if he was in the starting lineup after reporters were barred from practice, Dietrich-Smith said, “Nah.” Asked later if he was being purposely vague, he said, “Yeah.”
“I have no idea. I’m just going out there practicing, giving a look and getting ready,” he added “You prepare every week like you’re going to play.”
Offensive line coach James Campen wouldn’t say whether Colledge would be at left tackle, Dietrich-Smith at left guard or whether Allen Barbre would be in the mix.
“You know I’m not going to tell you that,” he said.
Moving guys around the line has been a staple this season. The Packers haven’t played three consecutive games with the same starting five all year. In the last two games, with Clifton at left tackle and Mark Tauscher at right tackle, the Packers had given up three sacks. But facing an aggressive Ravens defense — even though it’s tied for 24th in the league in sacks — isn’t an ideal time to have players in new roles because the defense is predicated on confusion.
“We talked last night, and as you guys know … we’ve been through it a lot,” offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “I don’t worry about that kind of stuff, I honest to God don’t. There’s enough things to worry about, about the team you’re playing and, geez, we’ve got to practice this against that and we’ve got to see this, this is different. So your mind’s really focused on that and, again, you’ve got to have confidence in the guys that are going to line up and play for you and that will, we’ll have that happen on Monday night.”
Strength vs. strength
One reason for the Packers’ offensive success is Aaron Rodgers’ ability to throw the ball to the guys in the green jerseys. He has thrown only five interceptions this season — three were at Tampa Bay — and five in 13 career home starts.
On the Ravens’ defense, safety Ed Reed has “only” three interceptions this season after picking off 21 over the previous three seasons. He has scored four touchdowns during that span, including one this year.
“Well, he’s got great ball skills,” Rodgers said. “You don’t want to throw him the ball, obviously. I don’t like throwing interceptions in the first place. But he covers a lot of ground. Very smart, very athletic, like I said great ball skills. He can make plays on the ball, and he’s not looking to knock it down. He’s looking to make a pick and then get some yards and lateral to a buddy if he can if he gets tackled. He’s a very talented guy in the back end for them.”
Part of keeping the ball out of Reed’s hands falls on the receivers, who must complete their routes and compete for any 50-50 balls.
“What Ed Reed does in that backfield, you’ve got to go get the ball. Period,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “You cannot let him go to the all because he’ll usually go get it. He has a mind-set of a receiver once that ball is in the air. He can catch just as good as any receiver in the game. He’s a highlight reel waiting to happen.”
Packers injury report
Did not participate — T T.J. Lang (concussion). Limited participation — T Chad Clifton (hamstring); RB Ryan Grant (shoulder); LB Jeremy Thompson (neck). Full participation — T Allen Barbre (ankle); LB Brandon Chillar (hand); RB Ahman Green (groin); FB John Kuhn (hand); QB Aaron Rodgers (ribs); CB Charles Woodson (shoulder).
Other than the additions of Thompson and Lang, the only change was with Woodson going from limited to full participation.
Ravens injury report
Did not participate — S K.J. Gerard (thigh); S Ed Reed (ankle and hip); TE L.J. Smith (ankle); LB Terrell Suggs (knee); WR Demetrius Williams (illness). Limited participation — LB Prescott Burgess (thigh); LB Ray Lewis (foot); FB Le’Ron McClain (chest); CB Cary Williams (thigh). Full participation — C Matt Birk (neck); QB Joe Flacco (ankle); T Jared Gaither (illness); LB Jarret Johnson (shoulder); DT Haloti Ngata (ankle); WR Kelley Washington (illness).
Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Reed will play but Suggs, who sat out the last two games, probably will be out again.
“Well, we’ve got to assume that for sure Ed will be 100 percent,” Mattison told Ravens beat reporters. “That’s the way we’re looking at that. And Suggs, we’ve gone two games now without Terrell. It’s been tough, but I said earlier, somebody has got to step up. And that’s what our whole deal has been, is the next guy goes in and he plays as hard as he can, and hopefully he’s got enough in the bank. We just need to do that again this week.”
— Baltimore has only 21 sacks, with 34-year-old defensive end Trevor Pryce with a team-high five. But, he has only one in the last five games.
— This is a must-win game for both teams. For the Packers (7-4), who are in front in the wild-card chase, this is one of two home games left on the schedule. For the Ravens (6-5), a loss sends them to .500 and would put them in a position where they’d have to win at Pittsburgh (6-5) in Week 16.
— Home-field advantage? Not so for Ray Rice, who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on the road and has rushed for four touchdowns in his last three away from Baltimore.
— Since 2008, Woodson and Nick Collins have combined for 25 interceptions, most among teammates.
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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.