Every team in the NFL goes through waves of injuries. However, the Green Bay Packers have gotten hit hard early this season, and it’s affecting some of their most crucial contributors. They are now 3-1 after Sunday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it came at a price.
All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander collided with bruising rookie running back Najee Harris on a critical fourth-down stop for the Packers in the third quarter. Alexander appeared to be favoring his arm as he lingered on the field before he was carted to the locker room. After the game, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network reported that he has an AC joint injury.
It could spell doom and gloom for the Packers’ defense if Alexander misses extended time. Teams can overcome injuries — it happens every year — but it’s a high hurdle when they keep happening to your best players. David Bakhtiari started the year on the physically unable to perform list. That’s a five-time All-Pro left tackle who protects Aaron Rodgers’ blindside. He was replaced by Elgton Jenkins, a Pro Bowler in 2020 who has now missed the last two games for Green Bay.
Za’Darius Smith, who recorded double-digit sacks in his first two years with the Packers, has been put on injured reserve after undergoing back surgery. Not having your best edge rusher and one of the most productive guys at the position for the long haul is a huge blow for Green Bay.
That’s the problem for the Packers right now, and it’s an intimidating one. They have weathered the storm to win three straight, but when it’s your top-tier players going down, things can get real bad fast.
This offensive line for Green Bay has been phenomenal without Bakhtiari and Jenkins. The unit is starting two rookies in Josh Myers and Royce Newman and a second-year player and first-year starter in Jon Runyan Jr. Still, they haven’t skipped a beat.
In the secondary, first-round pick Eric Stokes has balled out with Kevin King on the shelf. As Green Bay awaits the news on Alexander, it becomes increasingly more difficult to expect the best from a team that has so much All-Pro talent either sidelined indefinitely or banged up.
It’s not an excuse for Green Bay. It’s just the reality of the situation. Alexander is one of the essential pieces of the entire defense, perhaps the most crucial one.
While offensive linemen don’t get as much love, the same can be said for Bakhtiari on the offensive side of the ball. So far Green Bay has been able to do more than manage these absences. The lingering question is, would Alexander missing an extended time be the injury that causes everything to break down?
It’s a question Green Bay hopes they don’t have to answer.
Without Alexander, the cornerback room gets super thin. Stokes is a rookie and Isaac Yiadom replaced him. Yiadom was the cornerback acquired from the New York Giants in the offseason trade that sent Josh Jackson to the Big Apple.
Yiadom played well when filling in against the Steelers, but fans and coaches alike should have reservations about the idea that he could fill in as a regular starter if No. 23 misses any significant time.
The problem is not simply that Green Bay has experienced a wave of injuries. It’s both the quantity and quality of those injuries. A starting All-Pro cornerback in Alexander. A starting All-Pro left tackle who’s still out from last year’s ACL tear in Bakhtiari. His replacement, who plays at an All-Pro level, and their second-best lineman overall in Jenkins. A second-team All-Pro in 2020 and their best edge rusher in Za’Darius Smith. It’s a for Matt LaFleur to try and navigate through.
The glass-half-full take? Green Bay’s next three games are against the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, and the Washington Football Team.
The Bengals are 3-1, but those wins have come over the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4), the Minnesota Vikings (1-3), and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-3).
Chicago is 2-2, but Matt Nagy is creating fires instead of putting them out. In D.C., Washington is managing to eek by with Taylor Heinicke at quarterback, and they are also 2-2.
Those are three winnable games without Alexander, but the schedule gets brutal after that. It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but if Alexander’s injury turns out to be more serious than it was initially considered, the Packers may have to move around some pieces on the chessboard to tighten up the roster.