Green Bay Packers

Losing Whitney Mercilus Is Bad, But Not That Bad

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA TODAY Sports)

Waking up to see snow on the ground in Green Bay on Sunday morning, I knew something special was on the docket. The flurries ebbed in lieu of the afternoon sunshine and then came back as the sun set on what was the first shutout of Russell Wilson’s career. I knew the Packers would have been better off with Russ at QB — his track record at Lambeau is not good — and my pride was rewarded with perfect weather and an even more perfect game result.

However, it was not all good news out of Green Bay on Sunday. Aaron Jones sprained his MCL, which has been a nagging injury for him throughout his career. Thankfully there is enough depth at running back with AJ Dillon to soften the blow of Jones’ absence.

But depth is rapidly thinning at linebacker. Just like the hair on my head, linebackers have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Hailed as a position of strength in the offseason, injuries and poor play has hampered the LB corps. Za’Darius Smith’s early-season injury set the tone for a position group that has struggled to stay healthy all season.

During the Seattle Seahawks game, Rashan Gary hyperextended his elbow. He is currently awaiting MRI results to determine the severity of the injury. Shortly after registering his first sack in green and gold, new addition Whitney Mercilus also tore his bicep during the game. Mercilus will miss the remainder of the season after playing only four games in Green Bay.

Losing Mercilus isn’t a logistical nightmare. He played in an average of 46% of the defensive snaps heading into the game against Seattle. He was operating as a depth piece on the edge behind the likes of Gary and Preston Smith and in a similar role to Dean Lowry. The Mercilus’ veteran pedigree was a valuable addition to a locker room continually losing experienced players.

Even in more of a reserve role during the latter stage of his career, Mercilus was still a valuable player poised to be a quality contributor to Joe Barry’s defense. Although he’s never made a Pro Bowl, Mercilus came into Green Bay with the second-most sacks in Houston Texans franchise history. He was eager to prove that he still had some gas left in the tank, and his redemption arc was unfortunately cut short.

We’ll see how Gary’s injury news will shake out, but the loss of Mercilus is yet another injury that the Packers can ill-afford. Signing Jaylon Smith was a low-risk, high-reward move that never came close to approaching viability, so the Packers cut him. While the team waits for Za’Darius Smith to return from his back injury, they will rely on the current crop of talent and practice-squad addition Tipa Galeai.

As the direct replacement for Mercilus, Galeai will have large shoes to fill until some of the depth ahead of him can return consistently. A practice squad player who has yet to play a single snap this season, Galeai steps into a defense in good form, but that cannot afford any slip-ups. Green Bay’s margins of victory this year have been more narrow than is ideal, and any lapse in defensive intensity would make things harder for an aging-yet-immunized Aaron Rodgers and the offense.

The Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams are next on the docket for the Packers. Green Bay should focus on getting to its Week 13 bye without any further casualties. It will be a major boon for the squad if Galeai can tread water until the imminent return of ZD and the rest of the defensive personnel. Brian Gutekunst is likely done taking fliers on free agents like Jaylon Smith at this juncture, so it will be up to the scouting team and the depth they provide to get Green Bay through the next few weeks.

Losing Mercilus hurts. However, it isn’t the end of the world. The Packers still have Super Bowl aspirations that are riding on the coattails of Barry’s vaunted defense. When all of the pieces return, the league will be on notice. It will be a shame that Mercilus won’t be there for the end product, but his brief stint as part of the process was valuable as well.

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