The Green Bay Packers will be without two of their defensive starters for at least this week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews reportedly had successful surgery on his broken thumb and will be out at least a month, probably longer. Inside linebacker Brad Jones suffered a hamstring injury and was ruled out of this week’s game on Wednesday.
Losing Matthews is a huge blow to the Packers and their pass rush. Replacing him is impossible and I need not break down the many reasons why. He is the team’s best defensive player and the heartbeat of that side of the ball.
In Jones, the Packers are losing yet another solid contributor to their defense. Jones stepped last season amidst a few injuries and has maintained his starting role along side of AJ Hawk. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones ended up with a +7.3 overall rating in 2012 and scored equally well in both pass and run defense with a +4.6. So far in 2013, Jones has a +3.9 rating. While not stellar, Jones has been OK in pass coverage, an area that Packers linebackers have lacked in. Now Green Bay is faced with trying to plug these two holes.
Mike Neal will assume one of the outside linebacker spots opposite Nick Perry. ESPN Milwaukee’s Jason Wilde ran an interesting piece on Neal’s transformation to OLB. Perry had success coming off of the right side and so Neal could line up left. Both had a decent showing against Detroit and any similar production would come in very handy at Baltimore.
At middle linebacker, the Packers went from thin to thinner on Sunday. After Jones was lost, Robert Francois filled in. Francois then suffered a torn Achilles and has already been placed on season-ending injured reserve. Francois was replaced by Jamari Lattimore. Lattimore will likely remain with the first unit in the team’s base 3-4 defense.
Behind these incumbents, the Packers will rely on their young and unproven depth to step in and contribute, where needed. Sixth round draft pick Nate Palmer, seventh rounder Sam Barrington and undrafted free agent Andy Mulumba will all be asked to support the current starting cast.