With injured rookie defensive end Mike Neal and then-newly signed end Michael Montgomery inactive against Minnesota in Week 7, the Packers lost veteran end Cullen Jenkins before kickoff after he sustained a calf injury in pre-game warm-ups. Then, another veteran end, Ryan Pickett, left the game after re-injuring his ankle on just his seventh snap.
All of a sudden the defensive line was comprised of second-year nose tackle B.J. Raji, second-year end Jarius Wynn, and rookie end C.J. Wilson. Raji ended up playing every snap but three, while Wilson and Wynn saw the most significant action of their careers in the 28-24 win.
Even though the Packers came away with the victory, the Vikings were able to post 196 yards on the ground, the most by an opponent since Dom Capers took over as defensive coordinator in 2009. Of those yards, 131 came from Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson, who became the first back since the Rams’ Steven Jackson (Week 3 of ’09) to register 100 yards against the Green Bay defense. That snapped the Packers’ streak of 19 games without a 100-yard running back, the longest streak in the league at the time, and the longest one in team history since the merger behind only a 24-game span in 1970-71.
The defense should have more linemen at its disposal this Sunday, with Jenkins back in action along with veteran end Howard Green, claimed off waivers heading into Week 8, now on the roster. The status of one of the Packers’ best run-stoppers in Pickett is in question after he re-aggravated his ankle injury against Dallas in Week 9.
One thing working in Pickett’s favor was that the Packers did have their bye last week, so he has had an extended period of time to rest and treat the injury. The plan is for the veteran to practice on Thursday for the first time to see how the ankle responds.
Pickett admitted that while he obviously never wants to miss a game, a matchup against a division rival and one of the top backs in the NFL adds to his desire to get back on the field.
“The hard thing is picking a game not to play,” Pickett said. “It was like, ‘Oh, you should sit out before the bye week.’ The Cowboys, that was a big game. Every game coming up for us is a huge game, so it’s hard to step back and say just let it heal 100 percent.
“Every game is so important, and I don’t want to miss a snap.”
Peterson enters Sunday’s contest ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 908 yards on 197 carries (4.6 avg.), along with seven touchdowns. After struggling with fumbles earlier in his career, losing 13 in his first three seasons, Peterson has yet to fumble this season.
“He’s such a powerful runner,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “He can turn a 2- and 3-yard run into the 8- and 9-yard run consistently. So you have to do an excellent job of low-tackling him and make sure you wrap him up and rally to the football.
“And then on top of that, he has the breakaway speed and the tenacity in his running style to finish runs. Anytime you play against Adrian, your run defense has to bring its A game.”
In seven games against Peterson since he entered the league in 2007, the Packers have enjoyed some success, with their top performance coming last season at Minnesota. After allowing two backs to post 100 yards in the first three games as they made the adjustment to Capers’ 3-4 scheme (Jackson and Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson), Green Bay limited Peterson to just 55 yards on 25 attempts in the Week 4 contest. That 2.2 average was the second-lowest mark of his career in games where he carried the ball 20 or more times.
In the Week 7 matchup at Lambeau Field this year, Peterson registered 131 yards, but the defense was able to limit his explosive gains. Of his 28 attempts, 21 (75 percent) went for 5 yards or fewer, and only three (14, 17, 11) went for 10-plus yards.
“He is one of the backs that when you game plan him, you want to get him stopped on the first level,” Jenkins said. “You don’t want to let him break through and get to the second and third levels of your defense because he really creates matchup problems once he starts getting back to the linebackers and the safeties.
“We have had some success against him in the past years, but this past game he ran for quite a bit on us. They ran for a lot of yards on us, so that’s our main focus going into this game.”
Looking to get back
Donald Driver returned to practice on a limited basis for the first time since re-injuring his quadriceps at the N.Y. Jets in Week 8, and the veteran wideout is hopeful that he will be back on the field Sunday.
Driver participated in the jog-through portion of Wednesday’s practice before heading into the Don Hutson Center with the rest of the players that are rehabbing from injuries. McCarthy said he was encouraged by the fact that Driver is feeling better than he was the week leading into the game at New York, but how he responds Thursday from the work he did on Wednesday will be a better indicator of his status for Sunday.
Driver was inactive against Dallas in Week 9, the first time he had missed a game because of injury since he was sidelined in Week 2 of the 2003 season after injuring his neck in the season opener the previous week vs. Minnesota.
“To me it was bad, enough that I couldn’t play,” Driver said. “Knowing me, I’m one of those guys that can fight through anything. I just felt like I couldn’t fight through it anymore. It was one of those things where I had to let it heal on its own and it feels good now. I am hoping everything works out and I’ll be going on Sunday.”
Driver’s quad injury originally popped up in practice leading into the Week 6 contest against Miami, but he was on the field for the next three games, saying he thought it was a thigh bruise that he could play through. But he aggravated it against the Jets as it became more of a muscle strain, and he felt sitting out the Dallas game with the bye coming the next Sunday was the best long-term decision as he looked ahead.
“Once I feel like my body can’t do certain things then I am not going to risk tearing it up worse than it was,” Driver said. “It was enough of a tear to where maybe if I kept playing on it I would have made it worse and worse.
“We are playing well right now, and I didn’t want to miss the rest of the season by trying to fight through an injury. We had a bye week coming up. I felt like if I missed one game, it’s not going to hurt me and not going to hurt this team. I am hoping I can come back and finish the next seven games out.”
Driver not only recently saw a long games-played streak come to an end, but also his franchise-record streak of 133 consecutive regular-season games with a reception. He didn’t have a catch in the Packers’ 28-24 win over Minnesota in Week 8 as his snap count was down because of the injury, the first time he was shut out since Week 16 of 2001, also against the Vikings.
“I’m OK with it,” Driver said. “I think you get to a point where you would rather win the game than catch a ball. Against Minnesota, I was fine that I didn’t catch one. The streak, everything must come to an end. My streak came to an end.
“It was a great run at it. I think it will probably last forever now. I think Sterling (Sharpe, the previous record holder at 103 games) hoped that his would never get broken, but I am OK with someone breaking mine.”
Linebacker Brandon Chillar (shoulder) and cornerback Pat Lee (ankle) were full participants in practice on Wednesday.
Driver, Pickett, tackle Chad Clifton (knee), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin), tight end Andrew Quarless (shoulder) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) were limited participants.
For Minnesota, wide receiver Bernard Berrian (groin) and safety Eric Frampton (hamstring) did not participate in practice.
Quarterback Brett Favre (ankle/foot), wide receiver Percy Harvin (ankle), guard Anthony Herrera (elbow) and center John Sullivan (calf) were limited.
Cornerback Asher Allen (concussion), cornerback Chris Cook (knee) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) were full participants.
Additional coverage – Nov. 17