When Head Coach Mike McCarthy told his players in their morning meeting that Monday’s post-bye practice would be in full pads, it got their attention.
Time to get back to work.
“No doubt he was trying to send a message,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “He didn’t want anybody coming in being lazy, flat-footed. He put those pads on us ASAP and woke us up at the beginning of the week.”
The Packers returned from their week off with a 90-minute workout that harkened back a bit to an August training-camp practice. Offensive linemen and tight ends were banging head-on against pass-rushers. Receivers were getting jammed one-on-one by defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Running backs were trying to run interference against blitzing linebackers.
The midseason return to fundamental drills was by design, with McCarthy selecting this week following the bye as the only one of the season that will include two padded practices, per the new CBA restrictions. The team will practice in pads one more time later this week, most likely Thursday if the regular-season pattern continues.
Nearly the entire 53-man roster was healthy and practicing. Cornerback Sam Shields (concussion) plus linebackers Frank Zombo (knee) and Jamari Lattimore (shoulder) were back after missing the Week 7 game at Minnesota, and running back Brandon Saine got in his first practice as an active player after being signed from the practice squad earlier in the day.
Linebacker Clay Matthews, tackle Chad Clifton and defensive end Mike Neal were the only players not practicing. McCarthy said he would provide medical updates on Wednesday.
Whether the message accompanying the pads was intentional or not, McCarthy’s overriding theme to his 7-0 team continues to be about improvement.
“We like where we are, but we’re really focused on getting better,” McCarthy said. “We have more to offer as a football team.”
So does the schedule. Over their final nine games, the Packers will play seven teams that, as of now, have winning records. That number jumps to eight if 3-3 Kansas City beats San Diego on Monday.
The Packers will get a chance to “scout” the Chargers on national TV on Monday night. McCarthy said he likes to get a feel for the “pulse” of upcoming opponents by watching them live, if possible.
Most of the focus remains internal, though, as the players continue to spend more time watching film than looking at the standings. The defense is the unit that has fallen off the most statistically from last year’s Super Bowl season, dropping to 28th in the league in yards allowed, 31st against the pass and 22nd on third down.
Green Bay ranked in the top 10 in the league in all those categories a year ago.
“There’s been a couple of games on defense where we’ve won the game, but we didn’t feel like we won,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “We were in the meeting room correcting mistakes. Everybody takes giving up big plays and big chunks of yardage to heart. Everybody’s got egos in the room and wants to be good statistically.”
Still, the Packers are aware that they’re the only unbeaten team in the league, and that all but one other team has at least two losses. Desire and confidence both remain high.
“The main thing is you want to win, so we’re excited, but we’re not satisfied,” Peprah said. “We’re going to keep pushing, keep trying to play the total, complete game that we know we’re capable of playing.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, but we know that, and regardless of what (the opponent’s) record is, we’re worried about us. We’re worried about us trying to play the best football we can play, and if we do that, it doesn’t matter who we play.”