Of the Packers’ injuries from Thursday’s game, right guard Josh Sitton’s sprained knee appears to be the most significant.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Friday that Sitton would be “hard-pressed” to play in Green Bay’s next game Dec. 4 at New York, but he did give inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop, both of whom left the Detroit game with calf strains, “a chance” for the Giants contest.
Sitton had been listed on the injury report the last several weeks with a knee injury, but McCarthy said this was a new injury that occurred on a running play in the first half against the Lions.
“You can see it clearly on film,” McCarthy said.
Evan Dietrich-Smith replaced Sitton – perhaps the team’s most durable lineman, having not missed a single snap in either 2009 or 2010 – for the rest of the game, getting his first meaningful action on offense this year. He had the unenviable task at first of blocking Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, with some help from center Scott Wells, at times, before Suh was ejected in the third quarter.
“He played fast,” Offensive Coordinator Joe Philbin said of Dietrich-Smith. “That’s the one thing we were most pleased with; he wasn’t hesitant. He played decisively and aggressively. He certainly wasn’t perfect but we liked the way he played.”
The Packers could be a little thin on the offensive line for the Giants game without Sitton, because McCarthy said left tackle Chad Clifton (hamstring) won’t be back by then, either. Earlier projections had Clifton possibly returning for the Giants game, but that timetable has been pushed back.
McCarthy said Dietrich-Smith played “OK” but wouldn’t commit to him being Sitton’s full-time replacement, yet, saying the coaching staff would discuss it during game-planning for the Giants. The other options would be two rookies, Ray Dominguez or Derek Sherrod, who has worked more at tackle but did play left guard during training camp.
“Anytime a player goes into the game, particularly on offense, and you don’t have to adjust your plan, that in itself is a win,” McCarthy said, commenting on Dietrich-Smith’s play. “Now, did he have a winning performance? That’s something we’ll go through with all our players when they get back here Tuesday.
“But we did not have to deviate from anything that we had in the game plan, and that’s a credit to all our players that stepped up yesterday and played.”
That includes inside linebackers Robert Francois and D.J. Smith, who replaced Hawk and Bishop, respectively. When both starters left the game, the defense had to resort to the old-fashioned way of signaling in plays from the sideline because Hawk and Bishop were the only Packers defenders authorized to have the speaker system in their helmets.
“Hand signals and yell like hell,” McCarthy said. “That’s about how we did it, and it worked.”
So did the insertion of undrafted rookie Brandon Saine into the running back rotation. Saine caught a swing pass out of the flat on the first drive of the third quarter, made a defender miss, and picked up nine yards.
He added two rushes in the fourth quarter for 10 yards. The coaches put him in as another option aside from Ryan Grant when they decided the lead was big enough not to push James Starks on a gimpy ankle and knee.
“We’ve had packages of plays in the plan for a couple of weeks for Brandon,” McCarthy said. “He has earned the opportunity and he took advantage of it.”
Philbin called Saine a “quick study” and is impressed with his smarts and his quiet, serious approach.
“A coach has to have faith and confidence in a player to put him in a game,” Philbin said. “He’s a guy you feel good about.”
The Packers also feel good about the mini-bye the Thanksgiving game has provided. McCarthy gave the players off until Tuesday, when they’ll have a day of meetings and film review before returning to the practice field on Wednesday to prepare for the Giants.
McCarthy said the coaching staff would have its preliminary game plan for New York ready by Monday, watch the Giants game that night against the Saints, and then present the final game plan to the players on Tuesday.
“I feel good about our health,” McCarthy said. “I’ll feel a lot better when I see them on the practice field on Wednesday.”