GREEN BAY—The Packers will play four of their next five games at Lambeau Field, and five of eight overall. Only one division game on the road remains.
The Packers enter the second half of 2014 one game behind the Lions for first place in the NFC North, but the schedule sets up as favorably as they could hope for. The cold is also moving in, though the next three home opponents – Chicago, Philadelphia and New England – won’t be fazed by it.
Still, it’s that time of year to use the Lambeau cold to get piping hot, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said as much on Wednesday.
“We have to make the most of that,” Rodgers said. “We’re 3-0 at home, 2-3 on the road. We have to play better on the road and keep whatever mojo we’ve got going at home. The fans, the noise they can make, paired with the potential cold weather gives us a distinct advantage, but that doesn’t win games for you. You still have to execute.”
That execution on the offensive side may have gotten more difficult this week with starting guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton both in danger of missing the Bears game due to injuries.
Neither practiced on Wednesday. Lang’s injury was known, as he left the New Orleans game in the first quarter after turning his ankle. Sitton injured a big toe sometime in the second half against the Saints but played through the pain and is not ruling himself out just yet.
“We’re seeing how it goes,” Sitton said. “Probably try and test a few things tomorrow with shoes and things like that and then maybe test it on Friday or Saturday and see how I feel.
“I’ve prided myself on always being available. I’ve played a lot of games and haven’t missed a lot, haven’t missed a lot of practice. I want to be on the field.”
Indeed, Sitton is an ironman, having started 47 consecutive games, including playoffs, dating back to December of 2011. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2009, he has missed just two contests, starting 95 of a possible 97 games. Similarly, Lang has started 59 of the Packers’ last 60 games, including playoffs.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy, who was impressed Sitton could play through the toe injury in New Orleans given how bad it was, didn’t discuss specifics of Sitton’s and/or Lang’s possible replacements on Sunday.
Second-year pro Lane Taylor filled in for Lang in New Orleans and could get the nod at right guard again. McCarthy said Taylor did well in pass protection against the Saints but will learn from his mistakes in the run game.
“He needs to perform better. He knows that,” McCarthy said. “New Orleans was not his best night. The opportunity for Lane to play under the big lights like that, on the big stage … he will be much better prepared for his next opportunity.”
The other options at guard are second-year man JC Tretter, recently activated from temporary injured reserve, and first-year pro Garth Gerhart. Like Taylor, neither has started an NFL game, but Tretter worked with the No. 1 offensive line at center throughout the offseason and training camp before going down with a knee injury in late August.
In two weeks of practice before the bye, Tretter worked at all five positions on the offensive line. He played some guard in practice late last season and was a left tackle in college.
“I’m pretty confident wherever I move to,” Tretter said. “I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do. You have to go out there, know your assignment and play football.”
Rodgers likened Tretter’s new role to the versatile one previously held by Don Barclay, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in training camp. In Rodgers’ eyes, Tretter gained the respect and trust of his teammates and coaches running with the first unit most of the summer, and that hasn’t changed as he’s been thrust into new spots.
“It’s a luxury when you have a guy that intelligent, as far as the offense goes, but that athletic as well, to be able to play all five positions,” Rodgers said. “He’s going to be a valuable guy for us as we enter this stretch of our schedule.”
If Lang and Sitton are both out, the interior trio of the Packers offensive line will have only a half-season of starts under its belt, all by rookie Corey Linsley. But if Linsley wasn’t going to get knocked off-kilter by beginning his NFL career on the road in Seattle after just one week with the first unit in Tretter’s place, possibly playing between two new guys won’t bother him either.
“That’s what practice is for,” Linsley said. “We have to make it so it’s not so tough. Get the fits right, whoever’s in there, and get going.
“I think Josh and T.J. will be back, but who knows? We have to prepare like they won’t be. If they aren’t, it’ll be a huge test for me and also for JC and Lane.”
A test that has only one answer, given the importance of this stretch of games for Green Bay.
“No one is going to feel sorry for you or wait around for you,” Rodgers said. “There’s no excuses in this league. The film doesn’t lie and we’re expecting those guys to be ready to play.”
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