GREEN BAY – Thursday night’s game will be one of discovery for the Green Bay Packers.
With the running back position banged up and the quarterback and receivers still searching for their passing rhythm, the Packers’ offense is in a challenging spot.
With the top three cornerbacks out and the defense coming off its worst game of the season, that unit is in a bit of a jam, too.
All this comes on a short week, making Thursday night’s clash with the Bears a potentially revelatory one. Something about what the 2016 Packers are made of will be on display. So could a forecast of some things to come over the final 10 regular-season games.
“It’s not just gonna happen,” receiver Jordy Nelson said of the offense finding its way. “We have to go out and make it happen.”
They’ll have to do it without Eddie Lacy and James Starks in the backfield, with a newcomer in Knile Davis and perhaps a practice-squad running back in Don Jackson to show what they’ve got.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy called on himself this week to get the ball more to Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb. Aaron Rodgers has called on himself to improve his accuracy and take care of the ball better.
Will last week’s return of “Big Five,” the shotgun, five-wide formation that hadn’t seen the call sheet in a few years, become a rhythm-finder for Rodgers? Will a heretofore unknown running back take the reins? Will Montgomery develop into the offense’s Swiss army knife version of the defense’s Micah Hyde?
It’s all worth watching. Adversity produces answers, one way or another.
Regarding the defense, losing the No. 1 ranking against the run thanks to Ezekiel Elliott’s 157 yards didn’t feel particularly good. Neither did Dak Prescott’s 247 passing yards and three TDs on just 18 completions.
“They were the better team,” outside linebacker Nick Perry said. “When you look at our defense, we have a lot to prove still.”
It’ll be a proving ground in the second go-round for the young tandem of LaDarius Gunter and Demetri Goodson as the defense’s top two corners. Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins might be back soon, but Sam Shields won’t, having gone on injured reserve this week.
“You don’t have to worry about those guys,” veteran safety Morgan Burnett said of the young corners. “They’re going to be ready.”
Collectively, the Packers’ bodies are trying to recover in time. After practice on Tuesday, normally a day off, Hyde said he felt like “trash.” Cobb said players “normally don’t feel good until about Friday” after a Sunday game.
“You can’t trick your body,” Burnett said. “At this point, it is what it is.”
Thursday nights are no treat, but like injuries, it’s the one thing every team in the league has to deal with at one time or another.
In the Packers’ case, they’re dealing with it coming off a loss for the first time since the 2012 opener vs. San Francisco. The short-week Thursday game back then was, coincidentally, at home against the Bears.
It’s the only time under McCarthy the Packers headed into a short week on a defeat. They were 6-1-1 prior to short weeks until last Sunday.
The rather new territory, combined with all the injuries, has set the stage for what the Packers will reveal about themselves on Thursday night.
McCarthy’s confidence was unmistakable on Wednesday. He’s been the same in front of his players.
In this context, the Bears’ 1-5 record means nothing. The circumstances indicate this game is all about the Packers.
“I think Coach said it best: We’re a good football team, plain and simple,” Hyde said. “There’s a few things we have to do better, we have to compete harder, but it’s all in our head. We have to go out there and fight for this win, and if we do so, we’ll be all right.”