The hits just keep coming. The Packers lost running back Ryan Grant and defensive end Justin Harrell to season-ending injuries in week 1. After escaping relatively unscathed in weeks 2 and 3, the injury bug bit the team once again on Sunday. This time, it took out safety Morgan Burnett. The impressive rookie from Georgia Tech is done for the year after suffering a torn ACL against the Lions. Journeyman Charlie Peprah is expected to replace Morgan in the starting lineup – at least until Atari Bigby is ready to reclaim his old job. The former Central Florida star is currently on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing ankle surgery in August. And while he’s eligible to be activated following the week 6 game vs. Miami, Mike McCarthy isn’t sure when Bigby will be ready to play. “He’s been working out, he’s been attending the meetings,” said the head coach on Monday. “We won’t really know until we see him on the field.”
While losing Grant and Burnett are big blows, the Packers can’t use injuries as an excuse – at least not yet. Green Bay still has more talent on offense than 90% of the teams in the league and the defense boasts six former first-round draft picks – including three Pro Bowlers from a year ago. The trick now is to stay healthy from here on out because no team can afford to lose a starter every two weeks.
Lost amidst the Burnett news was a report on Monday from the Press-Gazette on Brandon Chillar. According to his agent, Jim Ivler, the veteran inside linebacker’s shoulder injury could be more serious than first thought. “I hope it isn’t season-ending, don’t think it is, but I’m not going to rule out that it’s not possible,” Ivler said. “By Wednesday, we’ll probably have a better idea.” Losing Chillar for any significant length of time would be a huge hit. While the offense has enough talent at receiver to make up for Grant’s absence and Bigby’s expected return should soften the blow of losing Burnett, there’s really no one on the roster who can replace Chillar in the nickel. Neither A.J. Hawk nor Desmond Bishop has proven capable of covering even the most marginal of tight ends on a consistent basis.
The Packers, who haven’t caught many breaks so far this season, may have gotten a little lucky with the upcoming schedule. Their next two games are against Washington and Miami, a pair of teams without dynamic passing offenses. That’s not to say Donovan McNabb and Chad Henne won’t have field days throwing against a secondary missing three of its top six players – plus Chillar – but it sure beats having to face what comes after the Dolphins. The next five games are against Minnesota (Brett Favre), the Jets (Mark Sanchez), Dallas (Tony Romo), Minnesota and Atlanta (Matt Ryan). The hope is that Bigby and former Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris will be back for that brutal stretch. The other hope, of course, is that no other significant players get injured between now and then. Because while the Packers are clearly losing the battle of attrition right now, they haven’t been knocked out just yet.