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Monday, December 12, 2011
Free Head Exam: Green Bay Packers

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

After the Green Bay Packers' 46-16 victory over the Oakland Raiders, here are three issues that merit further examination:
Head Exam
Following their big win against the Raiders, the Packers take a seat in the examination room.
  1. There isn't a single active NFL player with a medical degree, but they see injuries of various degrees every day. They can read body language and see between the lines better than us. So for what it's worth, Packers players didn't like what they saw when receiver Greg Jennings needed help getting off the field in the third quarter after suffering what to this point is being called a sprained left knee. "It didn't look very good," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. Added defensive lineman B.J. Raji: "I saw the degree of anguish he was in. Anytime a grown man is being carried by his teammates, that's never a good sign." We should get more information later Monday, but for now the Packers are hoping the injury is something Jennings can return from when they open the playoffs in five weeks.
  2. The Packers' plan for inside linebacker A.J. Hawk was to play him for no more than 30 snaps in the second half as a preliminary step in returning to full-time duty after suffering a calf injury last month. Given the game situation, McCarthy scrapped the plan and decided to give Hawk another weekend to recover. McCarthy indicated Hawk will return to his full-time role Wednesday during practice. There doesn't appear to be any indication that Hawk or fellow starter Desmond Bishop (calf) could lose playing time to replacements Robert Francois and D.J. Smith, both of whom have played well. Francois had nine tackles and his second interception in the past three weeks Sunday, while Smith had 10 tackles Sunday. Bishop is hoping to return to practice this week.
  3. The Packers are entering a critical week for their offensive line. It's clear they're not totally thrilled with Marshall Newhouse's performance at left tackle, and that's what led to the decision to rotate him Sunday with rookie Derek Sherrod. Veteran Chad Clifton hasn't played in two months because of hamstring and back injuries, but the Packers think he'll be ready to practice this week. So what should the Packers do now, and what should their playoff approach be? Should they get Clifton back in there, hoping his conditioning allows him to play full games? Should they stick with a Newhouse-Sherrod rotation and use Clifton only in an emergency? I can't imagine the Packers turning to Sherrod, a rookie left tackle, with the playoffs looming. I'm guessing if Newhouse had played better in the past few weeks, these questions wouldn't be necessary.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
If Jennings misses extended time, I wonder if tight end Jermichael Finley can be counted on to be the top playmaker in the offense. Without Jennings to account for, it's possible that defenses will focus in on Finley as their top priority. But receiver Jordy Nelson has made opponents pay all season for single coverage, and he now has 10 touchdowns in 13 games. Perhaps he will see more attention if Jennings is sidelined. Regardless, Finley has been relatively quiet and not entirely reliable over the past month. He did not catch a pass Sunday against the Raiders and has nine receptions in the last four games, six of which came in Week 12 against the New York Giants. Finley is also nearing double digits in dropped passes, depending on whose statistics you look at. But he'll have every opportunity to carry the passing game in the coming weeks.