NFL Nation: Cedric Benson

Well then. Consider the Green Bay Packers' backfield on notice.

After going 43 consecutive games without a runner hitting 100 yards, the Packers have grabbed two of the top feature backs in the 2013 draft. Alabama's Eddie Lacy was their second-round pick Friday night, and on Saturday the Packers traded up in the fourth round to grab UCLA's Johnathan Franklin.

Those moves make it unlikely that the Packers will re-sign veteran Cedric Benson, who visited Lambeau Field last week, and makes you wonder who among their current stable will make it out of training camp. Veteran James Starks might have seen his luck run out, and perhaps Alex Green as well. The Packers have spoken highly of DuJuan Harris' future, but that was before they selected two of the first four running backs taken in this draft.

There was some pre-draft talk that Franklin, who rushed for 1,734 yards last season, was pushing Lacy as the top runner in this draft. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the NFL scouting combine and had the best 60-yard shuttle time among running backs.

We'll have plenty of time discuss Franklin's individual strengths and weaknesses. Importantly, he is a much different back than Lacy and the Packers suddenly have a wealth of options at a position they have typically given only second thoughts to. It is an aggressive approach by general manager Ted Thompson, one not unlike his decision to open the 2012 draft with six consecutive defensive players. He has flooded the zone, so to speak, and it makes a lot of sense.
Why are the Green Bay Packers bringing in free agent running back Cedric Benson for a visit Wednesday, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported?

The guess here is they want to gauge the progress of his recovery from the foot injury that ended his 2012 season after five games. Benson is a free agent and is still not fully healed, according to Schefter.

I hope that Benson's health wouldn't determine whether the Packers draft a running back, but it's important that they have the most updated information possible before the draft begins Thursday night. Depending on their results, they might be more motivated to re-sign him after the draft.

For now, the Packers have DuJuan Harris, James Starks and John Kuhn under contract at the position. Meanwhile, the video reveals the life story of Alabama's Eddie Lacy, one of the running backs many mock drafters have suggested the Packers select.

Tuesday's SportsNation chat provided us the opportunity to catch everyone up on why the Green Bay Packers have kept defensive lineman Johnny Jolly on their roster following his three-year suspension from the NFL. First, the exchange:
otto (happy hour)
Do you see the Packers currently keeping Jolly on the roster as a sign that the Pack is in win now mode? He has signed/kept several players with questionable backgrounds over the last couple years.

Kevin Seifert (2:28 PM)

No. Just a sign that he was once a good player and there is no downside to finding out whether he can still play.

From the top, I don't think Otto's premise was accurate. (Maybe it was the Happy Hour fog.) Packers general manager Ted Thompson hasn't taken many obvious character risks in recent years, especially with players who have established criminal records. Running back Cedric Benson certainly had a long history of legal entanglements when he signed last summer, but I find it difficult to establish a pattern beyond that.

Anyway, there is no doubt Jolly has had some troubled years that robbed him of the prime of his career. But from the Packers' perspective, there really is not much harm -- other than the presumed potential of a new issue arising that would taint the franchise -- to keeping him on the roster this spring.

The Packers have already re-written his contract to eliminate any financial risk. They wouldn't owe him anything unless he is on the roster for Week 1 of the regular season, and even then they would be paying him the minimum ($715,000) for a player of his experience.

So in essence, the Packers get a "free" four months before training camp to decide if Jolly can challenge for a roster spot. That process will start when Jolly shows up for the team's offseason program, which Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports should happen soon. There's nothing "win now" about that approach. It's more just "win," which is what every NFL team is trying to do.
Recently we used Bill Polian's comprehensive free-agent ratings Insider to discuss the (unlikely) match between the Green Bay Packers and free-agent running back Reggie Bush. But as long as we're at the height of silly season, we might as well acknowledge a better fit for the Packers and for Bush.

Jackson
Jackson
Bush
Bush
If you're the Packers, a team stocked with playmakers but short on physical grinders, you wonder if Steven Jackson isn't a better fit than Bush. And if you're Bush, could you imagine joining the Detroit Lions for a role once envisioned for Jahvid Best?

Let's start (again) with Bush, who was deemed "a perfect fit" for the Lions on Monday by Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Indeed, the Lions drafted Best in 2010 in large part to be a backfield playmaker in their passing game, one who would further stretch defenses and clean up on the yards available either in the flat or on draws when defenses over-commit to receiver Calvin Johnson.

Best had some success in that role but was miscast as an every-down back before concussions threatened his career. Mikel Leshoure now holds down the Lions' traditional running back role, and pairing him with Bush -- who has had three seasons of at least 50 receptions in his career -- would make some sense.

Again, we're just matching skills with scheme at this point. Interest from either side is unknown. The Lions have limited salary-cap space, and it's debatable whether they want to commit any of it to a running back who has been through seven NFL seasons' worth of contact. But given general manager Martin Mayhew's assertion last week that he will participate in free agency, we should at least consider all possibilities.

That's also the best reason for connecting Jackson with the Packers, whose offense was embracing veteran Cedric Benson in 2012 before his season-ending foot injury. I think we can all agree Jackson is a more dynamic player, even as he approaches his 30th birthday this summer, and Polian considers him one of the true gems of the free-agent class.

Polian: "If the price is right, a contender could get him for two to three years and feel pretty good about it. I think he could be a Corey Dillon-like find but without the baggage."

Dillon, of course, was a workhorse running back for seven seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals before moving to the New England Patriots in 2004 at age 30. He rushed for 1,635 yards that season and scored 35 touchdowns in three seasons with the Patriots to end his career.

Like Dillon, Jackson would add a different dimension to a passing offense: A running back who can create yards and first downs with sheer force. It's worth a discussion -- or at least a blog post.
The Seattle Seahawks added defensive end Chris Clemons and kicker Steven Hauschka to their injured reserve lists this week.

Rookie Bruce Irvin, the 15th overall choice in the draft, will start in Clemons' place. Recently signed veteran Ryan Longwell will handle kicking duties for Hauschka.

Those moves led me to compile IR lists for remaining NFC playoff teams. I used the reserve lists at Ourlads.com, which updates its rosters daily.

Running back Ryan Grant's relative inactivity in 2012 represents a fair league-wide evaluation of his skill level at this point. Grant didn't participate in a training camp, got one carry during a four-week stint with the Washington Redskins and has been on the street since the end of October.

Grant
With that said, the Green Bay Packers could do a lot worse here in Week 14 after losing Cedric Benson for the season and perhaps James Starks as well. Whether or not Grant can be an explosive runner at age 29, there are a few things we can say with relative confidence amid an ESPNMilwaukee.com report that he has agreed to return to the Packers.
  • Grant's five years in the Packers' offense means he will slide into it seamlessly and presumably be ready to play as early as Sunday night's game against the Detroit Lions.
  • He will be in shape. No one has ever questioned his conditioning or work ethic.
  • He will be crafty. Although he might lack the power and speed of elite backs, Grant has always understood where to find yards. He has averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry in all but one of his NFL seasons, and even as his skills apparently diminished last season, he managed to produce 559 rushing yards while splitting time with Starks.
  • He can produce in the passing game.
  • He isn't likely to be a turnover machine, having fumbled seven times in 1,017 regular-season touches.

Most important, to me, is that Grant will give the Packers a reliable option to the decimated remainder of their backfield. Second-year player Alex Green has managed only 3.3 yards on 109 carries this season and doesn't have the look of a primary back. Johnny White and DuJuan Harris have combined for 29 NFL carries in their careers. And if John Kuhn is a candidate to be a feature back, there haven't been any indications to this point.

The Packers might not make Grant their primary back, but if nothing else he will give them an important security blanket to hedge against their otherwise unproven backfield.

I think I understand why the Packers tried to move on from Grant this season, and I get why they are going to re-sign him. This is an emergency move, one that relied on the good character of both sides to avoid burning bridges. Grant isn't the player the Packers envisioned in their backfield during the stretch run, but he might well prove to be their best option.

By the bye: Green Bay Packers

November, 10, 2012
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Reviewing the Green Bay Packers at their bye:

Record: 6-3

Nine-game capsule: The Packers have put themselves in the thick of playoff contention after an unexpected and unsettling 2-3 start. Their final-play loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3, on what surely was the last call made by a replacement official for as long as the NFL exists, could have been a season-defining moment. Instead it has become an afterthought. (Unless and until it impacts the Packers' postseason standing, of course.) The Packers have reeled off four consecutive victories since an Oct. 7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. A slew of injuries, however, has changed the complexion of this team and suggests it might need to grind out victories like never before.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Kevin Reece/Icon SMIAaron Rodgers and the Packers have overcome injuries and a few difficult losses to remain in the NFC playoff chase.
MVP: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been the first to acknowledge he hasn't played at the same historic level he did last season. In his most recent game, last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, Rodgers couldn't so much as complete 50 percent of his passes. But it would be difficult to identify a player more responsible for putting the Packers back on track. His six-touchdown performance against the Houston Texans, coming a week after the Colts loss, redirected the season. During the winning streak, he has 15 touchdown passes and one interception. That's a ratio of one touchdown pass for every six completions, which is actually higher than his completions-touchdown ratio last season (1:7.62). Finally, Rodgers has taken on a larger leadership role during the injury absence of cornerback Charles Woodson. He has the Packers exactly where they would hope to be in Week 10: With a good enough record to challenge for the NFC North title during their final seven games. Runner-up: Receiver James Jones, who has helped the Packers overcome injuries to other receivers by catching eight touchdown passes, tied for the most in the NFL, while not dropping a single pass thrown his way. Honorable mention: Receiver Randall Cobb, who has emerged with five touchdowns in the past three games, and leads the team with 45 receptions.

Biggest surprise: Tight end Jermichael Finley, once touted as a key to the Packers' high-flying hopes, has largely disappeared from the offense. He has averaged 9.3 yards on 29 catches and hasn't scored since Week 1. There would seem to be big plays available to tight ends in the Packers' offense, as evidenced by backup Tom Crabtree's scoring plays of 72 and 48 yards, but Finley isn't making them. He has dropped anywhere between four and seven passes, depending on the statistical service you reference, and has seen his playing time dwindle from 86 percent of the Packers' snaps in Week 1 to 50 percent in Week 9. He has no reported injuries and is still only 25 years old, which suggests his previous production can still be drawn out of him. At the moment, though, it doesn't appear the Packers have much confidence in Finley.

Stat to note: Through nine games, the Packers have lost 40 starts from players who either opened the summer atop the team's depth chart or replaced those who have been hurt. Some of those injuries have been short-term, but the Packers are looking at returning from their bye without four starting linebackers -- Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, Nick Perry and Clay Matthews. As well, they won't have right tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back Cedric Benson, receiver Greg Jennings, and Woodson, at least not right away.

Bonus stat to note: The Packers' defense is on pace to shave 900 yards off the record-setting total of 4,796 passing yards it allowed last season. Moving Woodson to safety in the base defense, and injecting six rookies into the regular rotation, has given the defense new energy and bodes well for continued improvement in the second half.

Looking ahead: The Packers have the sixth-most difficult schedule remaining in the NFL, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. They have five division games remaining, including a potential title-clinching game Dec. 19 at the Chicago Bears, and will play two of their final three games on the road.

By the bye series: Our post on the Detroit Lions is here and the Chicago Bears is here.

NFC North second quarter Stock Watch

November, 7, 2012
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As we noted last month, we've done away with the weekly Stock Watch post and instead will hit it after every quarter of the season. Here's what we posted after every NFC North team had played four games, and below is our assessment now that everyone has played at least half of the games on their 2012 schedule. I'm such a happy guy that I went crazy and shifted a slot from our "Falling" category to "Rising" to reflect the fact that all four of our teams are at least .500 at the moment. The glass is half-full up in here.

FALLING

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Stephen Brashear/Getty ImagesChristian Ponder has thrown six interceptions in the past four games, three of them losses.
1. Minnesota Vikings' vision: The most important task facing the Vikings this season was not challenging for a postseason spot, something a 5-3 record through eight games put them in position to do. Instead, it was developing and cementing quarterback Christian Ponder as their long-term answer at the position. Ponder made clear progress during training camp and played efficiently in the Vikings' conservative structure early this season. But a slump has now extended to five games, lowlighted by a pair of sub-70 yard efforts, and raised an uncomfortable specter. If Ponder can't straighten himself out, his second NFL season will be a failure. The Vikings' long-term plan centers around his successful development. Would they give him an unchallenged third season to prove himself? Or would they need to start considering contingency plans? NFL franchises are lost without a quarterback, putting the Vikings at a critical point under their current leadership.

2. Health in Green Bay: Nearly half of the Green Bay Packers' Week 1 lineup has missed at least one game because of injuries. All told, the Packers have lost 40 starts from players who were either listed as the starters on the team's opening depth chart or moved into that role as a result of other injuries. They face a post-bye landscape without receiver Greg Jennings, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, running back Cedric Benson, linebackers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews, and cornerback Charles Woodson, for various periods of time. Receiver Jordy Nelson's status is uncertain. Optimists recall the Packers won the Super Bowl two years ago with 15 players on injured reserve. A realist would wonder how likely it is to repeat that feat under such circumstances.

RISING

1. Cornerbacks in Chicago: Even in a passing league, NFL teams have devalued the cornerback position in favor of pass rushers in recent years. Conventional wisdom has suggested that rules inhibiting aggressive coverage made pressure a better defensive weapon. But the Chicago Bears have proved otherwise this season, getting dominant performances from cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings both in coverage and playmaking. Their coverage has helped the Bears' pass rush compile an NFL-high 21 sacks from a standard four-man alignment, and as playmakers they've contributed a combined eight interceptions, three touchdowns, 21 defensed passes and seven forced fumbles. Oh, and they're combining to earn $6.55 million this season. That might have to change between now and the start of the 2013 season.

2. Scott Linehan, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator: The Lions have faced considerable criticism for not forcing more downfield passes against defenses who are blatantly aligned to stop those plays. That strength-on-strength argument sounds good around the water cooler, but it's a suicidal long-term approach. Linehan and coach Jim Schwartz understood that and, from the beginning, have insisted on a traditional antidote: The running game. Personnel shortages made that difficult earlier this season, but the emergence of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell provide hope for the second half of the season. The two combined for 149 yards on 29 carries last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Leshoure scored three touchdowns. Linehan deserves credit for maintaining a sane thought process amid early season panic around the team. A successful running game might not force radical defensive changes, but it will give the Lions a reliable way to move the ball and score if they don't.

3. Adrian Peterson, Vikings running back: Exactly 315 days ago, Peterson's left knee was a mangled mess. We've already noted his stunning comeback, but it's worth updating after his 182-yard performance last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. In his past three games alone, Peterson has amassed 458 yards and four touchdowns, including breakaway runs of 74 and 64 yards. He leads the NFL in rushing yards (his total of 957 this season is 163 more than the NFL's next-most productive running back), yards from scrimmage (1,107), yards per carry (5.7), yards after contact (515) and runs of at least 20 yards (11). His comeback has been no less impressive than that of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, and his recovery came in less than half the time.

4. Jay Cutler, Bears quarterback: From this vantage point, Cutler made substantial progress on multiple fronts over the past month. We got to the point where Cutler's quirks and sideline exchanges became a matter of course rather than cause for personality debates. We acknowledged how good he has been in clutch situations. And now we should note that the Bears are 12-1 in Cutler's past 13 starts dating to last season. Since the start of the 2010 season, in fact, the Bears have a .750 winning percentage in his starts (24-9). For reference, the Packers have a .769 winning percentage under quarterback Aaron Rodgers in that same span.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Heading to bye: The Green Bay Packers are hoping to squeeze out one more victory to enter their bye 6-3 and emerge, presumably, with a much healthier team. The Arizona Cardinals are reeling, having lost four consecutive games after a 4-0 start, and their franchise hasn't won in the state of Wisconsin since 1949. (They are 0-7 at Green Bay over that span.) I will be most interested to see if the Packers try to get tailback James Starks more involved in anticipation of using him regularly in the second half of the season. Alex Green hasn't been explosive or productive in three starts after Cedric Benson's foot injury. Starks has been biding his time on the sideline. I understand the Packers' hesitance in trusting Starks based on his injury history, but at some point production -- or lack thereof -- should take top priority.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAaron Rodgers has proved this season that blitzing defenses don't faze him.
Blitzing Rodgers: The Cardinals have been a heavy blitz team this season. In three of their games they've sent at least one extra rusher on more than half of their defensive snaps, most recently last Monday against the San Francisco 49ers. Will they dare blitz Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? To be clear, Rodgers has torched the blitz on the relatively few snaps he's seen it in this season. He has completed 70 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns in 89 dropbacks. The 49ers also had their way with the Cardinals blitz; quarterback Alex Smith completed seven of eight passes against it.

Stopping the run: There has been so much discussion about the turnovers generated by the Chicago Bears, and the resulting touchdowns, that few people realize the Bears also have allowed the fewest total rushing yards in the NFL this season. Part of that can be attributed to opponents rushing a league-low 145 times against them, but they are also averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, the eighth-lowest total against a defense. We'll find out how stout the Bears are when they travel to face the Tennessee Titans and running back Chris Johnson, who has more rushing yards over the past five weeks -- 550 -- than any NFL running back. Over that stretch, Johnson is averaging 3.0 yards before contact on each carry. That indicates the Titans' offensive line is generating some nice holes for him.

Catching up: Sunday's game at the Jacksonville Jaguars is one the Detroit Lions can't afford to lose if they intend to get back into the playoff race. The Jaguars (1-6) have lost each of their past three home games by at least 17 points and their defense has an NFL-low seven sacks -- including none in the first quarter. That should give the Lions a good chance to grab an early lead, beat their season-long trend of slow starts and then direct their defense's attention squarely at rushing quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Although he threw well last week against the Green Bay Packers, Gabbert has a torn labrum in his left (non-throwing) shoulder and might not hold up well to a barrage of early hits. He's been sacked 17 times this season, the 12th-highest total among NFL quarterbacks.

Tough to tackle: Sunday's game at CenturyLink Field will feature the NFL's two most powerful tailbacks, at least this season. The Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson has gained 404 yards after contact, and the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch has 303. Those are the top two figures in the NFL. That's not a good sign for the Vikings defense, which has struggled to tackle opposing running backs the past two weeks. On the other hand, Peterson is the Vikings' best chance to take and maintain control of a game in what will be a tough environment. The Seahawks are 3-0 at home and 1-4 on the road, and their pass rush might overwhelm quarterback Christian Ponder if the Vikings fall behind.

(Statistics courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information unless otherwise noted.)

As you might have heard, Hurricane Sandy has forced the NFL to close its New York City offices and, for now, push back the its trade deadline to Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. That gives us more time to speculate on whether the Green Bay Packers will pursue St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson, as ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported they might on Sunday.

As we've discussed, the Packers' running game has slipped considerably since Cedric Benson injured his foot last month. Benson's return is at least a month or more away, and according to Mortensen, Packers general manager Ted Thompson has long coveted Jackson and attempted to acquire him before.

Jackson, 29, is due more than $3 million for the rest of the season and can become a free agent after this season.

There's a big difference between coveting a player and pulling the trigger on a deal to acquire him. Now we've got a few more days to determine if Thompson is willing to bridge that chasm. History suggests he will not, but Thompson has stepped out of character a few times already in building the 2012 team.

Wrap-up: Packers 24, Jaguars 15

October, 28, 2012
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A few thoughts on Sunday's events at Lambeau Field:

What it means: Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers, ugly and/or short-handed victories count the same as blowouts in the standings. This game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was a struggle from the start, but ultimately the Packers held on to win their third consecutive game and improve to 5-3.

Offensive struggles: The Packers played without their top two receivers, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, as well as their top running back, Cedric Benson. And it showed. They put up a season-low 238 yards of offense, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished under 200 yards for only the 11th time in 70 career starts. The Packers worked hard to establish their running game against the NFL's worst-ranked run defense, but tailback Alex Green managed 54 yards on 22 carries. One of the biggest plays of the game was Rodgers' decision to take a shot downfield on third-and-7 with two minutes, 44 seconds left. Receiver James Jones couldn't make the catch, but a pass interference call on the Jaguars' William Middleton moved the ball 38 yards to the Jaguars' 38-yard line. That field position put the Packers in position for a 25-yard field goal that made it a two-score game.

Special teams excitement: Davon House's blocked punt in the second quarter, eventually recovered for a touchdown by rookie Dezman Moses, was the play that allowed the Packers to operate with a lead during some tough times in the middle of the game. House came unblocked off the right side of the Jaguars' formation. The Packers tried a trick play from the Jaguars' 37-yard line in the third quarter, shifting from a field goal formation into a punt formation before punter Tim Masthay unleashed a long and incomplete throw down the right hash mark. Replays showed Masthay had tight end Ryan Taylor open for a first down. That's the risk of such calls. Masthay is a punter, not a quarterback. As easy as it might look on television, you can't assume a non-quarterback will make the right decision on a throw. It's not his professional expertise.

Defensive struggles: The Packers did well to hold the Jaguars to 15 points considering quarterback Blaine Gabbert had receivers open for most of the afternoon. Gabbert completed 27 of 39 passes for 303 yards in the Packers' first game without cornerback Charles Woodson, and the Packers' tackling was inconsistent. Linebacker A.J. Hawk won't want to watch replays of his miss in the flat of running back Rashad Jennings, leading to a 24-yard pass play in the fourth quarter.

Injury report: Nose tackle B.J. Raji returned to the lineup, but the Packers lost two other defensive linemen during the game. Rookie Jerel Worthy suffered a concussion and Mike Neal injured his ankle.

What's next: The Packers will host the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Remember when I told you I would be away from the blog for a bit while navigating the Chicagoland rain to Soldier Field? That plan got delayed a bit by the news, first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, that Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson will miss six weeks because of a broken left collarbone.

There was no mention of Woodson's injury during or after the Packers' 30-20 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, although he did not play on the final series, as Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette points out. Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com noted that Woodson grabbed his shoulder and writhed on the ground while defending receiver Brandon Gibson late in the fourth quarter.

Woodson injured his left collarbone, the same one that he injured in Super Bowl XLV. It's not clear if his latest injury is as serious; six weeks is on the low end of a return timetable for a fully fractured collarbone. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Woodson will miss at least a month.

Regardless, there are a handful of indispensable players on the Packers' roster, and Woodson is one of them.

The Packers have done well to find workable alternatives for injured linebackers Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith and Nick Perry. The Packers also have managed the losses of nose tackle B.J. Raji, receiver Greg Jennings, running back Cedric Benson and cornerback Sam Shields, much as they did during their run to the Super Bowl in 2010. But even if Woodson is no longer in his playmaking prime at age 36, he is still a unique and valuable rock amid the transition the Packers' defense has undergone this season. It will be impossible to replace the veteran leadership and versatility Woodson has brought.

Woodson might have only one interception and five defensed passes this season, but he has played the fourth-most snaps (95.9 percent) on the defense this season after safety Morgan Burnett, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Tramon Williams. Along the way, he has made the transition to safety in the base defense while working as a slot cornerback in the nickel. That means the Packers will have to replace him with different people in multiple packages. Either M.D. Jennings or Jerron McMillian will take his place at safety, and then the Packers will have to choose between Davon House and Jarrett Bush at cornerback as long as rookie Casey Hayward is filling in for Shields.

Just as important, Woodson has once again joined with quarterback Aaron Rodgers to provide the Packers with locker-room leadership as strong as any team in the NFL.

This sky isn't falling in Green Bay. The Packers have a way of navigating this type of adversity. But this injury will hurt more than most. Charles Woodson sits at the soul of this team, and for the moment it's empty.

Coach Mike McCarthy is scheduled to speak with reporters at 4 p.m. ET. I will check back in when I arrive at Soldier Field.

Final Word: NFC North

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Tough sledding: The Detroit Lions have had two weeks to prepare for a tough matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, knowing they'll need a victory to avoid starting the season with an unmanageable 1-4 record. This game appeared tough even before the Lions' slow start, and it will take by far the Lions' best performance of the season to pull it off. The Lions are 1-5 on the road since running off a six-game winning streak away from Ford Field, and they've won in the city of Philadelphia only once (1986) since 1965. The expected return of safety Louis Delmas, whose playmaking helped the Lions force 34 turnovers last season, provides some optimism. So does the Eagles' recent history of self-inflicted mistakes. As a result of 14 turnovers, their offense is averaging only 16 points per game, the second-worst mark in the NFL.

Adjustments expected: It will be fascinating to see what, if any, offensive adjustments coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan came up with during the bye week to counter the near-exclusive zone coverages their downfield passing game has faced this season. As we noted Thursday, the Eagles play more man-to-man coverage than most teams but they have still had the best downfield defense in the NFL. Will the Lions change the type of routes and passing plays they use? Will they find a more effective way to run the ball against pass-oriented schemes? Or did they spend the bye working on better execution rather than schematic changes?

[+] EnlargeChris Clemons
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireA commitment to running the ball could help the Packers take some heat off of QB Aaron Rodgers.
Protecting Aaron Rodgers: The root of our week-long discussion of the Green Bay Packers' play-calling/running game is the 21 sacks Rodgers has taken in five games. As we discussed, since the start of the 2010 season, the Packers have lost 10 of the 12 games in which they failed to run the ball on at least 30 percent of their snaps. They are 29-3 in all other games, a testament to the importance of forcing defenses to at least consider the possibility of regular running plays. It will be especially important Sunday night against the Houston Texans, who have one of the NFL's top pass rushes. The Texans have recorded one sack for every 9.1 dropbacks this season when using their standard pass rush, the best mark in the NFL. The Packers, meanwhile, are giving up one sack for every 11.9 dropbacks against standard pass rushes, the second-worst mark in the league. The Packers can help their offensive line by establishing a commitment to the more-than-occasional running play early Sunday night, even if those plays aren't overly effective given the loss of tailback Cedric Benson. Sometimes, quantity of running plays is just as important as quality.

Early stages: The Packers, of course, will find it more difficult to run if they fall behind against a Texans team that has outscored opponents 93-28 in the first half of this season. That's an NFL-high margin of 65 points; the next-best team has a 39-point margin in the first half. The Packers have been slow starters for most of this season and have a total of 14 first-quarter points. (They've scored 48 points in the second quarter.) In the end, however, the Packers probably don't want to find out what would happen if they fall behind and shift to a pass-only mode against the Texans' pass rush.

Peterson's revenge: Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson told reporters that he won't hold a grudge Sunday when he returns to FedEx Field, the site of his 2011 knee injury. But longtime observers of Peterson's competitive personality might not buy that sentiment. In 2007, Peterson sprained his knee and missed two games after Green Bay cornerback Al Harris hit him low. In his return to Lambeau Field in 2008, Peterson obviously and aggressively steamrolled Harris on the first play of the Vikings' second possession. After the Packers' 24-19 victory in that game, Peterson said: " No grudges. But I definitely wanted to come out and, if I had the opportunity, put a little boom on Harris." DeJon Gomes, the Washington Redskins safety whose hit caused the 2011 injury, should consider himself warned.

In essence, the Green Bay Packers are back where they started.

They opened training camp with plans to use James Starks, Alex Green and Brandon Saine as their top three tailbacks, with John Kuhn serving as a swing fullback/tailback. And the news that Cedric Benson will miss at least eight weeks, and possibly the remainder season, because of a foot injury brings us back to that original arrangement.

Benson has a Lisfranc sprain of his foot, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, and will miss the season if doctors determine surgery is necessary. And even if Benson could be ready in eight weeks, there is no certainty that the Packers would keep his roster spot open that long.

There will be a significant transition period regardless. The Packers had handed Benson a near exclusive job out of training camp, and whoever replaces him will emerge from the shadows. According to Pro Football Focus, Benson has played 200 snaps this season. Green has 27 -- all but two after Benson's injury Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts -- and Saine has played only on special teams. Starks, meanwhile, has recovered from a turf toe injury he suffered in the preseason, but has been a healthy scratch the past two weeks.

As we've discussed a number of times Monday, the issue with the Packers is as much as whether they run the ball as it is who. It doesn't matter whom the Packers have lined up behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers if they don't strike a balance in their playcalling.
We noted earlier how the Green Bay Packers shifted heavily toward their passing game Sunday after tailback Cedric Benson departed with a foot injury. It was probably no coincidence that the Indianapolis Colts sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers five times and forced him to scramble on four other occasions once the Packers dropped their commitment to the running game.

It's a theme we've visited a few times already this season, and one that John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Information took a close look at Monday morning. The results of his research were quite revealing.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAaron Rodgers was sacked five times in Sunday's loss to the Colts.
Since the start of the 2010 season, the Packers are 2-8 when they drop back on at least 70 percent of their offensive plays. As effective as their passing game has been over that stretch, they are 29-3 when they drop back less than 70 percent of the time.

At first glance, you might connect those 10 games over the 70 percent mark with a team trying to come back from a big deficit. But that wasn't the case Sunday -- the Packers didn't trail until midway through the fourth quarter -- and it hasn't been the sole reason why the Packers have abandoned their running game in the other nine games, either. In fact, the Packers have trailed on only 25.6 percent of their offensive plays since the start of 2010, an NFL low.

Take a look at the chart. One of the most concerning issues is that the Packers' three losses this season qualify among the highest 11 drop-back ratios they have had since 2010. In those three games -- against the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Colts -- Rodgers has been sacked a total of 17 times.

Even when a running game isn't effective from a yardage standpoint, it can be a natural inhibitor of the opposing pass rush. As guard T.J. Lang told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "We're up 21-3 at halftime and we sort of changed our game plan in the second half and we couldn't do [expletive]. They knew all we were doing was throwing the ball so they were coming with everything they had."

It's unclear the extent to which Benson's foot injury might complicate matters, and I don't think too much throwing is the only reason for the Packers' 2-3 record. But when you can find a won-loss disparity as big as the Packers' when they are over and under 70 percent drop backs, as McTigue did, it's worth asking why the Packers haven't clued in yet.

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