Green Bay’s injury issues at wide receiver continue to mount.
Already without Randall Cobb and Christian Watson, the Packers are now dealing with the possibility of not having Allen Lazard when they go to Buffalo this Sunday night.
“He hurt his shoulder,” coach Matt LaFleur said when asked about the injury Monday. “I’m going to kind of leave it at that and see how it heals throughout the course of the week.”
Multiple reporters noted Lazard’s left arm was in a sling Monday in the locker room, though he declined to speak. The veteran left Sunday’s 23-21 loss to Washington with the injury.
Cobb is on injured reserve with an ankle injury and will miss at least three more weeks. Watson hasn’t practiced the last two weeks due to a hamstring injury and it remains unclear if that will change this week. Without potentially three of their top five wide receivers, an already abnormally weak passing game under quarterback Aaron Rodgers (ranked 18th in the NFL) could be down to veteran Sammy Watkins, rookies Romeo Doubs and Samari Toure, second-year pro Amari Rodgers and practice squad call up Juwann Winfree.
“It’s definitely not where we want it to be in terms of that room, but injuries are a part of this game, and you got to adjust, you got to adapt,” LaFleur said. “It’s not the first time we’ve gone through this before here. So we got to get some guys ready to play, bottom line. It doesn’t matter who it is. The expectation does not change ever.”
Also hampering the passing game is the right thumb of Rodgers. The quarterback suffered the injury on the final play against the New York Giants in London two weeks ago. Since then, it appears the four-time MVP has struggled with some of his accuracy and hasn’t shown much of an ability to put the ball where he wants it all the time, though some of that could be his lack of comfort with guys he’s throwing to. The Packers are also spending a significant number of snaps in the shotgun, something that hadn’t been the case in LaFleur’s first three years as coach.
“It certainly has played a little part into that, but I don’t want to sit up here and make an excuse for it,” LaFleur said. “It is what it is. We’re gonna do whatever we can to put our guys in the best position possible. You got to always adapt, I think, to the circumstances in front of you.”
While the run/pass option game and play action is still possible out of the shotgun, the Packers offense has feasted on defenses the last three years when they could make their run and pass game look almost identical, making it difficult for the opposition to sniff out what is coming. A quarterback with a thumb injury that can’t be under center for fear of further aggravating the issue is a difficult thing to game plan around.
“We’re looking at, I promise you, very, very closely in terms of how we think we can move the football because I don’t think anybody wants to be where we’re at right now from an offensive standpoint,” said LaFleur, whose unit has scored three touchdowns in the last 10 quarters.
There is a potential change coming at punt returner for the Packers after Amari Rodgers muffed a punt for the second time in three weeks. The latest led to a Washington field goal on Sunday in a game Green Bay lost by two points.
“I think that’s something that we’re going to evaluate for sure. We are evaluating, we’re talking about it in terms of what we want to do in that regard,” LaFleur said. “Certainly, I think we do have a lot of confidence in Amari’s ability to field the ball. But you can’t put the ball on the ground. He knows that. He feels awful about it, but it is what it is. And we got to get better.”
Rodgers was already replaced as the returner on kickoffs and has averaged just 7.1 yards per punt return while fumbling three times. One potential option to replace Rodgers would have been Cobb, who held that role for the first four years of his career with Green Bay and has seen spot duty at other points. A number of guys returned punts during their time in college, including Romeo Doubs, Sammy Watkins and Jaire Alexander. But LaFleur and special teams coach Rich Bisacia have to gauge whether the chance for injury to such key players is a worthwhile risk.