NFC North: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Only three teams have more takeaways than the Green Bay Packers this season, and just two teams have better turnover differentials. In their four-game winning streak that ended with Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Packers had a plus-8 turnover differential. No team was better during that stretch, when they had nine takeaways. Only the New York Giants (with 10) had more.

Halfway through the season, one thing is apparent about the Packers' defense: It survives on takeaways.

And that's not good enough for coach Mike McCarthy.

[+] EnlargeCooks
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe Saints exposed a few holes in the Packers' defense.
Consider what he said moments after the Packers' 44-23 loss to the Saints on Sunday, when the only takeaway his team came up with was a meaningless fumble recovery in the final minutes.

"We need to be more than a football team that just has to rely on winning the turnover ratio," McCarthy said at the time.

Less than 24 hours later, McCarthy used almost the exact same words when discussing the issues facing the Packers' defense during this week's bye.

"We need to be a football team that does more than has to rely on winning the turnover ratio to win," McCarthy said Monday.

And then he added: "This game is about making big plays and taking care of the football, and taking it away. Those are two of the most critical components of it. But to get to where we want to go, we have to overcome when we just don't play right straight to our identity or our format."

Takeaways have been a staple of Dom Capers' defense since he took over as coordinator in 2009. The Packers have more interceptions (124) since Capers took over than any team in the league, and it's not even close. The Patriots have the second most (111). The Packers rank second in turnover margin (plus-70) during Capers' tenure behind only the Patriots (plus-96).

Yet in the nine playoff games since Capers joined McCarthy’s staff, the turnover margin is just plus-4. And in the four postseason games (of which they have won only one) since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, their turnover differential is zero.

In total takeaways, the Packers have 170 in the 88 regular-season games (an average of 1.93 per game) under Capers. That ranks fourth in the NFL during that span. Yet in the four playoff games since their Super Bowl, they have only six takeaways (1.5 per game).

That tells you that playoff teams, specifically playoff quarterbacks, don't turn the ball over anywhere near as often as the middling and bottom-feeding teams, making it much harder to rely on turnovers to win in the postseason.

And so it was on Sunday against the Saints, who despite their 3-4 record are every bit as dangerous as any offense in the league. Saints quarterback Drew Brees didn't turn the ball over, and the Packers' defense crumbled.

"That has a major influence on it," Capers said of getting takeaways, "but you've got to be efficient in other areas."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Well that didn't take long. Less than two weeks after Randall Cobb's memorable ketchup-stained Lambeau Leap, it has turned into a marketing boon for the Green Bay Packers receiver.

After Cobb's 3-yard touchdown catch on Oct. 19 against the Carolina Panthers, he did the requisite act of jumping into the stands at Lambeau Field, and a fan's hot dog got in the way. Cobb came out of the stands with ketchup on his jersey.

He joked after the game that he liked hot dogs, even ones covered in ketchup, but "I wasn’t expecting one to get on my shoulder pads, though."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints dropped the Green Bay Packers one game behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC North at the midway point of the season, and now they're also looking up at their division rival in the ESPN Power Rankings.

In the latest rankings released on Tuesday, the Packers slipped one spot to No. 7, while the Lions moved up four spots to No. 6. Three weeks ago, Detroit was way back in 14th.

What is apparent at this point is the separation between the top-two and the bottom-two team in the NFC North. Consider where the four division teams were in the latest ESPN rankings and their records:
  • 6. Lions (6-2)
  • 7. Packers (5-3)
  • 23. Bears (3-5)
  • 25.Vikings (3-5)

The Packers also slipped to fifth among NFC teams behind the Cardinals (No. 2), Cowboys (No. 4), Eagles (No. 4) and Lions. Last week, the Packers were fourth among NFC teams.

Click here for the full ESPN Power Rankings and see my ballot below.

Rob Demovsky's rankings
1. Broncos
2. Patriots
3. Cowboys
4. Cardinals
5. Eagles
6. Colts
7. Packers
8. Lions
9. Steelers
10. Bengals
11. Ravens
12. Bills
13. Seahawks
14. Chargers
15. 49ers
16. Chiefs
17. Saints
18. Panthers
19. Texans
20. Dolphins
21. Browns
22. Bears
23. Giants
24. Vikings
25. Rams
26. Falcons
27. Redskins
28. Titans
29. Buccaneers
30. Jaguars
31. Jets
32. Raiders

The Film Don't Lie: Packers

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
A weekly look at what the Green Bay Packers must fix:

The Packers have started three different players at the inside linebacker spot next to A.J. Hawk this season, and they have not gotten enough production out of any of them.

During this week's bye and before the Packers return to action on Nov. 9 against the Chicago Bears, defensive coordinator Dom Capers will have to decide whether to continue using both Sam Barrington and Jamari Lattimore in the spot that actually belonged to Brad Jones to start the season. Jones played poorly in Week 1 against Seattle and then went down with a quad injury. Although he has returned to action, he has not reclaimed a regular role on defense.

In Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, Barrington made his second straight start and played in the base and nickel packages alongside the veteran Hawk. But in the dime package, which used only one inside linebacker, Lattimore got the call.

It's unusual for the dime backer not to play in the other defensive packages. If the Packers had a player like they truly liked at that spot, they would play him on all three downs.

If the Packers could get more impact plays from their inside linebackers, perhaps it would help their struggling run defense, which has fallen back to last in the league after giving up 193 yards to the Saints.

"We've got different packages, and we'll constantly look at what we feel is going to give us the best chance to get things stopped," Capers said. "So obviously after a game like [Sunday] night, you go back and you're going to look at your run defensive stuff and try to make sure you get that corrected."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If only the cure for the Green Bay Packers' problems on defense were as simple as coach Mike McCarthy made it sound on Monday.

One day after he watched the New Orleans Saints batter his team for 193 yards on the ground, McCarthy's message to his team was direct.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Saints' Mark Ingram added to the woes of the Packers' run defense on Sunday night.
"We need to tackle the damn ball carrier and put him on the ground," he said. "That's what we'll be focused on."

McCarthy and his staff have the bye week to figure out if they can salvage their run defense, which has not ranked higher than 30th at any point during in the first half of the season and slipped back to 32nd (last) after Sunday's 44-23 loss.

"The run defense was our Achilles' heel clearly on defense," McCarthy said. "Too many missed tackles."

He was speaking of the game against the Saints, who got 172 yards from underachieving running back Mark Ingram, but he could have just as easily been summing up the first two months of the season. charged the Packers with 13 missed tackles, while Ingram was credited with either breaking or avoiding 10 tackles. Halfway though the season, PFF has the Packers with 70 missed tackles, which is easily on pace to surpass last year's total of 116.

"I’ve seen us through the first half of the season play pretty good run defense, so I feel like we can," defensive coordinator Dom Capers insisted Monday. "You look at last night, you might question it a little bit. But I've seen us have our moments where we've played good run defense. That's what we've got to do this second half. We know when you have something like that you get tested, and you get tested until you take care of it."

The best the Packers have done against the run this season in any game came on Oct. 19 against the Carolina Panthers, who still managed 108 yards on the ground.

Capers might have to decide whether he can continue to play his undersized nickel package, which features just two defensive linemen, as his primary defensive look.

That his base 3-4 unit came up with consecutive stops on third-and-1 and fourth-and-2 against the Saints would indicate that he has the personnel to play the run even though he has clearly missed nose tackle B.J. Raji, who was lost for the year because of a torn biceps tendon in the preseason.

"Everybody wants to talk about scheme and personnel," McCarthy said. "That's something that you’re always weighing or looking at. Or are there other individuals who deserve opportunities? Can we use other individuals a certain way? That's really what we talk about as coaches day-in and day-out. Our issue is on run D are fundamental. We need to do a better job of staying square [and] getting in our gaps."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was nice while it lasted, which was for all of one week, but the Green Bay Packers are back to the bottom of the NFL's rushing defenses.

After giving up 193 yards on the ground in Sunday night's 44-23 loss at the New Orleans Saints, the Packers fell to 32nd -- dead last -- in the NFL against the run. They had spent three weeks at the bottom before moving up one spot last week.

Saints running back Mark Ingram, who had just one 100-yard game in his three-and-a-half NFL seasons, did his best Deuce McAllister impersonation. He rushed for a career-high 172 yards, the most by a Saints back since McAllister in 2003.

"He was running pretty hard, running through contact," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said.

It was a familiar sight against the Packers, who have allowed at least 108 yards rushing in every game this season. Four times in eight games they have allowed 147 or more yards rushing. Twice, they have yielded 200-plus on the ground.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers tried all kinds of combinations, substituting more freely than usual. But when he used personnel designed to the stop the run, Drew Brees beat them through the air. The Saints quarterback threw for 311 yards and three touchdowns.

On the Saints' first nine possessions, they scored eight times – five touchdowns and three field goals. The only stop came on the opening drive of the second half, when the Packers dropped fullback Austin Johnson for a 1-yard loss on third-and-1 and Ingram for just a yard on fourth-and-2.

"Defensively, we stopped 'em once, on fourth down," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Other than that, we didn't make 'em punt. They ran it, and they threw it."

The Packers have allowed more rushing yards (1,228) than any team in the league and their average of 153.5 yards per game allowed on the ground is nearly 9 yards worse per game than what the St. Louis Rams, who rank 31st against the run, have yielded.

"We were heading in the right direction but it was just, give credit to their offense," Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal said. "They do a lot of stuff on timing. They get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly and they keep you off balance by running the ball. You've got to make their game one-dimensional. You can't give them the advantage of dictating what they want to do right and left. We just have to play better."
NEW ORLEANS -- If you saw Aaron Rodgers walk across the Superdome field with a security guard at his side on the way out of the stadium late Sunday night, you would have never known there was anything wrong with the Green Bay Packers quarterback.

He never broke stride on his way to the team buses.

Some of his teammates didn't even know during the game.

But they will when they see the film.

After Rodgers pulled his hamstring on the opening drive of the third quarter, he and the Packers' offense changed for the worse. Gone was Rodgers' ability to keep plays alive with his feet, to roll out or buy time for receivers to get open -- like he did on his 70-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the first quarter -- and to force the defense to respects his scrambles.

Consider Rodgers' production pre- and post-injury:
  • Before the injury, he was 14-of-19 for 298 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 133.1.
  • After the injury, he was 14-of-20 for 120 yards with two interceptions for a 45.8 passer rating.
When Rodgers felt the twinge in his left leg on a 7-yard scramble for a first down, the game was tied at 16-16. The Packers managed only one score after his injury in a 44-23 loss that sent them into their bye week with a 5-3 record and in second place in the NFC North behind the Detroit Lions (6-2).

The injury forced coach Mike McCarthy to ditch a large chunk of his game plan.

"We kept him in the gun [and] obviously didn't really even get into the play-action game ... and obviously scratched off all of the quarterback movements," McCarthy said. "He was limited."

A year ago, the Packers were 5-2 and feeling good about themselves when Rodgers broke his collarbone and missed the next seven games. They were in the same position Sunday night, and although their fortune wasn't altered for the long term by this injury, they need their quarterback healthy for the stretch run following next week’s bye.

"I didn't even know he had an injury," right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. "That's new to me."

Rodgers did not use his injury as justification for the Packers' second-half ineffectiveness, but he was in the unusual position of explaining two interceptions after his first multi-interception game since Week 3 of last season.

Three plays after Rodgers felt a pull in his hamstring, with the score tied 16-16, he fired a slant for Andrew Quarless on third-and-goal from the 5. The tight end couldn't handle the throw, and the ball bounced into the hands of linebacker David Hawthorne.

"I'd have to watch the film to see what happened, but I feel good about the throw," Rodgers said. New Orleans followed up by taking the lead for good four plays later on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Brandin Cooks.

After the Packers failed on a fourth-and-1 run on their next possession -- running back Eddie Lacy tried going behind fill-in right guard Lane Taylor, who got blown off the line of scrimmage -- the Saints went 40 yards in four plays to take a 30-16 lead. On the Packers' following possession, Rodgers threw his second pick, a ball that went off the hands of rookie receiver Davante Adams. It was one of the few post-injury plays in which Rodgers rolled out. When he threw on the run, it went off Adams' hand and was picked off by cornerback Corey White.

"Had to move to my right because of the pressure," Rodgers said. "Not sure if that made him think he was going to break his route out or whatnot but definitely missed my spot on that one."

From a pure passing yardage standpoint, it was one of Rodgers' best showings with 418 yards (the second-highest total of his career). But his mobility is one of his biggest assets, and with that largely removed from his repertoire, the Packers' offense could not keep with Brees and the Saints.

"Well if I felt it, then I had to back off a little bit," Rodgers said. "We had to do a little more in the shotgun, but it wasn't a big deal ultimately."
NEW ORLEANS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 44-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night at the Superdome:
  • Williams
    No defense, big problem: Packers coach Mike McCarthy wasn't especially proud of his team's defensive effort, but he didn't think the Saints played much either. The two teams combined for 986 yards and for the second time this season, the Packers were involved in a game without a punt. Before this season, that had occurred only once in NFL history. "I don't think they slowed us down at all defensively," McCarthy said. "We dropped the ball [by Andrew Quarless] that was an interception, we had a route that stopped [by Davante Adams] that turned into an interception. I don't think there was a whole lot of defense that was played here tonight, clearly by not our team."
  • Williams peeved: Packers cornerback Tramon Williams clearly thought Saints tight end Jimmy Graham should have been called for pass interference on his 22-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. "Oh my god, let's not even talk about that," Williams said. "It's ridiculous. It's crazy."
  • Lang's prognosis: Right guard T.J. Lang left the locker room with a boot on his left foot. He left the game after the first series with an ankle injury. McCarthy said he did not know the severity of the injury. "I'm told it's an ankle sprain," McCarthy said.

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
NEW ORLEANS -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 44-23 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night at the Superdome:

What it means: The Packers couldn't keep up in a shootout mostly because one of the most reliable aspects of their offense this season -- their red zone efficiency -- was terrible. They failed to score a touchdown on their first three trips inside the 20. Coming into the game, they ranked third in the league with a 70.4 percent conversion rate. On their first three red zone possessions, they came away with just six points on a pair of field goals. After what was a solid first seven games, the Packers limped into the bye week at 5-3, one game behind the first-place Detroit Lions in the NFC North.

Stock watch: You can blame receivers for all three of Aaron Rodgers' interceptions this season. Like the one he threw in the opener against the Seattle Seahawks, both of the interceptions he threw on Sunday night bounced off the hands of his own players. The first, on a third-and-goal play from the 5, came off the hands of tight end Andrew Quarless, and Saints linebacker David Hawthorne picked it. The second, early in the fourth quarter, bounced off the outstretched hand of receiver Davante Adams, and Saints cornerback Corey White picked it off. Rodgers had gone 212 straight passes without an interception, a career-best streak.

Peppers on offense: Julius Peppers is a remarkable athlete, having played basketball in college at North Carolina, but it turns out he's not much of a tight end. Coach Mike McCarthy used the outside linebacker on offense for the first time on a second-and-goal play from the 3-yard line in the first quarter, and Rodgers went to him. But Peppers bobbled and dropped what would have been a touchdown pass. Rodgers was sacked on the next play, and the Packers had to settle for a field goal.

Injuries: The Packers lost right guard T.J. Lang to an ankle injury after the first series, and it proved costly when his replacement, Lane Taylor, got blown off the ball on a fourth-and-1 play the Saints stuffed in the fourth quarter.

Game ball: Running back Eddie Lacy always runs hard, but he seemed to have some extra drive in his legs on Sunday night. And he did more damage catching the ball than rushing with it. He caught eight passes for 123 yards, including 67 on a screen pass in the first quarter. On that play, he gained 42 of those yards after he was first contacted by a Saints' defender. With 59 yards rushing on 13 carries, Lacy finished with 182 yards from scrimmage.

What's next: The Packers have their bye next week and return to action on Nov. 9 against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field in another Sunday night game.
NEW ORLEANS -- Already missing three starters on defense, the Green Bay Packers lost a starter on the other side of the ball in the first quarter of Sunday night's game at the New Orleans Saints.

Right guard T.J. Lang left after the first series with an ankle injury. The team said his return is questionable, but backup Lane Taylor replaced him for the remainder of the first quarter.

Lang was taken to the locker room on a cart.

He has missed only one game in the last three-plus seasons. That came in 2012 when he also sustained an ankle injury.
NEW ORLEANS -- The Green Bay Packers will be down to half of their starting secondary against the No. 2 passing offense in the NFL on Sunday night at the Superdome.

Safety Morgan Burnett, who was listed as questionable because of a calf injury, won't play against the New Orleans Saints. The Packers also won't have cornerback Sam Shields, who will miss his second straight game because of the knee injury he sustained on Oct. 12 at Miami.

Combine that with defensive end Datone Jones, who was declared out on Friday because of an ankle injury, and the Packers will be down three defensive starters against Drew Brees and Co. The Saints entered the week ranked second in the NFL in both yards per game (437.0) and passing yards per game (314.0).

Davon House will make his second straight start at cornerback. At safety, the Packers will start the combination of rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde. Clinton-Dix made his first NFL start last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers in place of Hyde, who had started the first six games.

What remains unclear is what defensive coordinator Dom Capers will do in the nickel package, where Hyde typically moves to the slot position. If he wants to stick with that plan, he would play Sean Richardson at safety. Or he could leave Hyde at safety and play cornerback Casey Hayward in the nickel.

Much of that could depend on how Capers wants to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, who is active despite being listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.

Here's the Packers' full list of inactives:
Aaron RodgersLeon Halip/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers has been kept safe this season behind the Packers' offensive line.
NEW ORLEANS -- Before this collection of offensive linemen had ever played a snap together for the Green Bay Packers, coach Mike McCarthy had lofty expectations.

On the day training camp opened, he opined that it had a chance to be the best group the Packers have fielded during his nine years as head coach.

Nearly three months later, McCarthy's assessment appears to be taking shape, and it's not even the same group he envisioned on July 25, considering on that day he was planning for JC Tretter – not rookie Corey Linsley – to be his starting center.

Neither McCarthy nor offense line coach James Campen is ready to crown them yet – and even the players know there’s room for improvement – but if they can handle the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome on Sunday night the way they did the Carolina Panthers last week, then perhaps it will be time.

Save for one game missed by Bryan Bulaga, the group of Bulaga and fellow tackle David Bakhtiari, guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton along with Linsley has remained intact, which has helped build the continuity.

"I think it's a group that really has a chance to be really, really good," McCarthy said this past week. "And the younger guys have really stepped up this year, when I think of young I think of Corey and obviously David. Josh is so consistent in everything he does, just his anticipation and intelligence and his awareness and his athletic ability. T.J.'s probably, I'd say this is probably his best year, and I think Bryan just keeps getting better."

Here's how good the McCarthy felt about his offensive line of late: Last week, he awarded game balls to Bakhtiari and Bulaga. How often do you hear about a pair of tackles getting game balls on a day when Aaron Rodgers throws three touchdown passes without an interception and a receiver (Randall Cobb) has 121 yards?

"That's hard to do when you're a lineman," Campen said.

But neither tackle allowed so much as a quarterback pressure against Carolina, and the only two sacks the Panthers managed were the fault of the tight ends.

It's a performance the Packers need to repeat – and repeat again – before McCarthy's prediction can come to fruition.

"I don't think we've really put together back-to-back games where we've been as consistent or dominant as we have been in some games," Lang said. "So that's something that we obviously want to get better at."

There are gains to be made, especially in the running game, where the Packers rank 22nd, but perhaps most important is how Rodgers feels about his line. When the quarterback is confident in the group that protects him, it means the world to the offense.

"They're the smartest group I've been around and they have enough input in the plan with run-game footwork and techniques and stuff," Rodgers said last week on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. Josh and T.J. are two of the smarter guys I've ever been around to play those offensive line positions.

"Corey's been doing a real good job. David Bakhtiari's a guy who could play for 10 or 12 years, I think – at least – at left tackle. He's as talented as they come and smart; he's improving. Bryan is a very solid right tackle."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was 13 yards away from Jerricho Cotchery when the Carolina Panthers receiver caught a swing pass at his own 48-yard line in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.

In 1.4 seconds, Clinton-Dix had closed the gap.

The story would be better if the Green Bay Packers rookie made the tackle, but then safeties coach Darren Perry might not have anything to hold over the first-round pick.

[+] EnlargeHa Ha Clinton-Dix
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsRookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has become one of the Packers' surest tacklers.
In what was his first NFL start, Clinton-Dix led the Packers with eight tackles (including seven solo stops). That he missed Cotchery on what turned out to be a 9-yard catch-and-run actually sat well with Perry for one reason: Clinton-Dix was aggressive in his pursuit.

"Coach sees us out there giving effort, 100 percent effort, whether we miss the tackle or we make it, he can live with that," Clinton-Dix said Friday. "Once he sees us coming up short or kind of hesitating on making the tackle, then he really has a problem."

In just seven NFL games, the 21st overall pick went from the guy who was caught flat-footed on his open-field missed tackle that led to Seattle Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette's 33-yard touchdown in season opener to perhaps the most aggressive pursuer in the Packers' secondary.

Since the opener, Clinton-Dix has been charged with only one missed tackle, according to Pro Football Focus, although it should be noted that it did not give him a missed tackle against the Panthers.

But the Packers coaches gave him one.

"He's a guy that once he sees stuff, he comes down hill and goes and gets it," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "He doesn't hesitate. He shoots his gun so to speak. You saw him on Sunday, he had to cover space and made one really nice tackle, and then he missed one. But he's going after it aggressively. I think people, over a period of time, receivers know that when you've got a big safety coming downhill on them, it affects that middle of the field."

For the first six games, Clinton-Dix split time at free safety with second-year pro Micah Hyde, who started every one of them. But in the last three of those, Clinton-Dix actually played more snaps than Hyde, which made it only a matter of time before he took over as the starter and played every snap like he did against the Panthers.

"He's really come into his own and is starting to show that he can cover the field as well as fit within the run game and not only fit, but make big plays in space, which we haven't seen for some time since we lost Nick [Collins] and some of those veteran safeties and corners," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "It's good to have a guy like that who you know you're going to be able to count on for years."

The Packers may have to count on him even more on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. Veteran starting strong safety Morgan Burnett has not practiced all week because of a calf injury and was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report.

Plus, Clinton-Dix might have his toughest matchup of the season if he's asked to cover Saints tight end Jimmy Graham.

But he will have capable help. If Burnett can't play, either Hyde or Sean Richardson would start at the other safety spot. The Packers like Hyde's coverage ability, which is why he moves to the nickel spot when the Packers employ five defensive backs, and Richardson is an up-and-comer who has contributed in spots -- like his tackle for no gain on Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart on third-and-1 in the first quarter of Sunday's game.

It's an embarrassment of riches at safety, a position where last year the Packers could barely find one productive starter, and they have Clinton-Dix to thank for that.

"This is the way it's supposed to be," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- For the second straight week, the Green Bay Packers spent Friday facing the possibility of playing without two of their four starting defensive backs.

 Last Sunday against Carolina, they got one of them back -- cornerback Tramon Williams -- but played without cornerback Sam Shields.

A week later, they're again concerned about Shields, who has yet to practice because of the knee injury he sustained on Oct. 12 at Miami. The Packers listed him as doubtful for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints. Davon House would make his second straight start if Shields can’t play.

This time, the other issue is at safety, where Morgan Burnett has yet to practice this week because of a calf injury he sustained against the Panthers.

The situation might be more troublesome this week considering the Saints' high-powered offense, which ranks second in the NFL in yards.

On Thursday, coach Mike McCarthy expressed concern that Burnett's injury was not progressing as fast as he would have hoped.

But on Friday, there was a hint of optimism in his voice.

"Morgan was in here bright and early [going] through the treatments," McCarthy said. "He's obviously going through the Friday routine defensively with the walkthroughs and the classroom, so we'll give him every, plus it's a night game, too. We have more time."

The Packers have options if Burnett can't play. They could start Micah Hyde, who lost his starting spot to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix last week, but still played as the nickel defensive back. Or they could go with up-and-comer Sean Richardson and leave Hyde as the nickel.

Defensive end Datone Jones (ankle) was ruled out even though he practiced on a limited basis Thursday.

"Datone, actually, he went for it yesterday," McCarthy said Friday. "I appreciate him out there pushing through it. Frankly, watching the individual work with Mike Trgovac, our D-Line coach, you could clearly see he's not ready. So he's not going to make it."

Here's the full injury report:
  • Out: DE Datone Jones (ankle)
  • Doubtful: CB Sam Shields (knee)
  • Questionable: S Morgan Burnett (calf)
  • Probable: RB James Starks (ankle)
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ask Eddie Lacy about his home, and the Green Bay Packers running back can't tell you much -- except what his family has told him.

That will change next week, when he returns to New Orleans to start his bye week. And he'll spend it in the house his family longed for ever since theirs was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

His parents finally moved into that new house in August -- while Lacy was busy with training camp -- after living in a trailer for the better part of a decade since the disaster wiped out their home in Gretna, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.

"They sent me pictures," Lacy said this week. "They're excited to have their own house, their own back yard, pretty much everything is theirs. It's not a trailer. They've got a lot of room. It's crazy, but they're definitely more comfortable."

Lacy will see that soon enough.

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesEddie Lacy has seen his numbers drop in his sophomore season but could be in line for a big workload against the Saints.
First, he has business to take care of on the other side of the Mississippi, where the Packers play the Saints Sunday night at the Superdome.

In what can perhaps be described as a disappointing encore to his rookie season, Lacy is coming off his most efficient game of the season. Last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, he rushed for 63 yards on just 12 carries. His 5.3-yard average was his second best of the season, behind only his 105-yard performance on 13 carries two weeks earlier against the Minnesota Vikings.

Lacy was in full grind-it-out mode against the Panthers. Unlike the game against the Vikings, when he had a long run of 29 yards, he did not have a gain longer than 11 yards against Carolina. He also matched his season high with three catches. credited Lacy with nine broken tackles on rushes and receptions combined, although the Packers' coaching staff said their total was well into the teens.

Despite a reduced number of touches this season -- an average of 13.1 carries per game this season compared to 18.9 last season -- Lacy has four rushing touchdowns in his last four games. During most of that stretch, he has split snaps with James Starks. But with Starks battling an ankle injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday, Lacy could go back to being the workhorse back he was last season, when he led all NFL rookies with 1,178 rushing yards.

"You want to score, you want to get 100 yards, you know, you want to do everything that makes you look good," Lacy said. "But I just want to be able to contribute, and that's pass blocking, getting out on the check-down, the whole nine yards. I may not have 100 yards. I may not even get 60, but you know, the yards that I do have definitely will contribute and make sure we're in a great position to win the game, which is the ultimate goal."

So if Lacy's trip goes according to plan, he'll travel with the Packers to New Orleans on Saturday, have a productive game in a victory on Sunday night, fly back with the team to Green Bay early Monday morning and then turn around and head back to New Orleans on Monday night.

And he'll finally see that house.

"It's a great feeling, especially for me coming home," Lacy said. "I don't have to worry about coming home, staying in the trailer and sleeping on the sofa no more. I get to come home to a house, air conditioning, everything's working, [a] sofa, my own bed. It's just a homely feeling now."