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After Two Relatively Healthy Seasons, Injury Gods Inflicting Pain on Packers

Sunday's injury to All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander is the latest blow to the Green Bay Packers, who have been slammed by injuries to critical players.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – It’s better to be lucky than good.

It’s also better to be lucky than hurt.

For a coach, there is a delicate balancing act between getting his players ready to play and keeping them fresh and hungry. Would the Green Bay Packer have been in better position to beat the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 had coach Matt LaFleur played his starters during the preseason? Maybe. But LaFleur also would have put key players at risk of injury.

For all the to-play-or-not-to-play consternation, staying healthy in many ways is out of a coach’s hands.

“I think a lot of it is luck,” LaFleur said in training camp last year after his team stayed remarkably healthy in 2019. “We were pretty fortunate to not endure too many significant injuries. I do think that we have a plan in place that (trainers) Chris Gizzi and Flea (Bryan Engel) have done a great job, as well as we listened to our guys a little bit and how they’re feeling about their bodies. I think it was a combined effort to try to put together a plan in place to keep these guys healthy but also there was a lot of luck involved in that, as well.”

LaFleur was too smart to take credit because health is a fickle thing in such a violent sport. The good luck of 2019 has been replaced by bad luck in 2021.

In our annual preseason ranking of the 90-man roster, left tackle David Bakhtiari was second, cornerback Jaire Alexander was fourth, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was sixth and guard Elgton Jenkins was ninth. (With the great unknown at quarterback, Smith and Jenkins ranked behind Jordan Love.) By the end of Sunday’s game, those four players were out due to injuries. Two are significant – All-Pro left tackle Bakhtiari remains out following last season’s torn ACL and Pro Bow outside linebacker Smith is out indefinitely following back surgery. And who knows about Alexander, with the team seeking out specialists and, in the words of one source, “being smart” with their All-Pro cornerback.

“He’s a Pro Bowler. He’s a captain,” LaFleur said on Monday. “So, you can never have enough great players out there. Right now, we’ve got a few of our stud players on the bench due to injury.”



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The Packers are 3-1, even with Bakhtiari missing all four games, Smith the last three games, Jenkins the last two games and Alexander missing the final 24 defensive snaps against Pittsburgh.

“If you would’ve told me early in the season we’d be without arguably two of our best linemen for a couple of games and play those two fronts [San Francisco and Pittsburgh], I would’ve been ecstatic with two wins and here we are at 3-1,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after Sunday’s game.

From 2009 through 2020, according to the subscription site, the Packers were the ninth-most injured team based on total games missed. In 2010, when Green Bay won the Super Bowl despite a long list of players on injured reserve, it ranked sixth in injuries. It was the most-injured team in 2012 and the second-most injured team in 2013.

In 2019, LaFleur either had Midas’ touch or a shiny horseshoe. The Packers lost the eighth-fewest games due to injuries. Even Kevin King managed to play in 15 games. In 2020, the Packers lost the 11th-most games due to injuries. However, the team mostly escaped catastrophe.

Defensive tackle Kenny Clark missed three games with a groin injury early, Bakhtiari missed three games with broken ribs at midseason and Corey Linsley missed three games late with a knee injury. Those injuries were damaging but not devastating. While starting guard Lane Taylor suffered a season-ending injury in the opener, receiver Allen Lazard missed six games following core-muscle surgery and King missed five games with a quad injury, a big chunk of Green Bay’s injury numbers involved players – Patrick Taylor, Kabion Ento, Simon Stepaniak and Parry Nickerson among them – who would have made only the smallest impact on the team. Weighing the injuries by career quality of the players, Green Bay was only 19th on the list of teams most impacted by injuries, according to Man Games Lost.

Since it’s early in the season, Man Games Lost doesn’t have 2021 data inputted. However, you don’t need hard numbers to state the obvious impact of this year’s injury report.

The question is whether the Packers keep winning with so much star power on the sideline. Talking about the next man up is a necessity in the no-excuses world that is the NFL. But that runs into the reality that the Packers have had a hard time overcoming the absence of Smith’s pass rush and now they’ll have a hard time overcoming the potential absence of Alexander’s elite coverage skills. Those two factors will make Sunday’s game at Cincinnati a challenge. The Bengals have a rising quarterback in Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft, and a strong receiver corps headed by Ja’Marr Chase, the No. 5 pick in the 2021 draft.

The key for this season, obviously, is to survive this challenging stretch and kick it into gear once the offensive line is intact, Alexander is healthy and, potentially, Smith returns. But all of that depends on the whims of the injury gods, who clearly have a score to settle against LaFleur.