Packers Notebook (Oct. 18)

Bill Huber

Coming back healthier

Last season, the Green Bay Packers were one of the healthiest teams in the NFL. According to the subscription site, they were the eighth-healthiest team based on number of games lost to injury.

Through week four of this season, the Packers ranked 16th in games lost. Two of the team’s best players, receiver Davante Adams and defensive tackle Kenny Clark, have been sidelined by injuries. Moreover, cornerbacks Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan were unable to finish the Atlanta game.

So, while a week five bye might be too early — especially for a team that’s been on a roll with a 4-0 start — coach Matt LaFleur was happy to get it ahead of this week’s game at the powerful Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“The bye hit at a pretty good time just in terms of trying to get some guys back,” he said on Monday. “I think you’re always a little concerned when you hit the pause button when you have that momentum because I think momentum is real and, once it goes one way or the other, it just gets rolling. But I thought it did give us an opportunity to look back and make sure we’re doing things the right way in all three phases.”

During a typical bye week, the players are free to leave town to go home or take a brief vacation. Due to coronavirus restrictions, however, the players had to stay in Green Bay. Thus, LaFleur relied on his position coaches to stay engaged with the players.

“Certainly, we were limited in the things that we could provide for them, in terms of we couldn’t do anything outside our facility and then you have your limitations when you’re inside your facility,” he said. “So, it definitely was a challenge, but we’ve got a mature football team that I think handled themselves the right way and did what they have to do. We’ve got a big stretch in front of us. Anytime you have that early bye, it makes for a longer season.”

Big-time Barnes

The Packers had only one player selected to’s all-rookie team from the first four games of the season. It wasn’t any of the draft picks. Rather, it was undrafted linebacker Krys Barnes.

Statistically, Barnes has been the team’s best linebacker. He is second on the team with 23 tackles (including two for losses) in 85 snaps. That’s a tackle rate of one for every 3.70 snaps. Veteran addition Christian Kirksey, who is on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, has a team-leading 27 tackles (zero for losses) in 128 snaps, or one for every 4.74 snaps.

Barnes played a career-high 38 snaps against the Falcons. He had six tackles, was close to an interception and helped run the defense as the main communicator.

“No matter how many I did get, you just want to treat it like it was gold,” Barnes said. “For me, to be able to get the chance to go out there and display my ability and contribute to the team in some sort of fashion is all I could ask for. It’s tremendous for me to get out there and be able to see the things I want to see to get better at. Talking with my coach on this bye week, we covered some things to help me make that next step coming up for this next game.”

Barnes got his shot due to injuries to Kirksey and fifth-round rookie Kamal Martin. Martin had won a starting job but suffered a knee injury that required surgery late in training camp and sent him to injured reserve. He practiced for the first time since the surgery on Monday. It will be interesting to see when Martin is given some snaps on defense.

“It’s a little different,” Barnes said of game speed, “but I think we practice at a high speed. We practice going all out every chance that we get. We run to the ball. We’re doing everything we’re supposed to be doing so, by the time game time comes, it’s not a surprise. For him, he’s had a tremendous camp. He was drafted. He’s a tremendous player all the way around, so we’re excited to get him back hopefully here pretty soon and I’m excited to see him play and produce like we all know he will. So, I’m excited for him.”

Summer swelter

Fall has arrived in Green Bay. Sunday’s predicted high temperature is 45 with perhaps even a flurry of snow in the morning.

Summer, however, remains the season in Tampa. The predicted high for Sunday’s game is 88. With that, LaFleur cranked up the heat in the Don Hutson Center on Monday.

“I think that’s a tough thing to simulate. We’ll do our best,” LaFleur said afterward. “We definitely had it cranked up in there and it was nice and ‘sweltry,’ if that’s the right word. But our guys are going to have to do a great job during the week making sure that they’re taking in the proper fluids because we don’t want any problems on Sunday.”

The Bucs’ fine line

Tampa Bay’s offensive line has powered the team’s offensive success. In the running game, Ronald Jones is coming off back-to-back games of 100-plus rushing yards. In the passing game, the Bucs are sixth in opponent sack percentage.

“I think the most growth is on the offensive line,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told reporters this week. “We’re running the ball at a really good rate right now, which sets up a lot of the play-action passes. Their pass protection has been outstanding. Everybody knows about our receivers and the backs, but the offensive line is playing at a really high level right now.”

The running game has been important for quarterback Tom Brady. On play-action passes, he has a 70.6 percent completion rate and 114.1 passer rating. On standard passes, his completion percentage is 63.0 and his passer rating is 93.2.

That’s a big difference, which is why stopping the run will be paramount for the Packers. While they’re 25th in the league with 4.81 yards allowed per carry, they yielded only 3.12 against Atlanta. The return of Clark, who hasn’t played since the second quarter at Minnesota in week one, should help.

“This game was certainly our best to date,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said last week. “I just think some of the missed tackles, especially in the backfield, we still made plays but we had a chance to have an 8- or 9-yard loss but instead it was a no gain. Or we had a chance for a 4- or 5-yard loss and it ended up being a yard gain.

“So, some of it was not being able to finish. And then missing some tackles down on the goal line on both touchdowns, we had opportunities to get him on the ground and weren’t able to. Always room for improvement there, but we just feel the d-line especially led by Tyler Lancaster, they really stepped up with Kenny being out and took the challenge.”