The Green Bay Packers were back on the practice field on Wednesday but without a few key players.
After sustaining a groin injury in Sunday’s game against Miami, Keisean Nixon was held out, as was Christian Watson, who suffered a hip injury. Nixon has, of course, added some incredible playmaking to the Packers’ kick return unit and has been a true difference-maker, currently leading the NFL in total kick return yards, despite not assuming that responsibility until Week 6, while also ranking second in yards per return per PFF.
In Nixon’s place on Sunday as the kick returner was Romeo Doubs, who didn’t come to the NFL with kick return experience but rather as a punt returner, where he averaged over 10 yards per return during his college career. On defense, Nixon was replaced with a ‘by-committee’ approach that included De’Vondre Campbell, Innis Gaines, and Darnell Savage, all taking slot snaps.
This week, the Packers’ defense faces another tall task, going up against a Vikings’ offense that is averaging over 25 points per game this season, with a group of skill-position players, led by Justin Jefferson, that is loaded with talent and big play ability. As Matt LaFleur said on Wednesday, slowing the Vikings begins with pressuring Kirk Cousins.
Watson’s injury likely played at least a partial role in the Packers signing wide receiver Bo Melton off the Seattle practice squad on Tuesday. Without Watson, the Packers have just four available players on the 53-man roster at receiver. Watson’s impact on this offense over the last six games can’t be overstated. In addition to providing needed big-play ability, he also creates opportunities for other pass-catchers with the attention he draws; he opens up the run game and has changed how opposing defenses defend Green Bay.
A surprise addition to the injury report was quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was held out of practice with a knee injury. The good news, however, is that, from the sounds of it, this was done to give him some extra rest, as he is expected to play on Sunday against Minnesota. Rodgers would also say after practice that he expects to on the field Thursday. Below is a look at when it appears the injury occurred.
While those three players were held out, David Bakhtiari and Yosh Nijman were on the practice field. Bakhtiari, of course, has been sidelined since having appendectomy surgery, and Nijman left the Miami game with a shoulder injury.
The Packers will hopefully have both players available for the Vikings, as the offensive line will be up against Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter, two edge rushers who rank in the top 10 in pressures generated this season. While Watson’s emergence has garnered a lot of well-deserved attention, the play of the offensive line over the last six games has been the catalyst behind the Packers’ success on offense, which includes scoring 26.5 points per game during that span. For the most part, Rodgers has had time in the pocket, and the run game has been very good as well, which has opened up the rest of the playbook for Matt LaFleur.
Depending on whether Bakhtiari or Nijman are available, it could lead to a lot or little movement along the offensive line—both were limited participants on Wednesday. If both can go, then the Packers have their preferred starting five. Without Bakhtiari, Zach Tom will continue at left tackle. But without Nijman, Green Bay has a few options, including Elgton Jenkins moving back to right tackle and Tom taking over at left guard (as long as Bakhtiari is healthy). Jenkins has looked like his old self back at left guard, allowing just four pressures in eight games, but prior to that, he was very up and down at right tackle early on in the year, although in addition to playing a new position, he was also working his way back from an ACL injury.
Perhaps if the Packers want to keep Jenkins at left guard, they could try Tom at right tackle, but it’s important to note he has no NFL experience playing there. I don’t foresee Royce Newman starting at right tackle, I believe that move was made in Miami because it involved the least amount of movement, and with a week to prepare, the Packers will take a different approach.
In the doomsday scenario where both Bakhtiari and Nijman are out, I would guess that Tom will be the left tackle, Jenkins the right tackle, along with Newman the right guard, and Jon Runyan at left guard, where both players have ample experience. But again, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Both being out there today was a good sign.
Lastly, of note, Aaron Jones was a limited participant after being on the field for just 25 snaps against Miami and having just eight touches. It goes without saying, but his presence is a must for this offense.
Below is a look at the rest of the Packers’ injury report from Wednesday along with Minnesota’s as well: