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Packers primed to regain key players for Broncos clash

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GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The Green Bay Packers reconvened Monday after a full week off for their bye.

When they threw on their dark-colored home game jerseys for the annual team photo after practice, smiles were aplenty.

Not only did Green Bay get back to work as one of only five unbeaten teams in the NFL, but the mood was visibly upbeat with more help on the way.

“The bye week is always helpful for guys to heal up,” veteran safety Morgan Burnett said. “That extra week of rest, that really helps out a lot.”

When head coach Mike McCarthy put his team through a practice in pads of about 75 minutes, the Packers were as close to full strength as they have been in a while.

Notables who practiced included Burnett, receiver Davante Adams, nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Nick Perry.

McCarthy expressed optimism beforehand that Burnett and Adams will be ready to play Sunday night, when Green Bay plays at the Denver Broncos in an intriguing matchup of 6-0 teams that are coming off the open week on their schedules.

“With another week off, they should feel good (this week),” McCarthy said.

Burnett, the quarterback of the defense on the back end, has missed the last four games and played only once this season because of a nagging calf injury. Burnett insisted after Monday’s practice that he’s on “the right track” for playing again.

“It felt good today, and now my main focus is just to keep progressing, not have any setbacks,” he said.

Ditto for the mindset of Adams. The second-year pro, who was an opening-day starter, has been sidelined the last three games after aggravating a sprained left ankle only three plays into Green Bay’s Week 3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Adams returned to practice on a limited basis before the Packers’ last game, a close victory over the San Diego Chargers on Oct. 18. He’s hopeful that staying in Green Bay during the bye week for treatment and rehab work pays off by being on the field Sunday against the Broncos.

“There’s a little soreness (in the ankle) with different (movements),” Adams said. “It kind of depends on plant to plant; it’s not always the same. I just want to get it to where I’m not thinking about it.”

McCarthy is keeping an open mind to how effective Adams can be back in game action, if indeed this weekend marks his return.

“You want to have all of your weapons, and Davante, like I said all through training camp, I thought he clearly was one of the young players that jumped out, and you could see it in the (spring) OTAs,” McCarthy said. “So, yeah, it will be great to have him back out there.”

Still to be determined throughout the week is whether Raji and Perry will be cleared for a return against the Broncos. The former first-round draft picks missed the last game because of groin and shoulder/hand injuries, respectively.

Saying he’s feeling better, Raji wouldn’t speculate on his prognosis for Sunday.

“It’s too early to tell. It’s Monday,” Raji said. “(Just) taking it one day at a time.”

The only players held out of Monday’s practice were running back James Starks and rookie receiver Ty Montgomery.

It’s unclear what kept Starks off the field, though he was at practice. Starks ran for a season-high 112 yards with a 65-yard touchdown and also had a touchdown catch in the win over the Chargers, working in a platoon with lead back Eddie Lacy. After that game, Lacy alluded to Starks’ being “dinged up.”

Montgomery left the last game with an ankle injury.

REPORT CARD AFTER 6 GAMES:

–PASSING OFFENSE: B. The impact of not having premier wideout Jordy Nelson because of a season-ending torn ACL he sustained in the preseason can’t be downplayed. Reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers still remains one of the league’s elite quarterbacks, ranking second with a lofty passer rating of 115.9, but the deep shots for which Nelson was a frequent and dependable target have been few and far between thus far. Consequently, the passing yardage numbers are down considerably for Rodgers and the Packers, who rank just 22nd with a per-game net output of 236.8. Rodgers has thrown for only 300 yards once and hasn’t topped 255 yards in any of the other five games. Of his 23 passes that have been completed for at least 20 years, only three have resulted in gains for 40 or more yards. Even with a depleted pass-catching group as emerging second-year receiver Davante Adams essentially missed the last four games with an aggravated ankle injury, Rodgers has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for nearly 1,500 yards with a familiar lopsided touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15 to two. Both picks came in the Week 5 win over the St. Louis Rams. Randall Cobb, who became the No. 1 wideout after Nelson went out, has played through a lingering shoulder injury to lead the club with 30 catches for 350 yards and four touchdowns. However, Cobb has been held to all of 10 receptions for 105 yards and zero touchdowns the last three games. Veteran James Jones, who returned to the team just before the season started, has been a godsend down the field with 21 receptions for 424 yards (20.2 average) and six touchdowns, ranking among the league leaders for the latter. Before suffering an ankle injury last time out in the narrow victory over the San Diego Chargers, rookie Ty Montgomery flashed on occasion with 15 catches for 136 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers are getting by with little in the way of production from their tight ends, who are down veteran Andrew Quarless (temporary injured reserve since Week 4). Richard Rodgers is tied with Jones for second on the team with 21 catches but has averaged only nine yards per reception.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus. If Eddie Lacy continues to be bothered by a sprained ankle he sustained in Week 2, neither he nor the coaches are letting on. Lacy hasn’t missed any games since then, but he deferred to James Starks as the featured back who delivered more in the most recent game against the Chargers. Starks, who notched Green Bay’s first 100-yard rushing game of the season in that one with 112 yards in only 10 carries highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown, has produced a team-high 286 yards on the ground with a solid per-carry average of 4.5 yards. Lacy is averaging only 3.9 yards per rush and has just 260 rushing yards, not even cracking the top 30 in the league. He has been limited to 17 carries for 30 yards the last two games after he mustered a season-high 90 yards in 18 attempts in the Week 4 win at the San Francisco 49ers. Despite Lacy’s predominant ineffectiveness early in the season, the Packers rank in the top 10 with averages of 127.3 rushing yards per game (eighth) and 4.5 yards per carry (sixth). Aaron Rodgers has given the rushing numbers a boost with several of his familiar scrambles into the open field in passing situations. He has pulled the football down 29 times for 160 yards, averaging 5.5 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. An encouraging start to the season for Green Bay’s defense against the pass took a hit in the last game. Philip Rivers rallied the Chargers to nearly overtime against the heavily favored Packers by throwing for 503 yards. Otherwise, Green Bay has been opportunistic against opposing quarterbacks. The Packers’ passer rating of 73.4 is fifth best in the NFL. They have allowed an average of just 236.5 net passing yards, helped immensely by ranking second in the league with 23 sacks. Ageless outside linebacker Julius Peppers has led the way with 5 1/2 sacks, registering a sack in all but one game. Not far behind are ever-moving linebacker Clay Matthews (4 1/2) and injured outside linebacker Nick Perry (3 1/2). Six players have at least two sacks. Despite not having veteran safety Morgan Burnett for all but one game because of a calf injury, the Green Bay secondary has produced as well. Pro Bowl cornerback Sam Shields has a co-team-high two interceptions and a club-best nine pass breakups. The versatile Micah Hyde didn’t miss a beat as the starting fill-in for Burnett with an interception and five pass breakups. The team also has realized early dividends from its top two draft picks this year in situational roles. Quinten Rollins, a second-round selection, starred in the defensive-influenced win over the Rams with two interceptions, returning one for a 45-yard touchdown. Fellow cornerback Damarious Randall has seven pass breakups, none bigger than knocking away Rivers’ potential score-tying pass to Chargers running back Danny Woodhead at the pylon in the final seconds of the last game.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus. The Packers’ success against the run has been hit-and-miss. Two huge outputs by the Chicago Bears (189 yards) in the season opener and the Rams (191) two game ago have skewed Green Bay’s otherwise solid production. Opponents are rushing for an average of 118.5 yards per game, 11th highest in the league, and also 4.7 yards per carry. Still, Green Bay has been getting plenty of contributions at or close to the line of scrimmage. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has a team-high 50 tackles (42 solo). The usual tandem of Nate Palmer (43) and Matthews (32) at inside linebacker have combined for 75 tackles. Defensive linemen Mike Daniels and B.J. Raji also have been assertive with 29 and 19 tackles, respectively.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus. Nine months removed from the comedy of errors in the NFC Championship overtime loss at Seattle, Green Bay’s special-teams units have showed signs of improvement. Ol’ reliable Mason Crosby is as steady as ever, connecting on all but one of his 11 field-goal attempts and helping to tilt field position in Green Bay’s favor with 19 touchbacks. Opponents are averaging only 22.3 yards on kickoff returns. Fellow veteran Tim Masthay doesn’t overwhelm with his punting numbers – averaging just 43.3 gross yards and 38.3 net yards – but his directional precision has helped limit opponents to a minuscule average of four yards per return. Chris Banjo has led the coverage units with nine tackles, followed by Jayrone Elliott (seven) and Jeff Janis (six). The speedy Montgomery has given a boost to the team’s previously bland kickoff returns, averaging 31.1 yards (long of 46). Hyde, who has been dangerous in the past on punt returns, is averaging only 6.5 yards.

–COACHING: B. With the season at almost its midway point, the Packers are one of only five undefeated teams. That’s a credit to the coaching staff for making do with what they have had at their disposal amid a litany of injuries since the season started. After head coach Mike McCarthy relinquished the play-calling duties on offense during the offseason, longtime right-hand man Tom Clements has kept the offense still functioning at a high rate in lieu of the depleted personnel at receiver and not having a true deep threat. The Packers rank fifth in scoring (27.3 points per game) and 12th in total offense (364.2 yards per outing). Meanwhile, the frequently criticized Capers has assembled a productive defense that has saved Green Bay from dropping out of the ranks of the unbeaten on at least two occasions. The Packers are No. 1 in the league in giving up an average of only 16.8 points per game. Still to be resolved is the team’s penchant for penalties. It ranks in the top half of the league with 49 enforced infractions.


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