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The Packers suffered many critical injuries in 2012, but they also got tremendous play from backup players down the stretch. Brad Jones and Casey Hayward both come in as two of the top 3 substitute players of 2012 according to PFF.
Injuries seemed to be a constant strain on the Packers throughout 2012. It seemed like every week another player would go down and then disappear for a large portion of the season. As a result of this phenomena it should not surprise many to find the Packers appeared more than once in an article from ProFootball Focus listing their top 5 costly injuries and subs for 2012. As with most of what is put out by PFF, it paints a fascinating picture for the season and points to trends about the Packers which stats alone don’t capture.
The most applicable part of the article to the Packers specifically was the appearance of two Packer players in the top three subs listed for the year. The first Packer to be listed was Brad Jones as the third best sub of 2012. In their description PFF noted that Jones was able to give a reliable presence to the inside play after Desmond Bishop’s injury and the inconsistent play of D.J. Smith early in the year. Jones’ best contribution may have been in pass coverage, allowing only 273 yards in coverage this year. This helped shore up a part of the defense that has struggled for years. Although he struggled at times against the San Francisco 49ers, signing Jones should be a top priority for the Packers this year and he is one of PFF’s top rated free agent linebackers this offseason.
The other Packer to be listed by PFF actually ranked as the best sub of 2012, Casey Hayward. Hayward’s selection shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone paying attention to his play in 2012. Hayward stepped into the lineup and played like a veteran for most of the year. PFF notes that he allowed only 456 receiving yards during the season and no touchdowns. Quarterbacks throwing towards him had a 31.1 passer rating. He led the team in interceptions (6) and was fifth on the team in total tackles (53). Not a bad year for a rookie who was battling for the dimeback spot with Davon House early in training camp.
Overall the selection of these two as best subs highlight the depth the Packers had in 2012. Despite the numerous and critical injuries suffered, the Packers were able to generally find solutions and develop the talent necessary to still win football games. The credit for this depth and has to go to coach McCarthy and his staff. This offseason McCarthy, Capers, and company are going to face some scrutiny, but their ability to get the most out of backup players cannot be ignored. Time and time again we have seen third and fourth string players thrive and contribute to become key members of winning and playoff bound teams. This is abnormal in the NFL, despite the "next man up" mantra that comes out of every locker room. The ability of this coaching staff to get these players to improve year to year as well as ready for each Sunday is something special. Hopefully it’s also something we can remember as we fans freak out about any given questionable play call that may arise.