Up until this point, the Green Bay Packers had been the beneficiaries of relatively good health on the defensive side of the ball during the regular season. The Packers' week one starters on defense have missed just four games due to injury through six team games - inside linebacker Brad Jones sat out three times, while defensive end Datone Jones missed this Sunday's game against Miami.
But with three current starters now potentially on the shelf for at least the immediate future, the team's depth will certainly be put to the test over the next few weeks.
The injuries to cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are the higher-profile injuries. However, if there is one unit at which the Packers are built to be able to absorb the loss of a pair of starters, it is at cornerback. With the team carrying six players officially listed at the position and a seventh who has split time between safety and slot corner, the bodies are on the roster without having to look outside the organization. Furthermore, the replacements in Casey Hayward and Davon House are as good a tandem of backup corners as one can find in this league.
Hayward's first season in 2012 made him a top candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, and despite his issues with hamstring injuries a year ago, he has been showing his rookie form more and more as this season goes along. As for House, he's been locking receivers down (as long as he's not slipping on the Soldier Field turf) and playing a physical but clean brand of coverage on the outside. They have shown the ability to be excellent role players so far this year, but they will need to maintain that level of play while on the field for just about every snap in the coming weeks.
As for the inside linebacker position, Brad Jones will take his job back from Jamari Lattimore if Lattimore indeed misses any time. This of course comes after Jones' poor play and injury in week one forced him off the field and allowed Lattimore to earn the starting job himself even after Jones' return. With an athletic quarterback likely running some read-option, and a solid running game all present on the Carolina Panthers' offense, Jones will need to put his week one (and week six) performances behind him and show a marked improvement if the Packers are to have success defending the run. Oh, and I didn't even mention tight end Greg Olsen.
Granted, one can argue that depth on the defensive line was already stretched thanks to B.J. Raji's season-ending injury in the preseason was a major blow, but it happened early enough that the team was able to spend two weeks preparing without him before the season started. Thankfully, Datone Jones was close enough to playing that it took until gameday to deactivate him, and he should be able to contribute against Carolina in week seven. And when Brad Jones was hurt, his backup played much better than he did - something which many of us expected.
This is truly the first serious injury-related test the Packers defense has faced this year, and the play of the men wearing 29, 31, and 59 in the coming weeks should be a major factor in the team's ability to slow opposing offenses and put Aaron Rodgers and company in positions to win games.