Things to worry about, and not
A win’s a win, and a win over the Bears in primetime is a beautiful thing indeed, but the elation over Sunday’s victory left a couple pressing concerns in its wake: Do we need to think about replacing Allen Barbre at right tackle? And how vulnerable are we at safety now that Atari Bigby’s hurt again?
Of the two, I’m less worried about Barbre. Yes, he got totally trashed by Adewale Ogunleye, who treated him like a low speed bump all night. But it was Barbre’s first start, for God’s sake. He needs to have a steep learning curve, but not impossibly so. Offensive line is one of the more teachable positions. Technique matters at least as much as raw talent; for proof, just look to the other side of the line, where the not-particularly-physical Chad Clifton has spent years shutting down the likes of Patrick Kerney and Jared Allen.
And, as inadequate as his play was Sunday night, pulling Barbre now wouldn’t be without risk. Our zone-blocking scheme requires a high degree of coordination between the linemen to function properly. Mike McCarthy made a conscious decision to cement the starting line early this season, having concluded that a large factor in last year’s sluggish ground game was the ever-shifting rotation on the line. If Barbre shows any improvement whatsoever this week, he’ll keep his job.
The Bigby situation is potentially more worrisome. Over at Acme Packing Company, Brandon looks at the statistics and concludes that we’re no worse off with Aaron Rouse starting in his place. I don’t buy it. Brandon’s comparison uses numbers from last year, when Bigby was hurt and not playing like himself all year. Healthy, Bigby’s a hyper-physical, instinctive player who terrorizes opposing ball-carriers with monster hits and makes up for his inevitable mistakes with his speed. Rouse is fast, too, and seems to have above-average ball skills, but he has a history of playing out of position, taking bad angles and missing tackles. Coaches say they were happy enough with his fill-in performance on Sunday and that he’s come along, but I’ll still be happy when Bigby’s back.
But will he ever be back to stay? Kevin Seifert is now using the dreaded “injury-prone” tag to describe him. To my mind, that term often gets applied unfairly. Some guys, like Justin Harrell, have chronic problems that are clearly indicative of an underlying weakness; others, like Aaron Rodgers, seem like they’ve just been the victim of coincidence but are no more likely than anyone else to get hurt in the future. And, as they say, the injury rate in the NFL over a season is 100 percent; it’s just a question of how well you can play hurt.
Still, it’s starting to look like Bigby’s full-throttle style of play might carry with it a greater-than-average risk of injury — in which case you have to ask whether the Packers didn’t err in cutting Anthony Smith, who made some big plays in the preseason and knows the 3-4 scheme inside and out, whatever his other shortcomings.