There were only two possible reasons why the Packers would step so dramatically out of character as to pursue free-agent RB Cedric Benson, late of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Either some malignant injury had hexed the Packers' battered running back corps during the 21-13 loss to San Diego, or the front office was just that disgusted by a night that saw James Starks carry five times for 16 yards and fumble once, Alex Green carry thrice for three yards and Marc Tyler go 13-for-32 and a game-ending fumble.
Since the Packers under Ted Thompson aren't known for making snap judgments, I suspected the former. Mike McCarthy confirmed that hypothesis by announcing that Starks had suffered a turf toe injury and was "week to week". Those are no joke for a RB; former Packer Brandon Jackson didn't play a regular-season snap last year after going on injured reserve with a toe injury in the preseason. Tyler and Brandon Saine are also banged up, and Green is coming off an ACL tear last year.
So the Packers are pursuing Benson because they've run out of options at the position, at least until everybody heals. Is it a wise choice? As many bloggers have pointed out so far, Benson is 29 and has plenty of mileage on him. He's averaged 277 carries a year for the last four years, but if Green Bay reels him in he'll be unlikely to reach 200. Between Aaron Rodgers' pass offense and other healthy options in the backfield, we should expect Benson to be part of a committee that should take some of the load off him. Benson has fumbled 12 times in the last two years, isn't much of a receiver and has a career average-per-carry of 3.8. The fact that Green Bay is going after him instead of Ryan Grant, who knows the offense already, is a rather harsh indictment of Grant.
The other big news out of McCarthy's post-practice press conference on Saturday was the loss of Desmond Bishop, possibly for the season, with a hamstring tear. If you're looking for silver linings, the Packers couldn't have lost a starter at a deeper position, but it's still a huge blow. D.J. Smith will have his work cut out for him to fill Bishop's shoes, although he had a good game against San Diego and has had a good camp by all accounts.
Smith had 27 tackles, including 19 solo, in the three games he started in place of Bishop last year. He added a pass defensed and a pick in the rout of Oakland. Packers opponents averaged 4.04 yards per rush in those games, down from 4.7 in the regular season as a whole. The gross yardage gained did climb slightly, to 118.6 yards per game from the season average of 111.8. In other words, because the Packers' best inside linebacker was out with a calf strain, teams rushed more when his replacement (and A.J. Hawk's replacement, Robert François) were in. Smith will have his work cut out for him, but at least he has three preseason games to get ready for the regular season.