On Tuesday, the news broke that eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson would miss at least the next six weeks with a broken collarbone. He joins Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson, Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, B.J. Raji, Jermichael Finley, Nick Perry and Sam Shields on the long list of talented starters who are currently either out, on injured reserve or hampered in some way by injury.
And nobody's panicking. The blogs are quiet. There are no editorial writers chewing their fingernails to the bone over the absence of a half-dozen Pro Bowl-level players. Everyone seems to be assuming that the Packers will just keep on rolling as usual. With their next two games against the lowly Jaguars and the fading Cardinals, with a bye week coming up to boot, it's true that this is the perfect time not to panic about the wave of injuries.
But think about it. The Packers are currently down a No. 1 wide receiver, a probable Hall of Fame cornerback plus his talented understudy, their top two inside linebackers, their No. 1 defensive tackle, their No. 1 running back and their first-round rookie outside linebacker, and their insanely athletic No. 1 tight end is limited by a shoulder injury. How many teams in the league could absorb that punishment and even think about moving on as per usual?
The New York Giants most likely could. The 49ers, too. Bill Belichick has made a career out of filling holes on the Patriots with veterans off the street. The 28 other teams would likely have a spot of bother. Look at the Baltimore Ravens, one of the NFL's best teams. They lost their best cornerback (Larderius Webb) and their best inside linebacker (Ray Lewis) in Week 5, and got blown out by the Texans 43-13 in Week Six. The Packers had lost Jennings, Raji, Bishop, Benson and had Finley limited before playing the Texans, against whom they bid temporary farewells to Perry, Smith, Shields and Brandon Saine. Didn't matter. They won 42-24.
Green Bay has almost always been deep at wide receiver and inside linebacker under Ted Thompson, and he and Mike McCarthy have generally found ways to survive at running back after catastrophic injury (2010, 2005) or ineffectiveness (2007, 2006) threatened to scuttle the position. The cornerback part is what blows my mind. Remember the dark days of 2009, when the Packers' secondary was getting lit up like a Roman candle and Woodson was the only CB worth a lick? Heck, remember 2011, when the defense couldn't survive without a full-strength Tramon Williams? And let's not forget the Packers' three-time Pro Bowl safety, Nick Collins, out of the league after a 2011 neck injury prematurely sank his brilliant career.
But somehow, the Packers have assembled depth in the secondary unprecedented in Thompson's tenure. Rookie Casey Hayward has stunned everyone thus far, picking off four passes in the his last three games. Before his injury, Shields had re-focused and played back to his 2010 form. Williams has looked solid so far this year. Davon House, just back from injury himself, is ready to contribute. Morgan Burnett is solid, Jerron McMillan is learning and M.D. Jennings has been decent. And Jarrett Bush, back on special teams, could survive at nickel back if needed.
These Packers are deeper than they've been in a long time, and their success in the past two games has a lot to do with that (although Aaron Rodgers playing out of his mind certainly didn't hurt). Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Hayward and Burnett head the long list of young players that have stepped up to date. Alex Green is feeling his way. It's a true next-man-up mentality these days in Green Bay, and more to the point, it's working. Woodson's injury will certainly hurt, perhaps more than any other to date; as an instinctive playmaker, superb team leader and do-everything Swiss army knife, he has no equal. But even without him and all the other injuries, the Packers have a fighting chance against any team in the league. That is the kind of depth that few teams can match.