With the release of Ahmad Carroll on Tuesday, it appears the Packers are leaning toward giving cornerback Jarrett Bush an opportunity to become the team's nickel defensive back.
Bush, a non-drafted rookie originally signed by Carolina, caught the Packers' attention during the preseason with the Panthers. Head Coach Mike McCarthy also said the Packers liked Bush coming out of Utah State, where he earned all-Western Athletic Conference honors as a senior.
When Carolina released Bush in its final roster reduction before Week 1, the Packers signed him the next day, and he has since been getting accustomed to Green Bay's bump-and-run coverage scheme for all its cornerbacks.
"I think he's getting more comfortable, coming from a different scheme," McCarthy said. "I had a chance to watch him in the preseason. I thought he was physical in the preseason, exerted himself a little more than you've seen since he's been here. But I think you're starting to see that now."
Thus far, Bush has played for the Packers primarily on special teams and has gotten on the field on defense for a few snaps here and there. But his workload could increase dramatically, beginning Sunday against the St. Louis Rams. The nickel back is the fifth defensive back used in place of a linebacker, normally on passing downs or whenever the offense uses three- and four-receiver sets.
As for the release of Carroll, the Packers' 2004 first-round draft pick, McCarthy said he and General Manager Ted Thompson simply decided it was time to give younger players like Bush, and perhaps Patrick Dendy (currently on the practice squad), an opportunity to prove they belong in the NFL.
McCarthy noted Carroll had improved in coverage and was a solid contributor on special teams, but teams have repeatedly challenged Carroll with the deep ball, which he has struggled with. The Packers' secondary as a whole has allowed far too many big plays this season, and perhaps Carroll's inconsistencies on long passes, and lack of improvement in defending them, were simply making opposing offenses more inclined to attack the Packers that way.
"He struggles with the ball downfield," McCarthy said. "It's been a problem for him, and people will continue to challenge him until he stops it."
Carroll clearly struggled against Philadelphia on Monday night, getting burned badly by Greg Lewis on a 45-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, and admitted he had an awful game afterwards.
"These things aren't easy, especially when you get to the personal side of it because he is a young man, a talented young man," McCarthy said. "But this is a decision we made that we feel is in the best interest of our football team."
In need of big plays
The Packers' defense was against susceptible to the big play on Monday night, but McCarthy pointed out the offense had its chances to counter those with big plays of its own and failed.
Specifically, McCarthy was referring to opportunities in the second half. On the Packers' first drive of the third quarter, with first down on the Eagles' 41, Donald Driver was wide open on a slant but dropped the ball. Had he caught it, he had only the safety to beat for a possible touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Driver was open again over the middle, but Brett Favre's pass floated too high and tipped off his fingertips. The Eagles intercepted, and though that was overdone by an illegal contact penalty that gave the Packers five yards and an automatic first down, the original throw could have been at least a 25-yard gain.
"Our big play production on offense needs to improve because big plays equal points," McCarthy said.
That said, McCarthy was pleased with the team's intensity and overall performance in the first half, which ended with the Packers ahead 9-7. McCarthy said the Packers played a very physical, emotional game, and they just have to find a way to use that to change momentum when it starts to swing the other way.
"I'm not going to say it's a step back because I think there's things to learn from," McCarthy said. "But I think to step forward you need success, you need to win."
Favre clean again
For the second straight week, the Packers offensive line did not allow Favre to be sacked, an impressive feat considering the Eagles came into the game tied for the league lead in sacks with 16 through the first three weeks.
Like they did against Detroit, the Packers often kept a running back and tight end in for pass protection, and once again the scheme worked well.
McCarthy credited center Scott Wells, who is responsible for making the protection calls at the line, with keeping all the linemen on the same page.
"We have a lot on Scott's plate as far as the declarations and some of the things we did," McCarthy said. "They came after us just a few times, and I think part of it was they couldn't get to us, and that's a credit to Scott as far as setting the declaration."
Monday night's physical game took its toll on the Packers as far as this week's injury report is concerned.
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson's foot injury makes him doubtful for this week, and the same goes for rookie linebacker Abdul Hodge, who has a knee injury. McCarthy said he didn't think Ferguson's foot was fractured.
Meanwhile Driver (rib, hip), tight end Donald Lee (knee) and linebacker Ben Taylor (hamstring) are questionable, and quarterback Brett Favre is probable with a head and shoulder stinger injury.
Favre was hit in the head by defensive end Juqua Thomas on his final play of the game, a third-down incomplete pass with just over 6 minutes left. But McCarthy said he doesn't think it's a serious injury.