Packers' depth passes another test out west

Offense gets the contributions it needs to succeed

Packers G Lucas Patrick, C Corey Linsley and G Jon Runyan

A year ago, the Packers were one of the healthiest teams in the NFL. They haven't been so lucky in 2020.

But more often than not when their depth has been tested, it has come through, and Thursday night was no exception in the 34-17 triumph at San Francisco.

Fortunately, Aaron Jones returned to the backfield, but the offense still needed a second option due to two COVID absences, and Tyler Ervin delivered.

The offensive line went through yet another shuffling but once again didn't skip a beat.

And while the receiving corps waits for Allen Lazard to be activated off injured reserve, Marquez Valdes-Scantling rose up after some quiet weeks.

"A lot of guys that had to step up and embrace new roles," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "It's always fun to see those guys come out on top. Just really proud of our guys' effort."

Start with Ervin, whose offensive role has gradually grown since he arrived on the scene as a waiver claim late last year to give life to the return game on special teams.

A jet-motion guy who occasionally gets the ball, Ervin touched it a lot more, 12 times in all and compiled 72 yards from scrimmage (24 on eight rushes, 48 on four receptions).

Nicknamed "Swerve," Ervin didn't take long to fit in last December, and he immediately had quarterback Aaron Rodgers and others wondering how he'd bounced around to three different teams in four years.

"A lot of times, just a change of scenery is good for a player, and in this case we got not only a great player but a great person," Rodgers said. "He's definitely one of the unsung heroes of the night tonight."

That's been the case with the offensive line all season. The number of lineup combinations used through eight games is too many to count, and another was added to the list when right tackle Rick Wagner's knee injury forced him out.

Billy Turner flipped over from left tackle – where he'd started the last three games filling in for All-Pro David Bakhtiari – to right tackle while left guard Elgton Jenkins moved out to left tackle and rookie Jon Runyan filled in at guard.

The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers faced off on Thursday Night Football on Nov. 5, 2020.

Jenkins, a second-year pro named to the PFWA All-Rookie Team last season, even took some snaps at center to give veteran Corey Linsley a breather during mop-up time, playing three positions in one game (and now four on the season after starting the opener at right tackle).

Just how valuable is all this versatility up front? Without it, "I think we'd be in rough shape," LaFleur said. "They don't blink."

Valdes-Scantling took his eye off the ball on the first pass thrown his way but, as he did in Week 1 at Minnesota, he atoned.

He hasn't always bounced back so quickly, but after a dropped pass on third down to open the second quarter, Valdes-Scantling ended that period hauling in a 52-yard bomb from Rodgers when he got behind the 49ers' secondary with plenty of room to spare.

He then ended the Packers' first possession of the second half by staying alive for Rodgers on a third-down scramble from the 1-yard line and – despite getting his facemask grabbed as he worked to get open – dove to catch a dart by the back pylon for his first career two-TD game.

"To see somebody be resilient and be tough-minded," LaFleur said. "that's what we're looking for on this football team."

The Packers needed a lot of that to navigate all the challenges the short week threw at them, and they succeeded.

In the NFL, the adversity never stops. It's only a question of when more responses like Thursday will be needed.