GREEN BAY—They're outside linebackers and they're supposed to be the star of Dom Capers' defensive scheme, but they won't be in uniform on Sunday and their absence is forcing their defensive coordinator to find new players and, possibly, create new schemes.
"You have to adapt and you have to adapt during the course of the game. Yeah, it affects what you do, how you call the game," Capers said on Friday, as he answered media questions that targeted the Packers' injury report at linebacker.
That report includes outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, team co-leaders in sacks with three each. Matthews and Perry will not play on Sunday. So, where will the Packers find a pass rush, which is designed to come from the outside linebackers in Capers' 3-4 scheme.
"This week, Mulumba and Palmer have to be ready," Capers said.
Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer are rookies. Mulumba was undrafted and Palmer is a sixth-round pick. It was not expected back in training camp that Mulumba and Palmer would hold in their hands the fate of the Packers' pass rush.
"It seems like every week I'm talking about the injuries. Every week, we've got a new guy stepping up. Hopefully, we won't lose anybody during the course of the game," Capers said.
Capers' problems were intensified on Friday when outside linebacker/defensive lineman Mike Neal did not practice and was listed on the Packers' injury report as "questionable" for Sunday's game. Inside linebacker Brad Jones had previously been listed as "out."
"I felt like we had a little more depth in training camp and we've certainly tested that theory. You have to have enough flexibility in your system to go in a different direction," Capers said.
Switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3? Capers took a 4-3 defense in Jacksonville into the final month of the season with a chance to set an all-time fewest-points-allowed record.
"We did 3-4 stuff out of a 4-3," Capers said.
What does Capers see in the Browns, the Packers' opponent on Sunday at Lambeau Field?
"I see a Browns team that has some explosive ability. This tight end, Cameron, is the real deal. He's a real matchup threat. They have big, physical receivers. Norv Turner (Browns offensive coordinator) knows what he's doing. I think they play pretty darn well. They're going to be a challenge," Capers said.
Packers Offensive Coordinator Tom Clements' challenge is to play without star wide receiver Randall Cobb and not suffer a setback. Compounding Clements' problem is a knee injury that kept wide receiver James Jones out of practice this week and has him listed as "questionable" on the Packers injury report.
"We'll have to play well and everybody will have to pick up their game to make up for the loss," Clements said.
Special Teams Coordinator Shawn Slocum might even find himself playing without a full roster, and that's something that would come down hardest on special teams, where numbers are of critical importance. There has been speculation during the week that the Packers won't be able to put 46 healthy bodies into uniform on Sunday.
"It stresses the team, but we've got a great environment in terms of work ethic. I really believe the guys we play with will play well. The Packers are going to show up and play," Slocum said. Additional coverage - Oct. 18