GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers entered Sunday night’s game in New Orleans with starting defensive tackle Kenny Clark hoping to return from a groin injury suffered in Week 1, and the club electing to give him another game off despite his return to practice late in the week. The same was decided for outside linebacker Randy Ramsey, who also just returned from a training camp groin injury.
“He did everything in his power to come back, and it’s just, we have to make sure that he can go and is not at further risk of prolonging that injury,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said of the decision to give Clark at least another week without game action. “So when we feel that time is right, that’s when we’ll cut him loose.”
Other than that, the defense had managed to get through the first two games largely intact, but against the Saints starting middle linebacker Christian Kirksey injured a shoulder late in the first half. After the break it was determined he would miss the rest of the game.
That led to Ty Summers taking over the play-calling duties in the middle of the Packers’ defense in the second half, and the second-year player lined up on defense for the first time in his career.
“I thought the communication was really good,” LaFleur said. “He did a great job of relaying the calls to the other 10 guys on the field and helping guys get adjusted. So, I thought that was really good.
“He made some really good plays and then, like every player, there’s always a couple plays here and there that you’ve got to get cleaned up and those are things that we’ll address when we see him (Tuesday).”
The 24-year-old finished with a team-high nine tackles on 44 snaps.
“Ty stepped up,” defensive lineman Kingsley Keke said. “At practice, you can tell he’s dialed in, he’s locked in. I know he prepared well at practice, you know, it’s going to happen into the game. Kirksey went down and Ty stepped in and made some key plays for us.”
Kirksey wasn’t the only loss suffered by the Packers on defense as outside linebacker Rashan Gary injured an ankle late in the fourth quarter and did not return, leading to rookie Jonathan Garvin seeing 16 snaps down the stretch for the Packers.
The rookie out of the University of Miami made one tackle.
LaFleur said it is still too early to say how the injuries to Kirksey and Gary may play out in terms of games missed.
Also being worked into the defense Sunday night were practice squad call-up Billy Winn and inside linebacker Oren Burks. Winn played his first game since 2016 and contributed a pass deflection in six snaps. Burks, who forced a fumble on kick coverage, made two tackles on 13 defensive snaps. According to pro-football-reference.com, those were the most snaps the fourth-year linebacker had played since Week 7 against Oakland last season (14).
“It’s always encouraging when you’ve got some guys that maybe haven’t gotten the time they’d like, to go out there and execute,” LaFleur said Sunday night while acknowledging a deeper film review was needed to truly evaluate the play of the substitutes.
Rookie linebacker Kamal Martin, who looked to have earned a starting inside linebacker job in training camp, is eligible to return to practice. Once a player on injured reserve returns to the practice field, the team has 21 days to put him on the active roster or determine he is done for the year. Martin was placed on injured reserve Sept. 7 after knee surgery in training camp.
LaFleur ‘very, very mindful’ of COVID-19 threat
On Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons placed cornerback A.J. Terrell on the COVID-19/reserve list after a positive test for the virus.
The Falcons are scheduled to head to the Green Bay area Sunday in advance of the Monday night game at Lambeau Field.
According to NFL media, the league tested the Falcons before their loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday and there were no other positive tests. The league also conducted contact tracing regarding Terrell’s movements inside the Falcons’ practice facility and NFL media reported “no players registered as being a close contact for Terrell.”
The protocols allowed the league to permit the Falcons to play as scheduled, and they blew a 26-10 fourth quarter lead to fall to 0-3.
Appleton and Green Bay are currently among the top 10 metro areas with the worst outbreaks of COVID-19.
“Yeah, I think we always have to be very, very mindful, especially where we’re at in our area right now,” LaFleur said. “If you look at the numbers, we’re one of the highest in the National Football League per capita. So our guys have done an outstanding job of being disciplined, of taking care of themselves.
“Really, it comes down to putting the team first, and we’ve got to continue to do that. Because all it takes is one guy. If one guy gets it, it can take down this whole operation. So our guys have done an outstanding job, and we’ve got to continue to be that way.”
Terrell is the first player to be put on the COVID-19/reserve list in the regular season. He was the 16th overall pick in April’s draft out of Clemson and he had made 11 total tackles for the Falcons the first two weeks of the season.
Keke turns in career night
Back on Aug. 21, Packers defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery had a strong message for second-year lineman Keke: “It’s time to put up or shut up. He’s got to come, dive in and buy in to what we’re doing. Just continue to grow as a player fundamentally. That’s a big part of what we do in playing the line. I see him taking those steps.”
After playing 29 snaps in Minnesota and not registering a tackle, Keke played 35 snaps against Detroit and assisted on two stops. Then, Sunday night, he sacked Drew Brees twice and forced a fumble. They were the first sacks of his career.
“I feel great, man,” Keke said. “Being able to get to the quarterback and help my team out, being disruptive and making some plays back there, helping my defense out.”
He also had a tackle for loss and got his hand on a pass.
Even with Clark potentially in line to return Monday night against Atlanta, Keke may have solidified a more prominent role through his play against the Saints.
Watermelon kick no surprise
The Packers faced a free-kick situation after a safety and an onside kick attempt in Week 1 in Minnesota, and Sunday night the Saints brought out kicker Will Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead in an attempt to secure an onside kick with 32 seconds left.
Morstead placed the ball on the turf and Lutz attempted a “watermelon kick,” a name given to booting the football across the turf rather than bouncing it by the Dallas Cowboys. They had used that style of kick successfully in Week 2 when the Falcons inexplicably let the ball wobble past the 10-yard threshold and allowed the Cowboys to recover and, eventually, win the game.
“Towards the tail end of the week as the game plan’s in, we go through some of our different situational-type things and stuff and hands in onside are always a part of that,” Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga said last Thursday.
The Saints put it to the test Sunday night, but Lutz’s attempt only went eight yards. The “hands team” for the Packers wisely stayed out of the play and the ball scooted out of bounds.
“We obviously watched the Dallas-Atlanta game last week this week in film,” Packers receiver Allen Lazard said Sunday night. “It was a huge coaching point by coach (Mennenga and the other special teams coaches so we were able to get that time out and be able to talk about things over again. Really we were just able to prepare and obviously the ball didn’t go 10 yards so we didn’t have to make a play there. But we were very well prepared and ready to execute.”