The Green Bay Packers Have Suffered a Critical Blow to Their Quietly Dominant Defense: ‘It’s Just One of Those Unfortunate Things That Happens’

The Green Bay Packers aren’t exactly known as a stout defensive team. At least, not until recently.

After all, Aaron Rodgers only has one Super Bowl title on his resume largely because of the Packers’ inability to slow down opposing offenses in big games. Luckily for the reigning MVP, though, Green Bay’s much-maligned defense has rounded into form at exactly the right time.

However, after pitching a shutout against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field, Joe Barry’s unit faces an uphill battle to replicate that success following yet another tough-luck injury blow.

Green Bay’s defense has quietly become a formidable unit

Although they got off to a sluggish start that raised concerns about their ability to keep opponents out of the end zone, the Packers have found a way to turn things around on that side of the ball. And considering All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander and top pass rusher Za’Darius Smith have missed most of the season with injuries, it’s even more impressive that Green Bay ranks third in points allowed at a mere 18 per game.

A quick glance at some of the raw numbers shows just how dominant the Packers have been over the last month or so. Coming off a 24-10 victory against the Washington Football Team in Week 7, they’ve faced a murderer’s row of quarterbacks. Yet Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson totaled just 601 passing yards against arguably the most-improved defense in the league.

Plus, those elite signal-callers combined to throw one touchdown and four interceptions.

By holding a loaded Cardinals offense to 24 points, a star-studded Chiefs unit to 13, and the directionless Seahawks to a goose egg, the Packers clearly have the makings of a championship-caliber defense.

But if they want to bring the Lombardi Trophy back to its rightful place, they’ll have to overcome a critical personnel loss.

The Packers suffered major damage in their shutout against the Seahawks

Injuries have been a major theme of the Packers’ season.

Unfortunately for head coach Matt LaFleur, he must find a way to replace the production provided by a recent addition to the roster who wasted no time making an impact.

Whitney Mercilus, who signed with Green Bay on Oct. 21 after getting released by the Houston Texans, left the Seahawks game with an apparent arm injury.

LaFleur spoke to reporters Monday, delivering a less-than-optimistic statement about the veteran outside linebacker’s health status.

“That’s a tough one,” the third-year head coach said. “I feel bad for him. Just the stability he brings to that room, and this guy’s a pro’s pro. It’s one of those unfortunate things that happens.”

As it turns out, Mercilus, who recorded his first sack as a Packer in a 17-0 win over the Seahawks, won’t get a chance to harass quarterbacks until 2022.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted Monday that the 10th-year pro will miss the remainder of the season due to a torn biceps.

Losing Mercilus represents a big blow for a Green Bay defense that utilized him as a sub-package rusher. According to Pro Football Focus, he racked up 10 pressures on 80 pass-rushing snaps — a testament to his ability to get after the quarterback. But with the experienced and well-respected edge defender done for the season, the Packers must re-examine their depth chart and potentially add a replacement via free agency.

Whitney Mercilus’ season-ending injury puts even more pressure on Za’Darius Smith to get healthy and return to the lineup

Unfortunately for LaFleur, Mercilus wasn’t the only pass rusher who suffered some damage against Seattle.

Rashan Gary, the Packers’ top draft pick in 2019, also exited the game after getting hurt. The team’s leading sack artist sustained an elbow injury that could force him to miss time, or at the very least, limit his effectiveness.

With Mercilus out for the season and Gary facing a potential absence, Green Bay only has two healthy edge rushers at the moment. And considering Preston Smith and Jonathan Garvin have combined for 4.5 sacks and 12 quarterback hits, it’s safe to say Packers fans should have concerns about the defense’s ability to put pressure on opposing passers.

Of course, that position group would look a lot better with a healthy version of Za’Darius Smith in the fold. But it remains to be seen whether he can become a contributor again coming off back surgery.

Ultimately, general manager Brian Gutekunst may have to work some magic to make the best of a bad situation. And if the Packers experience any sort of slippage on defense, Aaron Rodgers and his cast of weapons better start scoring more than 21.6 points per game.

All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.

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