Wed Sep 28 8:32pm ET
By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
Green Bay Packers' Rasul Douglas hits Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Russell Gage and forces a fumble during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers' defense is meeting offseason expectations and giving this storied franchise a new look.
A team that has relied on Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback production for the past three decades is winning primarily because of the defense.
The Packers are scoring just 16 points per game thus far as reigning MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers adapts to a receiving group missing two-time All-Pro Davante Adams, now with the Las Vegas Raiders.
It hasn't mattered because Green Bay's defense has been so good.
''We already knew in the beginning of the year we were going to have to win games different ways,'' defensive tackle Kenny Clark said.
''We understand that. We understand the talent we have on defense. Our mindset as a defense is being the best group out there each and every game. Whatever it takes to help us win the game, that's what we've got to do.''
That's pretty much what they've done after a bumpy start.
Green Bay (2-1) allowed 17 points in the first half of a 23-7 season-opening loss at Minnesota but has given up a total of 28 points in the 10 quarters since. The Packers rank sixth in scoring defense (15.0) and sixth in total defense (302.7).
They're allowing opponents to convert just 22.6% of their third down opportunities, the best such rate for any defense in the league.
The Packers are encouraged by those early results, but realize they have plenty of work ahead.
''It's only been three games,'' safety Adrian Amos said. ''I take everything in the first three weeks with a grain of salt. We're on to next week.''
That means preparing for the New England Patriots (1-2) and their uncertain quarterback situation.
Mac Jones injured his left leg in the Patriots' 37-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, meaning the Packers don't know whether they'll be facing him or backup Brian Hoyer.
Green Bay has its own injury issues in the secondary after star cornerback Jaire Alexander missed most of a 14-12 victory at Tampa Bay with a groin issue. Alexander was a limited practice participant Wednesday.
But the fact the Packers limited a Tom Brady-led offense to a dozen points without having their best cornerback shows what this defense is capable of accomplishing.
''Everybody is a starter in this defense,'' cornerback Rasul Douglas said. ''Like literally, you can go to every guy, he's a starter. That's what we know. We all have one standard. It doesn't matter who's out there in the game.''
The Packers spoke openly in the offseason about their high expectations for a defense that tied for 13th in points allowed per game (21.8) and ranked ninth in yards allowed per game (328.2) last season.
Sure enough, a team generally known for its big names on offense is featuring plenty of star power on the other side of the ball.
Rashan Gary is the first Packer since Cullen Jenkins in 2010 to have at least one sack in each of the first three games of a season.
Clark, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, had two sacks at Tampa Bay. De'Vondre Campbell, an All-Pro linebacker last season, had 14 tackles and got his hand on Brady's pass to foil a potential tying 2-point conversion attempt with 14 seconds left in that game.
Yet the Packers still believe they have plenty of room for improvement.
''We saw it on tape today,'' Douglas said. ''We watched the tape of them. It's like, `Man, we could've done this. Dang, we could've done that.' We could've made that play.''
Green Bay's offense figures to improve over the course of the season as the Packers' rookie receivers mature and tackles David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins return from torn anterior cruciate ligaments.
Until then, the defense will continue to pick up the slack as the Packers chase a fourth straight NFC North title.
''I don't think we've really put a cap to what our defense can do,'' Amos said. ''We've just got to build it week by week.''
NOTES: The Packers signed CB Corey Ballentine to the practice squad. ... Jenkins and OT Caleb Jones (illness) didn't practice Wednesday. ... Bakhtiari, RB A.J. Dillon (knee), LB Jonathan Garvin (hip), WR Allen Lazard (ankle), TE Marcedes Lewis (groin) and WR Christian Watson (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill will look to bounce back during Thursday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite posting a season-high 86 percent snap share, he finished last week's game with just two catches for 33 yards. Part of his underproduction can be blamed on Miami's limited time of possession, but this doesn't negate the fact that Hill struggled in fantasy football last week. His outlook remains suboptimal heading into Week 4 considering the Bengals' 84.1 fantasy points allowed to receivers is the sixth-lowest mark in the NFL. To further complicate matters, Tua Tagovailoa (ankle, back) is questionable on a short week. Fantasy managers should still start Hill due to his monumental upside, but they should also temper expectations considering the variety of unfavorable factors in his way.
Miami Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki has underwhelmed in fantasy football this season but will look to get back on track against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4. The 26-year-old has totaled just six catches, 48 yards, and one touchdown through three games, but he could see an uptick in targets if either Jaylen Waddle (groin) and Cedrick Wilson Jr. (ribs, toe) is unable to suit up. Additionally, the Bengals have been successful against wide receivers but struggled against tight ends. In fact, Cincinnati has allowed the fourth-most yards (222) and sixth-most receptions (18) to tight ends in 2022. It's tough to trust Gesicki after two of his first three games were severely underwhelming, but he certainly has a favorable matchup on tap. He could sneak into the low-end TE1 tier if Waddle or Wilson can't suit up Thursday.
Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (hip) was listed as a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. The severity of the hip injury he is nursing is currently unknown. The rookie seems to have taken control of the Texans' backfield, as he enjoyed a breakout performance last week with over 100 scrimmage yards and a touchdown. His status will be important to monitor ahead of a Week 4 matchup with a Los Angeles Chargers defense that is allowing 26.4 PPR fantasy points per contest to opposing running backs. If Pierce is sidelined, Rex Burkhead would become an intriguing flex play.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (thumb) has missed the past two weeks with a thumb injury and did not practice on Wednesday. It has been reported that Prescott would like to play in Week 5, but his timeline suggests that a Week 6 return is more realistic. According to Ian Rapoport, it will likely take two-to-three more weeks for Prescott to be ready, so next week may be too ambitious as his stitches were just removed this week. Assuming there are no setbacks, though, Prescott will be on track to face the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 6.
New England Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (knee) was listed as a limited participant in the team's practice on Wednesday. Meyers was sidelined in Week 3 with a knee injury but seems to have a chance to return to action in a Week 4 matchup with the Green Bay Packers. The fourth-year wideout was the favorite target of Mac Jones (ankle) through two games, with DeVante Parker shining in his absence last week. Meyers remains the wide receiver to stash for fantasy purposes, but with Brian Hoyer expected to start Sunday's contest as Jones deals with a high ankle sprain, the Patriots' receiving options will not be recommended as anything more than desperation flex plays.
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox (back, hip) was a limited participant in the team's practice on Wednesday. Knox was listed as questionable with a foot injury heading into Week 3 but was able to suit up for the contest. Buffalo is likely playing it safe with Knox as it sounds like he is just dealing with some back and hip soreness. Knox is yet to catch a touchdown this season after recording nine in 2021. Fantasy managers will hope he can turn things around in a Week 4 bout with the Baltimore Ravens, assuming he is able to play.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabe Davis (ankle) was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday. Davis was forced to miss Week 2 with an ankle injury but did return to the field for Week 3, turning six targets into three receptions for 37 yards in a loss to the Miami Dolphins. The team is likely playing it safe with the third-year wideout ahead of a Week 4 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. Fantasy managers should keep an eye out for more information on Davis' availability throughout the week, but he will be a low-end WR2 or high-end flex play assuming he can suit up on Sunday.
Chicago Bears running back David Montgomery (ankle, knee) did not practice with the team on Wednesday after sustaining an injury early in Week 3. Head coach Matt Eberflus referred to Montgomery's status as "day-to-day", and his availability for Week 4 seems to be highly questionable. Khalil Herbert went off for 157 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Montgomery's absence last week and would likely see a large workload if he is sidelined on Sunday. The Bears have an enticing matchup against the New York Giants, so fantasy managers should pay close attention to practice reports throughout the week as either back would project as a solid RB2.
Arizona Cardinals running back James Conner (knee) has had a modest start to the 2022 season after breaking out as a top-five fantasy option in 2021. Conner handled 16 touches last week, but quarterback Kyler Murray expressed a desire to get his Pro Bowl back more involved. Murray stated that the team needs to get their best players the ball when referring to Conner's opportunities going forward. Conner is dealing with a knee injury and was limited in practice on Wednesday, so fantasy managers will hope he is ready to play with an expanded role in a Week 4 matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) didn't take part in Wednesday's practice. His absence was qualified as a veteran rest day, but the Falcons also added a note that Patterson was specifically resting his knee after he ran for a career-high 141 yards in the Week 3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons gave Patterson a ton of rest in the offseason and will likely continue to do so early in the practice week this year. Fantasy managers shouldn't be worried that he'll miss the Week 4 contest against the Cleveland Browns. Unless he suffers some sort of setback later in the week, the 31-year-old running back should be considered a high-end RB2 in fantasy this week.
Miami Dolphins wide receivers Jaylen Waddle (groin) and Cedrick Wilson Jr. (ribs, toe) are both listed as questionable to play on Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4. Waddle was listed as a DNP on Monday's estimated practice report before being limited the last two days. Wilson has been listed as limited all week. Fantasy managers will need to check back before Thursday's contest, but as long as Waddle is active, he's a must-start in fantasy lineups. He has three touchdowns through three weeks and has racked up 15 receptions on 25 targets for 273 yards and one TD in the last two games. If one or both of Waddle and Wilson were to sit out, Tyreek Hill would be heavily targeted, while rookie Erik Ezukanma and Trent Sherfield would have bigger roles in the passing attack.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (shoulder) isn't practicing on Wednesday and is still considered day-to-day for the Week 4 game against the New Orleans Saints in London. The Vikings will try to at least get Cook some work in walk-throughs this week before making a decision on whether he will play on Sunday. It sounds like the 27-year-old won't do much this week, setting the stage for him to be a game-time decision early on Sunday. The good news is fantasy managers will know right away with the early start time, but they should have a backup plan in place in case he's inactive. Cook missed a game in 2021 with the same injury. If he can't go, Alexander Mattison will be a plug-and-play fantasy option.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (toe) didn't practice on Wednesday, but it was reportedly for precautionary reasons after Taylor had some soreness coming out of the Week 3 win against the Kansas City Chiefs. "He'll be ready to roll," a source said about his availability for Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans. Fantasy managers should have the 23-year-old available for this weekend, but his practice status is worth watching the rest of the week. Taylor is a must-start whenever he's active, but it's possible that he could be somewhat limited against Tennessee if his toe is still bothering him. If Taylor were to ever miss any time, Nyheim Hines and Deon Jackson would split Indy's backfield work.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (ankle, back) is officially listed as questionable to play on Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals. He was listed as a DNP in Monday's estimated practice but has been limited the last two days. Despite getting pretty banged up in the Week 3 win over the Buffalo Bills, Tagovailoa plans to play in Week 4 on a short week. Fantasy managers shouldn't be expecting him to throw for six touchdowns again like he did in Week 2, but Tagovailoa should have all of his weapons available to him this week and should be viewed as a low-end QB1 for fantasy managers. Just make sure to check back before Thursday's game for confirmation that he's officially active.
Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher is a solid kicking option in Week 4 fantasy lineups. Maher made three of his four field goal tries in Week 3, missing just a 59-yarder to close out the first half. He's had back-to-back solid performances and should once again see at least a few kicking options against the Washington Commanders. Maher is a solid fantasy kicker to roster and makes for a great streamer as well.
The Dallas Cowboys defense makes for a strong fantasy option in a Week 4 matchup against the Washington Commanders. The Dallas pass rush has been excellent so far this season, sacking the quarterback six times in Week 2 then five times in Week 3. The Commanders offensive line won't be able to protect quarterback Carson Wentz for long, leading to likely sacks and forced throws that could fall into the hands of Cowboys defenders. There is top-three upside for this defense in Week 4 in fantasy, and a presumed high floor as well.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (thigh) missed Wednesday's practice. The superstar running back has dealt with injuries the past several years, missing 23 of the past 36 games because of various injuries. Despite his long list of injuries, fantasy players shouldn't be concerned about McCaffrey's availability for the Week 4 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. The veteran running back has popped on the injury report a few times this season but hasn't missed any games. However, fantasy players should explore potential replacement options if McCaffrey misses practice again on Thursday and Friday.
Seattle Seahawks running back Travis Homer (ribs) was placed on injured reserve. The fourth-year back suffered the rib injury last week in Seattle's 27-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. He hasn't played much of a role in the backfield, scoring only 7.1 half-point PPR fantasy points this season. However, the loss of Homer opens up more snaps and opportunities for Rashaad Penny and Kenneth Walker III. Over the first two weeks of the year, Homer played 39.4% of the snaps. With him out for at least the next four games, Penny and Walker should earn most of those snaps.
Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker (ankle) will partake in Wednesday's practice. Head coach Andy Reid said Butker will "get in some work today." The veteran kicker hasn't played since he suffered an ankle injury in the Week 1 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Butker rolled his ankle during a kickoff early in the game. While he was able to return later in the game and make a 54-yard field goal right before halftime, the veteran has missed the past two games because of the injury. On Monday, the Chiefs released backup kicker Matt Ammendola, a potential sign that Butker could return this week for the showdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup (knee) didn't play in the Week 3 matchup against the New York Giants. He is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered late last year. The veteran receiver says he is physically ready to go. However, he didn't play against the Giants because he wasn't mentally ready after only two days of padded practice. Gallup mentioned how he wants to be fully confident in his leg so he can be available for the entire season. Hopefully, the veteran receiver is ready to play this week against a struggling Washington Commanders defense.