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Depleted Packers will get boost from return of Harris, Bigby

Amy Sancetta / Associated Press
Atari Bigby (pictured left) and Al Harris are healthy, and could provide some depth in the secondary for Green Bay.


Fresh off their 9-0 victory over the New York Jets, the injury plagued Green Bay Packers should be getting some needed relief with safety Atari Bigby and cornerback Al Harris set to come off the physically unable to perform list this week.

Both players will be activated, according to a league source, but how they are incorporated could be touchy.

For Harris, the 13-year veteran and longtime standout who is coming off major knee surgery and is owed $2.5 million this season, playing time could be scarce. His loss just happened to materialize in Tramon Williams' gain.

Williams, who took over for Harris when he went down last season, is firmly entrenched as the starter and is considered by coaches as the top defensive back on the team -- even ahead of 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson. The Packers recently broached Williams, in his fourth season after going undrafted, about a contract extension.

"You have to focus on doing what you can control and control what you do on the field," said the Williams, who said he's not concentrating on the contract talks because he wants to continue improving as a player. "Eventually everyone will start to notice. That's the way I approach things. I'm going along with everything I need to do and try to keep playing at the level that I am."

Woodson is entrenched as the starter at the other corner and rookie Sam Shields has been solid as the nickel back and appears to be in the team's long-term plans. That can't be said for the 35-year old Harris.

Harris doesn't play safety so that's already been ruled out. The most likely situation is he comes back as a nickel corner with Woodson moving to the slot in that package and Shields playing in dime or other sub-sets.

From what I've been told, Harris was healthy enough to play Sunday against the Jets, but the Packers opted to keep him on the PUP list and roll with their current crew. That resulted in a shutout and an increased confidence in the defense without Harris.

Woodson had an interception, while Williams also had a pick to go with a forced and recovered fumble. Despite the secondary functioning relatively well, Harris carries a lot of clout in the locker room and his presence in that realm could provide a further lift.

As for the oft-injured Bigby, he might be steadily worked in behind Charlie Peprah, who took over for rookie Morgan Burnett when Burnett sustained a season-ending knee injury. Bigby is known for his big hits and questionable coverage, but a team source told me this summer that Bigby was the player who best set the overall defense, so because off his field awareness, he could be incorporated more quickly than Harris.

More on the Pack

The key reason cited for the Packers holding the Jets scoreless was their ability to stymie New York's running game (29 carries, 119 yards). Here's how it was done, according to a league source with knowledge of the Packers' game plan.

For the first time this season, the Packers stuck with a true 3-4 front in the base defense. They also dropped strong safety Charlie Peprah into the box to give them an eight-man look, with Peprah being a floater of sorts to help support against the run.

This was different because even though Green Bay technically played an odd defensive front for most of the season, its execution was more of a 4-2 look, the source said. The scheme against the Jets left Williams and Woodson in a lot of man-to-man and safety Nick Collins in "single-high" coverage.

"They wanted them to throw the ball," the source said.

What made things work is that nose tackle B.J. Raji and end Cullen Jenkins played stout, but rookie defensive end C.J. Wilson, who started in place of injured end Ryan Pickett, manned up in a major way and kept blockers off linebackers. That allowed the linebackers to stifle LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene.

Morris holding firm

Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris caused a few raised eyebrows last week when he said Tampa Bay was the best team in the NFC.


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"Yeah, I said it," he said after his proclamation, channeling his inner Chris Rock -- or so we thought.

I spoke to him Monday morning after Tampa Bay's 38-35 victory over Arizona -- its fourth win by three points or fewer -- and he's holding firm: The Buccaneers are the team to beat. They're tied with the Giants and Falcons at 5-2 for the best record in the NFC.

"We're tied for the most wins. We're tied for the least amount of losses," He said. "We're ranked among the best. It's important for me to establish and create a sense of identity. The guys are into it.

"I've told the guys, 'Somebody's got to finish No. 1. Why not us? There's no rule against it. There's no age limit. Let's go out and be the best and beat the best.' They believe in each other and they're starting to believe in me."

Tampa Bay got drilled by Pittsburgh and New Orleans and go to Atlanta on Sunday, so we'll see if Morris and his Believers are who he says they are.

Road to victory

The Rams are another young team getting attention. However, for St. Louis, its 0-3 road mark is a point of consternation.

"In Oakland, and against Tampa Bay, it was bad second halves," said middle linebacker James Laurinaitis. "In Oakland, we went into halftime up 7-3 (and lost 16-14). Against Tampa, we were up 17-6 at halftime. We just didn't come out with the same energy. If we would have played those second halves, we wouldn't feel like we do right now.

"We're disgusted that we're not 5-3 or 6-2. We've got a lot to improve on."

Imagine, the Rams are 4-4 -- already posting three more victories than last season's total -- and they're lamenting blown opportunities. That's what general mangers and coaches mean about changing the culture.

"You look at those games too and we dropped like three interceptions in each of those games," Laurinaitis said. "In Tampa we came up empty (in turnovers). Against Oakland, we had two picks but we dropped some others. We make those plays at home."

Yes they do. Of the Rams' 15 takeaways, 12 have come in the Edward Jones Dome.

"We definitely feel more comfortable at the Dome," Laurinaitis said.

That's all well and good, but after their bye this weekend, the Rams play four of their next five on the road. Though consistency isn't an absolute to win the weak NFC West, putting together a road victory or two would help the cause.

On a side note, I love running back Steven Jackson's tribute to former Los Angeles Rams running back Eric Dickerson by rocking the Rec-Specs goggles (See Dickerson, circa 1984).

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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