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Packers face resurgent Manning

October 19, 2008|Chris Jenkins | Associated Press

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Stopping a third-string quarterback is one thing. Now the Green Bay Packers' depleted defense must face Peyton Manning.

The Packers (3-3) came into the season hoping that a strong defense would lead them into the post-Brett Favre era. Instead, they've struggled through a string of injuries, finally snapping a three-game losing streak at Seattle last Sunday.

Of course, it didn't hurt that they were facing third-stringer Charlie Frye instead of Matt Hasselbeck. They'll get no such break in Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts (3-2) at Lambeau Field.

"You definitely don't want to play Peyton Manning with a banged-up defense," Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We're pretty beat up. But I think we've got a lot of talent, a lot of great matchups that's going to give Peyton Manning problems."

Help is on the way for the Packers, but it likely won't arrive by Sunday.

Cornerback Al Harris is close to returning from a spleen injury, but has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Safety Atari Bigby returned to practice late this week after missing four games with a hamstring injury, but is doubtful for Sunday.

Defensive end Cullen Jenkins is out for the year, and two backup defensive ends are banged up, too. Pickett is nursing a triceps injury, and linebacker A.J. Hawk and cornerback Charles Woodson are playing with nagging injuries.

And here's more bad news for the Packers: Manning and the Colts finally are playing like themselves again.

"Last week, for the first time, I saw us play our type of game, where we did play with a lot of energy, we were clicking on all cylinders," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "And it's been a long time. It really has. Maybe since late in the 2007 season. Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come."

Manning had surgery -- two, actually, as he admitted this week -- to fix an infected bursa sac in his left knee in the off-season. He struggled out of the gate, and the Colts lost two of their first three.

But Manning has been impressive in October. The Colts rallied from 17 points down for a fourth-quarter win at Houston, and Manning threw for three touchdowns in last Sunday's 31-3 victory over Baltimore.

"It's still, 'What have you done for me lately?' and we still need to do it every single week," Manning said. "So it's about executing every week. I think on Sunday against Baltimore, we protected the ball better, didn't have any turnovers, and were able to execute some third downs and hit some plays down the field."

A major reason for Manning's resurgence: continuity on the offensive line. For the first time this season, the Colts used the same starting line two weeks in a row.

But Indianapolis' running game is still sputtering -- and now short-handed.

Pro Bowl running back Joseph Addai is expected to miss Sunday's game after hurting his hamstring, and rookie Mike Hart is out for the season with a knee injury. Former 1,000-yard rusher Dominic Rhodes is expected to carry the load against the Packers.

And despite all the injuries, the Packers still have a dangerous pass defense. Woodson is tied for the league lead with four interceptions, and Harris' replacement, Tramon Williams, has an interception in three straight games.

"They are aggressive with a lot of bump-and-run coverage and man-to-man type coverage," Manning said. "They really challenge you. They're in the right places and it makes you have to execute your offense and run your plays. You don't see anybody running wide open because of a busted coverage."

Playing hurt is nothing new for Manning, who has started 165 straight games, a streak second only to Favre among quarterbacks in NFL history. Manning doesn't take the streak for granted, especially after the surgeries.

"I've never taken for granted the opportunity to be out there, to be able to play every Sunday," Manning said. "It's such a physical game. I've never taken it for granted, but certainly I think it does reinforce just the opportunity being special to be able to go out there and play."

Manning has high praise for Packers starter Aaron Rodgers, who has played two straight games with a sprained right shoulder that has largely kept him out of practice.

"I think it says a lot about his toughness and his will to be out there when you have an injury, especially when you're dealing with a shoulder, to be out still there playing," Manning said. "So that's a credit to him and his toughness."

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