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Packers’ secondary fails to respond to adversity

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Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
November 18, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Missing one of their best defensive players after thinking all week that he would play isn’t an excuse for the way the Green Bay Packers played defense Sunday.

It’s just another example of how poorly this unit has accepted a challenge and fought it successfully.

On Friday, cornerback Sam Shields was listed as probable with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for that day’s practice only, and as the hours dwindled until game time it was thought that he would start.

But that wasn’t the case. Shields was a surprise entry on the inactive list, forcing a change in how the cornerbacks would line up.

“It was a game-time decision,” said Jarrett Bush, who moved into the dime position, where he played solidly. “I thought he was going to play, but he couldn’t. It’s next man up mentality. Whoever steps up in the slot has to step in and play and play to a standard.

“Either way, no matter who goes in there, they have to play to a standard. Whether it’s Tramon, or myself, or Micah or Sam. Whoever steps in there has to play to a standard of winning football. As a team we didn’t do that.”

Shields and Tramon Williams, who played his finest game of the season, were supposed to start outside, and on nickel downs Williams would move into the slot to cover Giants receiver Victor Cruz and Davon House would play where Williams was.

But with Shields down and Casey Hayward out with a hamstring injury, House started and rookie Micah Hyde stepped into the slot position. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers did not feel comfortable with Hyde playing outside, so he kept Williams where he was and let Hyde match up with Cruz, sometimes with help over the top.

It would be easy to blame Hyde for the Giants rolling up 334 yards and playing keep-away with the ball were there not so many other putrid performances on defense. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Williams receiving a positive grade in film review Monday.

“Coming off the game, I can’t put my finger on it,” linebacker Brad Jones said of the Packers’ troubles. “I don’t know. I’m not sure what it is. But we will get this right. We will.”

The most troublesome part of the performance—by just a nose over the number of wide-open receivers in the middle of the field—was that this defense was being asked to pick up some of the slack with quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined with a broken collarbone.

The Packers have lost three straight, and the defense has allowed 13 completions of 20 or more yards in that span after allowing 15 in the past six games, including none in victories over Cleveland and Minnesota.

The run defense hasn’t been much better, allowing an average of 125 yards a game dating to the Chicago loss, including a reasonable 78 on Sunday until you consider a troubling eight rushing first downs were allowed.

This is not a defense rising to the occasion.

“We did that in 2010 when we won the Super Bowl,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We do understand there’s more onus on us to stop the offense and get the ball back, but part of that is forcing turnovers and creating huge plays. When it was 20-13 we had two sacks and held them in good field position. We need to do that all game.”

Several players were asked if they had lost confidence in the defense they were running and all of them said no. Most continue to feel their performance over the three-game span is not a reflection of the ability of defensive coordinator Dom Capers or the talent on defense.

“I never lose confidence,” said nose tackle B.J. Raji, who did not register a stat on the final game summary. “We have to handle our responsibilities. It’s hard to answer the direct questions until we see the film. We didn’t play well enough to win.”

Asked if he thought players might be questioning the defense they’re playing, defensive lineman Ryan Pickett quickly offered a response.

“Nobody’s losing confidence in the scheme,” he said. “Nothing like that. We’re going to bounce back. Start winning and everything will be good. We just have to go out and get a win. That’s going to cure a lot of problems.”

From the start, it was obvious the Giants spotted a good matchup with Hyde in the slot position. They were expecting Williams, but when Hyde lined up there they recognized right away that he was a rookie.

Hyde lined up way off and with distinct outside leverage on Cruz’s first reception. Cruz easily broke his route off inside for a 12-yard gain.

Then with Hyde in the slot, receiver Rueben Randle ran a post route in which Hyde turned to the right to look at the quarterback instead of left to just run with Randle. Quarterback Eli Manning, who had been shaky and lacking confidence of late, drilled Randle down the middle and he ran in untouched for a 26-yard touchdown.

Hyde admitted the challenge of covering Cruz in the slot was enormous, but he said he didn’t back down from it and was eager to watch the film to see what he could have done better.

“Right now, I can’t tell you,” he said. “Maybe jamming him more at the line or getting my hands on him or my leverage. I could have been better on some of those third-down calls.”

But Hyde was the only player not holding his own.

Safety Morgan Burnett continued to be a non-factor and appeared to blow a coverage in which he and Williams both took the same guy and let Hakeem Nicks go free for a 35-yard reception. Matthews somehow got matched up with Cruz on a throw into the deep middle for 30 yards.

Burnett combined with Hyde to allow Cruz a key 25-yard reception on third and 4 in the third quarter in which Burnett was late coming to the ball and Hyde played passively as the ball came down.

The Packers did finally break their three-game skid without an interception when Williams made a diving play as the Giants drove inside the Packers 20. But that was their only big play and they allowed New York to hold the ball for 35 minutes 14 seconds.

“It’s not as if we’re not trying,” Matthews said. “I know we’re going out there and we’re playing to the last whistle, but right now we’re just not playing our best ball when we need to.”



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