The Packers fanbase is growing more and more desperate for the Lombardi trophy to return to Green Bay. Entering the draft, most every Packer fan had a beer with their buddy and said, ‘They need to address the defensive side of the ball, particularly at cornerback.’ Oh, what intellects we are. Go Pack.
Ted Thompson addressed the concerns early in the draft, picking first round talent Kevin King with the first pick of the second round. He then used the team’s own second round pick to draft Josh Jones out of N.C. State.
Considering the Packers’ secondary put a lot of stress on the team’s dynamic offense, as well as these two players being the team’s top picks, they’re in good position to find a spot in the rotation.
The team also re-acquired Davon House in free agency after he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He brings a veteran presence to the team, as well as his ability to press his opponent at the line. House could step back into a starting role for the Packers, as he showed he can be a starting cornerback in the right system. In an interview with Mike Stofford of packers.com, House gives details on what he thinks went right in Jacksonville, as well as what went south.
Let’s consider how the coaching staff would match their new secondary using their 2017 playoff run as our base.
NFC Wild Card vs NY Giants
The Giants brought a ton of talent to the wide receiver position last season. Odell Beckham Jr. brought plenty of star power. Victor Cruz gave them a talented slot receiver, who was well on his way to superstar status before his knee injury in 2015. Reuben Randle also gave them a second threat on the edge.
Coach McCarthy has already spoken about Josh Jones potential role in an interview with Larry McCarren of packers.com, comparing the rookie to Micah Hyde. Check out the interview, Coach always seems happy with his rookie group, but seems extra genuine about it this season.
When the Packers matched up with the Giants in the playoffs last season, the secondary gave the Giants multiple opportunities for big plays/potential touchdowns that Odell Beckham failed to pull in. If he had his normal game, that was going to be a dogfight. The Packers used Ladarius Gunter to guard Bechkam, Demarious Randall on Randle, with Quinten Rollins/Hyde on Cruz.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Packers intend Gunter’s role to be this upcoming season. I haven’t read much around the Packers news sphere expecting him to be one of the starting corners, but the fact that the team trusted him enough to match up with the best receivers in the game during the playoffs means something.
I expect the Packers to throw either King or Gunter on Beckham. With a breakout rookie season, King gets the nod. If he has the expected up and down rookie campaign, they’ll likely side with Gunter’s experience. This leaves King to match up with Randle on the opposite edge.
Fellow rookie Jones, as McCarthy has already eluded to, would likely line up against the opposing tight end and slot receiver throughout the game. One thing to consider with the Hyde comparison, Jones has more size, as well as speed as the former Packer, allowing him to potentially contribute in even more ways. Back to packers.com, Mike Spofford reports that Jones played some inside linebacker during the rookie minicamp.
House and Randall would be the team’s likely wildcard, able to step in on the edges or inside. Either can work their way into the starting lineup this season. However, against New York, the Packers would be best served using their best athletes to try to limit the bubble Beckham creates for himself.
NFC Divisional Round at Dallas
The Cowboys have a similar talent in Dez Bryant to Odell Beckham Jr. Once again last season, the Packers gave Gunter the duty of slowing down the star receiver. Gunter was injured early in the first half, but was able to return to the game.
The Cowboys took advantage of the matchup, as they had the advantage before the injury. Bryant finished the game with nine receptions for 132 yards, and two touchdowns. The Packers were forced to bring safety help on Dez on every play, and he still dominated. The extra attention given to him, allowed the Cowboys to open an out route for Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Terrence Williams beneath Bryant’s seam route.
The Cowboys are a particularly difficult matchup for the Packers as they need to worry about the dynamic pass game, as well as slowing down the young sensation, Ezekiel Elliot.
Defensive Coordinator, Dom Capers, would need to consider a balance between pass coverage and the defensive back’s ability to help with the run game. Once again, it’ll depend on how Kevin King plays during the regular season, but there’s a good chance he or Gunter would be given the duties of Bryant.
Outside of that, the Packers would probably lean towards heavy Jones and House snap counts, as they both have the size and grit to help with the run game, while respectably covering their matchup.
NFC Conference Championship at Atlanta
Atlanta’s top weapon is Julio Jones, who destroyed each team he faced in the playoffs. The Falcons weapons don’t stop with Jones, as they had the most weapons of any opponent the Packers faced in the 2016-2017 season. In the state the Packers defense was in, it makes total sense that they struggled to make the Falcons break a sweat.
Atlanta’s offense rounds out with the talented Mohamed Sanu as the other outside receiver, and their two young running backs, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Both running backs are very dangerous in the pass game, something the Packers struggled to contain in the conference championship blowout.
The Packers would need to decide who they think has the best bet in slowing Jones down. Once again, King would get the nod if he’s shown himself to be the real deal, or they’ll decide between the press ability of House and Gunter’s athletic makeup. Sanu requires a similar decision.
John Jones would have the assignment of guarding the Falcons young tight end, Austin Hooper, as well as the two running backs out of the backfield. The Packers were forced to throw Jake Ryan into coverage against the dynamic backs. As much of a Jake Ryan fan as I am (I seem to be in the minority), he doesn’t have the speed necessary for this kind of assignment. He has good playmaking skills, but the defense forced him to cover more ground than his physical abilities allow.
John Jones ran a 4.40 40 at the combine, giving him the speed necessary to chase the Falcons’ backs to the sideline. The Falcons running backs sneak out onto the perimeter during pass plays, giving them an opportunity to burn the linebacker in coverage with their quickness. The rookie safety is really the Packers only option for man to man coverage against this attack.
One thing is for sure, after the 2017 NFL Draft, the Packers defense has a lot more flexibility on the back end.