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Big pass plays doom defense again

Nov. 17, 2013
 

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Packers cornerback Micah Hyde (33) watches Giants receiver Rueben Randle catch a touchdown pass in the first quarter Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media
Packers cornerback Tramon Williams looks back after being called for pass interference against receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) on Sunday. Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette Media

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It’s no coincidence that the Green Bay Packers’ losing streak has come at the same time their defensive secondary has fallen back into some bad early-season habits.

After San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin with 13 catches for 208 yards and Washington’s Pierre Garcon with eight receptions for 143 yards torched the Packers in the season’s first two games, the secondary started to shut down opposing teams’ go-to receivers in winning four of its next five games.

But during Green Bay’s three-game skid, which was extended Sunday in a 27-13 loss to the New York Giants, the secondary has given up too many big pass plays at key moments.

On Sunday afternoon, it was Eli Manning’s turn. You wouldn’t have known the 10-year veteran has struggled this season, entering the game with 16 interceptions and a 68.5 quarterback rating, as he completed four passes of 25 yards or more on a depleted Packers secondary that too often let receivers get open.

Said Victor Cruz, who had eight catches for 110 yards: “We just saw some things that we liked, saw some opportunities that we were able to take advantage of, and we did. They gave us the coverages we were looking for on specific down-and-distances and we were able to take advantage of them.”

Some of the Packers’ problems could be attributed to the absence of starting cornerback Sam Shields, who was inactive with a hamstring injury. The domino effect had Micah Hyde playing in the nickel and Jarrett Bush in the dime.

Hyde played only five defensive snaps last week against Chicago, and Bush hasn’t played a significant role on defense since the season opener.

Hyde shouldered part of the blame, but said he wasn’t worn out by having to play more in the nickel as well as returning kickoff and punts.

“A couple of them were from my guy,” he said. “So I just feel like I’ve got to go out there and compete a little harder.

“Obviously, I’m sore. I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t. But I’ve done this for a while. Started from preseason, playing a lot of snaps and they let me know that any given game, you’ve got to be ready, you could be playing a significant amount of snaps.”

Manning took advantage. He completed 25 of 35 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown. Four of those completions were “explosive” plays:

■ On the Giants’ second possession, wide receiver Rueben Randle beat Hyde over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

■ Later in the first quarter, Manning and Cruz connected on a short pass over the middle for 30 yards on third-and-7.

■ In the third quarter, on the first play after Scott Tolzien’s first interception, Manning hit Hakeem Nicks on a deep pass to the right for 35 yards. That led to a field goal and a 13-6 Giants lead.

■ Later in the third quarter, Hyde again got beat, this time by Cruz on third-and-4 for 25 yards. That was part of a 10-play, 63-yard scoring drive that put New York up 20-6.

“We’re in a tough situation,” safety M.D. Jennings said, “but still to accomplish our goal we’ve just got to go out and play better, take a look at things on film and try to fix things.”

One bright spot was the play of Tramon Williams. The veteran cornerback intercepted a pass, only the fourth of the season for the Packers and third by the secondary. His diving catch stopped a 12-play drive by the Giants. Williams also tackled well Sunday, being credited with eight and a tackle for loss.

But in addition to Shields, the secondary was missing Casey Hayward, the second-year player who had six interceptions last season but has had trouble staying on the field this year with a hamstring injury.

“Any time you lose a starter, it’s difficult,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “But it’s the next-man-up principle and philosophy around here and that’s what we’ve been doing. ... It’s not an excuse. They need to step up, fill the void and make plays as if the starter had not been injured or was in there still.”

rzizzo@pressgazettemedia.com and follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.

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