The first month of the season has served as an act of musical chairs in the Green Bay Packers’ secondary.
With Casey Hayward (hamstring) on the mend, the Packers began the season plugging rookie Micah Hyde in at slot cornerback before inconsistency led to 30-year-old veteran Tramon Williams’ insertion into that spot over the past two games.
On Sunday, that’s likely where Williams will remain when the Detroit Lions and receiver Calvin Johnson stroll into town. For years, it’s been Williams’ role to match the 6-foot-5 phenom, but that duty likely will fall on the shoulders of ascending fourth-year cornerback Sam Shields — at least on the perimeter.
There’s still a good chance Williams will see plenty of Johnson — he’s run a little more than a quarter of his routes inside this season — but the circumstances will be a little different from years past.
“I’ve known the position since I’ve been here. They just didn’t need me in there at any point, so the opportunity presented itself and I’m ready to play it,” said Williams of playing inside. “I’m pretty sure if I was at my same position we’d be doing it like we were, but Sam is capable of doing it. Sam is capable of doing it. Right now they need me inside and that’s what I’m doing.”
The Packers’ secondary has had to do some mix and matching over its last two games with Casey Hayward still out with a recurring hamstring issue and rookie Micah Hyde struggling at times as the inside corner.
It’s led to the team moving Williams inside and bringing in third-year cornerback Davon House in the sub-packages, including after the first quarter of a 34-30 loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago.
Of course, there were a number of factors at work, but the Packers’ defense generated four consecutive turnovers after they made the move, but it began on a Shields’ sideline interception of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, which Whitt considers one of his finest since joining the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2010.
They started the game with Williams and Shields lining up left and right before green-lighting Shields to match Bengals' stud A.J. Green around halftime. He finished with only four catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are capable of getting the job done,” Williams said. “If you’re asking me if I feel badly about it, no, because I know those guys will get the job done. It actually works better for the defense. And it shows the growth into the defense. My pride? I don’t have any pride behind it.”
Whether it’s Williams, Shields or any member of the secondary lining up across from Johnson, he presents a definite challenge with 21 catches for 312 yards and four touchdowns in his first four games.
Of that total, five of those catches have come through the slot on eight targets for 99 yards and two touchdowns. The trend is on pair with the 28.6 percent of routes he ran inside last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
Regardless, he’s going to get his catches assuming he plays through the knee injury that currently has him listed as questionable for Sunday.
Outside of Williams and the Packers’ secondary limited him to two catches for 10 yards in 2009, he’s averaged 114 receiving yards and six catches in each of the six meetings since.
“Calvin is different now. There’s only one of him in the league. One guy is not going to be able to shut him down,” Whitt said. “The opportunities that we do match when you are single-high, you have to be up for the challenge. The guys who have that assignment – and it won’t just be Sam. Tramon will match him, as well. It depends on where he aligns that one of those two guys will draw the assignment. You probably will see Sam on him more, but if he lines up inside you’ll see Tramon on him.”
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