Davon House couldn't enter the game incognito.
There is no subtle way to switch out an injured player against Tom Brady. The New England Patriots quarterback sees everything. He is always aware.
So with Green Bay Packers starting cornerback Sam Shields knocked from Sunday's game with a concussion early in the second quarter, House knew he was about to be very busy. Against Brady, he would look like an easy target.
"Just know you're going to get business. You're going to get work," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "That's the nature of the game, the nature of the business. Same thing that we do. If we see a sub go in there, you just figure, 'Well, let's go after the new guy, and let's see how he responds.'"
It didn't take long. First play of the next drive, House lined up across receiver Julian Edelman. Brady went deep.
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews deflected the football as Brady released it, forcing the pass to fall incomplete more than 5 yards short of Edelman, but House's challenge wasn't over. Five times, Brady targeted House. The fourth-year cornerback held his own.
House allowed a 15-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter – "great throw, great catch, nothing much else I can do," he said – but also drew four incompletions.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Davon," Capers said. "I think when Davon has been called on, he's normally come in and done a good job for us."
With the exception of a rough outing in New Orleans – where Saints quarterback Drew Brees had a 104.7 passer rating on eight targets against House – the veteran has been a solid backup this season.
Quarterbacks have an average rating of 69.5 when targeting House, according to Pro Football Focus. They're completing 46.3 percent of their passes. Both numbers are best among Packers cornerbacks.
Yet, starting after the Packers' bye week, House's defensive snaps had significantly decreased entering Sunday's game. He played 22 of the 74 defensive snaps against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 9, and 24 of the 79 snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 16. In a win at the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 23, House played only one defensive snap.
Those were his three lowest play-count totals of the season.
"It's been tough the last few weeks," House told Press-Gazette Media inside Green Bay's locker room after Sunday's win. "I just continue to have faith, and whenever my name is called go out there and give it my all. … I really can't explain. It's more, maybe, a question for the coaches of what's going on. My job is to go out there and, whenever my name is called, do what I do best."
House, a free agent at season's end, said he's "kind of got a clue" why his opportunities were infrequent before Sunday.
On the depth chart, he's the first perimeter cornerback off the sideline behind Shields and eighth-year cornerback Tramon Williams. When Shields missed two games earlier this season with strained patellar in his left knee, House got the nod. His opportunities dry up with Williams and Shields healthy, but House started two games earlier this season when Williams lined up in the slot.
Another personnel change limiting his snaps is Capers' decision to rotate Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde at the nickel, keeping Williams on the perimeter.
"The new packages we've got in, we've been winning with those packages," House said. "So I figure we're going to roll with it, and that's what we've been doing. So I'm happy we've been winning. If we're winning with me not on the field, then so be it."
Despite his frustration, House said he hasn't grumbled or complained.
Even if he'd become the odd man out of Green Bay's cornerback rotation, he knows it could only be temporary. House admitted there's a chip on his shoulder, a desire to prove his worth. He also said winning is most important to him.
Depth in the secondary has been a strength of Green Bay's defense this season. Even as a backup, Capers said House plays a significant role. It's a luxury for the Packers to have a reserve cornerback that can enter a game cold, against a quarterback like Brady, and not skip a beat.
"To do what we want to do, we have to have that," Capers said. "Because if we don't have it, then you have problems. If all the sudden you can't play a personnel group, you can't play the way you want to play, your game plan totally changes. You have issues because you go in with a certain game plan.
"You're always in the back of your mind, you go through and play the 'what if?' game. If we don't have this guy, what do we do? The toughest thing is if you lose a guy, and you've got to totally change your game plan now. That totally changes the game, more so than the normal person thinks."
House didn't enjoy seeing a teammate injured, but he was ready. When opportunities dwindle, he knows it's important to maximize the snaps he does get. Shields will go through standard concussion protocol this week. If he's unable to play Sunday, House will fill in.
Capers won't expect anything different than what House did against Brady.
"I think he's done as good a job as you could ask a guy to do," Capers said when asked how House has handled his limited snaps. "You know that a guy likes to be out there every down, but I think we talk all the time about you've gotta be an unselfish guy and look at the big picture and understand what's best for the team. Those are what our decisions are always going to be made on, what we think is going to be best for the team.
"I think our guys – Davon, as well as a number of other guys that maybe their repetitions haven't been what they wanted – they see the big picture. They know the bottom line is, is what gives us a chance of winning and being able to play your role in helping to contribute with that."
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