Packers' patchwork secondary gets job done

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers safety Micah Hyde (33) is congratulated by defensive back Kentrell Brice (29) after an interception is the end zone during the waning moment of the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

DETROIT - In the fourth quarter after Damarious Randall couldn’t get his knee to loosen up and Quinten Rollins had suffered a neck injury so serious he had to be carted off the field and Makinton Dorleant was injured on special teams, the Green Bay Packers had no definition to their secondary.

There were no safeties, there were no corners and there were no slot guys.

It was pretty much every man do what he could to keep the Detroit Lions from throwing the ball deep and getting back into a game the Packers offense was gradually taking over.

“We were just out there getting the job done,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “It just came down to us all being DBs. (Safeties) coach (Darren) Perry emphasizes you have to be ready to play wherever you’re needed.

“We were ready today.”

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It might not have been the prettiest performance and the prospect of defending the New York Giants’ receivers next Sunday at Lambeau Field has to be pretty daunting, but the Packers secondary somehow held it together and helped Green Bay gain its fifth division title in six years with a 31-24 victory at Ford Field.

When Rollins tumbled awkwardly on the sideline and then stayed down after allowing receiver Marvin Jones to catch a 30-yard pass on third-and-11, the Packers were down to one outside corner (LaDarius Gunter), one slot corner (Micah Hyde) and four safeties (Clinton-Dix, Morgan Burnett, Kentrell Brice and Marwin Evans).

Randall had dropped out of the game in the first quarter after bumping knees with someone while defending a running play. He came to the bench and tried to work out the stiffness before returning to the game.

But he said the knee tightened up again and one play before Rollins got hurt, Randall exited the game for the last time after aggravating the knee. Dorleant had been injured on the punt on the play before Randall exited.

"We lost those three corners, three plays in a row," Coach Mike McCarthy said.

Randall said after the game he would be ready for the Giants next week, but given he’s still dealing with shoulder and groin issues, his status is definitely in doubt.

With both corners out, Hyde moved outside starting with the last play of the third quarter and stayed there the rest of the game. With him and Gunter outside, defensive coordinator Dom Capers went with Burnett as his nickel slot, Brice as his dime slot and Evans as his dime free safety.

Clinton-Dix had to move into a strong safety position that Burnett mostly plays and direct the coverages.

“We had a lot of moving pieces,” said Burnett, who started the game as an inside linebacker in order to control tight end Eric Ebron, went back to strong safety when the Lions started running the ball and then moved to the slot where he was forced to cover man-to-man in the middle of the field.

“But you basically just had to keep an eye on your guy.”

The most remarkable part was that the secondary that played the fourth quarter was better than the one that played the first three.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to go after Hyde and Burnett, who were playing unfamiliar positions, but he couldn’t make any headway. The series in which Rollins got hurt – he was immobilized but the Packers reported he was alert and had movement in his extremities when he was taken to a local hospital – ended with two incompletions.

On the next series, with the Packers ahead, 23-14, Stafford completed a 23-yard pass in the middle of a zone coverage to get the ball to the Packers 36, but on the next three plays ended in a pass batted down by nose tackle Kenny Clark, a pass breakup by Gunter and an incomplete pass deep down the left sideline on Hyde.

The Lions settled for a field goal.

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Then, after the Packers pushed the lead to 31-17, Stafford moved the ball all the way down to the 15-yard line against the soft zone the defense was playing until stalling again. This time, on third and 4, Hyde fought off receiver Golden Tate at the goal-line and intercepted Stafford.

“I was able to get my hands on him,” Hyde said. “I was playing him pretty high because I knew they would try the fade and I just turned and got my hands on the ball. That was the play we needed.”

In the first half, Stafford completed 16 of 22 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, he completed 10 of 19 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown, 35 of which came on a last-second Hail Mary that accounted for the final score.

Somehow a secondary that has been much maligned and probably would have been beaten up much worse against a team playing better offensively than the Lions are, survived to play another week.

"Guts, resiliency, I thought it was tremendous, just the whole operation," McCarthy said. "Dom Capers all the way through the coaches, the players on the sideline. There was no panic. Just the young guys that stepped in there, Brice, all those guys.

"I think we were down to three (defensive) calls, maybe three calls during that whole period."

The injury situation moving forward remains a question mark.

If Randall, Rollins and Dorleant can’t play, the Packers don’t have many other options. Rookie Josh Hawkins was inactive and hasn’t played but a few snaps since giving up a long touchdown against Minnesota and converted wide receiver Herb Waters is the only other practice squad prospect that could be called up.

Thus, it could be the four-safety look against Odell Beckham Jr. and company next week at Lambeau Field.

“The intensity really rises in the playoffs, “Burnett said. “But really we know we just have to do whatever it takes. We know it’s about us.”

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