GREEN BAY - The idea that coaches tighten their rotation of players during postseason play is most commonly seen in basketball, where college and professional teams alike turn to their veterans in the NCAA Tournament or NBA playoffs. Teams that had gone nine or 10 players deep now rely almost exclusively on their best seven or eight.
For the Green Bay Packers, whose season once teetered at 4-6, the same concept was applied to their rookies for a period of time in late November and early December. When the Packers desperately needed wins, they turned to the guys who had been there before.
"We’ve played a lot of young players to this point, so with that we’ve gained a lot of experience with those guys,” coach Mike McCarthy said in early December. “But at the end of the day, you have to play your best players and most importantly at the key times.”
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Which is why rookie outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell was pleasantly surprised with his portion of snaps in Sunday's win over the New York Giants, another do-or-die moment for the Packers. Fackrell, who missed three games down the stretch with a hamstring injury, played 15 of 65 snaps from scrimmage (23%) as position coach Winston Moss demonstrated the same faith he had shown earlier in the year.
For reference, veterans Datone Jones (20/65, 31%) and Nick Perry (22/65, 34%) were only a few snaps ahead of Fackrell.
"I mean those last six games were pretty much all must-win, so they prefer to have veteran, tested guys out there," Fackrell said. "But yeah, it was definitely a big opportunity and a big step, I felt like, to be able to play that much in a playoff game.
"It’s a lot of trust that they put in a guy. I’m a rookie still. It feels like I’ve been here a while; it’s been a long season. But I am still a rookie, so it shows they have trust in me. Obviously, I want to warrant that."
Fackrell's rookie season was derailed slightly by a hamstring injury suffered in Week 11 against Washington. He rehabbed for nearly an entire month before returning to play 4 snaps from scrimmage and 21 snaps on special teams in a win over the Chicago Bears.
Initially, Fackrell's playing time on defense was far less post-injury than what he had grown accustomed to earlier in the year. Four snaps against the Bears gave way to 9 against the Minnesota Vikings, and he only played 2 snaps from scrimmage in the regular season finale in Detroit. The majority of his contributions came on special teams.
"Special teams is always an important role," Fackrell said. "I’m just kind of impacting what I can there and doing whatever I can on defense. ... It’s kind of been a process like learning how to game plan and really what different moves work on different guys. It’s really — a lot of it goes into studying whoever you’re going to be going against and kind of having a game plan specifically for them."
But his playing time against the Giants was more in line with the praise heaped on him by Moss throughout training camp and the early weeks of the season. Moss, the associate head coach / linebackers, believed Fackrell's lanky build and speed off the edge added a different element to the outside linebacker group.
He gave Fackrell a chance when it mattered most.
"I think Fackrell has some abilities that can help us,” Moss said in early September. “And so we will continue to find ways to insert him into the game that allows him to utilize his skill set. That can fluctuate from game to game, and when and if that opportunity presents itself, I’m totally confident with Fackrell playing. And not just putting him into the game and seeing what’s going on. I think he brings something to the table."
Perhaps he can bring it to Dallas on Sunday.