Silverstein: What Packers' defense can learn from failures vs. Falcons

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY – If you don’t extract valuable information from a performance like the Green Bay Packers had at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night, then you are doomed to repeat the past.

Green Bay Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins (24) gives up a catch to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) on Sept. 17, 2017, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Or in this case, doomed to re-repeat the past.

The Packers’ 34-23 defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons wasn’t exactly a lab experiment, but for defensive coordinator Dom Capers it was a chance to lay his pieces out on the table and see if his calculations for the secondary were correct.

At some point, Capers had to find out how the addition of cornerback Davon House and rookie Kevin King, the healthy return of cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins and the full-time placement of safety Morgan Burnett at inside linebacker matched up with the most prolific passing game in the NFL.

What Capers walked away with was the knowledge that King needs to be a full-time player, Randall and Rollins can’t play the top receivers in the NFL without help, House is a liability against the run and the less rookie safety Josh Jones is on the field, the more the Packers are going to regret it in December.

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Capers came into the game with no plans to shadow star receiver Julio Jones with the same cornerback or double him so tightly that there was little chance he would be a factor.

Instead, Capers not only played it straight much of the time, he threw in a decent amount of pressures, bringing five or more rushers on nine of 22 passing plays in the first half.

Against the team that scorched his defense for 493 yards and 44 points in the NFC Championship in January, Capers played the aggressive press man-to-man coverage that the defensive backs worked on all summer and played exceedingly well in a Week 1 victory over the Seattle Seahawks

“We felt like we’d go in and play our game,” Capers said Monday. “We knew that Julio is a guy that can take over a game if you don’t have a way to take him out. And quite frankly we had him doubled and they still got the ball in there to him.

“Any time you commit two guys to him you don’t want him coming up with the football.”

Wherever Julio Jones lined up, the cornerback with responsibility on that side covered him. And a majority of the time, the corner that was covering him played press man-to-man with a single safety in the middle of the field.

There were doubles built into the scheme, but there wasn’t much bracketing where a corner and a safety work in tandem to discourage the quarterback from throwing that direction. It was often a linebacker dropping deep or a safety waiting on the other side of the field for Jones to run in his direction.

Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 19 of 28 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown, good for a passer rating of 108.0. They were good numbers – not great – but they were affected by the Falcons trying to eat up clock with a big lead in the second half.

Capers started with House on the left side, Randall on the right and Rollins in the slot in the “nitro” package. Kentrell Brice was the deep safety opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix but spent a good deal of time near the line of scrimmage trying to help in the run game.

Here’s how the night went for those under the microscope:

Damarious Randall: On the first series, he gave up a 19-yard catch-and-run to Julio Jones in which Jones broke his tackle and picked up an additional 13 yards. One play later, Jones, with Randall across from him, ran a deep over route to the opposite corner of the field, leaving the Packers rookie in the dust.

Randall should have had some help from Brice, who bit on play-action, but the difference in speed between the 6-3, 220-pound Jones and the 5-11, 196-pound Randall was eye-opening. Randall never made up any ground.

Later in the game, Randall got moved into the slot with King going outside and Rollins to the bench. Things didn’t go much better. Randall later gave up inside leverage on a double move and allowed receiver Mohamed Sanu to beat him down the middle for a 21-yard gain. It was sloppy coverage that good NFL receivers turn into big gains.

Quinten Rollins: He showed his limitations when he properly played off a bunch formation and had a chance to tackle Jones short of the first down, but couldn’t turn and close quickly enough to make the tackle. He also gave up a 10-yard pass to Sanu on a third down with the Packers down 11 and desperately needing a stop.

Kevin King: The rookie came in with the ball at the 2-yard line on Atlanta’s first series and successfully defended a fade to Jones in man-to-man coverage. He came into the game for good on the third series and continued to look like he belonged. He broke up passes to Andre Roberts and Jones on crossing routes, staying step for step with both.

In the third quarter, he made a terrific tackle on speedy running back Tevin Coleman  in the open field for no gain. If King isn’t starting against Cincinnati on Sunday, something is very, very wrong.

Davon House: His coverage was decent, but for the second straight week, he blew contain on a running play and gave up a long run. This time it gushed for 35 yards and allowed the Falcons to escape from being buried inside their own 10-yard line.

Kentrell Brice: It was a lousy day for the second-year safety. Besides getting knocked out of the game with a groin injury, he missed a tackle on Sanu’s 24-yard catch and run, had perfect position to defend Jones on an over route but got turned around for a 27-yard completion, also broke contain on the 35-yard run and let 5-10, 192-pound receiver Justin Hardy blow him off the ball with a goal-line block, leading to Devonta Freeman’s 1-yard touchdown run.

Josh Jones: Not expecting to play much, Jones replaced Brice and showed the raw speed and power with which he plays on special teams. He had three tackles on defense – including one for loss – and a tackle on special teams.

He’s going to make mistakes, but Jones’ ability to play near the line of scrimmage and pursue sideline to sideline was clearly needed in the first half. Even if Brice comes back this week, Capers has to think long and hard about replacing him with Jones.

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