Packers' secondary mans up against gifted Bucs receivers

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers cornerback Davon House (31) defends against Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) Sunday, December 3, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY – When they came in for work this week, Green Bay Packers cornerbacks Davon House and Damarious Randall had a request of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

They wanted to take on Tampa Bay’s top two receivers on their own.

“Me and ‘D’ had a conversation and we felt it was best that ‘D’ follow DeSean (Jackson) and I follow Mike (Evans),” House said. “I think every week, we kind of fight for, ‘can we follow?’ And most of the weeks, it’s ‘Nah, you’ll play each side because we feel like you’re both good corners.’

“They have two good receivers this week and we felt I was a better matched up against Mike and he (Jackson) on ‘D.’”

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From the standpoint of countering the two veteran receivers, the move was a success.

House played one of his best games of the season, breaking up a pair of passes and limiting Evans to two catches for 33 yards. Randall broke up a pass and held Jackson to two catches for 24 yards.

“We answered the bell,” Randall said.

The Packers are going to have to evaluate whether they want to do that again, however, because though the two receivers were not a factor, quarterback Jameis Winston completed 21 of 32 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns in the Packers’ 26-20 overtime victory.

Running back Peyton Barber had four catches for 41 yards. Receiver Adam Humphries had four catches for 33 yards. Tight end Cameron Brate had two catches for 39 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Charles Sims III had two catches for 35 yards.

The result of the Packers playing matchup coverage and, in many cases, man-to-man was that Tampa Bay kept throwing screen passes against them. The corners couldn’t come up and force the play because often they were running down the field with their backs to the play.

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“Yeah, we haven’t covered those really well,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “They made some big plays on the screen game. But as a whole, I think we got out and stopped the plays when we needed to stop them.”

The Packers sacked Winston seven times, yet he continually came back and burned them on third downs. The Buccaneers converted 9 of 16 third downs and were it not for a bad snap inside the 10-yard line, they would have won the game.

They ended up settling for a field goal that cut Green Bay’s lead to 17-13.

The worst drive was in the fourth quarter with the Buccaneers at their own 22 with 13 minutes, 4 seconds left.

The Buccaneers confounded Capers’ defense with short and long passes and overcame false start, holding and illegal forward pass penalties to go 78 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown.

Winston scrambled for 25. He hit Sims on a screen for 22. He hit Evans for 17. He hit Humphries over the middle for 12. He hit Evans over the middle for 16.

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His biggest mistake was not running the ball in for a touchdown on second and goal at the 8. Instead, he stopped, thinking he was behind the line of scrimmage, and threw to Jackson for what looked to be a 6-yard touchdown pass.

But he was over the line and the ball went back to the 11.

On third and 11, Winston found Brate for a touchdown with three defenders around him.

“I mean, I was right there,” Martinez said. “It was an amazing throw. I wish I would have made the play. He looked me off. He reminded me of Aaron Rodgers there.

“He was literally looking all the way across the field, slinging up the throw, and I went to go break and as I break the ball is thrown this way (the other direction). I was like, ‘Oh, crap. I tried to come back.”

The touchdown gave the Buccaneers a 20-17 lead.

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Earlier in the game, Brate had beaten nickel back Jermaine Whitehead for a 28-yard touchdown down the seam. Whitehead was beaten so badly, Winston practically got the ball off before the defensive linemen were out of their stances.

Had Randall been playing in the slot like he usually does, it’s possible that play would not have been available. That might be the trade-off for following receivers around.

It’s not anything the Packers should have to worry about again until they face Minnesota’s Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. Neither Cleveland or Carolina has two guys who need special coverage.

Either way, the defense has faced more than 70 plays in two straight games and it looked worn out at the end of the game. Even though it was as close to full strength as it has been in a while with the return of Clay Matthews and Kenny Clark, it was far from a playoff-type performance.

“We’re one step closer,” House said. “Got to get the Browns.”



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