Sam Shields’ early exit from Sunday night’s game didn’t just remove the Green Bay Packers' top cornerback against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. It also altered how defensive coordinator Dom Capers could align his secondary.
Cornerback Casey Hayward clearly struggled to cover Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas. Thomas had four catches and 109 yards on five targets against Hayward, but the Packers stuck with him. The Packers could have matched Shields against Thomas and moved Hayward inside, but Shields’ absence prevented that from being an option.
“We would’ve tried to play Casey inside some,” Capers said.
The Packers were hesitant to match rookie Damarious Randall against Thomas, because he’s an inexperienced player who also had sprained his ankle early in the week. Capers said he was uncertain how Randall would play with the sore ankle.
Randall found himself matched against Thomas three times in the second half when the Packers used more zone coverages. He also struggled, allowing Thomas to catch three passes on three targets for 50 yards.
Randall made one memorable play in the second half when he intercepted Manning, a memory the first-round pick last spring will keep with him. Overall, the Packers have gotten more coverage production from the rookie.
Randall has allowed 18 catches on 37 targets (48 completion percentage) for 308 yards with an opposing passer rating of 75.1, according to Pro Football Focus. Hayward has allowed 28 catches on 43 targets (65.1 completion percentage) for 379 yards and a 108.6 opposing passer rating.
Even with Hayward’s struggles, Capers said, he hasn’t lost confidence in the veteran's ability to play cornerback on the perimeter.
“We think Casey can play both (inside and outside),” Capers said. “Obviously, he’s got more experience on the inside. We’ve seen when we’re totally healthy, he’s played inside and we’ve had Sam and Damarious outside.
“We weren’t sure really how Damaroius was going to respond. He sprained his ankle earlier in the week. So I thought he went out and battled and made a nice play on that interception. He’s just got to continue to work. We’re going to need him to play, and play well.”
Collectively, the Packers secondary hasn’t played well in the past two games. They’ve allowed a combined 843 passing yards to Manning and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Manning’s 340 passing yards Sunday were a season high, and only the second time in seven games he hit the 300-yard mark.
Capers said he viewed it as “two different games” with separate issues against the two quarterbacks. Against the Chargers, Capers said, the Packers turned it into a “one-dimensional game” and Rivers got into a rhythm.
“We were playing a quarterback who was very hot,” Capers said of Rivers, who had 503 passing yards two weeks ago at Lambeau Field.
Capers said Manning had success throwing the football because the Broncos were able to establish their run game. With running back C.J. Anderson rushing for 101 yards on 14 carries, Manning’s play-action fakes were effective.
“When people can get that going,” Capers said, “it helps their play-action passing game. Guys aren’t able to now tee off because the game doesn’t become one-dimensional, where you can tee off now and go after the quarterback. If they can keep you either-or, it’s hard to disrupt the quarterback the way we have at times when we’ve been able to make the game one-dimensional.”