It was getting out of hand. The Green Bay Packers‘ secondary could not stop a nosebleed against Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. While Kaepernick torched the defense with his feet in the Packers’ last game of 2013, the lengthy gunslinger used his arm to put his opponent in the rear view mirror once again, completing 27-of-39 passes for a career-high 412 yards with threw touchdowns.
To recognize how glaring the performance truly was, his 10.56 average yards per attempt was his second-best performance when throwing at least 25 passes, trailing only his 10.79 average against Baltimore in the 2013 Super Bowl.
Anquan Boldin wore the Niners’ jersey like past greats Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens and made Green Bay’s back end look like the ‘Little Giants.’ The 2013 Super Bowl champion caught 13 balls for 207 yards and added one score. From that point forward, the unit showed little consistency, and there’s reason to believe they can hold their own in 2014 and reverse their fortunes.
In the NFL, you really only need to lock up four players to serve as the de facto cornerstones of your team: quarterback, defensive end/middle linebacker, left tackle, and a member of the secondary, preferably a cornerback. Of course, this varies depending on the particular front office’s preferences for schemes and what not, but it certainly applies to Green Bay’s situation.
They have quarterback Aaron Rodgers and defensive end/outside linebacker Clay Matthews locked up. Second-year left tackle David Bakhtiari will soon get a payday if he replicates his 2013 rookie performance, and GM Ted Thompson recently put the monetary clamp down on cornerback Sam Shields.
The salary given to him — four-year, $39 million contract with $12.5 million guaranteed — clearly denotes the Miami (FL) product as the cornerstone of the team’s secondary, and the stats back it up.
In only 14 games this past season due to injury, Shields recorded 16 pass deflections and four interceptions to go along with 61 tackles. Not to mention, the 26-year old is trending upward. His 2013 pass deflections and tackles were a career high, four above his best season in 2011, while his interception tally tied his 2011 output.
Plus, he played a large part in the containment of Cincinnati Bengals‘ A.J. Green when the two teams squared off in September. The All-Pro wideout was held to only four catches for 46 yards, while still receiving a team-best eight targets that afternoon.
I know the unit as a whole still struggled throughout last season, especially on the deep ball thanks to some mind-boggling play by the safeties. However, the cornerback group was not at full strength during vital stretches of the season. Casey Hayward, who led the league with seven interceptions in 2012 as a rookie, missed all but three games, though rookie Micah Hyde stepped up beautifully in his absence.
Plus, as mentioned earlier, they were without their best cover corner in Shields.
When looked at as a whole, they have the potential to be good based on personnel. Hyde will only continue to grow as a player; hopefully, that remains at the cornerback position and not at safety, which was been widely speculated. Hayward is a proven commodity and can slowly but surely start to take over the lead role opposite of Shields with Tramon Williams not getting any younger at age 31.
Still, while Williams’ production in pass coverage slipped in 2013, his 83 total tackles blew his past season totals out of the water.
Green Bay’s defense is not that far off from being in the upper echelon of the league’s best, and with the secondary rounding into form with able bodies in tackling and pass coverage, 2014 will be an opportunity to prove it.