Via Last Word On Pro Football, by Jonathan Barnett
The Packers pass defense went from being sixth in the NFL in yards surrendered through the 2015 season to 31st last season. A major part of the downfall was the decline in production from Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. The two Packers cornerbacks need to bounce back to 2015 form if this team is to succeed.
Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins Seeking to Silence Sophomore Slump
The 2015 Fall
In all fairness, the biggest issue was injuries. Sam Shields went down early to another concussion and his career appears to be over. Randall missed six games due to injury. He did still manage to match his rookie mark of three interceptions in the games he did play. His tackle and passes defensed (PD) numbers kept roughly the same pace as 2015. Rollins himself missed three games, but actually increased his tackles and pass breakups from last year. Shields had just three tackles against the Jacksonville Jaguars before missing the final 15 games.
There are very few teams that could play without their top cornerback for an entire season and stay strong. Add to that significant missed time from the number two cornerback in Randall. Then take some snaps from the third corner. This was the first problem.
This has not stopped Packers fans from grumbling about the failure of the defense. The front seven did well. They finished sixth in the NFL with 40 sacks. It was also the eighth ranked rush defense in yards per game.
What can be done to the pass defense to build it back? Well, the addition of Josh Jones and Kevin King should help. The signing of Davon House will also add competition and fire. Yet, the growth of Randall and Rollins will be the central key to the success of the Packers defense for the years to come.
This is not a new issue. It’s also affected the Packers wide receivers. After a promising rookie campaign (38 catches for 446 yards and three touchdowns), Davante Adams had a troubling second season. While he did increase his reception total to 50, his yards per catch dropped. Drop is the operative word as Adams had six drops on 94 targets. Not a huge drop percentage, but only a 53.2 percent catch rate.
In 2016, Adams had fans expecting failure. He did have five drops over the season, but on 121 targets. He also finished behind only teammate Jordy Nelson in touchdown receptions. His catch rate climbed to 62.0 percent. He clearly became someone Aaron Rodgers trusted. Rodgers threw several 50/50 balls Adams’ direction. Adams made many of them count. With Randall Cobb seeing a reduced role and the running game struggling to find an identity, Adams was a shining spot.
Essentially, players can come out of these sophomore slumps. Adams has more in common with Randall and Rollins than a tough second season. Adams had several injuries and missed three games. He played through ankle injuries in many of the games where he did see action. He really never got a chance to get going on his 2015 campaign.
What Needs to Happen
Randall and Rollins need to stay healthy. Maybe the biggest “duh” comment ever, right? Looking back through all the recent Packers drafts, almost no one who starts hot loses momentum on this team. Injury is the only exception. Adams, Randall and Rollins all faced time on the injury report in their sophomore seasons. Casey Hayward had a decent start, but missed most of his sophomore season with hamstring issues.
Several players like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, David Bakhtiari, Mike Daniels, and Morgan Burnett started strong and then improved. A few like Richard Rodgers and Nick Perry basically stayed who they were. Perry, obviously, faced injury issues of his own as well. Eddie Lacy and Randall Cobb both saw dips in production in their third seasons and rebounded. You might think Lacy did not, but he was averaging over five yards a carry before being lost for the season early in 2016.
Of course, there are any number of players such as Khyri Thornton or Datone Jones. Guys who were nice to have and then moved on to other teams because they were going to get better money.
What we can glean from this is that the Packers coaching staff is good at improving talent. There could be an inference that general manager Ted Thompson and his staff are also good at finding coachable players. The sort of people willing to be coached. That requires admitting you are not good enough on your own.
The Packers have also decided to show Randall and Rollins that while the coaching is there, this team will not wait without options. House and King will be looking to start this year. LaDarius Gunter is also out there waiting (tell me a matchup with the 6’2″ Gunter and the 6’3″ King would not be amazing to see). Randall and Rollins know they are part of a mix of talent. Since the Packers play more nickel than just about everyone, there should be plenty of opportunities as well.
Expect growth from Randall and Rollins. They both showed their talent in 2015. That is the more likely thing to show through in 2017. Prepare to remember 2016 as the exception rather than the rule for these two young men.