Williams Faces Challenge as Matchup Corner

Last week at Cincinnati, Tramon Williams dominated his one-on-one matchup against the Bengals' electric A.J. Green. Williams will shadow the opposition's No. 1 receiver all season. What does that mean? We tell you in words and numbers as we go inside this big story.

The Green Bay Packers put it on film last week.

And they put it to words on Tuesday.

Tramon Williams will not be the starting left cornerback. He'll be the team's matchup cornerback, just like he was on Thursday at Cincinnati, when he followed Bengals star receiver A.J. Green around the field.

"I feel that it shows the confidence that the coaches and everyone has in me," Williams said after Tuesday's practice. "It gives you that sense of pride to not let those guys down. I feel good doing it. I know that I'll be doing it most of the time and I'm up for the challenge."

Williams was up to the challenge against the Bengals. Green is no slouch. The fourth pick of the 2011 draft, Green led all rookies with 65 catches for 1,057 yards and added seven touchdowns. Against Green Bay, he caught just one of the six passes thrown his way — a 3-yard crossing route that was stopped by linebacker Dezman Moses. Williams finished with two passes defensed, both deep routes up the sideline in which Williams, giving up 5 inches to the 6-foot-4 Green, was in perfect position.

No wonder Williams was called a "shutdown corner" last week by coach Mike McCarthy.

"In my opinion he's a top corner," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said on Tuesday. "We're going to match him against top guys, and that's how he has to play. We're going to put him in the toughest situation on the field, and he's good enough to do it."

Williams was more than good enough in 2010, when he was the NFL's best cornerback in passer rating (48.3) and fourth in completion percentage (46.8) among every-down cornerbacks, according to ProFootballFocus.com.

He was even better in the playoffs, when saved the wild-card win at Philadelphia with a fourth-down interception in the end zone, had another end-zone interception and a pick-six on back-to-back possessions before halftime at Atlanta and clinched the Super Bowl with a fourth-down deflection.

Williams wasn't nearly as good in 2011, due in large part to a Week 1 shoulder injury that robbed him of his strength to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He plunged to 21st in passer rating (79.8) and 20th in completion percentage (56.5) among the 42 corners who were on the field for 75 percent of their teams' defensive snaps. No cornerback allowed more yards (1,034) and only one allowed more yards after the catch (341).

Williams breaks up a pass in the end zone. Rob Leifheit/US Presswire

In 2010, according to Pro Football Focus, Williams allowed five games of 100-plus yards and seven games of at least 96 yards. In 2011, Williams allowed a season-high 90 yards against the Giants and only one other game of more than 70 yards.

Williams has said the shoulder isn't 100 percent healthy but, based on the way he stymied Green, he's good enough to regain his status as one of the league's premier corners.

"I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm not thinking about my shoulder. I have a lot more strength in it — a lot more than I had last year. I don't think about it, I don't think about hitting anybody. I don't think about none of that. I'm just going out and playing."

On Thursday, Williams will play a series or two and likely square off against Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe. Then comes the regular-season gauntlet in which Williams' status as a shutdown corner will be put to the test. To start the season, San Francisco has Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss, Chicago has Brandon Marshall and New Orleans has Marques Colston. Then there are matchups against Houston's Andre Johnson, Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, New York's Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, and a pair of showdowns against Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who embarrassed the Packers last season at Lambeau Field with 11 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown.

In all, of the NFL's top 11 wide receivers in terms of receptions, the Packers play seven of them (Johnson, third; Percy Harvin, fourth; Cruz, fifth; Marshall, sixth; Fitzgerald, tied for eighth; Colston, tied for eighth; Nicks, 11th). Plus, they'll face Reggie Wayne (13th), Nate Burleson (15th) and Crabtree (16th).

"I'm looking to be the best that I can be this year," Williams said. "A couple years ago, it was that: It was the year we won the Super Bowl and everything is great when you win the Super Bowl, and if we go back and win it again, then everything is going to be great this year. I'm looking to be the best I can be every time I step on the field."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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