If Shields can’t play, the Packers are confident that they’ve got the defensive manpower to match up against Atlanta’s powerful passing game.
“Yeah, we’re ready,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Saturday. “It’s definitely a very good receiving group. We’ve been practicing all week without Sam, so Davon (House), Casey (Hayward) and Tramon (Williams) they’ll be ready to go.”
McCarthy said that he’d give Shields “every opportunity” to play against the Falcons. Shields was injured while trying to make a tackle during the second quarter of Sunday’s win over New England. He did not practice on Thursday or Friday and would not have practiced on Saturday, with the team returning to the practice field for a light workout on Sunday.
“You’re either in the (concussion) protocol or you’re not in the protocol,” McCarthy said. “Once the player comes out of that and he’s cleared, then it becomes the decision of the coaching staff or in conversation with the player to see if he’s ready to go.”
Certainly, the Packers would like to have Shields available against an Atlanta offense that piled up 500 yards against Arizona’s superb defense last week. On Thursday, McCarthy called the Falcons’ receiver group the best unit on the team. That group, which has a combined 195 receptions from its top performers and is led by an elite performer in Julio Jones, might be bolstered by the return of veteran Roddy White. White, who missed last week’s game with an ankle injury, returned to practice on Saturday and is listed as questionable. White has caught 56 passes this season, with 37 coming in his last five games.
However, cornerback might be the Packers’ deepest group. Even without Shields, the Packers’ defense was able to contain New England quarterback Tom Brady last week.
“We’re fortunate to have good depth,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “You saw most of the game Sunday that Sam went out early in the game and Davon House went in and did a good job. You’ve seen Casey Hayward and Micah (Hyde) and we’ve had a number of guys that have had to step in, and that’s one of the advantages of having some depth in the secondary. In this day and age, if you don’t have depth in the secondary, you can have big problems in a hurry just because you’ve got to match up with all these good wide receivers that you’re going against.”
Williams and Shields rank second and third, respectively, in the NFL in interceptions since the start of the 2010 season (postseason included). Hyde, who has started seven games at safety, has settled into the nickel role. As a rookie in 2012, Hayward finished second in the league with five interceptions and he leads the team this year with three. The 6-foot House has started four games this season and has the size to help combat star receivers Jones (6-foot-3) and White (6-0). He probably would get the start alongside Williams.
“Davon is an excellent corner,” Williams said. “He’s got a special type of skill-set for being a long, big corner. He kind of has that body type that people consider a shutdown corner. He’s going to be big for us. He’s been big all year for us. We have the depth at that position, not only Davon but Casey can step in, also, and do an excellent job for us.”
Preparation will help against a Falcons receiver corps that features Jones (82 receptions, 1,169 yards, five touchdowns), White (56-662-5), slot receiver Harry Douglas (30-339-1) and veteran Devin Hester (27-362-1). Even though Williams and Shields have been the unquestioned starters for the past couple of years and held that status throughout the offseason and training camp, cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt has made sure he gives his top players ample snaps on the practice field throughout the week. So, it’s not as if Whitt has been rushing to get his backups ready to play.
“They all get the same reps in practice. I’ve talked about that before,” Whitt said. “Those four guys get equal reps, so the preparation hasn’t been any different. So they’re prepared the same so when somebody does go down, (they’re ready). I tell them I don’t care who draws what assignment. We haven’t matched this year. All four guys have been on every top receiver and play well. I like that we have.”
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