Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

Depleted Packers Secondary Trumps Beckham

Instead of the predicted landslide, Odell Beckham had a long night against a reconfigured Packers secondary.

The talk leading up to Sunday night’s showdown was inescapable and the questions dominated the conversation on TV, radio and social media.

Would he melt down again? Could he control his emotions? Would he be easily goaded into a confrontation? Was that part of his opponent’s game plan? On a national stage, one of New York’s most recognizable stars and that signature hairstyle would be under a microscope.

And when it was all said and done, the Green Bay Packers’ secondary – sans their top two cornerbacks – held New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to just five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown on their way to a 23-16 win.

(You knew we were talking about OBJ, right?)

A temperamental Pro Bowl-caliber talent who has inspired a legion of Pop Warner players to dye their hair and practice outstretched, one-handed catches, Beckham was lagging in the polls compared to other receivers in 2016. His 22 catches tied for 34th in the league after four games, while his 303 yards ranked 30th. Worse yet for the Giants, he had yet to reach the end zone after hitting paydirt 25 times in the previous two seasons.

While Beckham’s frustration hadn’t quite approached last year’s sparring match with then-Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, he did pick up the seventh unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty of his three-year career in last week’s loss to the Vikings — along with a $24,309 fine for an altercation with Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Enter the Packers’ pass defense, which was languishing at 29th in the league and bleeding 307 yards per game, even as their run defense was leading the league. Green Bay’s No. 1 cornerback, Sam Shields, remained in the league’s concussion protocol after a Week 1 blow to the head, and seemingly making matters even worse was the announcement prior to kickoff that Damarious Randall, who after a standout rookie campaign last year was struggling in place of Shields, would miss the contest with a groin injury. That left second-year cornerbacks Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter to man the top two spots.

If there were an elixir for what ailed OBJ, this matchup seemed to be it — even before Randall’s surprise scratch from the lineup and its trickle-down effect. But while many predicted a breakout game for him, Green Bay’s defensive backs were bending, but not breaking.

“It was a testament to the defense as a whole, and we played good as a unit today and came out with a victory. You can’t ask for much more.” Rollins said.

Beckham was targeted 12 times by quarterback Eli Manning, but pulled in less than half. While those five grabs included two for 16 yards each and another for 13, Green Bay’s front harassed Manning with batted passes, three sacks and even more hurries, resulting in throws that went both beyond and behind his star receiver.

“Anytime you can keep their playmakers limited, that’s always going to help your cause to win,” Rollins said. “We just wanted to come in and limit their abilities. We knew they’d make some catches, but limiting their playmaking abilities with the run after the catch, and I felt like we did a good job of that tonight.”

For his part, Beckham did a good job keeping his composure. The only play when it was even in question was when Beckham took a handoff on an end-around and was looking to pass near the end of the third quarter. Micah Hyde, who manned the slot in the reconfigured secondary, sniffed out the play and chased him out of bounds for what would go down as a 6-yard sack loss, delivering a hard shot near the Packers’ sideline. Beckham turned around toward Hyde and shook his head back-and-forth, holding his hands up in the air. If this was an attempt to get him going, he wasn’t biting on it.

“Usually, there’s something up when 13’s in the slot,” Hyde said. “So I think I was on him, and he went around for a reverse. He was my guy, so I just ran to the other side, too. It was just a great defensive effort. I think it was Blake (Martinez) there in front of me that forced him to go to the side, and I was just right there to push him out of bounds.

“He actually didn’t say anything. No words came out of his mouth. It was just one of those things. It could’ve been anybody. When an offensive player is on the sideline, you know there’s going to be contact. No one really steps out of bounds just to avoid the contact. I didn’t say anything, he didn’t say anything. It’s just one of those things, it’s football.”

Beckham finally got his first touchdown of the year with just more than 3 minutes to play when Manning found him at the back of the end zone for a leaping 8-yard score behind safety Haha Clinton-Dix that pulled New York to within seven points, 23-16. While it looked as if Beckham’s left foot was just slightly out of bounds as he landed, official Ed Hochuli announced there was “not a clear shot” to overturn the play.

After the score, Beckham ran over and hugged the kicking net, a source of frustration weeks earlier when he struck it as part of a sideline tantrum.

Whether it was getting in the end zone, or the feeling that he was getting back in the zone in the larger sense, OBJ was gracious in defeat.

“Sometimes you just have to go through some things to give you a better appreciation of it all,” he said. “Being able to come here on Sunday night, at Lambeau, it is really a blessing to be on the field. Sometimes you just need to put things in perspective. This has been one of the better weeks I have had. It was a short week, too. Amnesia; I don’t remember. But we are on a losing streak and we just need to snap out of it.”

The Packers’ pass defense, on the other hand, is hoping to keep Sunday night’s momentum rolling.

“You’re always looking to get better each and every week,” Rollins said. “So anything you can build off of positive going into the next week, you always want to put that in your bag because you’re always trying to get better. We’ll definitely take a look at the film and move forward.”

W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at

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