DETROIT – The Green Bay Packers were running out of players in the secondary.
And, as a byproduct, they were running out of plays on defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ call sheet.
“I think we were down to three calls,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers’ beleaguered defense somehow held Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense in check in Sunday night’s NFC North showdown. With cornerbacks Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and Makinton Dorleant and inside linebacker Joe Thomas out with injuries, the Packers somehow held Detroit to one touchdown in the second half – a meaningless Hail Mary – as Green Bay won the division crown with a 31-24 victory.
“Guts, resiliency,” McCarthy said. “I thought it was tremendous, just the whole operation -- Dom Capers all the way through, the coaches, the players on the sideline. There was no panic.”
The Packers spent most of Sunday night’s game in their dime defense, content to give up rushing yards to Zach Zenner in exchange for limiting Stafford, tight end Eric Ebron and the rest of the Lions’ offense. Green Bay started the night with LaDarius Gunter and Randall at cornerback, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice at safety, Micah Hyde in the slot and Thomas and starting safety Morgan Burnett at inside linebacker. When Randall was injured in the first half, Rollins stepped into the lineup.
By the end of the night? Gunter and Clinton-Dix were the only mainstays. Gunter and Hyde lined up at cornerback, Brice took over in the slot, Jake Ryan played inside linebacker and undrafted rookie Marwin Evans joined Clinton-Dix at safety. Other times, the Packers used a nickel package with Ryan and Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, Burnett in the slot and Brice and Clinton-Dix at safety.
“Man, the last time I played corner was probably at Georgia Tech my freshman year,” Burnett said with a laugh.
And yet the Packers’ defense kept the Lions at bay. Green Bay’s offense stormed down the field to open the second half with a touchdown and a 17-14 lead. The Lions got one first down but Nick Perry sacked Stafford on third-and-5 to force a punt. A couple plays after the Packers punted the ball back to the Lions, Rollins suffered a neck injury on a 30-yard pass – leaving the Packers without Randall, Dorleant and Rollins for the rest of the game. On first down, Clay Matthews ruined a running play that resulted in a loss of 3. Two consecutive incompletions forced Detroit to punt.
“That’s what we practice,” Hyde said. “We rotate guys a lot. Kudos to myself, kudos to Morgan – he went in and played inside. That’s just stuff that we practice all the time. We know what each other’s supposed to do. That was just a great defensive effort.”
Green Bay then drove to another touchdown and a 23-14 lead. McCarthy called that a “statement” drive given the state of the secondary.
The Lions quickly drove into scoring position but defensive tackle Kenny Clark batted down a pass, Gunter broke up another and Perry and Julius Peppers pressured Stafford into a third-down incompletion. Detroit settled for a long field goal that cut the margin to 23-17, but Green Bay retaliated with a touchdown and two-point conversion to build a 31-17 edge. Hyde sealed the deal with an end-zone interception.
The versatile Hyde showed his worth against the Lions. He hadn’t played on the outside since his rookie season of 2013 – and that was only for “one snap, maybe two snaps.” But when forced into service, he stepped up.
“That’s just big. That just shows his versatility,” Burnett said. “Micah’s a guy, you can line him up anywhere. He’s not going to question, he’s not going to be hesitant. They say, ‘You’re moving to corner, Micah,’ he doesn’t blink. He went out there and caught a pick on a really good receiver against a really good quarterback. That just shows Micah’s versatility and how valuable he is to our defense.”
The division’s been won, but can the Packers make a postseason run with their cornerback corps such a mess? Sam Shields, of course, has missed all but one game with a concussion. Randall, who missed six games with a groin injury that required surgery, has been in and out of the lineup all season with a litany of injuries. Rollins, who missed three games with a groin injury and has struggled throughout the season, might not be available. That’s the top three cornerbacks on the season-opening depth chart.
Who’s left? Not much -- and certainly not any experience. Dorleant, an undrafted rookie, has played five snaps on defense and might not be available, anyway. Josh Hawkins, another undrafted rookie, has played eight snaps on defense – just one since giving up a touchdown at the end of the first half of the Week 3 game against Detroit.
The Packers might not have much choice but to go with the guys who helped win Sunday’s game. Do the Packers have the pieces necessary to beat the Giants on Sunday and make a postseason run?
“I don’t know if in 2010 we had all the pieces,” Matthews said. “I just think we got hot and no one wanted to play us then. Hopefully, that’s the case this year. Obviously, with every year, there’s guys who go down, guys who go on IR, perceived weaknesses and strengths of the team but, at the end of the day, it’s one game to decide it all.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.