Veteran cornerbacks drop the ball

Veteran cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson are supposed to be the playmakers of the Packers' secondary, but they have yet to live up to their billing this season, says's Doug Ritchay.

Most agreed when the Green Bay Packers took the field Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, the secondary could remind many of us of burnt toast by the end of the day.

Gone was former first-round pick Ahmad Carroll, who held more in his two-plus seasons than high school sweethearts do at the homecoming dance. In his place as the 'nickel' back was rookie free agent Patrick Dendy, who was activated off the practice squad after Carroll's dismissal. With the presence of starters Charles Woodson and Al Harris, most expected the Rams to point their attention at Dendy.

As it turned out, Dendy held his own, while Harris and Woodson failed to make key plays. Their miscues weren't the sole reason the Packers fell 23-20 to St. Louis, but they did have some input.

Dendy played more than 20 snaps, but his most glaring error was a missed tackle on a 40-yard pass to Tony Fisher. He didn't allow a touchdown and wasn't beaten time after time like a rented mule.

Part of Dendy's success can be attributed to when he was in the game the Packers played a lot of zone. Also, he lined up against No. 3 receiver Kevin Curtis, not priemier wideouts Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.

"My gut is he played pretty solid," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

Meanwhile, Harris and Woodson failed to make plays an every-day cornerback should make. Woodson has a $39 million contract, but dropped a would-be interception late in the game and was flagged for pass interference.

Harris, who's in the middle of a five-year, $19 million contract, and wants to be paid more like Woodson, was flagged for illegal contact and holding, while dropping an easy would-be interception on the Packers' 5-yard line late in the third quarter. Not only would an interception have given the Packers the ball, he had plenty of room to make a significant return and the Rams wouldn't have scored three points which they did later on a field goal.

Harris was also beaten by Holt in the first quarter for a touchdown, when he gave Holt the inside of the field on a slant play.

Harris and Woodson have to be the playmakers on the back seven of the defense. They have the most experience and have displayed in the past to be impact players.

But the lack of making these key plays somewhat overshadows the fact Holt and Bruce combined for a paltry 63 receiving yards.

"Big play opportunities," McCarthy said. "You need to make those. We're not making enough plays."

Rams QB Marc Bulger threw for 220 yards, which is 51 below the Packers' opponents average for the season (271). That is a step in the right direction for the secondary and defense.

"They're pretty good on offense," McCarthy said. "I thought they (defense) played well enough to win."

However, three interceptions in five games shows the lack of playmaking this unit has. This team isn't good enough to not take advantage of poor passes or poor offense.

The players aren't the only ones to blame. Once again the Packers' defense showed a lack of coaching when it had 12 players on the field. That wasn't as bad, however, as the Rams gaining 17 yards on the play. Twelve players on the field and you still can't defend?

"That's (the coaches') responsibility," McCarthy said. "That's poor. We need to do a better job. That happens when you go from one personnel grouping to another."

That is also what happens when a bad team plays football. Mistakes, missed opportunities and all the luck in the game is bad.

Heading into the bye week, the Packers have to re-evaluate everything going on. The secondary didn't miss Carroll on Sunday, but that's no surprise. The disappointing part was without Carroll, the veterans made mistakes. That can't happen. Woodson and Harris must play to the level they're paid.

Then, the rest of the unit falls into place. When the Packers play their next game at Miami, they will face either the much-maligned Joey Harrington or Daunte Culpepper at quarterback. The opportunities will be there to make plays, and if the secondary doesn't step up, get used to watching losses week after week. Defense is a big part of the game and if it doesn't pitch in like the offense does from time to time (for example, Brett Favre hitting Greg Jennings for a 46-yard TD pass as he did Sunday), this season will be worse than most people imagined.

Doug Ritchay

Editor's note: Doug Ritchay is a longtime sportswriter and former Packers beat writer for the Green Bay News-Chronicle. E-mail at

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