Penalties Put Bigger Target on Williams' Back

The Ravens came after Tramon Williams on Monday night and other teams might follow with the same game plan, even though two of the three interference calls were questionable, at best. Our Matt Tevsh takes a look at the cornerback's penalty problems and the Packers' level of concern.

Tramon Williams knows that after his pass interference issues on Monday night, he might be a marked man the rest of the season.

The third-year cornerback, making just his second start for the Packers this season as the No. 2 cornerback, was flagged three times against the Ravens for a whopping 106 yards. He could have been flagged for a fourth pass interference on another play.

The Ravens made it a point to target Williams, throwing his way at least a dozen times. It was the most action Williams has seen come his way this season. With Al Harris gone for the season with a torn ACL and opposite corner Charles Woodson having an MVP-type season, Williams can expect more of the same.

"I think I'm very mentally tough," Williams said after Thursday's practice. "The refs kept calling flags on me. I saw it as a challenge. So I was like, ‘Man, I can't get down.' I got frustrated, but at the same time I just wanted to make a play even more and more."

Make a play he did. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco gave the Packers an early Christmas present in the fourth quarter when he gift-wrapped a key interception to Williams in the end zone. The easy pick thwarted a sure touchdown drive inside the 5-yard line that could have pulled the Ravens to within three points.

"The young man has great, great jumping ability," cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt told a couple of reporters on Friday. "He has explosion. You can see how when he caught Lardarius Webb (on a second-half kickoff), you saw the speed, you saw the jumping ability. He has great ball skills. You can see the flash of the ball. I'm very, very pleased with Tramon's progress and where he is and where he's headed."

Just two plays before the game-clinching pick, however, Williams' 22-yard pass interference in the end zone set up the Ravens at the 1-yard line. It was his second damaging penalty of the night in the end zone. A 41-yard infraction late in the third quarter led to a 1-yard Willis McGahee touchdown run that trimmed the Packers' 17-point halftime lead to just three.

On both plays, Williams had his head turned to locate the ball, but arm contact with wide receiver Demetrius Williams prompted the official to make both calls. Williams' aggressive play was a poor match for a penalty-happy officiating crew.

"I don't think you can let that change the way you play. That's the bad thing about it," said Williams. "You may be subject to some penalties. Evidently, I got that treatment this week … but I don't think you can let it stop the way you play."

Whitt doesn't want Williams to change his style. Even with the penalties, Whitt gave Williams a winning performance against Baltimore.

"The first (interference penalty), he might have hooked the arm," Whitt said. "You can see that one. The second one was an outstanding play. He went through with his off hand, went through the ball with the receiver's hands and secured the tackle. There was no turn. Outstanding technique. The last one, playing the ball, there was no hook, the receiver was actually pushing back."

He added later: "We're going to put our hands on people. Let's not get that mistaken. We're going to do that. I have no issue with Tramon and the way he plays."


Tramon Williams is flagged for interference. Morry Gash/AP

The first penalty Whitt mentioned came in the first quarter against Mark Clayton and perhaps set the tone for the night. Clayton tried to get separation on a long pass, but Williams held his arm back, preventing him from making the catch.

"I accept that one," said Williams of the 43-yard gift he gave the Ravens.

A developmental player on the practice squad in 2006, Williams has been a productive player for the Packers the past two seasons. He has played the nickel defensive back role for the Packers when everyone is healthy, but injuries to Harris have given him a chance to move up. In nine career starts as the No. 2 cornerback, he has seven interceptions.

Before Harris went down on Nov. 22, Williams got four starts when the Packers opened games in their nickel defense. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers used that package more than any other over the first 10 games, and Williams played well in it. He leads the team with 17 passes defensed. Since then, the Packers have played much less nickel with Jarrett Bush moving into Williams' old spot.

Williams has a history of penalty problems that the Packers will have to watch closely. In addition to Monday night's infractions, he racked up illegal-contact calls against the Bengals (Sept. 20) and the Lions (Oct. 18) and a pass interference against the Cowboys (Nov. 15), giving him six penalties for the season, tied for most on the defense. Last season, he led the unit with the same amount.

That Williams assumes the starting role for the rest of the regular season and potentially the playoffs only will magnify his mistakes if they continue. Throw in the fact Woodson is on the other side, and Williams can expect to be challenged in the coming weeks, especially if teams take note of Monday night's game film.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Lions learned what can happen when challenging Woodson, who was locked up one-on-one with Calvin Johnson for much of the day. Johnson finished with just two catches for 10 yards and Woodson tallied two interceptions (giving him seven for the season). The Packers won 34-12, and Williams, much to his surprise, only saw three passes come his way.

This week's opponent, the Bears, offer an intriguing matchup for Williams. He will face strong-armed Jay Cutler, who is tied for the league-lead with 20 interceptions. He likes to go deep to two of the fastest receivers in the NFL in Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. Hester, however, is listed as questionable (50-50 chance of playing) with a calf injury that kept him out of practice all week.

"Well, playing corner in our system, particularly when we pressure, no different than the system we played in before, you're going to get vertical balls," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I don't see (Williams getting picked on) as a problem.

"Yeah, I hope Chicago does do that. I'm sure Tramon hopes he has more opportunities. Throwing the ball deep in one-on-one situations is something that happens every week. We're not going to overreact to the penalties, and if you had a chance to go after Tramon versus Charles, I'm sure some people may go at Tramon more. That's all part of game-planning and that's all part of the game."

Whitt echoed those comments.

"I do too," Whitt said. "He has great ball skills. I hope they do. I'm looking forward to it. I told him I hope they throw the deep ball at him this week because he'll get it."

Whitt couldn't believe this was a point of conversation on Friday. Williams also is ready to move on.

"Just bring it on," he said. "With me, it's whatever. I'm down for any challenge. I hope they come at me with the same thing. Evidently, I've got to adjust to the way the refs are going to be calling the game, so that's something I know I got to do better."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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