The Packers need to solve their secondary issues this offseason
The single biggest question facing the Green Bay Packers this offseason is their secondary. Heading into the NFC Championship Game, PFF identified the biggest potential liability for each remaining team in the playoffs, and for Green Bay it was “the entire secondary.” That proved to be painfully accurate for the Packers, as the unit conspired to let Julio Jones in particular run riot and put them to the sword in Atlanta’s 44-21 win.
The issue isn’t just that the secondary is bad, which would be a question that needed to be answered, but with at least a clear and definitive pathway to do so. The issue is more that it’s young, and has now shown play at either extreme of the spectrum.
A year ago, the Packers saw rookie CBs Quinten Rollins and Damarious Randall perform well in their first seasons. The pair combined for five interceptions and neither allowed a passer rating above 88 when targeted, which is right around the league average for all passes. Ladarius Gunter had been a preseason stud, and though he only saw the field for 40 snaps in the regular season he had as many pass breakups (one) as he allowed receptions in that period, and backed it up with another strong preseason heading into the year.
This season, however, the wheels fell off the wagon almost entirely for the young group.
When targeted, all three players allowed a passer rating of over 100. They combined for just four interceptions between the three, and allowed 19 receiving touchdowns on 216 combined targets.
All of that doesn’t even count the playoffs, where their numbers were somehow even worse. In just three postseason games, Randall and Gunter surrendered six combined touchdowns and 423 yards, with Gunter in particularly being completely enfeebled by Jones in the AFC Championship game.
All three players are young (each is only 24 years of age), and have shown good play in the past. Gunter’s season has actually shown a lot of good in between getting beaten badly by top receivers, and the answer to his woes in particular may be as simple as not expecting him to go one-on-one with the game’s most uncoverable wideouts. But Green Bay now has an offseason in which to decide how much faith it can have in a young group of corners that were collectively abused in their second season after showing so much promise as rookies.
Gunter was an undrafted free agent, so the Packers have nothing sunk into him in terms of investment, but Randall and Rollins represent their first- and second-round picks from 2015, respectively, and the awareness of that investment always makes objective analysis of the player’s future strained.
The bottom line for the Packers is that they have a young group of coverage players that has shown the ability to play all over the map when it comes to coverage. That group was arguably the biggest determining factor in costing the team a place in the Super Bowl this season (with injuries playing a clear and important part, too), and if they don’t improve, they will remain an Achilles heel for an otherwise talented roster in 2017.
If the Packers can get this group to realize its potential and return to the promising play of 2015, they will have taken a huge step in the right direction without making a single personnel move. On the other hand, expecting that to happen may be an exercise in faith, and a gamble which could cost them dearly.