The Packers need to solve their secondary issues this offseason

Green Bay's young cornerbacks really struggled in 2016. Can they revert to their rookie-year form, or does the team need to make a move?

| 4 months ago
(Rob Carr, Getty Images)

(Rob Carr, Getty Images)

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.

GB CBs

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.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Chris

    Would be interesting to see their performance data cross referenced with pass rush data from the two years…Dom pressures and asks a lot from his secondary, but rushers didn’t seem to be getting home this year.

  • GBPFan12

    Reminds me of the receiver group last year.

    The top guy goes down (Jordy/Shields) and the young guys get various injuries that they have to play through (Devante/Montgomery/Cobb last year, our young CBs this year).

    If Shields has to retire, I think getting a speed guy on the outside would be very necessary.

    • Nelson Cobb

      We have to get a talented FA CB, no question. Like you said, with Adams last year, young player, wasn’t ready for the increased role yet, and injuries didn’t help the cause, and he struggled. Pretty much the same deal with our young corners this year. Young, weren’t ready to be thrust into the top roles, and then injuries complicated things more, and they struggled majorly. You can see Randall has a complete lack of confidence. He seems to play off 10 yards on everybody, even though he has speed. He clearly doesn’t trust his ability. Anyway, just like with Jordy returning this season and Adams being able to fall back into that secondary role, he had a fantastic season, and really progressed and grew off the positives of his rookie year. I believe the same could happen with our young CBs. Unfortunately, we’re not getting Shields back though to take on that #1 role to help them fall back into secondary roles, so something is gonna have to be done there. We’re gonna have to replace Shields with a player of similar or higher caliber, an AJ Bouye from Houston, Trumaine Johnson from the Rams or Stephon Gilmore from Buffalo, one of those guys need to be in Green Bay next year. I think if we could add 1 of them, let Gunter slide over into the 2 spot opposite him, it’d allow our young CBs to get back into secondary roles and get back on track growing from what they shown as rookies. I worry though that if Ted Thompson sticks to draft and develop, we’re gonna get another rookie out there, thrust into a role he’s not ready for yet, and we’re gonna see a lot of the same with all CBs next years. Sam Shields injury to me was one of the more underrated and impactful injuries this season in the league because of our inexperience. Ted Thompson has gotta get that #1 guy!!

      • Scott Howard

        This is so spot on. I listen to so many other people that want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Look at all the people saying cut Adams when he was so awful last year. We could be just one guy away from fixing the whole secondary.

        • kevin guinn

          losing a number one cover corner and then having the remaining players have to battle through injury all year makes a strength appear to be a weakness. randall can play. look at his play prior to his injury in the 4th game. ditto rollins – they both can run, but it’s not fair to judge injured players who bucked up and kept playing when they might have been better served to sit. gunter is a solid two regardless.

          i feel like the emphasis has to be on the edge, and that clay needs to be permanently moved to inside linebacker. capers can adjust to sending pressure thru the middle.

          if shields never plays again, they need to add someone, but if he’s cleared by the doctors there’s nothing wrong with the coverage unit that a healthy offseason won’t cure.

          • Nelson Cobb

            Shields has to go. No way can they keep him at a 12 mil cap hit with his risks. Unless he’s willing to come back at some ridiculous low cost deal stuffed with incentives and per game bonuses, no point in keeping him around even if he’s cleared to play. Risk is just too high. We need to use that money to replace him with a top CB on the market, even if we gotta pay something similar to what NY paid for Janoris Jenkins, cause we need what he did for them. His counterpart with the Rams, the one they thought was better, Trumaine Johnson would be ideal if they let him get to the market. Or AJ Bouye from Houston, or Stephon Gilmore from Buffalo. Either one of those 3 would be perfect.

            As for Clay, he can go too. He’s lost explosion off the edge to consistently get after the QB, and he’s really mediocre inside. Look at our run D from last year to this year. 23rd to 8th. The 1st run of the Tennessee game, and the last run of the Washington game is the difference between 8th and 2nd vs the run this year. Both games Jake Ryan was out too. Clay is too aggressive, over pursues and consistently leaves the cut back. He just doesn’t have the ability to play inside at a high level. Both Blake and Jake were solid. They could be better vs the pass, but they’re both very young, and I expect both to get much better. Jake actually really start to show improvement as the year went on vs the pass. I’m not opposed to maybe drafting an upgrade early, but I wouldn’t be upset one bit going into 2017 with our 2 starters. I think the Packers need to give Clay an option to take a major pay cut, to work as a rotational pass rusher, and if he says no, take that 11 mil and use it on somebody like Melvin Ingram from SD to put opposite Nick Perry next year. With Perry and Ingram on the edge, Blake and Jake inside, with Daniels, and Clarks and Lowry’s improvement, our run D would be nasty. Our primary focus needs to be on replacing Shields, so our young CBs can get back into Nickel and Dime roles and worry more about development going forward.

          • Kevin Wayne

            Randall was awful early in the year. Go back and watch week 2 and week 3. He was responsible for Diggs and Marvin Jones having the best games of their careers. While he played well in week 1, the wheels came off in week 2.

        • Tyler Nugent

          Exactly. So many people are so quick to say cut somebody. I stuck by Adams the whole tim knowing it was a sophomore slump. And now the 3 young corners are having their sophomore slumps. It’s all part of the development process.

      • Chiryder55

        Yea well the Pack aren’t known for going and getting that big name free agent. More likely to draft a guy in the first round.

        • Nelson Cobb

          No, they aren’t, and another thing they aren’t known for is great defense, and that isn’t likely to change without some changes in philosophy from Ted Thompson. When your All Pro, future 1st ballot HOF QB is making comments about it, then maybe it’s time for some change. Improvement requires change. Hopefully Ted Thompson watched that playoff game the same way everybody else did, and saw what everybody else did.

          • dennis

            You’re right. Seeing is believing! Develop and wait? Okay, then expect the same. The secondary and pass rush is good at best, not fearful. Offenses easilt pick apart our defense, especially in big games. Do you have confidence in them at money time? Most fans usually hold their breath and pray. Defense hasn’t been built much at all. TT has to go; Elliot in!! Change is mandatory I feel.

      • elcid

        I like Gillmore, Bouye is not experienced enough yet and Gillmore is more physical than Johnson is. I’d still add a Cornerback in first or second round though, Then our Secondary is definitely set. Add in a Linebacker in round 1/2, our Defense could finally be good. Add another weapon in round 3 (either rb, te or wr) and I feel like we finally can get the next ring on Arods finger. However, this surely must be the last year Capers gets a chance to field a consistent defense.

  • David Riese

    The bottom line is garbage on D the Packers have lies directly on the feet of TT.The DBs were not the only position that sucked IMO the Packers have the worst inside linebackers to.I feel sorry for Dom his hands are tired by these,ass clowns yesterdays score didn’t surprise me considering the Packers were the 31st in the league in pass D

    • Nelson Cobb

      Seriously, an ignorant comment like this makes me seriously question if you even watch the game, or even know how to. ILB play has not been a liability this year. Were either game changers?? No, they weren’t, but they both had respectable play, despite dealing with injuries also. Defense was ranked 8th vs the run, and for the most part smothered the Falcons run D, only allowing 3 ypc. That is in most part due to the play of these 2 young ILBs. It’s ridiculous that you feel they were a big problem, and show you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Also, you’re delusional if you don’t think Dom Capers has any input on these draft picks. And I don’t care how bad they are, he’s done a horrible job developing talent. Feel sorry for Capers?? That’s an absolute joke!!!

    • Tyler Nugent

      The ILBs are some of the most promising LBs in the league. And they played pretty well this year. I don’t know what you’re talking about.

  • BAMA BADGER

    These DBs are backups at best. Rotational players not shutdown, game stoppers. TT reaches with high draft choices – Randall and Rollins. Gunter is a good reserve pick as a free agent signing… bottom line GB defense needs big time help across the board and new coaches.

    • Nelson Cobb

      I mean, yeah, cause all quality CBs in the NFL are “shutdown, game stoppers” huh??? Dude, these are still very young corners, very early in development. To declare them anything right now, is just ignorant!! It really is. The biggest knock on both of them coming into the NFL, wasn’t their talent, it was their technique and discipline at actually playing the position. Both were considered guys who required patience, cause it was gonna take time to teach them the proper way to play the position. Hell, Rollins only played CB 1 year in college. Randall was a Safety while at Arizona. Both were considered guys with serious raw ability, but needed serious coaching, and if they got it, could both be legit starting CB’s in the NFL. Also, outside of QB, CB is considered the toughest position to develop, and the one that requires the most work and time. Yet you’re already ready to throw them away after just 2 years??? It’s ridiculous. One of the biggest problems was, when they both performed at a high level for rookies, people got a false sense of confidence in them and threw higher expectations on them, including Ted Thompson, and everybody thought Hayward was expendable, and it was clearly a mistake. Now maybe the Shields injury had a bigger impact on them then anybody realizes, and I believe it does, but I still don’t think they were even ready to take on #2 and #3 roles and should have been 3 and 4 guys at most. When it came to them, everything should have been about development for the 1st 2 years, but letting Hayward go, coupled with Shields injury, threw them into the spotlight way too early. Hopefully the mishandling of them hasn’t ruined their future, cause they both have futures if handled properly going forward. And neither were reaches, both were considered late 1st to 2nd round picks.

      • angryspit

        I’m a Packer fan, all 3 of those guys stink. Why the heck would you want to wait more than 2 years to see something out of these guys the time is now. Rodgers is 33 I’m not trying to wait why these guys figure it out so yeah I wanna give up on them. It ain’t gonna happen but these guys are awful. So was the pass rush it’s not good when the best pass rusher has a huge cast on one of his hands and the other is approaching 40. Looking at the defense and realizing they need like 5 dudes replaced cause they are absolute stiffs was sobering this year.

        • dennis

          Stink? For sure. Smell worst then a shit house door on a tuna boat! ! You’re 100% correct!!

      • Brian Dugan

        Save your breath man. These guys all sound like the dudes who wanted to cut Davante Adams in the preseason and make Jeff Janis a starter. All 3 CBs have flashed ability at times. We need a top CB (like Shields or sadly it seems, Casey Hayward) to take some of the pressure off them and let them develop.

        Also, the fact that Rollins, Gunter, and especially Randall played through a multitude of serious injuries all year didn’t help anything.

        • dennis

          Janis? Maybe could of run a few more end arounds, quick slants, wide receiver screens?? Not used creatively at all. Realize he may of had trouble with routes, but couldn’t we have used him more effectively????

      • BAMA BADGER

        “Dude”… you don’t waste 1st and 2nd round picks on development players. Who are you TT? Neither deserved to be drafted that high.

        • Kevin

          Great take! TT wasted 1st and 2nd pick on 4th round talent.

      • dennis

        Develop right? How many years does Rogers have left???? Time is moving on….

    • dennis

      SPOT ON!!!!

  • crosseyedlemon

    In my youth the Packers had a secondary that boasted Herb Adderley and Willie Wood (both Hall of Famers) so it’s rather shocking to see the unit ravaged to the extent it was by the Falcons.

    • Chiryder55

      It’s not when you don’t live in the past.

    • dennis

      Right. Humiliated. Our DB’S lack cover skills, and brains. Too many breakdowns!! Always 10 yards off and still getting beat short or long!! No confidence!!

    • Kenny Barnes

      Capers ‘prevent d’ nearly lost Cowboys game. Dak is seriously talented, but a rookie shouldn’t be making those kinda big-league throws against such a venerable defense. Then Atlanta totally exposed what wasn’t there to begin with. I agree that drafting to develop will take more time than Rodgers has in this league, so let’s make some moves now!
      I’ve too am a fan from those halcyon days of Adderley and Wood and it pains me to see where the Pack stands (literally) in the secondary at present.

  • David Riese

    Yeah Nelson call me ignorant cause I think our linebackers are way below average your probably a TT lover to.i watched every game and I can bet capers has very little say who the packers draft I’m sure hes,l sitting right next to TT when Thompson signs these undrafted players that no one wants .I only feel sorry for capers cause he’s getting to much blame this D has sucked pretty much all year in pass D and all of that lies on fricking TT flat out guarantee you that not 1 of those packers starting DBs starts on any other playoff team just my opinion and capers sure,in the hell can’t get lemonade out of rotten apples.
    If I was Atlanta why would I run when there was no one in the packers D to stop Ryan

    • Nelson Cobb

      Atlanta ran the ball 30 times that game, and it wasn’t until late, when the D tired out and Jake Ryan was lost to injury that they really started to have any success. I’m sorry if you’re blind, but our ILB’s aren’t as bad as you make them out to be. Like I said, they weren’t game changers, but they were both pretty solid overall, especially vs the run. With the CBs being so bad, our Safety’s rarely could come up in run support, yet our run D still went from 22nd in 2015, to 8th in 2016 with those 2 young kids playing inside over Clay and (insert player here) last season. But yeah, keep telling me how terrible they were.

      As for Ted Thompson, far from a fan of his. He’s a smug arrogant SOB, but that doesn’t mean he can’t draft talented players. He has. I don’t know if you know this, but there’s 2 parts to “draft and develop”, and the develop part has been lacking, and that falls on Capers and his crew. I can’t believe you’re really trying to defend Capers, a guy who’s defense has allowed 36.3 point per game over all Aaron Rodgers postseason losses. A guy’s D who has allowed 26.4 ppg overall in the postseason. Everybody has injuries, yet their D doesn’t completely collapse the way Capers D’s have. Belichick is picking up cast offs from other teams and making them starters, and they aren’t even allowing 20 points. But you wanna blame it all on the personnel??? Get real. Time for Capers to go!!!

      • wscott5050

        TT hasn’t drafted well in at least four years. Capers has had this D playing way above its head. Remember the NFCCG against Seattle, that defense was playing way above its talent level and then just couldn’t hold on anymore. Same thing against Arizona last year. I would actually say that us packers fans overrate our defensive players because of Capers. As much as I love Daniels, even he is not a blue chip playmaker. And if he isn’t one that means we don’t have any. It’s just a bunch of dudes that Capers is asked year in and year out to make due with. As good at drafting offense TT is, he is just as bad at drafting D. Stop trying to put the blame where it doesn’t belong. Dom is a genius to have pulled off what he has with what he has been given. You can’t develop crap.

        • Nelson Cobb

          What?? Haha. Mike Daniels is one of the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL. You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. You must be a family member of Dom Capers, huh?? The only time he had success, was when he took over a defense with Charles Woodson playing at his best. Nick Collins at his best. Tramon Williams at his best. Cullen Jenkins at his best. That was a D assembled by Ted Thompson before Dom Capers. Since Dom Capers, it has steadily gone downhill, despite plenty of top draft picks going into it. And I like this little bit of information I looked up last night. Dom Capers last DC job was in Miami. He took over a defense in 07 that finished top 5 in 2006, and in 2007, they finished 30th in scoring and he was immediately fired. He is a failed HC, and an overrated as DC, who took over a very talented D in 2009, and proceeded to ride it to a Super Bowl. Since, he’s only rode it into the ground. Time for him to go!!!

          • Joe Doe

            You couldn’t have said it better. Thanks for the Miami info too.

        • Joe Doe

          You absolutely could not be further from the truth, on all points. First of all, look at Daniel’s grades for the past 3 years. If you don’t have a subscription, buy one and discontinue your ignorance. Capers is the issue. As Nelson Cobb said (a guy I have had spats with in the past) he took over a very nice group. In fact, Woodson was the only reason that the defense could overcome the limitations of the Dom Capers defense. Watch the tape and see the safeties move pre-snap and you can regularly guess where the ball is going to be thrown. Watch the corners throw up their arms after they get burnt wondering why the expected help over the top wasn’t there. The sophomore slump of those two corners is a facet of being undercoached as much as poor individual play.

          Rodgers covers up a lot of issues, and Dom Capers is a case example.

          • Kevin

            Very well said. Rodgers makes everyone look better, especialy the Def. They left Woodson walk 2years before they should ha ve, he could have taught that young group how to play cornerback. Capers has to Go!!!!!!

          • dennis

            Isn’t it amazing how Patriots seem to cut stars, plug someone else in, no names, and still play defense each year at a very high level. Hummm, what could it be? HELLO!!!

        • dennis

          Okay, close counts. Moral victories. Are you kidding? I believe games are 60 minutes!!

    • Joe Doe

      Our linebackers are below average. I was probably the only one to notice this, but Jake Ryan had an overall grade in the low 60s after week 16 and finished better than 10 points above it. The reason? New York’s offensive line is so bad that Jake could sit on coverage and not have to focus on the run. He put the best game of his career together, which was pretty impressive. Still, with that big of a swing over two weeks, I firmly believe his grade is inflated from Mike Daniel’s interior work.

    • Tyler Nugent

      Clinton dix and maybe Burnett would start

  • Joe Doe

    When Dom Capers goes (5 years too late already) people will be amazed at how this group improves.

    • Kevin

      Correct sir, mm is to stuborn at times. Capers is terrible, that is first thing they should address! Then get some corners from free agency. Clay has to take paycut or get rid of him.

    • dennis

      Correct. To many big games of failure!! Great opportunities passed by!!!! Time to shake things up; can’t do any worse I feel.

  • Chiryder55

    What about a returning Sam Shields? I’m sure that was a factor last year.

    • Tyler Nugent

      Shields won’t return. Missing the whole season over a concussion is too bad. He wont ever play again

      • dennis

        Agree with you on Shields. Also, if Eddy reports in out of shape and over 240, cut him. Enough of this BS!! There’s got to be hungrier ( and i don’t mean food) more determined backs out there somewhere!!! Also sign a nasty pass rusher please and two excellent corners. What do we have to lose? Cap money? Okay, but shake things up!!!!!!

        • Tyler Nugent

          Well, lacy is out of contract and I really don’t see him coming back unless it is a 1yr prove it deal

          • dennis

            Okay. Agree, but loaded with incentives. #1, comes into camp in shape so he can go more then 2 quarters for starters….

  • Afchumps

    Gunter in particularly being completely enfeebled by Jones in the AFC Championship game. We should fire ourselves.

  • Big Hawk

    How about showing some semblance of bump and run coverage or at least playing maybe 3 to 5 yards off the line of scrimmage instead of 8 to 10. I never seen a professional football defense leave wide receivers open so many times in every game in my life. Dom capers will be Mccarthy’s pink slip.

  • Josh

    Hindsight being 20/20 would be a completely different conversation had we retained Casey Hayward and traded Shields. I mean you’d need to be a prophet but that small change could have possibly been the difference between losing to Atlanta and winning it all.

  • canadapacker

    STATS and more Stats – – dont get too worried about them because we all need to remember that we for a great deal of the time we just couldnt rush the passer. Capers also had the guys play off so far that all the completions were in front of them and very easy to make even for the average QB. We also had so many new guys in there that there were a lot of communication errors that lead to big plays against us. So besides upgrading the D backfield ( hopefully we will only need to replace Shields as I think even if he comes back he will be one head shot away from retirement) we need to get some pass rush. Move Clay inside, get some other fast inside rushers and keep developing guys like Lowry and Clark to go along with Daniels.

  • Larry Melton

    What the Packers need is a way to help keep the players they got healthy. And then for me it’s the free agency stupid. The window of opportunity is closing with Rodgers and you have to gather Lombardi’s while the sun shines.

  • Larry Melton

    How can the coaching staff keep claiming we had a successful season. I’d rather be 2 and 14 instead of losing in the championship game how many years now. Must be what Buffalo felt like during their run. It’s gut wrenching.

  • Salvador Silva

    These corners are not garbage… Randall and Rollins are not the right corners for the scheme this 3-4 defense plays. They are undersized and have trouble at the point of attack. Not one of the Corners were aggressive. Packers need to draft for size and that can play man. Getting this kind of corner the packers can afford to blitz and leave this type of corner on an island by himself to battle guys like julio jones.
    Even if the packers had shields… he would not have made much of a difference against julio jones. The guy is a converted wr and it will take an athlete that was bred to cover receivers.