During the 2013 offseason, the Packers' secondary underwent some big changes. Perhaps no change was more significant than the physical and spiritual departure of one Charles Woodson. The loss of Woodson left the Packers' secondary with a couple of unanswered question marks. Arguably, the biggest one of all was finding out who was going to step up and become the ring leader of this group.
With the 2013 season approaching, all signs pointed towards the fact that Tramon Williams' continued emergence would thrust him into that leadership role in this group, and eventually he did take over as the leader in the secondary. Unfortunately for the Packers, the rest of this crew would struggle, giving up 247.3 passing yards per game, the 9th-worst total in the NFL. Some of this was due to poor safety play as well (which we'll get to tomorrow), but the corners were not blameless by any stretch.
As the Acme Packing Company position review series continues on, we take a look at the cornerback position to see where this group stands as we head onward into the 2014 offseason.
2013 Packers Cornerbacks
Starters: Tramon Williams, Sam Shields
Backups: Jarrett Bush, Davon House, Micah Hyde, James Nixon, Jumal Rolle
Practice Squad: Antonio Dennard
Injured Reserve: Casey Hayward
As I mentioned previously, there were a lot of question marks heading into this season. About seven months ago, I wrote about these same question marks. Many people in media circles weren't too optimistic about this secondary heading into 2013, so the expectations weren't as high as they had been in past seasons. However, Casey Hayward's impressive rookie season gave Packers fans reason to hope for big plays, while Sam Shields continued to improve in 2012. Still, growing pains were expected by many as the 2013 season rolled along. This group definitely fulfilled those expectations while having young payers play far bigger roles than what the team had originally planned.
When the dust settled onto the 2013 Packers season, this secondary lived up to those not-so-lofty expectations, again, giving up about 247 passing yards per game. Taking a look at Pro Football Focus' ratings didn't bode well for this group as individual defensive ratings for this group became a sea of red as the year went on.
One of the critical factors at the position was Hayward's constant battle with hamstring injuries, a battle which eventually saw him placed on injured reserve. Hayward played in only three games and made eight tackles. He showed little of the explosiveness he had in 2012, as he failed to intercept or even break up a pass.
As the year played itself out, Micah Hyde continued to provide a positive beacon of light in the dark sea of uncertainty, as he took over the duties as the primary slot cornerback. Hyde finished the season with 55 tackles and one sack. Hyde was occasionally targeted by opposing quarterbacks, especially with talented slot receivers. His big draw was definitely his play at the line of scrimmage, as he played well in run support and was a sure tackler all season long. Stats aside, Hyde was a big find for the Packers and has showed poise and improved play as his playing time increased throughout the year.
Tramon Williams was another shining light in this bunch, posting solid statistics in 2013 and earning praise from Pro Football Focus and other sources. Williams started all 17 games this year for the Packers. In the regular season, Williams finished with 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 11 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three interceptions - his highest number of turnover plays since his Pro Bowl season in 2010. It was a big year for Williams - even if it didn't seem like it.
That was about as good as it got for Packers' cornerbacks this season. The 2013 season wasn't as kind to the rest of the Packers' corners. Sam Shields had some excellent games, but also threw a few clunkers early on as he continues to work on becoming more consistent. The passing stats against Shields weren't atrocious by any means (50% catch rate, four TDs against four interceptions) but missed tackles plagued him (9 on the year) and a few poor games set him back a bit. Still, the Packers will want to lock Shields up for the long term this off-season.
Davon House didn't have the seasons that he wanted, and his ineffectiveness on the outside was another factor that forced Hyde onto the field frequently. His best game came in week 7 against Cleveland, with an interception and two pass breakups, but he struggled mightily otherwise when Shields was injured and when he was used in sub packages.
Overall Grade: C-
While I managed to point out some of the good things for the Packers moving forward, this was a terrible season for the secondary. Injuries on both sides of the ball hampered this group's success in the secondary but it was still a bad year. Being ranked 24th in points allowed (26.8) and in passing yards allowed (247.3) per game definitely reflected poorly on not just this group but the entire defense as a whole. What you could take from this is the fact that players like Williams stepped up his game and looks to be much closer to his 2010 level of play, and Hyde appears to have been a great find in the late rounds of the draft. While Shields still needs to step his play up a notch, he is more than capable that coming back stronger than ever.