The Atlanta Falcons offense embodies the NFL truism “speed kills.” And for defenses facing an attack spearheaded by aliens like Julio Jones, a lack of speed kills.
That is a self-inflicted wound.
The totem of that failure for the Green Bay defense is Quinten Rollins, the former basketball player who showed off instincts and playmaking ability as a rookie before an injury derailed his first season.
Another injury in 2016 shot his confidence, and possibly some of his explosiveness. A guy who ran 4.57 at the combine and was in the bottom quartile of change-of-direction athletic drills can’t afford that kind of falloff.
Rollins, meet Cliff ... you just fell off it.
When targeting the third-year corner this season, opposing quarterbacks are 11/11 for 116 yards. Ten of those targets came out of the slot.
Quinten Rollins started the season outside and ahead of Damarious Randall in training camp on the boundary, with each rotating who was playing in the slot. We have enough data, between last year and the start of 2017 to say with confidence now: Rollins can’t be this team’s slot corner.
It’s only two games of the healthy 25-year-old but given the teams Green Bay will have to beat to win the NFC — Atlanta, Dallas, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and even Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Detroit — Rollins’ physical limitations can’t be made up for by any level of playmaking or instincts.
Casey Hayward made it work. He wasn’t the fastest or biggest corner, but he was so smart, so instinctive, he could get a jump on passes before they were thrown. He didn’t need explosiveness to win.
Rollins does and he doesn’t have it.
This is why Kevin King and Josh Jones are on this football team.
King, in 32 coverage snaps against the Falcons, didn’t allow a completion in four targets. He was the highest graded Packer at any position by Pro Football Focus, and he held his own against Julio Jones.
It will not be long before he’s the starter outside. On Monday evening, head coach Mike McCarthy insisted King had earned more opportunities. That has as much to do with Rollins and Randall (who hasn’t been much better, allowing 8 completions in 12 targets for 146 yards this season) not performing up to standard.
According to PFF, the only corner to play 50% of defensive snaps so far this season is Davon House and he’s been the least-targeted corner in football on a per snap basis.
That’s because teams are too busy teeing off on the Packers’ secondary corners (no pun intended).
Against the Falcons, King out-snapped both Randall and Rollins in a turn that would have been unthinkable before the season started.
King looked lost and out of the position constantly in the preseason, missed tackle after tackle, and generally appeared behind in terms of where one would expect a senior corner from a Power Five team to be.
Against Atlanta, we saw the lanky, freak athlete prospect that the Packers saw on film when they drafted him.
Randall, much better suited to play the slot than Rollins given his athletic profile, could shift inside if King becomes the de facto starter on the boundary.
There would be some symmetry to such a move. When Randall was a rookie out of Arizona State, Casey Hayward was the starter outside. But whenever the Packers went to nickel — which was most of the time — Randall played outside with Hayward in the slot.
Dom Capers could take a similar approach with King, making him the de facto third corner but second on the boundary.
One final thought. Josh Jones came in for the injured Kentrell Brice against Atlanta and played solid football. He wasn’t the star he looked like in camp, but that’s to be expected from a rookie.
More to the point, though, Jones has the same type of elite athletic tools King possesses at corner, only Jones is a safety who can play in the slot or as a linebacker.
He has considerably more natural coverage ability than Brice, though Brice likewise boasts impressive athletic talent.
Given the way the Packers have used Morgan Burnett (he’s a linebacker now, playing nearly every snap there against the Falcons), another speedy, versatile, cover player in the back end is exactly what the Packers need.
If they don’t have a traditional slot corner, we’ve seen Burnett have success there last year where he played out of necessity. If Jones can acquit himself there as well, the Packers could worry less about checking that box with an actual, traditional corner.
Much the same way the Seahawks can trust K.J. Wright — who is a traditional linebacker — to carry receivers down the field, the Packers ask Burnett to do the same. If they have yet another athlete who can take on this responsibility, something Brice did not show dexterity doing, the defense becomes considerably more flexible and potentially much more effective.
Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown this season, but still has A.J. Green and John Ross, who is the fastest player in league history. Even against a bad team, Rollins can’t hang.
Speed kills. And Rollins’ speed can’t continue to kill the Packers defense.