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Green Bay rookies led the Packers’ defense to victory over the Rams

Two Packers rookie defensive backs stepped up in a major way on Sunday versus the Rams in Week 9.

Los Angeles Rams v Green Bay Packers Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

A portion of the Green Bay Packers’ 2023 rookie class had an impressive outing in the win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9. Among them were cornerback Carrington Valentine and safety Anthony Johnson. Their efforts on defense helped pave the way for a 20-3 win and improved the team’s record to 3-5 while stopping a four-game losing streak that began in Week 4.

Carrington Valentine starts at corner

Perhaps most impressive was cornerback Carrington Valentine, who started in his fourth game on defense less than a week after the Packers traded Rasul Douglas. Valentine was a 7th-round pick, selected 232nd overall, out of the University of Kentucky in April’s draft. He was previously thrust into action as the starter in three games previous to Week 9 and in Week 9, he turned in his best performance of the season.

Against the Rams in coverage, Valentine was targeted eight times, had two pass breakups, and surrendered one catch for 14 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. However, I question where the 14-yard pass came from as nothing matches this in the play-by-play except for a pass he was not even in coverage on late in the 4th quarter. He nearly had an interception late in the game as well but wasn’t able to hang onto it. In run defense, he wasn’t afraid to get downhill as the secondary force defender outside made two stops.

In his pass break-ups, one against Tutu Atwell and one against Puka Nacua, Carrington lived up to his draft profile and displayed good acceleration out of his break to drive on the ball as the receiver’s set up to catch.

He showed low hip level, fluid change of direction, and stayed light but crisp in his footwork, mirroring the routes the receivers were running. In “catch-man” or “off-man” coverage, his footwork allowed him to stay in phase with the receiver through the top of the stem, essentially completing the route for the receiver.

Here are all of Valentine’s targets.

In run defense, as the secondary force defender, he shot downhill quickly to get tackles after a 6-yard gain and no gain, showing great awareness to stay outside.

Kingsley Enagbare (No. 55) should be the primary force defender here but gets pinned inside, allowing the Rams' perimeter blockers to cut off the rest of the pursuit. Valentine triggered quickly downhill as the running back got to the perimeter and made the tackle. In the second clip, he got downhill again quickly and tripped up the runner.

Anthony Johnson in at safety

Anthony Johnson, 7th round rookie, picked 242nd overall out of Iowa State, also turned in a solid performance on Sunday in his first-ever NFL start, grabbing his first interception and recovering a fumble, as well as recording a pass breakup.

In his pass break-up here, Johnson zone dropped to the flat in the Packers' disguised Tampa-2 coverage shell. Jaire Alexander, corner to that side, zones off to the deep half, putting Johnson in the flat as the flat defender where the cover-2 corner would normally be.

Quarterback Brett Rypien was able to fit the pass into Tyler Higbee on the stick route but Johnson was there and read the play perfectly, hitting Higbee and jarring the ball loose simultaneously, forcing the incompletion.

On his interception, the Packers were playing cover-8 and he got the assist from Alexander who tipped the ball up into the air behind him. Johnson was there to ensure the defense would get the turnover

Cover-8 is the Vic Fangio tree for cover-2 and nickel to the passing strength and quarters/cover-4 coverage to the weakside (HQQ). This is the opposite of cover-6 where the quarters side is to the strong side away from the nickel.

In cover-8, the slot defender plays the vertical curl zone and has a squat/flat corner to his side and a deep safety over the top. The vertical curl defender is in a prime position to not only help play a bracket coverage, but can also peel and cut off another route in his field of vision.

On his interception, he’s lined up as the deep half-safety in cover-8. Alexander sits on the underneath route before sinking to the corner route. Rypien was unable to layer the ball over Alexander so Alexander tips up and Johnson is there to make the interception.

Overall, both of these performances were very solid and allowed the Packers to remain sound on the back end. Even though they only faced Brett Rypien, the two rookie defensive backs gained valuable experience. Valentine looks to be the starter for the foreseeable future too while Johnson will remain in as long as Savage is out, providing both with plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks.