Cornering the market: It may not be an issue this week because Hayward is listed as questionable and appears to be another week away from actually playing – he may be active simply because the Packers are going to have a hard time coming up with 46 healthy bodies to fill out the game-day active roster – but the Packers appear to have an embarrassment of riches in their cornerback corps right now.
Last week against Baltimore, Davon House began the game as the No. 3 cornerback in the nickel – when House came in, Sam Shields took the other perimeter receiver while Tramon Williams moved inside to the slot – and House broke up three first-half passes. But because he was also pulling special-teams duty, the coaches decided to give him a breather and put in rookie Micah Hyde, who worked in the slot while Shields and Williams stayed outside. Hyde wound up playing a key role in the defense’s goal-line stand and also had one of the Packers’ five sacks in the game, forcing a fumble on the play.
“His physicality is something that’s been consistent. If you saw the goal line plays, he showed great physicality there, on the sack causing the fumble,” cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said. “The thing that we just have to clean up with him is we can’t mental errors that he’s made in the past.
“He’s working on it. He’s a really bright young man. That’s the thing. I brought him in my office this week and we have to get on the same page. I can understand if he wasn’t – he is a very, very, very bright man. We just have to clean those mistakes up and then his game will take care of itself.”
Once Hayward is 100 percent healthy, the Packers will have five cornerbacks for, at most, four spots. That may prompt the coaches to use another cornerback instead of safety Jerron McMillian – especially after how poorly the second-year safety played last week against the Ravens – in their dime package.
For now, though, it will be interesting to see if Hyde or House gets the nod as the No. 3 cornerback in the nickel Sunday, or if they platoon.
“I thought Davon, he covered really well. He didn’t give up any completions. He’s being aggressive. He’s being handsy. He’s getting his hands on people,” Whitt said. “With his special teams duty, he just has to make sure that he can physically go the plays we ask him to go. But his coverage game on defense is increasing and hopefully it keeps going. He’s getting that attitude and that nasty that I want and we need. We have another opportunity to go out here and get better this week.
“(But) I don’t think the decisions are all that tough. We’re going to go out there with the guys that we feel as a coaching staff are going to give us the best chance to win and everybody understands that. This is not a popularity contest or anything like that – we’re trying to win football games and we’re trying to play a high level of defense. The guys who give us the best opportunity to do that will be the guys who run out there and everybody will be supportive of those guys.”
Setting an example: Packers rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari is usually too busy watching his upcoming opponent on film to worry about the guy from the other team who’s blocking that guy on tape, but when that other guy is Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, the former University of Wisconsin star who’s now in his seventh NFL season – and figures to go to his seventh straight Pro Bowl when the season’s over.
“When I’m watching film and scouting the other team, I generally don’t it with a lot of tackles, but Joe a little more than others. He’s got such good form,” Bakhtiari said. “You definitely notice that and watch that. Everyone, when they think of the prototypical left tackle, Joe Thomas is the guy. When you want to compare the best of the best, he’s awesome. He makes things look so slow and easy.
“Technique stuff, there’s certain things he can do that a lot of guys can’t – how he makes it look so slow and easy, that’s one thing that I can’t do. The way I play, there’s just some things he can do that I never will. But he’s got great form, great set, he’s a hell of a player.”
If only he had a chance to play on a hell of a team. Since taking Thomas, a native of the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield, with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, the Browns have had exactly one winning season – a 10-6 finish his rookie year. Since then, they’ve gone 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, 4-12 and 5-11. They’re a combined 36-66 since Thomas joined the team, and they’ve had four head coaches in those seven seasons.
“Obviously, we’re 3-3 this year. With a .500 record right here, this is not something that myself as a Brown has been involved with too often. It’s fun being relevant,” Thomas said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week. “The season is still extremely young and we’ve got a lot of games to go, but it’s fun to be part of a team that’s relevant, that’s keeping every game close and is in everything right to the end.
“I think we’ve put together some great pieces this offseason. I think, obviously, the new coaches that they’ve brought in are outstanding. We’ve got new ownership, we’ve got a new front office, brought in some key free agents, we’re building (with) some studs in the draft. I think we’re building all the pieces we need right now. Certainly, the fans are excited out here right now. Coach Chudzinski, the players really love playing for him. I think he’s brought in an outstanding job, starting with the offensive and defensive coordinators, who are very well known and respected throughout the NFL. There’s a lot of excitement around the things that Coach Chud is doing. When you put a few wins on the field, that just reinforces it.”
As good as Thomas is, he isn’t complaining that Matthews, the Packers’ four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker, is out with a broken thumb.
“He’s obviously a fantastic, All-Pro, NFL MVP type of guy. It’s a loss for Green Bay’s defense,” Thomas said. “(But) the guys that they’ve got in there to replace him are doing a pretty damned good job, too. It’s not going to be an easy week, that’s for sure.”
Pleased to meet you: Given the way Rodgers puts every teammates’ birthday into his iPhone so he can wish them well on their big day, the quarterback will certainly know everyone’s name when they’re in the huddle. (There are some quarterbacks who might not know who Stoneburner or White is, despite their presence on the practice squad all season.) But that doesn’t mean having two rookies making their NFL debuts and being pressed into service because of injuries won’t create some issues.
Nevertheless, Rodgers insisted during the week that he won’t shy away from throwing the ball to Stoneburner, White or wide receiver Jarrett Boykin, who went from little-used No. 4 receiver to No. 2 receiver after Cobb and Jones were hurt and promptly dropped two passes and wasn’t on the same page with Rodgers on two others. Will he have to fight the urge to go to Nelson or tight end Jermichael Finley, whom he knows better?
“Not when you’re an old, grizzled vet like myself,” Rodgers said with a chuckle. “I’ve played a lot of football. Each play has a particular read or a side of the field you start with. I like to go through my progressions and throw to the open guy. Now, there may be a case where a certain player might be more open than other guys, I might give him an early look. But I like to throw it to open guys and to guys wearing our colors.”
Rodgers also wasn’t buying the idea that the Packers will morph into a run-run-run team – despite the evolution and early-season success of the ground game and back-to-back strong performances from rookie back Eddie Lacy – because of the absence of Cobb and, most likely, Jones.
“We still like to throw the football around here. Injuries to guys running routes is never a good thing, but I think that it gives guys opportunities,” Rodgers said. “Jarrett Boykin is going to get an opportunity. Myles is going to get an opportunity. Jake is going to get an opportunity. Those guys have the opportunity to show the fans and the Cleveland Browns and this organization what they’re capable of doing. And I’m excited to watch them play.”
For his part, Rodgers did acknowledge one thing he’ll have to be smart about: Being patient. He’s utilized the run game in recent weeks and had some quick-strike big plays – an 83-yard touchdown to Jones against Detroit two weeks ago, a 64-yard TD to Nelson last week – but it’s not always easy to take checkdowns and bide your time when you want to score quickly.
“It’s just fighting the urge to press the issue. I think you learn as you play in this game, especially the last couple weeks, you have to be patient,” Rodgers said. “I think you’re always learning as a quarterback. If the last couple weeks have taught me anything, it’s just a reminder to let the game come to you. Big plays are going to be there if you be patient. We were able to make some big plays in the passing game the last couple weeks in the late-third and fourth quarters, and when we had to have some drives (last) Sunday, we made those plays.
“You just have to fight the urge to force the football into people and live to fight another day. The way our defense is playing right now, it’s going to be potentially a different type of game. It may not be the prettiest sight, but we just care about winning.”