Continuity at the core of Packers' secondary success

Green Bay’s dime defensive backs missed only three combined games in 2019

Cornerbacks Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan and S Adrian Amos
Cornerbacks Kevin King, Chandon Sullivan and S Adrian Amos

GREEN BAY – The Packers enter Sunday's NFC Divisional playoff game against Seattle with the healthiest roster they've fielded since the last time they squared off with the Seahawks in postseason play back in January 2015.

That team advanced to the NFC Championship Game after seeing only one preferred defensive starter (B.J. Raji) finish the season on injured reserve, while all 10 defensive backs who started the season on the 53-man roster finished there, as well.

The 2019 season has largely told a similar story.

This year, the Packers lost only one defensive starter (hybrid safety Raven Greene) to injured reserve. Besides the loss of Greene, who was designated to return last week, the Packers have had their full complement of starting defensive backs available nearly all season.

Safety Darnell Savage missed two October games with an ankle injury and Kevin King sat out against Washington last month with a sore shoulder. Beyond that, Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos, Tramon Williams and dime corner Chandon Sullivan each played in all 16 regular-season games.

That continuity has propelled the secondary to playing some of its best ball down the final stretch of the season. In five December games, Green Bay allowed only 208.7 passing yards per game, sniped eight interceptions and held opposing quarterbacks to a 57.8 passer rating.

"We're like brothers in the secondary and you don't want to let your brothers down," said Savage, who had 55 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in 14 rookie starts.

"Each and every day, we go out on the field whether it be the practice field, game field, we're playing as hard as we possibly can to not let our brother next to us down. It keeps the standard in the room high."

The Packers finished the year a respectable 14th in pass defense, while interceptions by defensive backs doubled from seven last year to 14 in 2019. The leader in that category was King, who caught a career-high five interceptions that tied for fourth-most in the NFL.

A second-round pick in 2017, King battled injuries during his first two seasons in Green Bay but has been relatively injury-free during the second half of the season en route to playing 817 defensive snaps, with 66 tackles with 15 passes defensed.

He finished the 2019 regular season on a high note, with critical picks in the Packers' wins over the New York Giants and Minnesota.

"Just trying to be consistent with it, just trying to maintain and find that sweet spot," said King of his approach. "Try to bottle up that feeling of how I felt when I was at that sweet spot. Talking to Dr. Christopher Carr, our psychologist, and figure out how to get back to that."

Sunday's matchup with the Seahawks will be a reunion of sorts for King and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. King got to know Wilson and former Seahawks receiver Golden Tate during his time at the University of Washington, when the three partook in a bible study together at City Church on campus.

On the field, King and Green Bay's secondary are firmly aware of the challenges Wilson presents. With the Seahawks missing their top three running backs, Wilson took things into his own hands in Seattle's 17-9 win over Philadelphia in the wild-card round.

Wilson threw for 325 yards and rushed for another 45 on the ground, accounting for a vast majority of Seattle's 382 total yards against the Eagles. This week in practice, the Packers' secondary has stressed the importance of plastering coverage a few seconds longer to prepare for Wilson's ability to extend plays.

"Russell always presents a challenge to the defense that a lot of quarterbacks in this league don't present," Williams said. "He has an uncanny ability to extend plays and make big plays off them. One of the things that stresses the back end, stresses the secondary of every team. So we know we're going to have our hands full with Russell."

In many ways, Savage points out, you have to be ready to defend against two plays in one. The potential dangers of Wilson getting a second too long to create was on display when he connected with rookie receiver DK Metcalf on seven passes for 160 yards and a touchdown last Sunday.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound King would appear to be a natural fit to defend the 6-4, 229 Metcalf, but the Packers aren't showing their hand. Alexander, too, has shown the ability to match up with the game's best receivers during his second NFL season. Meanwhile, Williams is most likely to draw the dynamic Tyler Lockett in the slot.

It's the first challenge in the series of many if the Packers plan on making a run at a fifth Lombardi Trophy. As it stands, they take solace in the fact their secondary is healthy and pulling in the same direction.

"I've envisioned moments like this since I was a little boy," King said. "The injury part of it, that's a part of it. I really was focused more on getting back to the team. … I'm blessed to be in this opportunity to where I don't have it on my mind. Just keep the foot on the pedal and keep it going."

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