GREEN BAY – The plan when the season began was for the Packers’ revamped cornerback group to make a steady ascent from being newly assembled to cohesively executing.
The problem is the quartet that entered 2018 as Green Bay’s top corners – veteran returnee Tramon Williams, second-year pro Kevin King, and rookie draft picks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson – have played together all of five full quarters in the season’s first six games.
A groin injury late in the first half against Minnesota in Week 2 sidelined King for the rest of that game plus two more. Then another groin injury to Alexander cost him the Packers’ last two games before the bye week.
So while Williams and Jackson have played every game so far, the defense’s foursome of top corners hasn’t played a whole lot together, and they likely would have, given how often coordinator Mike Pettine has employed six and even seven defensive backs at times through the first six games.
“That’s tough, man,” Williams said of all the game time that’s been missed as a group. “To get all four of the guys on the field together, it’ll be awesome. Continuity is a big part of this game, and if you can get all the guys on the field for a span of time, it always helps out your team play.
“But who knows. It’s always (up) in the air. Injuries are part of the game. It’s tough.”
There are no guarantees for this week, either, but coming off the bye the Packers had everyone practicing on Wednesday in their one full-pads workout heading into Sunday’s game at Los Angeles against the unbeaten Rams.
The only one of the top four corners on the injury report is Alexander, who remains limited in practice, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy indicated he’s on track to play, so this appears to be the best chance since the injuries to King and Alexander for the gang to reunite.
The importance of being at full strength coverage-wise can’t be understated against the high-powered Rams, whose receiving corps has a pick-your-poison quality to it. Robert Woods leads their team in both receptions (41) and yards (602), while Brandin Cooks is tops in yards per catch (17.8) and Cooper Kupp has the most touchdown grabs (5), though it sounds like Kupp is in danger of missing Sunday’s game due to injury.
Throw in the fact that running back Todd Gurley is the fourth most productive pass catcher (25-270-3) along with being the NFL leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, and the options for quarterback Jared Goff seem endless.
“They have a great play-caller, they have a great scheme, and they have the personnel to play at a high level,” King said. “But we have the personnel, too. All 11 guys have to be in position. We’re going to go out there, trust our eyes and trust our coaching.
“Trying to build that chemistry together is always good. It’s good to have everybody out there for consecutive games, to build off of each other – I know where he’s going to be, little stuff like that.”
Getting Goff to make a mistake or two would help on Sunday. While he’s completing nearly 70 percent of his passes, he has thrown five picks.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix leads the Packers with three interceptions, and among the corners, Alexander and King have one apiece, and both have been significant.
Alexander tracked down an errant throw from Buffalo’s Josh Allen in the end zone late in the first half of what became a shutout for the defense. King made a tremendous play on a deep ball with no safety help against San Francisco, turning to find C.J. Beathard’s pass intended for the speedy Marquise Goodwin and hauling it in late in the fourth quarter to set up the Packers’ game-winning drive.
“The main thing is to have everyone back healthy,” defensive pass-game coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. said. “Now we can put the guys, not necessarily (those four), but the guys we feel give us the best chance to win this game.
“I’m just glad that everyone is healthy and we’ll have our full complement of men to work with.”
The biggest issues for the Packers defensively have been big plays and consistency, and the injuries at cornerback haven’t helped. New acquisition Bashaud Breeland has been banged up as well, but he could make his Packers debut on Sunday, too.
In Week 2, the Vikings were held in check relatively well until late in the game, when the secondary clearly missed King. Then bad first halves in three of the last four games were followed by strong second halves, but the Packers emerged from those with only one win. The rough first halves on the road at Washington and Detroit proved too much to overcome and led to ugly losses.
“This will be a big game for us to come out and make a statement,” Jackson said, “and we need a road win.”
The defense also needs to play a complete game, and having the top four corners healthy and ready to go could certainly help accomplish that.
“Shoot, we’re about due for a two-half game,” King said. “We’re about due. So hey, what better time than this Sunday to put it all together. We’ll see.”