Packers seeing improvement in secondary

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Rob Reischel

The Sports Xchange


GREEN BAY — When the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons met nearly eight months ago in the NFC Championship Game, Green Bay’s cornerback group was decimated. The Packers — who finished 31st in passing defense a year ago - had to use undrafted LaDarius Gunter as their No. 1 cornerback, and Gunter was asked to shadow Pro Bowl wideout Julio Jones all day.

To show just how far Green Bay has come, it released Gunter on Tuesday due to much improved cornerback depth.

Last week, the Packers held Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson to 158 passing yards and a 69.7 passer rating. But Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ passing attack are a much different animal.

Ryan, the NFL’s reigning MVP, led the league with a 117.1 rating a year ago. Ryan is also coming off a season in which he threw for 4,944 yards, and fired 38 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

“You have to play every play,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said of the Falcons. “They’ve got speed and big-play players and you have to account for them. And a quarterback that had a career year last year.”

In Atlanta’s 44-21 destruction of Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game, Ryan threw for 392 yards, four touchdowns and completed 71.1 percent of his passes.

“I think how the game was played and the outcome of the game, I think it’s obvious we were a team that had a lot of things going on, fought through them, got to the NFC Championship Game,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “I’ll state today as I said then: they played excellent and were deserving of going to the Super Bowl, but we kind of ran out of gas.”

A year ago, the Packers were no match for Ryan & Co. But Green Bay believes 2017 can be different.

Damarious Randall, Green Bay’s first-round draft choice in 2015, is fully recovered from a bevy of injuries that hampered him a year ago. Randall underwent groin surgery last October that cost him five games, and later battled through shoulder and foot injuries.

Quinten Rollins, Green Bay’s second-round draft choice in 2015, also battled a groin injury last season and struggled immensely. But Rollins is now fully healthy and had a solid summer.

In addition, Green Bay signed veteran Davon House in free agency and used a second-round draft choice on 6-foot-3 corner Kevin King. The Packers will be heading to Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a healthier and far more talented group of defensive backs.

“It’s a new year. They’re a different team this year, we’re a different team,” McCarthy said. “This is a different opportunity. We’re playing in Atlanta — new stadium, fast surface.

“Those are really the things that we’re focused on because, let’s be honest, if you’re thinking about last year and talking about last year, you’re just wasting time and energy. To get to the point where you’re playing in January and the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl, you’ve got to focus on what’s going on today. That’s really what our guys are focused on.”