It's not as if the Green Bay Packers' young defensive backs were getting cocky and full of themselves, but this past week's performance against the New York Giants couldn't have come at a better time.
And it's not as if they were even feeling complacent. Yet, the way Eli Manning executed with such precision and moved the New York Giants down the field with ease or without impediment should have given the secondary a dose of reality.
The first- and second-year defensive backs couldn't be blamed if their heads were getting big.
After all, Casey Hayward has been considered a front runner for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. M.D. Jennings made arguably the Packers' best play of the season the previous week against the Detroit Lions with his 72-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Davon House has been playing magnificently since coming back from an early-season shoulder injury. And Jerron McMillian has been one of the best rookie safeties in the entire league.
Even so, all four of them made critical mistakes on Sunday as the Giants dominated the Packers to the tune of a 38-10 final score.
To be sure, it wasn't entirely the fault of the secondary. The pass rush was almost non-existant with linebacker Clay Matthews out of the lineup.
Still, the young defensive backs should have learned some lessons as Manning threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 114.4 passer rating.
Despite not allowing a single pass to be completed in his direction all day (stats courtesy of ProFootballFocus.com), Hayward failed to cash in on an opportunity that could have changed the momentum of the game, a play that didn't escape the notice of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
“The ball hit him in the hands,” Capers is quoted as saying at ESPNMilwaukee.com. “Who knows? Those are the kind of plays where if you’re able to convert that that they change the course of the game.”
Even though House allowed fewer than 50 percent of the targeted passes to be completed to players he was covering versus the Giants (five of 11), he was responsible for giving up a touchdown to both Hakeem Nicks and Reuben Randle.
Jennings and McMillian were exposed too. Jennings allowed the only two passes thrown in his direction to be completed, including one by Victor Cruz during the second quarter in zone coverage that resulted in a touchdown and a 24-7 Giants lead. McMillian, meanwhile, allowed a 17-yard reception to Martellus Bennett and was flagged and fined for unnecessary roughness.
At the very least, the youthful Packers secondary should have found out what it takes to win in the NFL week in and week out.
Coming off a five-game winning streak, the defensive backs had to be feeling on top of the world. It was during that timeframe that these four young players saw their playing time increase exponentially as Charles Woodson and Sam Shields went down to injury.
The way Manning and the Giants rolled over the Packers defense, however, should have the effect of a cold shower. And not a moment too soon.
A loss to the Vikings this upcoming Sunday would put the Packers in danger of missing the playoffs. They can't allow Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder to do a Manning impression.
It's clear this fearsome foursome oozes potential. And there's every reason to believe they can rebound from a so-so effort last week. Even the coaches have the responsibility for playing Hayward in the base defense no matter how tall the receivers may be.
The stretch run and playoff push has arrived, and it's time for the secondary to display its development. Maturity begins now.
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