The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of business. A player can be at the top of his game, and then get injured and replaced. If someone else steps in and steps up, it can be difficult for the former star to reclaim their spot.
And it makes sense. If I don’t show up to work for a week and my boss gets a temp to fill in and that temp does my job better than I did, or even similarly as good, I could be looking for a new job.
So when Sam Shields injured his shin – and then the injury moved to his ankle while he was out – the Packers, like my boss would have, moved on. Davon House and Casey Hayward stepped up and performed well in Shields’ absence.
In the 6 games that Shields was out, Hayward had 27 combined tackles, 10 passes defended and 2 interceptions. House racked up 22 combined tackles, a sack and 5 passes defended. So when Shields was healthy and ready to return, he wasn’t given his starting role on a silver platter.
Be it because he was on a snap count, or because his replacements were filling in for him nicely, both House and Hayward started the game against the Lions while Shields looked on.
Too often the story ends there; the player replaced. But Shields wasn’t going to let that happen. When given the chance, Shields reminded the Packers coaching staff, his teammates and Packer fans, why he was the starter. He ended the game against the Lions with 4 combined tackles, 1 interception, 1 crucial special teams tackle and allowed only 2 completions for 23 yards. And he only played 69% of the defensive snaps.
The Packers rewarded Shields by giving him the start against the Bears and while Shields had no tackles in the game, he helped shut down Alshon Jeffery. Shields officially defended 3 passes on Sunday, but what goes un-tabulated is the restraint Shields showed while covering Jeffery. After being hit with an illegal contact penalty in the third quarter while his own facemask was being held, Shields maintained control.
Then in the span of 16 minutes, Jeffery was flagged three times for offensive pass interference. Some of those calls were stronger than others, but it was clear that Jeffery continued, play after play, to push Shields aside. The fact that Shields responded simply by playing the play through is tremendous. In many cases a frustrated defender will react by pushing as well. After the uncalled facemask, many would retaliate on the next play.
Shields never did. He just played his game. And by staying focused, by not retaliating and then subsequently being called for at best an offsetting penalty, Shields ensured that Jeffery would shut down himself.
In his two games back, Shields has demonstrated the type of attitude this Packer team needs. A fighter, someone who on every play gives it his all and who it not content with being second place. But also an intelligent player, someone who plays “smart” football, doesn’t – if you will – play like the Lions.
With Shields coming back strong, the Packers now find themselves with a vast wealth of talent in their secondary. Trying to decide which “hot” player to start is a great problem to have. If more of the Packers players return from injury the same way that Shields did, this team could be unstoppable.
Think of the offense, if Nelson came back with the same fire, discipline and drive. Or how completely shut down the defense could be if Woodson and Wilson were able to return in the same fashion.
Jayme Joers is a writer at CheeseheadTV’s Eat More Cheese and co-host of CheeseheadRadio, part of the Packers Talk Radio Network at PackersTalk.com. She also contributes to Pocketdoppler.com. You can contact her via twitter at @jaymelee1 or via email at Jaymelee1@gmail.com