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Shields Needs To Depend On Technique, Not Athleticism

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Shields Needs To Depend On Technique, Not Athleticism

One of the biggest surprises of the Packers' Super Bowl run was the play of undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields. His emergence down the stretch in 2010 allowed defensive coordinator Dom Capers to open up the playbook, kick veteran Charles Woodson inside to rush the quarterback from the slot and generally provided a lot of flexibility for the defense overall.

Needless to say, that success has led to some worrying moments early on in the 2011 campaign. Shields looked uneven throughout training camp and during the preseason. While you can't expect guys to pickup right where they left off (unless they're Aaron Rodgers) Shields allowed a disconcerting number of completions throughout August. Worse than that was how he would follow those completions up with what can only be labeled lackluster effort at making the tackle.

Fine, some may have thought. Shields wins more than he loses. And its preseason. He's a gamer - the talent that we all saw on display in 2010 would pop out at us once the prime time lights came on against the Saints.

While Shields did go on to have a decent game in the opener, there were more than a few plays that flashed the warning signs that we saw this summer, most notably on the touchdown he gave up to Devery Henderson.

It's not that he got beat for a TD - every corner gets beat - its how eerily reminiscent that play was of the touchdown he gave up to Mike Wallace in the Super Bowl.

In both instances, Shields has trouble while trying to get his hands on the receiver while playing man press at the line. He at least manages to make contact with Henderson, but in both instances he opens his hips out at the outset and gives the receiver a free release off the line.

The problem here might stem from the fact that Shields is able to get away with getting beat at the line. He is sometimes able to use his incredible speed and athleticism to make up the ground lost by giving up the outside.

Earlier in the game last Thursday night, Shields had let a receiver off the line and but was able to use his fantastic recovery speed to stay on the receivers hip and nearly intercept Drew Brees' pass down the sideline. It was a great play - a great play that could be encouraging some bad habits.

Watching the touchdown to Henderson you see how both plays happen at nearly identical points on the field and are both a result of Shields not getting a good jam at the line while in press.

As Matt Bowen wrote about the Super Bowl play, there were several teachable moments that could be taken away from the Wallace touchdown. One of the problems Shields had in Dallas he actually improved on Thursday night. One of them he did not.

First there's the use of his hands when pressing the receiver off the line. Against Wallace he completely misses the receiver, allowing him a free release.

From Bowen:

As a DB, your hands are your weapons at the point of attack in press-coverage. Keep your hands high and punch on the initial move from the WR. With Wallace releasing inside, Shields should punch with his outside (right) hand and then come back with his inside (left) hand once Wallace breaks back to the outside. However, when we see a DB that doesn’t want to use his hands in press-coverage, he is already at a disadvantage. Use your hands—because they also allow you to keep your body square to the WR.

We actually see some improvement in this area on the Henderson touchdown. Shields does a much better job of getting his hands on his man initially. Unfortunately, he doesn't really do much to impede Henderson on his break to the outside.

Which brings us to the second, more concerning point. Shields makes the exact same mistake he made in the Super Bowl, opening his hips ("Opening the gate" as Bowen calls it) and letting Henderson fly up the sideline - away from any safety help. (You can see free safety Nick Collins getting over late in the play) Shields needs to force his man inside when he's playing what looks to be Cover 1. But, just like in the Super Bowl, he allows his man an outside release and they're off to the races.

Actually, the thing that bothers me the most about the play on Thursday night is how Shields pretty much concedes the touchdown at the two yard line. I recognize he's probably not going to make the tackle, but you hate to see a guy just flat out stop competing before the receiver reaches the goal line.

Look, as I said before, every cornerback gets beat. Every defensive back gives up touchdowns. But you hate to see a guy making the same fundamental mistakes he was making the previous year.

Sam Shields is an incredible talent and could be a fantastic cornerback in the NFL for years to come - or, he could plateau after a surprising rookie campaign that put him on the map but, ultimately, gave the rest of the league all the tape it needs to beat him when it really matters.

Shields needs to trust the technique that he's being taught by Joe Whitt JR. more and rely on his brilliant athleticism a little less. If he can do that, I really think he could be one of the dominant corners in this league. He's very young and, as Mike McCarthy is fond of saying, he's got a lot of football in front of him.

The only question is - how great does Sam Shields want to be?

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (28) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Anthony's picture

Under the tutelage of Joe Whitt, I don't think he'll stop progressing. He'll fix his problems by the end of the season.

I have a question -- How many position coaches could you see leaving the Packers for D-coord, o-coord, or head coaching positions next season?

Bearmeat's picture

Great Post Aaron - I've been thinking some of the same things. Often, when Capers starts sitting back it's because he's concerned about getting beat deep.

When he's at full strength in the secondary (i.e. Collins/Burnett/Wood/Tramon and Shields all playing to their ability), he pins his ears back and plays more man behind.

When he's not at full strength (Tramon getting hurt, Sam playing less reliably) it rightly impedes Capers' willingness to get really aggressive and risky. That's unfortunate, because the defense is at its best playing man/pressure.

The consolation here is that Wood and Joe Whitt WILL NOT let anyone in the secondary slack off. This will get fixed.

PackersRS's picture

What do you make of what could be the defense altering Capers' call in that goalline stand, Aaron?

"We have a couple different goal-line calls down there. One of them is where we make an all-out commitment to the run and I thought about calling it but I didn’t call it. It looked like we played it almost that way.”

You think this is an indication of anything? Maybe a repeated offense, sign that the playcaller sometimes dismisses the call and calls what he think it's the best (I'm guessing Hawk is the playcaller)? Or just a minor slip and overreaction of my part?

Oppy's picture


I took Capers' comment to simply mean that the defense reacted so quickly and committed so whole-heartedly to the run that it appeared as though they sold out on the run.

Then again, maybe the DID sell out on the run, and Capers is just being polite, because Sean Payton doesn't need more hassle if the NO press hears that the Packers didn't even attempt to cover a pass play.

Spiderpack's picture

RS and Oppy,
I read, or I believe saw in a press conference, an earlier comment from Raji where he said something like "We just really felt like they were gonna run it" and seemed to be speaking from his "team identity" so to speak. I'll bet you anything that it was one of those spontaneous head-nod moments where enough of the leaders on the field had a strong enough intuition about what NO was going to go with. You could call it "selling out on the run," but I prefer to see it as one of those near-magical moments you sometimes have in a game. I think our D is reading the offense at a near-Rodgers level of awareness with regard to body language and subtle clues. I take it that Capers is referring to Damn Fantastic Teamwork. Nothing else could explain that swarm of defenders, I honestly can't recall ever seeing that kind of perfect synchrony and coverage on a goal line stand before.

Oppy's picture


couldn't agree more on Shields giving up at the 2 yard line.

There were a number of points in the game where it certainly looked like Sam just decided he wouldn't be bothered with trying to make a play.. another glaring example is when Sam in pursuing the ball carrier, and as he's closing, he sees Desmond Bishop approaching the ball carrier from behind. Bishop totally whacks the ball carrier, and makes a sure tackle.. But Shields CLEARLY just puts the brakes on and avoids the situation when he sees Bishop closing in. What if Bishop misses the tackle? What if the added impact of Shields entering the fray jars the ball loose?

Not a fan of the demeanor that Shields has carried onto the field all camp and now into the season. He needs to play hungry and show the same desire to excel he showed last season.

packeraaron's picture

"There were a number of points in the game where it certainly looked like Sam just decided he wouldn’t be bothered with trying to make a play."

Totally agree.

Spiderpack's picture

Me too. I wonder if he's smokin too much pot. :) Totally love the guy though. If Tramon can't play Sunday, here's hoping that's just what Shields needs to kick his ass in gear back to last year's level of play.

PackersRS's picture

If he's doing during the game then it's baaad, mmkay?

Spiderpack's picture

If he's smokin too much4him, it cud effect him 24hrs/day in that way, but I was mostly kidding bc Nagler & the gang have historically bad-mouthed pot. Just sayin cause I know I experimented w/Marijuana, but I didn't inhale, just like Bill. :) Depends on the person & the effects it has.

packsmack25's picture

Actually had a good friend who worked at Bengals camp a couple years back and is still in touch with several Bengals. He said that most of their offense smoked before every game. I've also heard similar things about the Titans. Granted, neither team has been great example of consistency, but it probably happens more than we think. They say it "slows the game down."

Spiderpack's picture

Totally agree PackSmack. Exactly what I've heard, it speeds up the awareness & slows down the game. BTW, I have learned as much from your comments as anyone's on this blog, kudos. Thank u. 4some people though theres an out of balance relationship with it that leads to sluggishness.

Everybody's different, Just hope Shields isn't sneakin it

PackersRS's picture

Speeds up awareness? Cmon guys, seriously? The only thing pot does is slow you down (performance-wise). Your reactions get much slower, it makes you think everything is slower, but it's not. Maybe they're "snorting it"...

And I can't believe noone got the Mr. Mackey reference...

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

i don't know what sort of stuff these fancy nfl kids are smoking these days, but the only way i can see it 'slowing down' the game is if afterwards, you're in the locker room saying "dude, that game felt like it went on for like 9 HOURS MAN!" slow down the speed of wr running by you because you mixed up the coverage -- i don't think so.

marijuana is not a drug for playing football. cocaine is a drug for playing football. marijuana is a drug for disc golf and cheetos.

i don't doubt these guys smoke in the off-season, and maybe the day after a game while they recover - but i'd be willing to bet that most players who tried smoking before a game, and then got creamed going over the middle by a 265lb linebacker told themselves "never. again."

PackersRS's picture

"marijuana is a drug for disc golf and cheetos."

BRB ;)

/realizes he's at work...

jaydubya's picture

Great post Aaron. Hopefully things works will work out, but ... with that name he's at least got a job being a superhero private detective, or something?! ;-)

Ruppert's picture

He needs to take that step between year 1 and year 2 that is so all-important.

You wonder if Shields isn't a guy who really got hurt from the lockout and lack of an offseason program.

Nerdmann's picture

Yeah not having an offseason didn't help him progress. Also recall that Shields had a shoulder injury in the SB. I assumed at the time that was why he didn't get a good jam on the dude.

Josh's picture

I have a hard time believing NFL players get high before games, if its true I've lost alot of respect for them

packsmack25's picture

I think everyone needs to remember that the kid has played CB a whopping 2 years. He'll get better. But it's hard to program someone with as much speed and athleticism as he has THAT quickly.

BrianD's picture

Ctrl + F "Pump Fake" -- Not Found. Aaron, you didn't make note of the pump fake that Brees used to hold Nick Collins in the middle of the field. Defense is played as a team and you ought to factor this into the Saint's success on this touchdown. I'm not saying Shields is absolved of giving up the touchdown, but at least mention Brees' great fake and Collins' hesitation. Great breakdown of the press coverage on the play though.

packeraaron's picture

Good point Brian, but the pump fake doesn't change Shields responsibility to route the receiver inside toward his help. I'm not concerned with Collins here, I'm concerned with Shields.

Tarynfor 12's picture

Maybe that "tattoo" he got has not only gone to "his head" but,is in the "head" of every WR going against him and will not allow a second year corner to easily flaunt it.
Everyone will love to get a "piece of his cake" this season.

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

Maybe I'm not "witty". I have no "charm" or "appeal". I'm not "smart" or even "the average". I don't "pee in the potty". I'm not "clean". I don't "smell good". I'm not "polished" or "prepared". I have nothing "interesting to say". I guess I don't "play the game". When I eat, I don't "use silverware" or "wipe my face". I don't "wash afterwards" or even the "next day".

PackersRS's picture


Tarynfor 12's picture

+1... LOL Did you reread your posts before the agreement of his.

Tarynfor 12's picture

You make a point but,the punctuation around certain words is to draw attention to and highlight a single interest.

If there are numerous tattoos,it may be hard to decide on the one of interest.The quotating of the word in this case should clearly define the one on his neck most nearly all know about and seperates it from any other.
The same goes for "his head"as to distinguish between the other one which does not actually "think" but many a male relies on it to do so for them.

joshywoshybigfatposhy's picture

i can't believe i'm playing grammar police (i don't even use proper capitalization or punctuation myself most of the time), but the quotes thing is one of my pet peeves.

quotation marks have very few proper uses - (1.) to actually quote a primary source, or (2.) to indicate insincerity or sarcasm regarding what's inside them. for instance, if one were a skeptic rather than believing the packers have simply been unlucky regarding injuries, one might write: they do a wonderful job of "strength and conditioning" -- thus implying that the packers' idea of strength and conditioning hasn't exactly been quite right lately.

most other uses are kind of like the "word" nukeyoular -- just because it's commonplace doesn't make it valid.

nothing personal, Taryn. i said "for all intensive purposes" until a few months ago. i also didn't know you could leave mail for your mailman to pick up until i was about 25. i do not, however, believe that being super-baked would make playing in an NFL game a calmer, less anxiety-ridden experience.

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