There has been plenty wrong with the Packers’ defense this season. Just getting enough players on the field has been a problem at times. (See New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram’s 22-yard touchdown run in last week’s loss, when only 10 defenders were on the field.)But in a shocking turn of events, cornerback Damarious Randall hasn’t been the misfit he was just a few weeks ago.
Since Randall’s benching — and getting kicked off the bench — in Week 4 against the Bears, he has been one of the Packers’ most productive players, with three interceptions. From Weeks 5 to 7, only one other NFL player — Tennessee Titans safety Kevin Byard — had as many interceptions as Randall did, and no one had more.
“You have to say he’s responded very well,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
It didn’t seem that way at first.
The week after the incident against the Bears, Randall returned an interception for what turned out to be a key touchdown in the win at Dallas, but he was penalized for flicking the football toward Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
If that wasn’t problematic enough, Randall’s response to it — claiming that he didn’t toss the ball toward Prescott and that he wasn’t penalized — was puzzling, especially since the NFL fined him $9,115 for it.
Randall came back the next week with an interception at the Minnesota Vikings that allowed backup quarterback Brett Hundley to lead a drive that resulted in a field goal. And his interception against the Saints came on an athletic play in the end zone.
“He had a huge play in the Dallas game; that was a big-time play [against the Saints] too,” McCarthy said. “You take points off the board.”
Who knows how close the Packers came to cutting the former first-round pick after the incident against the Bears, but since then, Randall has been one of the few bright spots for an otherwise struggling defense. The Packers rank 23rd in overall defense, 27th against the run and 16th against the pass. The defense will need more big plays from Randall — and others — if the Packers have any hope of keeping the season alive after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone at Minnesota in Week 6.
Randall had been in and out of the lineup throughout the season, based both on injuries and production, but it appears he has taken a significant step toward solidifying his role on defense. If Kevin King and Davon House both are healthy, the Packers would prefer to play them on the outside and use Randall as the slot defensive back in the nickel package.
“He’s kind of kept his nose down and has gone about his work,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been impressed.”