GREEN BAY, Wis. – Cornerback Rasul Douglas’ Green Bay Packers debut was noteworthy on two fronts.
First and foremost, he wasn’t Isaac Yiadom. After Yiadom was responsible for two big gains as Chicago drove to a touchdown on the opening series last week, Douglas stepped up in a big way in his Packers debut and gave up only three rather trivial completions the rest of the game.
Second, he was flagged for roughing the passer with about 1 minute left in the first half. It was a case of no harm, no foul. Offensive holding meant offsetting penalties, and Dean Lowry knocked the Bears out of field-goal range with a third-down sack.
Speaking on Friday, as he perhaps was in line to start against Washington as veteran Kevin King battles a shoulder injury, Douglas wasn’t sure how he could have handled the play involving athletic rookie quarterback Justin Fields any differently.
“He already had 6 (yards) and he’s running at me,” Douglas said of the first-and-10 play from Green Bay’s 35. “He’s a running quarterback. Does he try to make me miss and get the rest of the yards or does he slide? So, I didn’t know how to attack it. So, I just went and I kind of felt like he gave me a little shoulder shot and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s about to try to make a move.’ As soon as I went, he slid.”
Douglas, like so many defenders before him, was flagged for his inability to redirect his body in reaction to a sliding quarterback. Even the slow-motion replay, which sometimes makes close calls look not-so-close, showed the bang-bang nature of the play. Douglas already was coming in for the tackle when Fields started his slide. The hit was neither late nor dirty – Douglas’ helmet hit Fields’ shoulder pad – but that’s the way it goes in a league that has gone the extra mile to protect its quarterbacks.
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Immediately afterward, Douglas explained himself to Fields. Fields patted Douglas on the helmet as if he understood.
“I went up to him and I told him, ‘Look, I ain’t a dirty player. I didn’t mean to do that,’” Douglas, who said he was not fined, recalled. “He was like, ‘I was trying to get another yard and then slide.’ So, we talked it out.”
The impact of those types of penalties can run deeper than the 15 yards and automatic first down. On a fourth-quarter scramble, Douglas elected to play pattycake on a scrambling Fields.
“He’s running down the sideline, and I’m like, ‘Should I hit him now, or should I … ?’ Because of the first call, I eased up and I just pushed him out of bounds instead of giving him a hit, because I didn’t want to get back into the same call that happened the first time. So, that kind of messes you up. Certain quarterbacks you know are going to slide. And then you got some quarterbacks, it depends. You got Lamar (Jackson), he might give you a move and go. Justin Fields, he might give you a move and go. I don’t really know how to judge it. What if I went up there and I go to tense up and he gives me a move and keeps going? Then it’s like, I should have hit him. So, I don’t know. I just attack it 100 miles per hour, and then whatever happens, I guess I have to live with it.”
All of this is relevant because of this week’s opponent. Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke is a good runner. With 4.62 speed in the 40, he had five carries for 43 yards with a long of 20 vs. Atlanta in Week 4 and five carries for 40 yards with a long of 16 in Week 5 against New Orleans. Last week against Kansas City, he didn’t run at all. Washington’s coaches have encouraged him to be more aggressive, so he figures to test the Packers with his legs.
And that means Douglas and his teammates will be faced with the defender’s dilemma of how to play physically against a position in which defenders really aren’t allowed to play physically.
“He’s a good runner,” Douglas said. “He moves the pocket, he runs if he can if it’s open. So, we’ll go into the game with the same mind-set. If he runs at me, go, and, if he slides early, then I’ll ease up. If not, I mean, I don’t want to tell myself don’t and then he’s running and I look bad. So, I don’t know.”