GREEN BAY — Look at the film, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said repeatedly. Look where he is, and look where the ball goes. Then ask him why, after his breakout Pro Bowl season of a year ago, his numbers are down and his impact plays have been few and far between this season.
“I’m a Pro Bowl safety, man. Nobody’s throwing the ball my way. I’m not being targeted, if you look at the game,” the Green Bay Packers fourth-year safety said Thursday. “No one’s trying me — in the run game, in the passing game. They’re going away from me. So, the numbers are down because they’re going away from me. It’s just a respect thing, I think.”
Clinton-Dix enters Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field having intercepted two passes — one against Chicago on Sept. 28 and one against Baltimore on Nov. 19, having dropped what should have been another interception against the Ravens earlier in that game — and broken up seven passes while registering 56 tackles, second on the team.
Last season, Clinton-Dix finished with 80 tackles, five interceptions (second in the NFL among safeties) and a half-sack.
“I’ve been doing the best I can all year,” Clinton-Dix said. “I’ve been doing everything I can. I haven’t missed a ballgame, haven’t missed a snap (due to injury). I’ve been playing to the best of my ability. Things haven’t come my way yet, I feel like. I’ve still got five games left, so I’ve still got a chance to prove myself. But it’s tough man, it’s tough.”
While it’s hard to say whether opponents avoiding Clinton-Dix has been the only reason for his reduced production — he has overrun several plays throughout the year as he closed in to make the tackle, including twice Sunday against Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell — a review of the film from the Steelers’ game clearly supports his argument.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 50 times, throwing 46 passes (including a successful 2-point conversion play on which Clinton-Dix was in coverage against Brown), scrambling three times and being sacked once. And as Clinton-Dix said, the ball rarely came his way.
And on the plays where Clinton-Dix overruns a ball-carrier, he’s often coming from such a long distance away that he isn’t able to change direction quickly enough — like on a third-and-5 second-quarter play when Brown caught the ball in zone coverage, escaped four would-be Packers tacklers (including Clinton-Dix) and turned a 16-yard completion into a 39-yard gain.
For much of the night, Clinton-Dix lined up roughly 20 yards back in deep center field off the line of scrimmage, a precaution defensive coordinator Dom Capers said is primarily to prevent big plays.
“If you’re going against speed, depth sometimes gives you better angles breaking downhill,” Capers said.
And on two of Roethlisberger’s touchdown passes, the veteran quarterback went the opposite direction of where Clinton-Dix lined up. On a 17-yard touchdown to Martavis Bryant, Clinton-Dix was lined up to the right and Roethlisberger hit Bryant to the left against Josh Hawkins. On a 33-yard touchdown to Brown, Clinton-Dix was aligned to the left and Brown beat cornerback Davon House down the right sideline.
“There’s been some (plays). Not as much, I guess,” safeties coach Darren Perry said. “I don’t know if I’d use the term ‘struggled.’ It’s just, sometimes there’s (fewer) opportunities. But Ha’s confidence is at an all-time high. It hasn’t gone anywhere. We know we’ve got more to give and we can play better (as a defense). That’s kind of the mindset. We know where we’re at. We need all our guys to be at their best.”Both Perry and Capers said it’s vital that Clinton-Dix doesn’t start deviating from his assignments in hopes of making more plays.
“Any really good player wants to make as many plays as he can,” Capers said. “You can’t try to force it and make it happen. That’s when all of a sudden you do put yourself in poor positions. There will be opportunities.”
For his part, Clinton-Dix admitted he can play better — he also stopped himself when he began explaining what his role has been amid some inconsistent cornerback play, saying, “I’ll never throw anybody under the bus” — and insisted play-making opportunities will come.
In fact, he said, more might come once quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from his broken collarbone later in the season — if the Packers can stay in playoff contention in the interim — because opponents will have to throw the ball more to compete with a more potent Packers offense.
“It’s kind of hard in the situation we’re in without Aaron. It’s a different ball game,” Clinton-Dix said. “But if we can go out and win these two in a row and get A-Rod back, things are going to turn around. I’ve still got plays that I can still make, I’m excited about it. I’m not afraid to be anything.
“I want to be where the ball is. Sometimes I try to put myself near it, but as soon as I do, it’s going on the opposite way — and I was just over there the play before. So it’s like, ‘Argh.’ (But) you really can’t chase anything. You’ve got to let the game come to you, and that’s kind of where I’m at.”
Cornerback Kevin King (shoulder) sat out practice for the second straight day and appears unlikely to play against the Buccaneers after being in and out of the lineup against Pittsburgh because of the shoulder, which has been a problem all season. … Cornerback Damarious Randall was added to the injury report after being limited in practice with a knee injury, although Randall gave no indication he wouldn’t be ready for Sunday. … ESPN.com reported the Packers have filed the necessary paperwork to attempt to recoup $4.2 million of departed tight end Martellus Bennett’s signing bonus. Bennett signed a three-year, $21 million deal in March with the Packers and is now on injured reserve with the New England Patriots. The NFL Players Association told ESPN it is “aware of the situation and currently monitoring” it.