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Ladarius Gunter bounces back, but bigger test awaits

Ladarius Gunter probably wanted to hide from the world after his performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 16.

Gunter was pressed into duty due to injuries to Sam Shields and Quinten Rollins. His role got even bigger when Damarious Randall aggravated his groin injury. Gunter started camp as the team’s fourth or fifth corner depending on where Micah Hyde was going to line up. By the second quarter of the Cowboys game, he was the team’s top cover man.

Things did not go well. Gunter was abused by Brice Butler and Cole Beasley throughout the day. The touchdown he gave up to Beasley was all over the internet.

Beasley faked one way and darted the other, leaving Gunter in the dust for an easy completion.

With Rollins and Randall both out for the team’s next game against the Chicago Bears, Gunter was set to draw another tough assignment. Alshon Jeffery was looming as the Bears’ top receiver.

With the Packers’ offense struggling as much as it has through the season, it could ill afford to get into a shootout against the Bears. More importantly, Gunter could not have a day similar to the one he had against the Cowboys. If he did, the Packers could have easily been staring at another home loss to their arch rival.

Instead, Gunter played very well. The Packers kept their faith in him despite his rough day. While the Bears quarterback situation went from bad to worse, Gunter blanketed Jeffery through much of the night. Jeffery did not make any big plays down the field. He never made his mark on a game that was there for the taking for the Bears until the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Once the dust settled, Gunter had some good things to draw on for his next matchup.

The Packers will take on Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons this weekend. Sam Shields is not going to return as he is on injured reserve. Randall had groin surgery and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

It is unknown at this point if Rollins will be able to play, but as of now that seems unlikely. That means Gunter will draw an assignment that would be difficult even for someone like Richard Sherman.

Gunter will be the main cover man for Jones this weekend. Jones by many accounts is the best receiver in all of football. He is the straw that stirs the drink for the top rated offense in all of football. He is Matt Ryan’s primary receiver. They do not use him as a decoy either. When he’s the game, he’s getting the ball.

The last time the Packers played the Falcons it was at Lambeau Field. Jones drew coverage from Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward and Davon House. None of them had much success as Jones ran wild over the Packers for 259 yards receiving.

That was on a frigid night at Lambeau Field where throwing the ball was more difficult. This weekend, the game will be played in a dome. The Falcons are good at home and even better on offense when they are at home.

Gunter needs to study fast. Even though the Packers’ offense got back on track in the second half against the Bears, it’s unlikely that they are well equipped to win a shootout as they were in years past. They will need help from their defense.

The biggest key on defense will be limiting Jones. It’s unlikely that the Packers would be able to stop him even with all of their corners healthy. The hope is that he does not ruin the game as he has done to several teams this season.

Gunter can match with Jones physically. He does a good job against bigger receivers. That was on display in his matchup against Jeffery. Gunter struggles with speed. Jones has one of the best size and speed combinations in all of football.

Gunter will likely need bracket coverage in a way that Dom Capers used to game plan for Calvin Johnson. Even with the help, Gunter will have to hold up his end of the bargain.

Simply put, if the Packers are going to win this game, they will need more of the Gunter they saw from the Bears game as opposed to their game against the Cowboys.

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