Allen Park — The Dallas Cowboys didn’t show Darius Slay the respect you’d expect for an All-Pro cornerback, but Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a fellow All-Pro, knows it's unwise to test the Detroit Lions defensive back too often.
For Rodgers, what elevates Slay about many of the NFL's other great corners is his ability to play at a high level all over the field.
“Well, the thing about him that you have to respect as an opposing player is he does — for years has done star coverage where he’s playing both sides and playing inside,” Rodgers said in a conference call with Detroit media. “Not every top-rated corner does that. And for me, that gives a little bump in the respect category because it’s not easy playing right corner, left corner, and in the slot. And he obviously can do it all so he’s going to be matched up on obviously somebody they want to take away from us and we’ll have to smart when we’re throwing his way.”
The Lions began to dabble with Slay in the slot last season, but only asked him to slide inside on 14 snaps. In the team’s new defensive scheme, he’s being asked to do it a bit more, if that’s what it takes to bottle up the opponent’s top receiving threat.
A prime example came last week against the Dallas Cowboys, when the Lions shifted Slay into the slot to cover Cole Beasley, the team’s leading receiver, during the game’s final possession.
Slay has already played more snaps in the slot this year than last.
What was interesting about last week’s matchup against the Cowboys is the team routinely targeted Slay in coverage. It proved to be an ineffective strategy, as he allowed just two short receptions, while nothing three pass breakups in the loss.
Slay was more than a little surprised by the Cowboys’ strategy, given he played college ball with the team’s quarterback, Dak Prescott.
“I couldn't believe it either, but you see the result,” Slay said. “I told Dak, 'Hey, don't act crazy, like we didn't go to school together.' That's why I got a little excited and crunk, because his sideline was just talking crazy.
“Some guy on the sideline was like, 'We goin' at you all day, Slay!' And I was like, 'OK?' And then they went at me, and I'm like, 'They must be really trying to go after me. Let me turn it up a little more extra.' Talking at me like I'm some kind of slouch out there. I ain't no slouch.”
Rodgers agrees. He's long been a fan of the corner's game.
After the Lions beat the Packers at Lambeau in 2015, snapping the franchise's lengthy road losing streak against the division rival, Rodgers pulled Slay aside and told him recognition for his ability would soon be on its way.
“As far as the way you prepare for a guy like that, I’ve always had a ton of respect going against him,” Rodgers said. “He’s a highly talented guy, great ball skills. He can run, he can read routes and diagnose things. He makes plays on throws over the top. He’s a tough guy on the edge. He’s a good tackler, smart, disciplined. He does it all, he’s the kind of guy you love having on your team and you know it’s going to be a tough day when you’re playing against him.”
The respect between the two is understandably mutual. Rodgers’ injuries prevented the two from squaring off last season, when Slay led the NFL with eight interceptions, but Slay knows the challenge he’ll be facing this week.
“Extend plays, very poised, very confident in all the throws,” Slay said. “It doesn’t matter where he’s at, he just feels he’s going to complete every ball that’s out there. Fast. I hate when he starts running because the crowd get crazy crunk. I hate it, but he can do it. He’s a special guy. Yeah, he’s very special. The best in the game, one of the best, easily. He’s in the top tier.”
The Lions host the Packers at Ford Field this Sunday at 1 p.m.