Packers: Kevin King set for key matchup with D.K. Metcalf

(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

Packers cornerback Kevin King is set for a key matchup against Seahawks rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf in the divisional round.

In early 2017, the Green Bay Packers’ promising season came to an abrupt halt with a 44-21 beatdown at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

A lot of things went wrong in that game. But the most dispiriting aspect was Julio Jones catching nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns at the expense of the Packers’ helpless secondary (most often Ladarius Gunter).

As with most of the defense’s playoff failures in the 2010s, Ted Thompson addressed the problem via the draft, selecting Kevin King with the 33rd pick that spring.

The hope was that King’s outstanding measurables—most notably height and straight-line speed—would keep the Packers from being so disastrously, physically outmatched in the future by big, fast receivers.

King’s career hasn’t been perfect thus far. He’s had some great plays and some good games, but those have been interrupted too often by injuries and inconsistent performance on the field.

However, 2019 has been his best season. He’s continued to give up some huge plays, but he’s started every game and also come up with a few major interceptions (five total).

Now? King is facing one of the biggest and most important tests of his career in Seattle Seahawks rookie D.K. Metcalf.

In many ways, Metcalf is exactly the type of receiver that the Packers drafted King to cover—big and fast. King is one of just a handful of NFL corners who can compete with Metcalf’s height and vertical jump. And luckily for King, Metcalf doesn’t excel (at least yet) with King’s biggest vulnerabilities—nuanced route-running and quick changes of direction.

King will hardly be in man-to-man coverage on Metcalf on every snap Sunday, but there’s a good chance that he gets a bulk of the assignments as Mike Pettine focuses Jaire Alexander on Tyler Lockett. And despite King’s strengths, every one of those snaps will be a steep challenge.

Metcalf is a bit taller than King, nearly 30 pounds heavier, and much, much stronger (27 bench press reps at the NFL Combine for Metcalf, compared to 11 for King). He’s had a better year as a rookie than King has managed in any of the past three seasons, creating easy separation on intermediate and vertical routes, dominating corners at the catch point, and gaining plentiful yards after the catch.

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King won’t shut Metcalf down. But he can make a huge contribution Sunday simply by preventing (or at least limiting) big plays. That’s not necessarily a strength of King’s, as he can struggle at times to match up against double moves, recover after getting beat, and control his body downfield.

Metcalf, meanwhile, is at his best working vertically. Read these stats that Zach Kruse from Packers Wire used in his recent article:

"“Meanwhile, Metcalf has become a dominant vertical threat for Russell Wilson. The rookie caught 13 passes over 20 yards during the regular season and then delivered four more during the Seahawks’ win over the Eagles, including three on third down.”"

Luckily, King won’t be alone. Pettine is likely to give him plenty of safety help, and the Packers’ formidable pass rush has a great chance to harass Russell Wilson against Seattle’s subpar offensive line.

Hopefully, that will be enough for King to prevent Metcalf from replicating Jones’ devastating performance in January 2017.