Both Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert went after Ballentine, targeting him 11 times over those two games. However, Ballentine has allowed just five completions at 10.8 yards per catch with a long of 17 yards, which came when covering Keenan Allen and Diontae Johnson.
“Corey Ballentine had a couple PBUs,” said Matt LaFleur following the Pittsburgh game. “They went at him twice in a row on a 2nd-and-10 and then a 3rd-and-10. He made the play. He made the play right in the two minute as well when he was bumped up into the boundary, made a tough contested play. All-in-all, I thought they did a nice job.”
Where I’ve really been impressed with Ballentine is with his ability to challenge the receivers. Of those 11 targets, he’s forced four incompletions, according to PFF. Out of 61 eligible cornerbacks over the last two weeks, Ballentine’s forced incompletion rate of 36 percent is the second-highest in football.
He’s also done well limiting the pass catches that he does allow, with only 13 total yards after the catch given up. And for what it’s worth, Ballentine’s coverage grade from PFF over these last two games is the ninth-best among cornerbacks.
Ballentine has been in the NFL since 2019 after going undrafted out of Washburn. The 298 defensive snaps he played as a rookie with the New York Giants is the most he’s played in a single season, and he has largely been a practice squad player in recent years. Unlike Carrington Valentine, who had flashed throughout the summer and is in his rookie year, there was unknown around Ballentine. You never quite know how a veteran, who has been a fringe roster player, is going to respond in these situations.
After the Chargers game, LaFleur complemented defensive coordinator Joe Barry for his willingness at times to play with a lone single-high safety against the Chargers passing attack in an effort to limit opportunities on short-area and intermediate throws. Doing that, however, can leave the cornerbacks on an island and also showcases the confidence that Barry has in both Valentine and Ballentine to handle their one-on-one matchups.
“I feel good about it,” said Ballentine about the opportunity to start. “I feel that it’s a work in progress that doesn’t happen overnight. I feel like it’s coming along. I feel like I’ve been making more plays in practice.
“I have an opportunity, and I feel like it’s all there for the taking, for really for anybody that wants to take it. I just want to make sure I’m doing what I need to do to get better and put my best foot forward and come out there and really stay healthy and go to practice and focus and be the best I can be that day.”
After missing last Wednesday’s practice, Alexander was limited on Thursday and Friday before being held out of the Chargers game with a shoulder injury he suffered against the Los Angeles Rams. On a short week, he was estimated to be limited on Monday, had the Packers held practice.
Whether or not Alexander will play in Detroit is still not known. However, if he can’t go, Thursday will be another opportunity for Ballentine. Things haven’t been perfect by any means, but in a Packers’ cornerback room that has quickly become short-handed, Ballentine has helped provide some stability the last two weeks.
“All the coaches, G-Money (Greg Williams), RD (Ryan Downard), and Justin Hood have all done a great job with those guys,” said LaFleur about the Packers young secondary. “But I also think it speaks to the character of the guys in the room. Guys are hungry. They want to prove when given their opportunity, and I think they’ve stepped up to that challenge.”