GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers made a $35.3 million investment this offseason in Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas. You might not know it by how they utilized the two cornerbacks in Sunday’s season-opening 23-7 loss at the Minnesota Vikings.
Alexander, with his $30 million signing bonus in the bank as part of his massive contract extension in May, mostly stayed on one side of the field -- often the opposite side from where Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson lined up -- or sat back in some of defensive coordinator Joe Barry’s zone calls.
Douglas, with his $5.3 million signing bonus from the $21 million deal over three years that he signed in March, played only 41 of the 62 defensive snaps. The team's biggest playmaker in the secondary most of last season (while Alexander was out with a shoulder injury) has been relegated to playing in the slot as the third cornerback in nickel packages. Meanwhile, last year’s first-round draft pick, Eric Stokes, played all 62 snaps as the outside cornerback on the opposite side of the field from Alexander.
All the while, Jefferson torched what was supposed to be the strength of the Packers to the tune of nine catches for 184 and two touchdowns -- most of that lightly contested.
Enter Alexander, who said after the game he repeatedly asked to be matched up against Jefferson whenever possible.
“But it ain't about me,” Alexander said. “It's about the team. It ain't about me. If it was my way, you know what I would be doing.”
On Monday, Packers coach Matt LaFleur offered a reminder that matching a defensive back -- or any defensive player, really -- on one player isn’t a big part of Barry’s zone-based scheme.
“If you want to change the structure of your defense, I mean, you could certainly do that,” LaFleur said.
However, the Packers actually played less zone than it might have appeared. Barry called that type of coverage on 51.5% of opponent dropbacks, which, according to ESPN Stats & Information, was the seventh-lowest rate among the 30 teams that had played in Week 1 through Sunday.
The Vikings chewed up Barry’s zone calls. Quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards and one touchdown against that scheme. It included Jefferson’s second touchdown, a 36-yarder about which Alexander said he probably should have stayed with Jefferson longer, even though he was expecting help. There were miscommunications galore that left Jefferson so open.
Against man calls, Cousins was 11-of-15 for 81 yards and a touchdown.
LaFleur backed Barry’s decision to play zone in part because of how much pre-snap motion new Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell used.
“There were many times throughout the course of that game where it wasn’t just a single motion, it was a double motion, right?” LaFleur said. “So now you’re talking about trailing a guy, whatever it may be, but you would have to commit to man coverage. I don’t know how else you get it done.”
LaFleur conceded it is something the Packers could have done on certain downs. Jefferson had four of his catches and one of his touchdowns on either third or fourth down.
“I think that’s something we’ll talk about each and every week, and every week’s a little bit different,” LaFleur said. “But we have a lot of confidence in our other corners out there too, whether it’s Stokes or Rasul Douglas. So it’s, how exotic do you want to be and exactly what do you want to do?”