Packers 4 Downs: Aaron Rodgers likes 'the vibe' of this season's team
Four observations the day after the Packers' 34-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday:
Winning makes everything seem great, and the Packers (4-1) are winning. So it’s wise to be leery of talk about how good a locker room is, or how much everybody likes each other on a good team. It can be a chicken-or-egg question. But the vibe around the Packers does seem a little different, in part because their new young coach seems to encourage self-expression — that is, celebrating big plays — and new free agents such as Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith have brought some personality to the locker room. Every turnover the defense forces, for instance, is an event. “It’s just a different feel,” Aaron Rodgers said. “It helps those guys are playing well, too. Obviously, Preston had another couple sacks today and Z was active when he was healthy, which I guess he really wasn’t today. I like the vibe on the team. I think we’re having a lot of fun.”
NFL offenses strive for run-pass balance, but you have to wonder if the Dallas Cowboys tried too hard for it early in Sunday’s game. With the struggles coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense had had against the run early this season, especially last week against Philadelphia, you might have thought the Cowboys wouldn’t worry about balance and just run Ezekiel Elliott until the Packers proved they could stop him. Instead, quarterback Dak Prescott threw on two of the first four plays, with the fourth caroming off receiver Amari Cooper’s hands to cornerback Jaire Alexander for an interception. Then the Cowboys threw on seven of their next 12 plays, and that included another Prescott interception, this time by Chandon Sullivan. By late in the second quarter, the Packers were up a couple touchdowns. I’m sure Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore thought Prescott would be in his element throwing off play action against a defense that was sure to be focusing on Elliott. But really, why not make the Packers’ pass the run test not just a couple times, but down after down?
With Davante Adams out, Jake Kumerow worked as the No. 3 receiver, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison played a lot as the Nos. 1 and 2. But on one play early in the third quarter, coach Matt LaFleur went with an all-undrafted-free-agent receiving corps. That group consisted of Kumerow, Allen Lazard and Darrius Shepherd. LaFleur didn’t throw the ball on that play — Aaron Jones had an eight-yard run — but you aren’t going to see a receiving trio of undrafted guys on an NFL field very often.
Jaire Alexander has been playing like a top-five cornerback so far this season, but he had a rough day against Cooper, who did much of his damage (11 catches for 226 yards) against the Packers’ 2018 first-round pick. Alexander traveled with Cooper most of the game and got caught gambling a few times, including on a 46-yard completion on a double move in the first quarter, and on Cooper’s 53-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Alexander did break up a couple slant patterns, but even his interception came on a pass that, while slightly behind Cooper, still was very catchable but caromed off the receiver’s hands. All cornerbacks get beat, that’s life in the NFL. But Alexander can’t take so many chances if he’s going to be one of the game’s best cover men.