Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander still undergoing tests for shoulder injury
GREEN BAY - As the Green Bay Packers awaited test results Monday on Jaire Alexander’s shoulder, coach Matt LaFleur reserved judgment on the severity of his star cornerback’s injury.
Alexander exited Sunday’s win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half after colliding with running back Najee Harris on an open-field tackle. The impact stopped Harris from gaining a first down on fourth-and-4. It also caused Alexander to remain on the field in pain for several moments before being carted to the locker room, where he remained.
LaFleur was unable to rule out any outcome with Alexander’s shoulder injury.
“Everything is kind of getting looked at right now,” LaFleur said.
LaFleur said the team and Alexander are getting “some other opinions on how to proceed” with his shoulder injury. He expects to have an update by Wednesday, his next scheduled news conference with reporters.
The Packers are dealing with their most extensive injury situation since LaFleur was hired before the 2019 season. They went his first year with no significant injuries, a stunning stroke of medical good fortune. That was almost the case last year until left tackle David Bakhtiari tore his ACL three days before their Week 17 finale at the Chicago Bears.
The Packers are still without Bakhtiari, who was placed on the physically unable to perform list before training camp and remained there entering the season. They were without his replacement, Elgton Jenkins, who missed the past two games with an ankle injury. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, their big-play receiver, was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury last week and will miss at least two more games.
The defense was without starting cornerback Kevin King and inside linebacker Krys Barnes, who were in the concussion protocol.
Then there is outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who had back surgery last week. LaFleur said Smith’s future is uncertain.
“We do not know if he’s out for the year,” LaFleur said. “We’re hopeful to get him back, but as far as the timeline, I just know it’s going to be a while. I know he’ll do everything he can to try to get back because he’s a big part of this football team.”
If the Packers are without Alexander and Smith for a lengthy time, it drastically changes their defense. They are their best defenders, a pair of second-team All-Pros in 2020. Alexander is a defensive captain.
The Packers have been reluctant to move Alexander inside to the slot, where he would fill new coordinator Joe Barry’s aptly named “star” position. Alexander might have a bigger impact on the game in the middle of the field, where he would have a role not only in coverage but also as a run defender. At 5-10¼ and 196 pounds, Alexander plays bigger than his size.
Still, Alexander is undersized for the position, and his coverage is invaluable to the defense. Regardless, LaFleur said that isn’t a deterrent to him playing the slot, where the game tends to be more physical.
“You can play Ja pretty much anywhere,” LaFleur said, “but I wouldn’t say his stature necessarily dissuades us from putting him inside. It’s just more what do you want to get out of him. Certainly, he’s a guy that I think most offenses are afraid to throw at. We feel like we can put Ja anywhere, and we know we’re going to have a great player on the field.
“He’s a Pro Bowler. He’s a captain. You can never have enough great players out there, and right now we’ve got a few of our stud players on the bench due to injury.”
Shaky special teams catch a break
The Packers had reason to gripe over a pair of calls from Sunday’s officiating crew, but they also left their win feeling they got a massive break.
The Steelers' first touchdown came when receiver Diontae Johnson appeared to push off on Alexander before catching Ben Roethlisberger’s 45-yard pass. In the second half, T.J. Watt got his only sack when he stuck out his right leg and tripped Aaron Rodgers – a penalty that was initially called but then reversed.
LaFleur went easy on the officials this week, and for good reason. Before halftime, the Steelers blocked Mason Crosby’s 31-yard field goal and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. The score would have given the Steelers a 17-14 lead at halftime, but instead cornerback Joe Haden was called for an offside penalty.
Replay appeared to show Haden was at least close to being onside, if not onside.
“They timed it up pretty well,” LaFleur said.
The play came one week after the San Francisco 49ers came inches from blocking Crosby’s game-winning field goal.
LaFleur said the protection needs to get better.
“There’s a lot to clean up there, certainly,” LaFleur said. “They got a really good jump, jumping off the hand of our holder. So we’ve got to do a better job of kind of varying our snap counts, but also I think we can clean up some stuff in terms of our alignments up front, and how we go about that. So we’ll have a plan for that this week.”
It wasn’t all bad for the Packers' special teams.
Crosby made his redo before the half, and also a 29-yard field goal in the second half. The pair gave him 24 consecutive made field goals, breaking his own franchise record.
The Packers also got another strong game from punter Corey Bojorquez, including a 57-yard bomb while standing in the end zone that forced a fair catch.
“That was unbelievable to flip the field like that. What a great punt, and a great job by Malik Taylor, beating his man as the gunner, forcing that fair catch. Yeah, that was just great protection in that situation, because they were coming after us. All 11 did their job at a really high level.”
LaFleur salutes Jets' Saleh
The New York Jets, coached by LaFleur's good friend Robert Saleh, held on to beat Tennessee 27-24 in overtime Sunday and hand Saleh his first win as an NFL coach.
LaFleur said he didn't learn about the Jets getting their first victory until after the Packers' game Sunday. He was happy for Saleh and the Jets' offensive coordinator, his brother Mike LaFleur.
"I talked to both those guys last night, and they were obviously very, very excited."