Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander and coordinator Joe Barry have different coverage philosophies but claim to be on 'same page'
GREEN BAY – There were some “uncomfortable conversations” when the Green Bay Packers returned from Minnesota. Jaire Alexander didn’t hold back. He was confused, disappointed with the game plan from a lackluster loss in the opener, and Alexander doesn't shy from speaking his mind.
So he made his feelings clear. In the locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium, Alexander openly discussed his bewilderment over never getting a chance to shadow Pro Bowl receiver Justin Jefferson in coverage. He didn’t leave things unresolved privately, telling coaches and teammates why he felt that way.
“I just kind of go with how I feel,” Alexander said. “There’s nothing predetermined. If I feel a type of way about something, I can’t hold it in. I can’t let it sit. So I communicated with them how I felt, and with some of my teammates, and that was that.”
Sitting on a table near his locker Friday, Alexander put those feelings in context. His disappointment didn’t come from a bruised ego. He just wants to win. Yes, the Packers talented defense has three quality cornerbacks, including Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas.
It was Alexander who signed the richest contract in NFL history at his position this offseason, earning a record $21 million per year over the next four seasons.
Things aren’t equal in the Packers secondary. Few defenses in the league have a corner capable of covering any receiver, anywhere on the field. To not get that chance as Jefferson went off last week, catching nine of his 11 targets for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns while almost never running a route against Alexander, did not sit well.
“I just want to make sure I’m here for the team,” Alexander said. “If I get an easier week, a week off, cool. It is what it is. I just want to make sure I’m here for the team, and I don’t want it to be misconstrued that it’s about me or anything. Because it’s not.”
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry defends philosophy, calls Packers a 'zone team'
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry doubled down on his zone philosophy this week, calling the Packers a “zone team." It’s what the Packers predominately played last year in Barry’s first season, and it’s unlikely to change. Even if Barry believes he has the personnel to play more man coverage.
Barry made clear his game plan was not a lack of confidence in Alexander’s ability to cover Jefferson throughout a game.
“Jaire Alexander is, if not the, he’s one of the best corners in the National Football League,” Barry said, “but we feel pretty dang good about Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas as well. So when you do start game planning someone, especially the first game, early on in the year, those are things that are of course discussed and thought about, but there are so many moving parts to when you decide to do something like that.
“Because if you decide to match a corner on a specific guy every play, and especially a guy who plays the Z, plays the X, plays in the slot, he fly motions, he changes strengths motions, that’s not a real big challenge for the guy you’re asking to do that. But the other 10 people around him, because when you come out of the huddle, you don’t know exactly where that wide receiver is going to align. Because they do a good job of moving him around.”
Alexander said he understands the benefits of zone coverage. It’s designed to prevent big plays while maximizing the chance for a defensive back to intercept a pass. Sitting back in zone, corners and safeties are better able to watch the play unfold in front of them. They can keep their eyes on the quarterback as receivers break into their routes without getting lost in coverage.
Of course, that depends on how well players communicate on the field. Barry said there were about seven “bad” plays the Packers defense allowed in the opener. Most of those stemmed from miscommunication.
Jaire Alexander doesn't agree with Packers' decision
Alexander said he’s always preferred man coverage because it’s simpler knowing before the snap which receiver he’s responsible to cover. In his 2018 rookie season, Alexander said it was comforting being able to play more man coverage in former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s scheme, following receivers anywhere on the field before the snap.
He also knows not every cornerback feels the same way about zone and man coverage.
“Zone helps as well,” Alexander said. “It’s good to mix in zone. Me myself, I like to play man. I like to play man a bunch. I think ‘Sul likes to play zone a lot, Stokes likes to play man. So you get a good combination of both when it’s necessary.
“It’s much simpler (to play man), because you know that’s your man. He can’t go nowhere without you.”
Packers likely to play similar coverage vs. the Bears
Barry is unlikely to fundamentally change how his secondary plays Sunday night when the Packers host the Chicago Bears in their home opener. If Alexander wasn’t matched against Jefferson, one of the NFL’s best receivers, it’s hard to envision him following top Bears receiver Darnell Mooney across the field.
There might come a time this season when the Packers face another receiver demanding more coverage snaps against Alexander, like Jefferson did Sunday. Most notably, they’ll face Stefon Diggs in a late-October trip to Buffalo. Of course, they’ll also see Jefferson again. Barry indicated he’ll be open minded to which coverage is best to play against a specific opponent, saying he might have a different plan when the Vikings visit Lambeau Field on Jan. 1.
Alexander certainly won’t mind if the Packers play Jefferson differently in the future. The All-Pro corner said he feels better after having those uncomfortable conversations earlier this week.
Said Alexander, “We’re on the same page now.”