The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears fought for the honor of being the winningest team in NFL history this Sunday, and thanks to a late interception from cornerback Jaire Alexander, the Packers became the winner of winners.
Alexander’s interception gave the Green Bay offense a chance to pile onto their lead and take control of the rest of the game. But while the Packers’ star corner got to be the hero of the game, it was an overall rough day at the office for Alexander, who was burned twice on big plays against N’Keal Harry and former Packer Equanimeous St. Brown. Not exactly A-list completion for the league’s highest-paid corner.
In fact, Alexanders’ 2022 campaign has been much more volatile than in previous years, with a handful of impact plays mixed with uncharacteristic poor ones. In a year where Green Bay’s star-studded defense has, at best, fallen massively short of expectations, their star players have been no exception. Alexander’s strange year is just another puzzling aspect of this underwhelming defense.
It feels odd to criticize the defender with the play of the game, but Alexander was a liability before the interception. And the Chicago Bears aren’t exactly known for their high-powered passing offense.
In the first half, Alexander was burned by St. Brown on a 56-yard catch — a career-long. Later, in the fourth quarter, Harry would beat Alexander after taking a risk and going for the big play. Alexander tried to get the interception but ended up being defeated.
“Man, that was lucky. I was getting ready to pick that one, too. I was getting ready to pick it, but then (Fields) held the ball, and (Harry) ran somewhere. And as he’s running, I’m looking on the Jumbotron. I’m like, ‘Wow, he really just threw it,’” Alexander said following the game.
Thankfully, Alexander redeemed himself with an interception of Fields minutes later. His up-and-down performance still saw him as one of PFF’s top-five highest-graded Packers defenders on Sunday.
“Early in the game, when I was just trying to make too many plays, I was just trying to change the game early,” Alexander said.
Alexander became the league’s highest-paid cornerback this off-season when he signed a 4-year, $84 million contract. He’d been establishing himself as one of the league’s best lockdown cornerbacks since being drafted in 2018, though a shoulder injury cut his 2021 season short.
Being the highest-paid corner means these big, game-altering plays should be the norm. But Alexander’s season has been rocky, ceding more plays to wide receivers than we’re used to. Alexander and the Green Bay secondary gave up a big touchdown to CeeDee Lamb against the Cowboys before the unit got shredded by Ryan Tannehill shortly after.
By no means has Alexander been bad this season — his PFF grade of 77.8 is still above average and comparable to previous seasons (minus his 2020 second-team All-Pro season). But he hasn’t consistently been the island we’ve become used to.
Scheme has undoubtedly been an issue. Joe Barry’s defense certainly hasn’t been a fan favorite, to say the least. Early this season, with Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas on the boundary, Alexander was the main slot man, and Barry was reluctant to change that based on matchups. Alexander fared well against the receivers he covered, but he wasn’t getting the one-on-one matchups with team WR1s he wanted.
Barry adapted in the face of Stokes’ season-ending injury, allowing Alexander to roam more. But the team plays so much soft zone defense that the cornerbacks are generally 75 yards away from the line of scrimmage and constantly beaten underneath. And it seems like there are massive communication breakdowns every week in the secondary.
But Barry can’t be blamed for everything. Players must execute, and Alexander hasn’t always done that this season.
There could be a disconnect between Barry and Alexander, leading to some of this. Alexander previously said he wanted to face elite receivers but had to do the job he was given. And there have been reports of players in the defense not being happy with Barry’s scheme. This is obviously speculation, but a disconnect between the defensive play-caller and one of your stars could explain some of the regression.
Takeaways are one area Alexander has improved. He currently leads the Packers in interceptions with four — a career-high. One of Alexander’s few knocks was his ball-hawking ability, and that’s become a priority for him this season. By going for the big play, Alexander sacrifices the consistency we’re used to in favor of getting a bigger result. With the defense’s struggles, it’s worth wondering if he is trying to do too much because he believes he has to.
The play against K’Neal Harry was emblematic of this mindset. Rather than play the receiver, Alexander gambled and went for the ball, but he came up short. It’s a classic example of loving the process when it works and criticizing it when it doesn’t. Had that play worked out in Alexander’s favor, it’s a different conversation.
No matter the cause, it’s been a strange year for the Packers’ star corner. He’s given up some uncharacteristic plays, but his ball-hawking ability has grown. Thankfully, Alexander is one of the most confident players in the league and has a short memory for mistakes. He has more than enough swagger to bounce back from this odd year and return to his lockdown ways.