Jaire Alexander talked a lot during the week, but he backed up every word on the field against Justin Jefferson and the Minnesota Vikings. He was an integral part of the Green Bay Packers‘ 41-17 win over their archrivals, a game that kept the Packers in the playoff race. With the Washington Commanders’ loss to the Cleveland Browns, a win over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field in Week 18 is enough for Green Bay to go to the postseason for the fourth-straight year.
The Packers’ usage of Alexander was exactly what it was supposed to be, and he lived up to the expectations, limiting Jefferson to one of the worst games in his career. Alexander lined up across Jefferson on 20 plays, 65% of Jefferson’s routes. Green Bay’s aggressive approach was evident, with press coverage by Alexander and frequent safety help. Jefferson finished the game with five targets and only one reception for 15 yards. Alexander also had a pass breakup.
Alexander’s performance was so good that he was able to do the Griddy, and it had an apparent mental effect on Jefferson throughout the game.
In Week 1, the Packers went with a soft-zone approach, and Alexander lined up across Jefferson on only 36% of his routes. As a result, the third-year receiver had nine receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns, making himself the most valuable player in a 23-7 Minnesota win.
“I was able to follow him,” Alexander said on CBS postgame. “I was able to go to his side all game. I’m the type of person, I’m going to match intensity, so that’s what I did all night. Hats off to him. He’s still on my top three receivers. He’s still a great receiver. But I’m confident in myself, and I said what I said, and I meant what I said.”
Alexander’s ability to press Jefferson at the line of scrimmage affected the Vikings’ offense timing, and quarterback Kirk Cousins had one of his worst games of the season, with three interceptions. The Vikings scored only three points while the Packers’ defensive starters were on the field.
“[Jaire] challenged [Jefferson],” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “There were a couple times he implemented some quick jams where he was very physical at the line of scrimmage. Anytime DBs do that, you’re not always expecting it, especially if you haven’t seen it a ton on tape. I don’t care who you are as a wide receiver; it’s always a challenge. I thought that was a great job by our staff.”
This approach also allowed Green Bay’s other defensive backs to play roles for which they are better suited. Therefore, the Vikings’ most effective wide receiver was K.J. Osborn while the starters were on the field. Tight end T.J. Hockenson also had an efficient game. Backup Jalen Nailor had three receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown in garbage time. Three Green Bay safeties (Adrian Amos, Rudy Ford, and Darnell Savage) had interceptions during the game, including Savage’s pick-six.
Alexander’s performance showed that he is capable of guarding any receiver in the league, and that’s why the Packers gave him the biggest defensive back contract in NFL history. His versatility and ability to play press and affect any receiver is an important weapon for the Packers moving forward because it’s rare for an offense to overcome its best-receiving option being taken out of a game.
Next week, the Lions don’t offer an isolated challenge as big as Jefferson. However, Detroit’s offense is a complete unit that has been the best in the NFL since Week 10 in EPA/play. Therefore, the Packers probably will turn back to their zone-heavy approach. That’s not necessarily bad because the capacity to adapt is the most important point, not the approach itself.
Moreover, the defensive evolution is clear throughout the season, even without Rashan Gary, who tore his ACL in Week 9. In the first 10 games of the year, the Packers allowed 12 passing touchdowns and had five interceptions. In their four-win streak against the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Rams, Miami Dolphins, and Minnesota Vikings, the Packers got nine interceptions and allowed just four passing touchdowns.
Jaire Alexander made it clear that he can be a game-changer. And the Packers need that factor on their defense to complete their in-season comeback.