We’ve now learned that Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander will be lost “indefinitely.” Our team is in crisis mode. Things would be even worse if not for Eric Stokes outperforming initial expectations. An average team could probably cope with the situation, though with a couple more games than usual going in the loss column – no big deal. But the Packers (still) have genuine Super Bowl aspirations. I don’t view trolling through other teams’ practice squads as an appropriate response to the Pack’s emergency situation.
We need to fill this cornerback hole with a superb athlete, a player with impressive speed, and preferably one who doesn’t have to take a crash course in learning the Packers’ defensive playbook. As you might know if you read my previous post (here), my proposal is to temporarily replace Jaire Alexander with safety Darnell Savage.
Did I mention that Darnell recorded a dash time of 4.36 seconds at the NFL combine? Until Eric Stokes strode into town, that is likely the fastest time any Green Bay player has turned in since Sam Shields showed up and started six games, as a rookie, for the 2010 Super Bowl champs.
With that said, I’m going to concentrate on the team’s upcoming six games – and hope to hell that after that we’ll have Jaire and a bunch of the team’s other stars back from their ailments.
Next Six Opponents
Over the next six weeks, the Packers go on the road for four out of six games. The team has so far sucked it up and emerged with a 3-1 record despite multi-game injuries to four star players: Bakhtiari, Jenkins, Za’Darius Smith, and MVS. Will the injury to Jaire Alexander be the tipping point for this beleaguered club?
Other than the quarterback, the loss of a cornerback is the most difficult to compensate for. You lose a great edge rusher, you can resort to more blitzing; you lose a fine running back, you can do more passing. But when you lose a great cornerback, and don’t have a suitable backup, the opposition is going to focus its game on exploiting this fatal weakness. This is exactly what happened against the Bucs in last year’s NFC championship game – has the organization learned anything from that awful experience?
Let’s take a look at the club’s prospects over the next six games in light of the loss of Jaire. Should the team lose four of the next six, it would leave them with a 5-5 record, with seven games to go. Given the weakness of the NFC North division, the Packers would still have an excellent chance to make it into the playoffs – where they should have most of their missing stars back.
The Vikings are Green Bay’s top competition for winning the division, but the Packers already have a two game lead on them. The two teams will meet in Minnesota in Week 11 and at home in Week 17 – when, barring further injuries to key players, Green Bay should be much healthier. If the team can somehow fill the gap created by Jaire’s loss, the Packers winning four out of the next six games is not far-fetched. If they can accomplish that, they’ll be well positioned to not only make the playoffs but to obtain a high playoff seed.
The teams the Packers will face in the next six weeks are the Bengals, Bears, Washington, Cardinals, Chiefs, and Seahawks. The Cards are 4-0, the Bengals are 3-1, and the others are all at 2-2, so the task isn’t quite as daunting as we might initially think. The only two home games for the Pack during this stretch are those against Washington and Seattle.
In those first three games, the only worrisome quarterback is the Bengals’ second-year man Joe Burrow, the top overall draft pick last season. Burrow has the sixth best passer rating, at 113.8, on this young season.
The second and third games in this stretch don’t feature top-notch opposing QBs. In the fourth game, however, the Cards are led by Kyler Murray, who currently sports the fifth best passer rating (115.0), and is thought to be an early favorite to be named MVP. Murray has got the Cards off to a 4-0 start.
Next up is the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, who is typically perched near the top of the stats – his 122.9 rating to date is second best in the league. He of course has two premier receivers, Tyreek HiIl and Travis Kelce.
To finish off the gauntlet, the sixth game is against the Seahawks and QB Russell Wilson. Russ, who has Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf as targets, has once again started out the season on fire – his 129.9 rating leads the NFL. Over the last few years, however, we’ve seen Wilson’s numbers decline as the seasons have worn on. Now in his tenth year, the wear and tear seems to be taking a toll on his body. At any rate, the Seahawks aren’t as dominating as they once were, but they have learned how to win games: they had 10 regular season wins in 2018, 11 in 2019, and 12 last season.
So, in upcoming games four through six, the Packers will face three of the five current top passers in the league. A mix of Isaac Yiadom, new acquisition Rasul Douglas, Chandon Sullivan, and/or Shemar Jean-Charles isn’t likely to cut it against such top teams – though I must admit I’m curious to see how the clingy Jean-Charles performs. Sullivan is somewhat competitive as a slot corner, but he’s too slow to be out alone on the outside.
In addition to facing some top QBs, the Packers’ defense will be confronting several teams that have the firepower at receiver to pose dire difficulties for the Pack’s debilitated defensive backfield.
The Bengals have exciting rookie Ja’Marr Chase for Burrow to throw to. The fifth overall choice in the most recent draft, Cincinnati has wasted no time putting him to good use. Chase has already caught 17 balls for 297 yards, for an average of 17.5 yards per catch. He has the distinction of being the youngest player (21) in NFL history to catch four touchdown passes in his first three career games. It looks like Chase is going to be this year’s Justin Jefferson.
The Bears have the veteran Allen Robinson and a surprise in receiver Darnell Mooney. After 1,000-plus yard seasons in 2019 and 2020, eight-year vet Robinson has gotten off to a slow start this time around. Mooney, a fifth-round draft pick last season, is a speedster, weighing 176 pounds and with 4.38 40-yard dash speed. He has 26 catches for 226 yards in this his second season. Other than by double teaming, the only way to deal with blazingly fast receivers is to have a cornerback who can match that speed.
The Cardinals have an awesome and balanced receiver corps: A. J. Green (248 passing yards), Christian Kirk (244), DeAndre Hopkins (225) and Rondale Moore (211) are all having fine seasons. Hopkins, the most dangerous, has reached the 1,000-yard receiving mark in each of the last four years, including 1,407 last season.
It’s hard to say who will give Green Bay the bigger pass defense challenge, the Chiefs or the Seahawks. Each team has a future Hall of Fame QB, as well as multiple star receivers.
Green Bay’s best chances for wins over the next six weeks appear to be against their first three opponents. Unless the team can quickly fill the gaping hole created by the loss of Alexander, the Packers will have great challenges against the pass attacks of the Cards, Chiefs, and Seahawks. The home game against the Hawks might be their best opportunity.
Confronting the reality of the club’s cornerback crisis (I won’t even raise the possibility of putting Kevin King back in at outside cornerback, as opposed to slot CB), will be an immense challenge for the team’s head coach, new defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the rest of the defensive coaching staff, and for that matter the entire organization.
As Thomas Paine once said, these are the times that try men’s souls. However, I’m going to put my trust in Matt LaFleur, who has so far worked wonders in his two years as the head of this fine football team.