In week 4, the Packers took care of business and secured their third win of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There was a lot to be happy about in the win, however, Packers superstar CB Jaire Alexander left the game in the third quarter after putting a big hit on Steelers rookie RB Najee Harris. The All-Pro corner left the game with a shoulder injury and looked like he was in significant pain.
Cornerback is an incredibly valuable position in the NFL, as the rise of offensive dominance and spread offenses has taken over today’s league. Alexander has been a lockdown corner for a few years now for the Packers, along with an elite start to his 2021 campaign, and his absence will be felt.
How long that absence will be is still uncertain. As of Tuesday, the Packers are still awaiting test results and the opinions of multiple specialists. The consensus seems to be that it is an AC joint injury in his shoulder, but the severity is still unknown.
Matt LaFleur declined to rule out any possibility about the injury and how long it could keep Jaire out. “Everything is kind of getting looked at right now”, LaFleur said.
If it is in fact the AC Joint in Alexander’s shoulder, there are three grades of AC joint injuries to consider. A Grade 1 injury is just a sprain with no deformities and has no major damage to the ligaments. Grade 2 AC Joint injuries may include a rupture, displacement, or deformities in that AC joint. Worst case scenario in a Grade 3 is possibly a complete rupture or dislocation of the AC joint and major damage to those ligaments attached.
Obviously, Packers fans are hoping for a minor injury. This would still sideline Jaire for at least a couple weeks, probably with a trip to the short-term IR. However, with the Packers seeking multiple specialists’ opinions and separate tests, leads us to believe that this could be a severe injury. The worst-case scenario is going to require surgery with an added four-to-six-month recovery, likely ending Alexander’s season.
Jaire is a tough kid and I would expect him to play through any minor injury, especially with the assistance of rehab and possibly playing with a shoulder brace.
In the meantime, Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry has some decisions to make about the Packers secondary. Kevin King has missed the last two games in concussion protocol, and if he cannot clear protocol again, Green Bay will be without their top two cornerbacks on the depth chart.
At the end of the Steelers game, the Packers corners were promising rookie Eric Stokes, who made a game-sealing interception, Issac Yiadom, acquired during training camp in the Josh Jackson trade, and reliable Chandon Sullivan in the slot. 2021 fifth-round pick Shemar Jean-Charles out of Appalachian State even saw some snaps.
There are a few ways the Packers could go about shuffling around these players. Green Bay knows they have a solid option with rookie Eric Stokes, who has had nice flashes early in the season. If Kevin King is healthy and available, he will be out there. As for the other spots, whether that is moving Chandon Sullivan to the outside, or putting trust in unproven players like Yiadom or Jean-Charles, it will be interesting to see who Green Bay puts out there. Free Safety Darnell Savage could even be a sneaky option to play corner, or even down in the slot more often, with his elite coverage skills.
If the Alexander injury is short-term, this would be the stretch of the season you could live without him. Green Bay’s next three opponents all fall in the bottom half of the NFL in passing offense, with Cincinnati, Chicago, and Washington.
Looking at the current roster, four players you would consider to be part of the Packers top-tier talent are all injured right now. Expect to see Pro Bowl offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins back soon. However, now the two best players on this defense in Jaire Alexander and edge rusher Za’Darius Smith will be out for a while it seems. Other key players have missed time recently as well, including inside linebacker Krys Barnes (concussion) and deep threat wide receiver Marquez Valdez-Scantling (hamstring, on IR).
As the Packers continue their season, it is hard to not look ahead at the gauntlet of the schedule that is on the horizon. Notably, starting in late October into November and December, they have @ Arizona, @ Kansas City, vs. Seattle, @ Minnesota, and vs. LA Rams. The Packers also play the two best AFC North opponents late in the season in Baltimore and Cleveland. They will want to be as healthy as possible for this tough, long stretch of the season, so it is important to prioritize long-term health over rushing players back onto the field.