The Packers have gotten great news on the injury front, with the team officially activating Za’Darius Smith from IR. Jaire Alexander was also removed from the Covid-19 list on Friday, which kept him out of the regular season finale. Representing two of the most important players on the Packers defense, their return comes just in time for a postseason run. But it is Alexander who has the opportunity to make the biggest impact on a Packers defense that has come back to Earth after a hot stretch in the middle of the season.
Despite Jaire being out since Week 4, the Packers secondary has been able to hold its own. As a team they rank in the top 10 in both interceptions and passer rating allowed. Both Rasul Douglas and rookie Eric Stokes have played well on the perimeter. Stokes has shown stickiness in coverage – finishing the regular season tied for the lead among rookies in terms of forced incompletions and interceptions. Rasul Douglas has been one of the best play-makers at the CB position since his signing in Green Bay, with 5 interceptions including 2 for TD.
But nickel corner has been one of the weak spots on the Packers defense, and teams have been able to exploit those mathups. I wrote earlier about the idea of playing Jaire in the slot upon his return, and this may be the best option for them. The Packers medical staff is notoriously conservative, and if he is cleared to return – it should be safe to assume his shoulder is good to go. That should quell concerns about his playing in the slot, which would necessitate increased responsibility in the run game. Matt LaFleur has stated they are trying to figure out how best to deploy the Packers CBs. But given how well Stokes and Douglas have played – they will have to find a way to keep them both on the field.
Another intriguing option for the Packers to allow them to keep Alexander, Stokes, and Douglas all on the field could be to shift Darnell Savage into the nickel role. This opens them up to potentially using Douglas as a safety, who has shown better tackling ability. Douglas has also proven to be very opportunistic, which could serve him well rolling down into a robber role where he can read the QB and make plays on the ball.Savage has had an underwhelming season after a very strong finish in 2020. But he still has the athletic ability to be an upgrade to Chandon Sullivan at nickel. And playing a position where he doesn’t have to read and react quite as much might suit him well.
No matter how the Packers decide to configure their secondary, having one of the best cornerbacks in the league return when the stakes are the highest is a huge deal. Jaire has shown the ability to lock down his side of the field, and with tough competition to come, his swagger and competitiveness will likely have an effect on the defense as a whole.——————
Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.