Packers DBs eager to bounce back after struggling in opener

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) scores on an 36-yard touchdown reception...
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) scores on an 36-yard touchdown reception ahead of Green Bay Packers cornerback Eric Stokes (21) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)(Abbie Parr | AP)
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 10:50 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Green Bay Packers defensive backs boasted before the season about the possibility of being the NFL’s best secondary.

It didn’t take long for them to get a reality check.

The Packers (0-1) are preparing for Sunday night’s game with the Chicago Bears (1-0) while trying to figure out what went wrong in a season-opening 23-7 defeat at Minnesota. The Packers lost that game in part because they couldn’t cover Justin Jefferson, who scored two touchdowns and had nine catches for a career-high 184 yards.

“We know for a fact that we’re better than what we put out there,” cornerback Eric Stokes said. “We’ve just got to go out and show everybody.”

Green Bay had big hopes for its secondary after it signed Rasul Douglas to a new deal and welcomed back Jaire Alexander from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for most of the 2021 season. Alexander signed a four-year, $84 million extension with a $30 million signing bonus.

The Packers believed Alexander, Douglas and Stokes would form one of the league’s top cornerback trios alongside starting safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.

The secondary looked ordinary against Minnesota as Kirk Cousins threw for 277 yards and two touchdown without an interception.

“That wasn’t good enough for us,” Amos said.

Stokes said part of the problem was the Packers’ top three cornerbacks were limited to eight snaps together last season. The plays all came when Alexander returned for a 13-10 divisional playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Alexander, Stokes and Douglas had worked together in training camp and in a couple of joint practices with the New Orleans Saints, but none of them had participated in the three preseason games.

“It was our first time getting real live game reps (together),” Stokes said. “You can simulate all that stuff in practice all you want, but until you get un-scouted looks… it’s different how we all react to it.”

They didn’t react well enough in Minnesota.

“We’ve just got to communicate better in zone coverage,” Alexander said. “Because that was the biggest breakdown.”

That zone coverage was under scrutiny this week because Jefferson did much of his damage early in the game when he rarely was covered by Alexander, the Packers’ best cornerback.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry noted that it’s difficult to line up one cornerback against a single receiver for an entire game when a team’s in zone coverage because of the issues it causes for everyone else on the defense. The Packers typically utilize zone coverage.

“I think offenses have gotten really smart and they kind of deter defenses from being able to do that by moving guys around and not always knowing exactly where they’re going to line up formationally all the time,” Barry said.

The coordinator said it’s easier for a cornberback to travel with a receiver when using man-to-man coverage.

The challenge Green Bay’s cornerbacks face this week is making sure they stick with their coverage longer than usual because of Bears quarterback Justin Fields’ ability to extend plays with his mobility.

Green Bay’s defensive backs said communication has improved in practice this week. They’re confident it will lead to a better performance.

“It’s prime time,” Stokes said. “It’s Sunday night. It doesn’t get better than that to show everybody what you really are.”

NOTES: Offensive tackles David Bakhtiari (knee) and Elgton Jenkins (knee), wide receiver Allen Lazard (ankle) and guard Jon Runyan Jr. (concussion) are all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. Jenkins fully participated in Friday’s practice. Bakhtiari, Lazard and Runyan were limited. Bakhtiari, Jenkins and Lazard all missed the season opener.