Packers defensive gameplan in flux with Jaire Alexander’s status up in the air – Paul Bretl, USA Today
It’s uncertain whether one of the Packers’ top defensive stars will be good to go on Sunday.
Green Bay Packers All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander suffered a “freaky” injury during Wednesday’s practice when he rolled his ankle during the walkthrough. The injury may force Joe Barry to alter his game plan midweek depending on Alexander’s availability for Sunday.
“Absolutely,” said Barry when asked if the uncertainty around Alexander forces the Packers to have two game plans this week. “That’s the thing, it’s never easy when you lose the caliber of player Jaire is.
“From a game plan standpoint, you’d much rather go into Monday and Tuesday as a coaching staff, knowing that he’s not going to be in, instead of something happening in practice. That’s why I keep saying I’m hoping he walks in fine and we can stick with our game plan.”
If Alexander is unable to play, the Packers will then start Corey Ballentine in his place to play alongside Carrington Valentine. Due to prior injuries that Alexander has dealt with this season, along with Eric Stokes missing significant time, the duo of Valentine and Ballentine have played together quite a bit.
“The guys have filled in,” said Barry. “Any time Corey or Carrington have had to go in and play, they’ve done a great job. Of course, any week, you want Jaire Alexander playing for you in your lineup, especially this week when you’re playing against a guy like No. 4 (Dak Prescott) and 88 (CeeDee Lamb) and Brandin Cooks and the whole crew. So I’m hoping tomorrow he comes in and feels better and has a fast Friday.”
To a degree, this situation would mirror the Minnesota game from two weeks ago. The Packers were without Alexander (suspended) and Stokes (placed on IR) and facing one of the best receivers in football, Justin Jefferson. Against Dallas, the Packers will have to contend with Lamb, who led the NFL in catches.
Green Bay’s coaching staff expressed plenty of praise for Dallas’ playmakers.
GREEN BAY – The Packers’ coordinators met with the media on Thursday. Here’s a sampling of their key comments.
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia
On Cowboys returner KaVontae Turpin:
He’s got great speed, he’s got great vision, he can make you miss and he can score. He can go the distance. He’s really fast anyway, but he’s extremely fast in that particular stadium. How we deal with him in the punt game and how we deal with him in the kickoff game remains to be seen, but he’s a problem.
I don’t know if you can emulate his speed (in practice) and the way he does it. He has this slow-and-then-go pace to him, and he’s just really a good player. We’ll see how it works out, but he’s a challenge.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry
On whether matching one corner against a receiver like CeeDee Lamb makes coverages predictable:
You can run every coverage principle that you want when you go down that road of matching a guy. The challenge when you match a guy, it’s not the (cover) guy – the player’s just looking for a jersey number and he’s going to that side – it’s the rest of the secondary that has to play off that. We’ve done it before and we feel comfortable with it. It used to be much easier years ago when a great receiver was just the X receiver or just the Z receiver and you knew exactly where he was going to be. That’s not the case in today’s football with these great wideouts. CeeDee absolutely is one of those. He plays Z, he plays X, he plays slot, he motions. That is the challenge. We talked about adapting and evolving. You’ve had to do that with defenses because offenses, they move those great wideouts around so when you go down the road of matching somebody, you know the issues.
Both teams have efficient offenses, but Green Bay is facing the more difficult defense.
It’s difficult to expect the Packers defense to slow down the Cowboys offense on a drive-to-drive basis, so keeping Dallas to a low point total will probably rely on turnovers, sacks, or red zone variance. The Packers offense will have to keep up, and they’ll be facing a good, but kind of weird defense.
Overall, Dallas’ defense is very good. For the season, they ranked fourth in EPA allowed per play, but, and this is the weird part, just 22nd in success rate allowed. The Dallas defense thrives on splash plays. The Cowboys defense ranked fourth in drives that ended in turnovers. Micah Parsons is an absolute menace. Parsons ranked second in PFF’s pass rush win rate beyond only Myles Garrett. He racked up more pressures than anyone in the NFL with 103. Demarcus Lawrence has slowed down a bit as he ages, meaning despite Parsons prolific production, the Cowboys were only about league average in pressure rate. Zach Tom’s health will be a big deal for the Packers this week, as having two good pass blocking tackles will be vital to the success of the Packers offense.
In the secondary, there’s no Trevon Diggs due to injury, but Stephon Gilmore and DaRon Bland have been a solid duo, with both having above average CPOE allowed when targeted. Dallas plays a ton of single high coverage, playing cover-1 on over half their snaps and cover-3 on an additional 10%. No one in the league plays more cover-1 than Dallas does, so it will be of the utmost importance for Green Bay’s young receiving corps to be able to get quick separation against the Cowboys secondary before Micah Parsons can get home.
A lot of Jordan Love’s production this season came over the middle of the field, and that has also been where Dallas’ defense has been the weakest on a per-attempt basis. Expect Green Bay to try to get bodies into this area of the field with regularity, which really just means running their offense as normal.
It’s not difficult to see why Dallas are pretty heavy favorites in this matchup on DraftKings. While both offenses have been among the best in the league, the Dallas defense also presents a challenge in a way Green Bay just has not been able to. No seven seed has ever upset a two seed since the seventh seed was added. Green Bay probably has a good of a shot as anyone has. An elite offense can do a lot for you. Green Bay probably just needs a little turnover luck to pull off a major upset if the offense can continue piling up the production.
Cowboys vs Packers preview: Matchups, storylines, predictions for the playoff rivalry game – Carmen Vitali, David Helman, FoxSports.com
Rosters and coaches will change, but a Cowboys-Packers playoff game is always exciting.
The football gods were generous in awarding us with these circumstances.
It’s noteworthy any time a marquee NFL team reaches the postseason. The Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers will always be interesting draws in their own right because of their storied histories and their rabid fanbases.
When you pit them against each other, it’s something else entirely.
It’s the Ice Bowl. It’s nine combined Super Bowls. It’s the Cowboys’ most recent NFC Championship Game win, all the way back in 1996. It’s two previous playoff classics this past decade — “Dez Caught It” and “third-and-20.”
Helman: I truly can’t wait for this quarterback matchup. Dak Prescott went punch-for-punch with Rodgers as a rookie during that 2016 playoff classic. How fitting that the tables have turned, with Prescott playing at an MVP level, and Love making his first playoff start.
We can do this all day, but we’re starting to run long. Let’s get to the picks. I firmly believe Matt LaFleur is going to have an excellent game plan that’s going to take advantage of the Cowboys’ weaknesses. But ultimately, I don’t think Green Bay’s defense can manage Prescott and his offense’s firepower. I’m guessing it will be a fun game for three, three-and-a-half quarters before Dallas eventually eases into the divisional round in a 34-24 win.
What say you?
Vitali: I think I tend to agree with you. This will come down to how effective Green Bay’s defensive game plan is — and right away, at that. Barry hasn’t shown an overwhelming ability to adjust in-game, so if it doesn’t work right away, I’m not sure the Packers will be able to stop Prescott and the ‘Boys.
Given how well Dallas is playing at home and the fact that any Packers postseason success is a bonus at this point — lord help me — I think I’m taking the Cowboys. But! I think Green Bay will cover the seven-point spread with a final score of 31-27.
Here is the Cowboys’ final injury report for their Wild Card contest against the Packers.