For the second straight season the Vikings travel to Green Bay in Week 2, but this time something feels different, and we’re not talking about new head coach Matt LaFleur.
No we’re talking about the defense, which underwent quite a bit in the offseason and put up a terrific opening season performance on the road against the Bears. The talent on that side of the ball is lethal, with playmakers like Preston Smith, Za’Darius Smith, Blake Martinez, Kenny Clark, Adrian Amos, and others running abound.
But perhaps it’s second-year corner Jaire Alexander that Vikings fans need to be the most familiar about. Alexander had a high quality rookie campaign in 2018, finishing with 1 interception and 11 pass disruptions. Against the Bears he had two key pass disruptions, one of which was crucial in the Packers’ close victory in week 1.
The issue for Alexander is that he’s currently being bothered with a knee injury. He’s expected to play on Sunday, but how healthy he’ll be will be determined. With that said, Vikings fans should know a healthy Jaire Alexander is dangerous for Minnesota’s offense (and you can use this for Week 16 when the two teams face off again), so let’s breakdown his tape right now.
First let’s look at Alexander’s aforementioned two pass disruptions against the Bears last week. Here he’s up against receiver Taylor Gabriel, a small but quick player.
As Alexander is in press coverage he puts a hand on Gabriel right off the line of scrimmage.
Gabriel responds with some combat of his own, and the two go right at it with tight competition on the route.
Ultimately, Alexander wins this battle by breaking up the pass just before Gabriel can get a grip on it.
Alexander’s footwork stays balanced with Gabriel’s even with the quick fake and burst inside off the snap. Alexander’s instincts are sharp on this rep and he wisely uses his inside hand to gain leverage and destroy Gabriel’s catch radius on this play.
Next let’s head inside the red zone late in the fourth quarter just before the two-minute warning.
Alexander’s target on this play is third-year tight end Adam Shaheen.
Initially Shaheen looks to have caught this pass, but a last second effort from Alexander jars this ball free, resulting in an incompletion right before Shaheen can complete the needlessly convoluted process of catching the ball. All in all, a great play and a key stop a snap before Amos collecting the interception.
Next let’s move to Week 12 of the 2018 season, where the Vikings and Packers were both involved on Sunday Night.
Alexander is circled on this play. You learn something new everyday. Anyway he’s up against Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Yep, that’s two of the best receivers in the league on the exact same side of the field.
This is a designed screen to Diggs, with Thielen sent out as a blocker (why you wouldn’t have another guy out there blocking I don’t know but whatever). As this is an Alexander writeup, he forces this play to a screeching halt.
Let’s look at this with the power of GIF technology.
Alexander absolutely blasts Diggs and Thielen at once, knocking Diggs back and resulting in a massive loss on the play made worse by Diggs back pedaling and eventually getting tackled. As Cris Collinsworth himself said, this was as great of a corner play as I’ve seen from 2018.
Finally, let’s look at a positive Vikings play which actually had great coverage from Alexander.
You may remember this as the memorable contested catch Thielen made against Alexander, and how could you not?
Right off the snap Alexander engages Thielen with press coverage and a quick jam. Against a typical receiver this would be more than enough to shut him down and force Kirk Cousins to find another target. He fires anyway, but surely there’s no way this would result in a completion, right?
Not so fast.
For as great as the coverage on this play is, Thielen still finds a way to haul this pass in. It almost looks like he’s glued to Alexander’s back and yet he still reels this one in. This had to have been frustrating on Alexander’s part, and rightfully so because there’s not much more he could’ve done to make this coverage better than it already was.
But not every play with that coverage will be so lucky, and that’s what’s made Jaire Alexander a star for the Packers thus far in his career. He’s a stud in press coverage, capable of making plays at the catch point before the receiver makes one himself, and his footwork is sublime. The Vikings may get lucky this week and face Alexander when he’s not at 100%, but if he’s not affected by the knee injury he’s going to be a hell of a challenge for Kirk Cousins and company.