The Green Bay Packers’ cornerback trio might be the NFL’s best, but the first matchup of the 2022 season will make them justify their status. The Minnesota Vikings have a prolific WR trio with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn, and how the units match up will be an interesting schematic development of the game.
Last year, the Packers had to manage Jaire Alexander‘s shoulder injury for most of the season — including both games against the Vikings. When Alexander was out, Green Bay found Rasul Douglas from the Arizona Cardinals practice squad, and Eric Stokes showed potential to be a true No. 1 corner. The trio played together a limited number of snaps against the San Francisco 49ers in the playoff loss because Alexander was still far from his ideal form. Finally, it will be possible to see how they play at full strength.
“The sky’s the limit at this point because you know who’s back,” Alexander said during Packers minicamp. “The general’s back.”
In terms of size, it would make sense to match Douglas with Adam Thielen, Alexander against Osborn, and Stokes against Jefferson. But Jefferson is the kind of opponent who justifies special treatment. Therefore, Alexander should travel to follow him along the entire field.
Douglas played primarily from the slot throughout training camp. As the three Packers corners are outside players, it was always a question of how the defensive coaching staff would handle it. The tendency is that Douglas will be the first option, putting him against Osborn for most of the game. Stokes would guard Thielen.
The Vikings will also likely use Jefferson in the slot, following a pattern that Cooper Kupp mastered with the Los Angeles Rams. New Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell was the Rams’ offensive coordinator last season. In those plays, it makes sense for Alexander to play inside too, which he can do, with Stokes and Douglas outside.
“You can’t have too many corners in this league, I’m telling you,” defensive backs coach/passing game coordinator Jerry Gray said. “These guys are really good on offense, and you’ve got to be able to match those guys.”
- Justin Jefferson: 6’1”, 195 lbs.
- Adam Thielen: 6’2”, 200 lbs.
- K.J. Osborn: 5’11”, 203 lbs.
- Jaire Alexander: 5’10”, 196 lbs.
- Eric Stokes: 6’0”, 194 lbs.
- Rasul Douglas: 6’2”, 209 lbs.
Alexander didn’t face the Vikings last season. Therefore, the anticipated matchup against fellow young star Jefferson only happened twice during Jefferson’s rookie season in 2020. One of them was Jefferson’s first NFL regular season game. In each game, Jefferson was limited to 26 receiving yards and no touchdowns — something that will be hard to replicate with Jefferson going into his third year and established as one of the best receivers in the league. Nonetheless, Alexander is one of the most capable cornerbacks in the league to limit that production.
In their second matchup in Week 8 of the 2020 regular season, Alexander shadowed Jefferson in 11 of his 14 routes. He limited the wide receiver to one reception for 12 yards in plays where he was the nearest defender.
The Packers have some depth questions. Shemar Jean-Charles and Keisean Nixon are the other active cornerbacks on the 53-man roster. But the starting trio can play at a high level and face any WR corps in the league.
Alexander’s return was imperative because it had a cascade effect. Besides putting Alexander over Jefferson, it allows defensive coordinator Joe Barry to scheme Eric Stokes against Thielen and not Jefferson, and Douglas is allowed to face Osborn. The Packers were already established with Stokes and Douglas in games against Minnesota last season. However, the third cornerback spot was a combination of Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan.
The Packers-Vikings rivalry will have several interesting matchups this season. Some offer advantages to Green Bay, as I explored earlier this week regarding the offensive run game. The Vikings will have an advantage with their edge defenders, Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith if David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins aren’t ready to play. There are also some matchups in which both units are full of questions — like the Packers wide receivers versus the Vikings cornerbacks.
But it will be good to see matchups in areas where both teams are really strong. And if the Packers can limit the Vikings’ passing production, a victory to open the season will be much closer.