The Green Bay Packers made a shocking announcement regarding their cornerback room on Saturday. After star cornerback Jaire Alexander was suspended this week for conduct detrimental to the team, the Packers faced an uphill battle in figuring out how to guard star Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson without him. That task just got even taller with cornerback Eric Stokes being a late addition to the injury report and ruled out for tomorrow’s game.
Stokes, who is now listed on the report with a hamstring injury, has missed most of the season. He started the season on injured reserve as he recovered from a severe foot injury he suffered last season, and was placed back on injured reserve with a hamstring injury after he made his initial return against the Denver Broncos. Stokes returned for the Packers’ loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and started their win over the Carolina Panthers.
As frustrating as it may be for fans to see Stokes out again, it cannot be as frustrating as it is for Stokes himself. He has done everything he possibly can do to get back on the field and to stay healthy. As he was not on the injury report until today, he was a full participant in practice all week. It is, truly, an unfortunate situation.
With Stokes sidelined, the Packers now face the reality of playing the Minnesota Vikings without both of their top cornerbacks. Unlike the last time they played Minnesota, the Vikings will have Justin Jefferson healthy. The prospect of facing Jefferson without Alexander and Stokes may seem worrisome, but there are a couple of key stats from this season to keep in mind before rushing to any negative conclusion.
The Green Bay Packers Have Been Without Eric Stokes and Jaire Alexander for Most of the Season
As mentioned, Alexander and Stokes have been hurt for most of the season. The Packers have had to get used to life without them often this year. Stokes has played just three games while Alexander has played six.
Despite missing their two top cornerbacks for most of the season, Green Bay has found a way to put itself into position to have a shot at the postseason with a 7-8 record. Packers insider Andy Herman broke down Green Bay’s record with each combination of starting cornerbacks they have used this season, and the results are shocking:
Packers record by starting CB combos:
— Andy Herman (@AndyHermanNFL) December 30, 2023
With their two top corners out again, the Packers will go with Carrington Valentine, Corey Ballentine, and Keisean Nixon as their starting cornerbacks. As seen above, Green Bay is 3-2 when that trio starts. The wins came against the Los Angeles Chargers, Detroit Lions, and Kansas City Chiefs while the losses were to the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants.
The Green Bay Packers Passing Defense Ranks 13th in the NFL in Yards Per Game
Look, no one is going to pretend like any part of the Packers defense has been even close to elite this season. However, it does bear mentioning that they are averaging 216.9 passing yards allowed per game, which ranks 13th in the NFL. Among teams with a worse mark are every other team in the NFC North as well as NFL Playoff contenders such as San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles.
In the two losses the Packers suffered with the starting trio of Ballentine, Valentine, and Nixon (what a name for a law firm!), they allowed 126 passing yards and 158 passing yards respectively. The problem, of course, is the run defense, which gave up over 200 yards rushing in each contest.
Now, neither loss came against a team that boasted a wide receiver with the abilities of Justin Jefferson, but their wins did come against teams that boasted receiving targets such as Keenan Allen, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Travis Kelce.
In other words, do not count the young corners out just yet. If the defense (once again) lets the team down, it will likely be because of the run game and poor play calls by Joe Barry.