Jaire Alexander played too much zone
Jaire Alexander played his best game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 17. A new report offers numbers that show why that probably happened. Alexander spent much of the game in press coverage for the Green Bay Packers defense. That was in direct contrast to the scheme he and the secondary were asked to play in their Week 1 thrashing by the Vikings, with the opposite results surfacing.
Following the Week 1 defeat, Alexander made honest comments about how he wanted to play man-to-man coverage on Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. He didn’t get much of an opportunity to play press coverage in the early part of the season when the Packers were cashing in bad losses they ultimately couldn’t make up for when they got hot toward the end of the season.
What the stats say
According to Tom Silverstein with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, data shows that Alexander played better in press coverage than as a zone defender. Go figure, that’s what most analysts and fans pointed out watching the games live. Silverstein suggested defensive coordinator Joe Barry could use Alexander as the Packers did with Al Harris:
“Imagine asking Harris to play 87 snaps in off coverage over the first two games of the season and 52, 51 and 50 in three others before midseason.
It’s essentially what defensive coordinator Joe Barry did with Alexander last season.”
Silverstein noted that Barry’s use of Jaire Alexander was mixed for the first half of the season, even when Alexander was showing success playing man-to-man. Silverstein wrote that when Alexander was allowed to challenge wide receivers in the second half of the season, Alexander played at an elite level:
“Once Barry committed to allowing his top defensive back to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage, Alexander went back to being a shutdown corner, limiting his man to one touchdown, one catch of 20 or more yards and three catches of 40 or more yards in the final eight games. He had two of his five interceptions during that span.”
Is Barry putting his players in the best position
Barry was criticized for his scheme early on in the season. By mid-October, Barry said in a press conference that he wanted to mix up the coverage in the future but was unwilling to overhaul the defense to fit his player’s strengths. Per WSH Media Files:
“Absolutely, and I think we have the guys that can [play more aggressive], absolutely,” Barry said. “Every situation is different. You know, we’re not just going to go play bump and run press man coverage every snap. That’s not the system that we run.”
What’s worrying about these numbers and Barry’s statement is the excuse Packers head coach Matt LaFleur has used to defend Barry. After the Packers’ devastating loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 11, LaFleur pointed out that players were being communicated to properly, but they were failing to execute Barry’s defense.
That might be the case. But I’d like to see LaFleur’s numbers.