GREEN BAY – All summer, Jaire Alexander spoke time and time again about what he and Kevin King, in tandem, could bring to the Packers’ remade defense in 2019.
“Two shutdown corners,” said Alexander back in May. “Plain and simple.”
So far, the two young cornerbacks have looked the part.
In Sunday’s 21-16 win over Minnesota, Alexander and King were a 60-minute nuisance to the Vikings’ passing game with three passes defensed and King’s critical end-zone interception of Kirk Cousins with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in the game.
Alexander, the uber-confident 2018 first-round pick out of Louisville, added two timely breakups, including then a touchdown-saving deflection on a pass intended for Stefon Diggs, and nearly had two INTs of his own.
Adam Thielen (five catches for 75 yards) and Diggs (one catch for a 45-yard touchdown) still made plays but their production was in a stark contrast to last year when the duo combined for 37 catches, 461 yards and five TDs in two games against the Packers, who played a majority of both games without King.
None of this really comes as a surprise to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who’s been playing against King in practice for the past three summers and Alexander for the last two.
“The thing that jumps out is ball skills,” Rodgers said. “Going against them for a couple years now, you have to be very accurate and smart about the type of ball and type of air you put on certain routes, because they’re really good when the ball’s in the air.”
Alexander showed immediate shutdown promise in 2018 as a 21-year-old rookie, recording 66 tackles, 11 passes defensed and an interception to become the first Packers player to make the PFWA All-Rookie Team since Corey Linsley in 2014.
Throughout the course of the year, the 5-foot-10, 196-pound cornerback garnered praise from Rodgers, Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams and even New England coach Bill Belichick.
As impressive as Alexander has been from an athletic standpoint, Head Coach Matt LaFleur credits the second-year cornerback for how he responded to narrowly missing a pick on the touchdown to Diggs – the only pass he caught all afternoon.
Alexander said he lost the ball in the sun but good-naturedly challenged reporters in the postgame locker room to “check out my one-on-one coverage…I was on them boys all day,” before adding he’s “going to make (those) plays” in the future.
“I think he's a complete football player,” said LaFleur of Alexander. “He brings it. A lot of corners, they don't like to get dirty. He'll bring it, in the run game as well. We feel comfortable putting him on the outside, locking somebody down.”
King saw his playing time ramp up in Week 2 after playing only 42 snaps against Chicago in his first game back from a hamstring injury.
The 6-foot-3 cornerback, playing all but one defensive snap against the Vikings, was up for the challenge. King finished Sunday with two passes defensed despite having only a few targets thrown towards his coverage all afternoon.
After dropping an interception in Week 1 against Chicago, King didn’t make the same mistake twice in bringing down a Cousins lob on first-and-goal from the Green Bay 8, preserving the Packers’ 21-16 lead.
Although the team asked its defense to make five consecutive stops to win the game, King and Alexander didn’t wilt under pressure. In fact, the two relished the notion of closing it out.
“You know by now what type of people we are. That’s what we want,” King said. “That’s our time to shine. We’re trying to thrive, not survive, when we’re out there. That’s more TV time for us to go get picks, for sure. That’s what we’ve got to do. That’s the mentality we have.”
The Packers are keeping their fingers crossed to have both cornerbacks available for the full duration of the year after King missed 10 games in 2018 with soft-tissue injuries and Alexander sat out three games with a groin injury.
When healthy, Alexander is not afraid to say he and King are the “best tandem in the league” at their position. Win or lose, that’s the mentality.
“We’re putting everybody on notice,” Alexander said. “This is a really good defense, really good secondary at that. We’re putting people on notice. It feels really good, though.”
While Alexander and King might be a bit more boisterous about their expectations than some other top cornerbacks Rodgers has played with, the two-time MVP quarterback sees parallels between the young corners’ mindset and that of Charles Woodson, Al Harris and longtime teammate Tramon Williams.
As the Packers get set to square off with several top-flight receivers in the weeks and months ahead, they also have two young cornerbacks ready to tackle that challenge head-on.
“The thing that all great corners have is confidence,” Rodgers said. “We’ve had some guys over the years when that big stud receiver was coming to town they might not be up for that challenge. Not Jaire, and definitely not Kevin.”