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No easy answer for Packers' 'disappointing' coverage breakdowns vs. Vikings

Good news on injuries to inside linebackers Krys Barnes, Quay Walker 

Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson (18) is tackled by Green Bay Packers CB Rasul Douglas
Minnesota Vikings WR Justin Jefferson (18) is tackled by Green Bay Packers CB Rasul Douglas

GREEN BAY – An obvious question with regard to the Packers' defensive game plan against the Vikings is why top cornerback Jaire Alexander wasn't matched up more against star receiver Justin Jefferson.

Head Coach Matt LaFleur explained Monday it's not that simple, in part because the Vikings wouldn't allow it to be that simple.

Minnesota not only put Jefferson in motion on several plays, but sometimes the pre-snap movement included two players in motion. Having defenders trail or chase multiple motions for specific matchups can cause several other defenders' responsibilities to change just before the snap, depending on where the motioning players end up.

That's a recipe for confusion the Packers preferred to avoid, and LaFleur likened it to how his offense constantly moved Davante Adams around the formation in recent years to keep the defense from locking in with a specific coverage.

Jefferson, of course, had an Adams-like game, with nine catches for a career-high 184 yards and two TDs in Minnesota's 23-7 victory, and in a few critical instances, the Packers didn't avoid confusion anyway.

"There were plays that for whatever reason the communication was off and the execution was off, and then we've got guys covering for another guy and that's how bad things happen," LaFleur said.

A combination of miscommunications and blown assignments led to Jefferson's monster game. The Packers took the approach they did in part because Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen are rather explosive playmakers themselves, and the defense needed to keep tabs on them, too.

So they deployed a mixture of matchups and coverages but never got the upper hand, and Jefferson's big plays – four receptions of 20-plus yards in the first half alone – put the Packers in a big hole.

"Bottom line, whoever's on him," LaFleur said, "we've got to perform better."

"Situationally, I think it's much easier to do," he continued, referring to matching up a specific defender, like Alexander, on Jefferson. "I think it's hard to do that throughout the course of the game unless you are committed to playing man coverage every snap."

And locking into man coverage for every play makes the defense easier to read and rhythms easier to find for veteran quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins.

Obviously, what the Packers tried didn't work, so it's natural to be second-guessed. Scheme choices aside, most upsetting was that an experienced Green Bay secondary had so many bad breakdowns on the coverage calls that were made.

"It's just disappointing when you have a veteran group at certain spots and you do have those miscommunications or just guys not playing their responsibilities," LaFleur said. "So that's going to be a point of emphasis and we'll make sure we get that corrected, and we'll have to get it corrected in an urgent manner."

Injury-wise, the defense got some good news in that inside linebacker Krys Barnes, who was carted off with an air cast on his lower leg, appears to have avoided a significant injury, though LaFleur gave no timeline for his recovery.

Barnes was playing a larger share of defensive snaps than expected because rookie first-round draft pick Quay Walker left with a shoulder injury, but LaFleur is "hopeful" Walker can return to action this week. No update was available on cornerback Keisean Nixon (shoulder) and offensive lineman Jon Runyan (concussion).

On special teams, new coordinator Rich Bisaccia's units put together a solid debut. The only major concern was punt protection that looked "definitely way too leaky," LaFleur said, as a few of Pat O'Donnell's punts were nearly blocked. He added some players on that unit weren't using the blocking techniques they've been taught, and they need to trust the way they've been trained.

"We've got a lot of work in front of us," LaFleur said. "A lot of our veterans, this isn't their first rodeo and not the first time they've suffered a defeat. But it's always interesting to see how young guys respond to a defeat or not playing your best. … You've got to be resilient.

"That's just life in the National Football League. If you live on what you did yesterday, whether you win or you lose, you're not going to get better."

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