GREEN BAY – The Packers' secondary had been playing without No. 2 cornerback Kevin King for a month, but Sunday the group had an additional challenge.
It was also without No. 1 corner Jaire Alexander, leaving the young trio of Chandon Sullivan, Josh Jackson and Ka'dar Hollman matched with starting safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage to hold down the fort against the Jaguars, and particularly speedy receiver DJ Chark.
The results were a bit mixed, according to Head Coach Matt LaFleur. While the Jaguars' passing game never found much traction, a credit to the coverage, LaFleur felt the run support from the corners was a bit lacking, especially in the first half.
"They were asked to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, and I thought they held their own," LaFleur said, which was born out in the statistics as Chark's 56 receiving yards led the Jaguars, and a 21-yard reception was the longest play. Wet and windy conditions combined with a rookie QB making his second start certainly helped the shorthanded secondary, but the work was still solid.
"That's certainly encouraging, and it gives you more confidence in their ability to go out there."
The run game was a different story, though. LaFleur explained that Jacksonville's receivers were getting out front to block the safeties, and the corners weren't filling the alleys in time to slow down running back James Robinson.
"Our corners weren't always in position to make the tackle," LaFleur said. "We were too far off and it led to some big runs. There's a lot of room for improvement in those situations."
It did get better after halftime, as not just the secondary but the entire run defense stepped up its game. Robinson averaged 6.8 yards per carry in the first half, gaining 61 yards on nine attempts. His average dropped to 3.4 in the second half, with 48 yards on 14 tries.
One run in the second half really bothered LaFleur though, and rightfully so. Right after Packers receiver Davante Adams fumbled early in the third quarter with the Packers leading 17-10, the Jaguars had the ball in the red zone and were flagged for holding, setting up first-and-20.
It was a prime opportunity to limit the points off the turnover to a field goal and keep the lead. But Robinson ran right up the middle, untouched into the second level, for 11 yards on a play LaFleur said "you would like to only surrender four yards."
Facing second-and-9 instead of second-and-long, the Jaguars got in the end zone two plays later to tie the game.
"We still gotta be more consistent on stopping it and putting guys behind the sticks so we can be able to rush and make things hectic for the quarterbacks," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said.
That showed up on the Jaguars' last two drives in the fourth quarter, when the Packers' pass rush dominated the action to close out the victory.
But it's the efforts against the run in the second half – minus the one play after the turnover – that need to become the norm. Veteran inside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who had missed the previous five games with a pectoral injury, had returned and seemed to settle in more as the game went along.
Perhaps the more Kirksey works in tandem with rookie fifth-round pick Kamal Martin at inside linebacker in the coming weeks, the more the defense will benefit. With Martin missing the early portion of the season due to a knee injury, the two hadn't lined up next to one another since training camp.
"I do think that the effort was much better across the board in terms of swarming to the football," LaFleur said. "We didn't have any loafs. That really should be the standard and the expectation every week. That's what we're looking for."
View some of the best photos from the Week 10 Packers-Jaguars matchup at Lambeau Field on Nov. 15, 2020.