FRISCO, Texas – It’s always funny how quickly things change in this league.
The Green Bay Packers are a team you should know well by now. The Cowboys have played them often in recent years, and there are some obvious constants – Aaron Rodgers come to mind.
At the same time, a lot can change in a short amount of time. The Packers have spent a lot of draft capital on their secondary in recent years, and it seems like that’s starting to pay off. So today we’ll obviously talk about Rodgers, but there are some new faces on this Green Bay defense you’d do well to learn about.
Nemesis: QB Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers is one of those rare quarterbacks who can carry his team to victory on his own. He is always in the game regardless of the score. The more dire the situation, the better he plays. Jason Garrett calls it a “relentless spirit,” and it’s what fuels Rodgers when he lines up. His passion to compete comes through in every snap. He and Tom Brady are two of the most mentally tough quarterbacks the Cowboys will face all season. He will take shot after shot and continue to hang in there delivering the ball.
Rodgers is at his absolute best when he can get in the flow of a game. For years he has used hard counts, quick snaps and fake spikes to his advantage. He is the master of the “Hail Mary” and the free play off the defensive offsides. It’s common for him to catch too many men on the field. He can cause sideline chaos if he gets a feel for how you’re attempting to substitute. The Cowboys have to be ready to get players on and off the field quickly when the play ends.
Rodgers can be extremely dangerous when he’s throwing the ball on the move. Russell Wilson and Pat Mahomes come to mind when I think of quarterbacks that have this type of ability, but Rodgers will surprise you with his athletic ability. Even with a less than perfect knee he will escape when he has to. He can be a nightmare when he breaks the pocket. You have to pounce on him if he makes a mistake. That’s the best way to defeat him.
Weapon: CB Jaire Alexander
Jaire Alexander is developing into one of the top cornerbacks in the league. It presents a big problem for play callers and quarterbacks alike for how well he plays in coverage. Alexander competes on every snap. There is no lull in his game. He consistently plays at a high level. He is relentless in the way he covers, which makes him a difficult man to get away from. He is smooth in his back pedal and transitions. He shows no wasted movements or struggle when locked up.
Alexander is a great example of “loose in the hips.” When he turns, he has the ability to stay right on top of his man. He should be comfortable carrying Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup, who are both outstanding route runners. He has shown the ability to read the routes and react to them. The way he positions himself makes it difficult for those tight window throws. He is capable of making you pay for an off line ball.
He plays with outstanding range and instincts. You’re not going to fool him often. If you do, he will rally hard to recover. Alexander is going to get his hands on a lot of balls because he has the ideal length for the position. He makes the quarterback almost have to be perfect in order to defeat him. If I were Kellen Moore or Dak Prescott, I would be selective in how much I test him.
Under the Radar: S Darnell Savage Jr.
Darnell Savage Jr. was one of my favorite safeties coming out of the 2019 NFL Draft. We talked about him plenty on “The Draft Show” and what he could bring ability-wise.
Early in his career with the Packers, he’s shown good flexibility with quick feet. He moves smoothly, which helps him with his range. He wants to get in the action, so you see him play with a burst to make plays. Green Bay defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is not afraid to use him in coverage. I would expect to see him carry Jason Witten or Blake Jarwin if given the opportunity.
For a safety, he can open and go when he asked to play in those situations. In college you would see him jump routes and gamble on the pass, but I have yet to see him take those kind of chances for the Packers. For a young guy he shows awareness for his assignments. He’s not going to bust and leave men wide open. He doesn’t get fooled. He plays well with his eyes.
I mentioned how well he can run. You see him closing some ground when he reads. He has a knack for being around the ball. He punched the ball loose from Kirk Cousins earlier in the season to create a turnover. He will wrap up when he has to tackle, but there were some snaps where he missed the ball carrier in space. He has been a nice complement to Adrian Amos, who the Packers signed in the offseason from the Chicago Bears. He can play either safety spot without any issues.