Beware quarterbacks: Jaire Alexander could be coming for you.
Alexander, the Green Bay Packers’ top cornerback, showed off his elite speed as a pass rusher during the second quarter of Sunday’s season opener in Minnesota and annihilated quarterback Kirk Cousins on a rush into the Vikings’ backfield that resulted in both a sack and a safety.
Alexander’s big play came shortly after the Packers turned the ball over on downs in the red zone, leaving the Vikings with the ball at their own 4-yard line after a false start and a short run from Dalvin Cook. Not only did it even the turnover battle and get points on the board, but the Packers were also able to turn their post-safety drive into a go-ahead field goal.
“I was anticipating run because of the motion by (wide receiver Adam) Thielen, so once I anticipated run, I shot my shot,” Alexander told reporters after Sunday’s 43-34 victory over the Vikings. “I slid into the DMs, basically.”
A sack for a safety wasn’t Alexander’s only impact play of the first half, either. He also perfectly anticipated one of Cousins’ throws and picked him off late in the second quarter, giving the ball back to the Packers offense with less than 30 seconds. It was enough time for Aaron Rodgers to heave a 33-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, allowing the Packers to take a 22-10 lead into halftime.
“I just had my eyes in the right place, just a little route anticipation as well and good hands to finish it off,” Alexander said of the interception.
Alexander, a 2018 first-round pick, established himself as a star for the Packers last season and finished the year with 37 tackles, two interceptions, 17 pass deflections and two tackles for loss. His steady rise only continued Sunday with Alexander tallying five total tackles along with his interception, sack and safety in Week 1’s win.
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Pettine Called Alexander’s Pivotal Move ‘Sneaky’
Reporters didn’t get the opportunity to ask Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine his thoughts on Alexander’s play, a risky but beneficial move that helped the team instantly recover from an offensive turnover. But when Alexander was asked about his coach’s reaction, he just started laughing.
“I’m not really going to say what he said verbatim,” Alexander told reporters, “but he called me sneaky and gave me a fist bump. It was all smiles.”
LaFleur also acknowledged the importance of Alexander’s sack safety as a play that turned the game for the Packers, but he was also more concerned about the issues on offense in the red zone that had preceded it.
The Packers had marched 65 yards on their opening drive but toiled on three straight plays once inside the red zone, losing two yards and settling for a field goal. The next drive went even longer — 74 yards — and nearly ended with an Aaron Jones touchdown run that was overturned on replay, but the Packers stalled out on four consecutive plays from Minnesota’s 3-yard line and turned the ball over on downs.
“I was very, very, very upset after a few of those red-zone trips, especially the fourth down when we don’t convert,” LaFleur told reporters Sunday. “Thankfully, Jaire made a heck of a play on defense and got us that safety, and we were able to go back down and kick the field goal.”