Packers Notebook (vs. Bears)

Bill Huber

Bouncing back

The Pack need to bounce back. Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears are next on the docket.

The Packers performed miserably in their season-opening 23-7 loss at the Minnesota Vikings. Offensively, the makeshift line struggled, receivers weren’t open and coach Matt LaFleur inexplicably forgot about his running backs. Defensively, a veteran group in the secondary was its own worst enemy against premier receiver Justin Jefferson.

The Packers will need to rebound to avoid an 0-2 start. Having the Bears coming to town for “Sunday Night Football” should help. LaFleur is 6-0 against the Bears, with the four wins the last two seasons all decided by at least 10 points. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 22-5 against Chicago. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns vs. zero interceptions with LaFleur in charge.

Green Bay has lost three in a row – the meaningless finale at Detroit, the playoff game against San Francisco and now the opener at Minnesota. But, in same-season regular-season action, the Packers have not dropped back-to-back games under LaFleur. That includes winning seven in a row after getting embarrassed by the Saints in last year’s opener.

“I think 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,” LaFleur said. “We’re always going to be very, very critical and hard on ourselves from a coaching standpoint, from a player standpoint, and try to make the necessary adjustments, try to make the necessary corrections and try to avoid this in the future as best we can.

“This league is a humbling league. You better be your best every opportunity that you get to go out on that field, otherwise you get stuck up here answering your guys’ questions.”

Alexander’s role

One of those questions was about Green Bay’s defensive game plan against Minnesota. The Vikings’ stud receiver, Justin Jefferson, had nine catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. On most of those plays, he was wide open.

Why didn’t the Packers use Jaire Alexander — the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback — to shadow Jefferson?

That’s easier said than done. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry prefers a balanced approach to coverage. Last season, his secondary played man coverage 30% of the time, according to Sports Info Solutions. If a defense is playing man, then it’s easy to have one cornerback assigned to one receiver. In zone, it’s impossible.

On those zone looks, Eric Stokes was the cornerback on the defense’s right. So, the Vikings put Jefferson on the offense’s left, away from Alexander.

One potential solution would be to play man on third downs. On Sunday, Jefferson had two catches of 20-plus yards on third down as well as a touchdown on fourth down.

“I think that’s something we’ll talk about each and every week, and every week’s a little bit different,” LaFleur said. “But we have a lot of confidence in our other corners out there, too, whether it’s Stokes or Rasul Douglas. So it’s how exotic do you want to be and exactly what do you want to do?”

After the game, Alexander walked a fine line when discussing Jefferson’s big day.

“The gameplan was to not allow ‘18’ to beat us,” he said. “We did much better in the second half than in the first half. Why I wasn’t on him, that’s not my call. Anybody who watches me play, you know that’s what I want. But we played him much better in the second half, but in the first half he looked like a premier receiver in the league.”

Back to the backs

With the offseason trade of Davante Adams, the Packers needed to find new ways to move the ball. Presumably, that would mean a heavier reliance on running backs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon. That wasn’t the case on Sunday, though. While Dillon had 15 touches (10 carries, team-high five receptions), Jones inexplicably only got the ball eight times (five runs, three receptions).

LaFleur blamed himself immediately after the game and again on Monday. To be sure, Jones and Dillon need more opportunities. On the other hand, tight end Robert Tonyan was playing in his first game following last year’s torn ACL, veteran receiver Sammy Watkins was making his Packers debut and rookie receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs needed opportunities, too.

“Everybody has their own desires and wants. The bottom line is you have to find a way to win the game,” LaFleur said. “I think that’s something that we struggle with each and every week. Because you’d like to get everybody involved. Certainly, if you have more plays, it’s a hell of a lot easier to do.

“But we’ve got to put ourselves in better position to maximize on our opportunities. There was opportunities from an offensive standpoint to cash in. Certainly, first play of the game and not converting on a fourth down (at the Vikings’ 1). We’ve got to be better in those situations.”

That means improvement on third and fourth down, where the Packers were a combined 3-of-11.

Punt problems

On paper, it was a strong debut for new punter Pat O’Donnell. Having spent his first eight seasons in Chicago, O’Donnell averaged 44.8 yards on four punts with three placed inside the 20-yard line.

However, the Vikings almost blocked three of the punts. There’s no doubt Chicago will see that on film and try to attack, as well.

“Definitely way too leaky,” LaFleur said of the protection. “Guys have got to trust their teammate. They’ve got to trust themselves and the techniques that we work since the day Rich (Bisaccia, the new special teams coordinator) got here. I think you saw a little bit of that go away in the game. You’ve got to trust your technique, trust the way you’ve been trained. You can’t go rogue and deviate from that. I think there was a little of that that was going on.

“That’s why there were a couple situations where there was way too much penetration. All in all, I thought Pat did a hell of a job punting the football. I thought our coverage was on point. For the most part, I thought our special teams did a nice job.”