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Packers defensive gameplan in flux with Jaire Alexander’s status up in the air

Green Bay Packers All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander suffered a “freaky” injury during Wednesday’s practice when he rolled his ankle during the walkthrough. The injury may force Joe Barry to alter his game plan midweek depending on Alexander’s availability for Sunday.

“Absolutely,” said Barry when asked if the uncertainty around Alexander forces the Packers to have two game plans this week. “That’s the thing, it’s never easy when you lose the caliber of player Jaire is.

“From a game plan standpoint, you’d much rather go into Monday and Tuesday as a coaching staff, knowing that he’s not going to be in, instead of something happening in practice. That’s why I keep saying I’m hoping he walks in fine and we can stick with our game plan.”

If Alexander is unable to play, the Packers will then start Corey Ballentine in his place to play alongside Carrington Valentine. Due to prior injuries that Alexander has dealt with this season, along with Eric Stokes missing significant time, the duo of Valentine and Ballentine have played together quite a bit.

Ballentine has played 488 defensive snaps this season. He’s allowed a completion rate of just 59 percent on 49 targets at 12.8 yards per catch. He’s proven to be a willing tackler in the run game and has frequently been able to challenge wide receivers, recording the fourth most forced incompletions from Weeks 10-14 when he was starting.

“The guys have filled in,” said Barry. “Any time Corey or Carrington have had to go in and play, they’ve done a great job. Of course, any week, you want Jaire Alexander playing for you in your lineup, especially this week when you’re playing against a guy like No. 4 (Dak Prescott) and 88 (CeeDee Lamb) and Brandin Cooks and the whole crew. So I’m hoping tomorrow he comes in and feels better and has a fast Friday.”

To a degree, this situation would mirror the Minnesota game from two weeks ago. The Packers were without Alexander (suspended) and Stokes (placed on IR) and facing one of the best receivers in football, Justin Jefferson. Against Dallas, the Packers will have to contend with Lamb, who led the NFL in catches.

In that matchup, Jefferson was held to only 59 yards on 10 targets. Valentine and Ballentine as a duo allowed only six receptions on 15 targets for 65 total yards. It’s a credit to them, but the Packers’ pass rush played a key role as well, pressuring the Vikings’ quarterbacks on roughly 50 percent of their dropbacks. It’s also important to note that Green Bay faced Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens, not a player of Dak Prescott’s caliber.

Led by Prescott and Lamb, the Cowboys’ offense led the league in scoring this season. Lamb had a whopping 179 targets, catching 75 percent of those throws for 1,749 yards and 12 touchdowns. There isn’t a spot on the field he won’t line up nor a part of the field he won’t attack.

“They’re super explosive,” said Matt LaFleur of the Cowboys’ offense. “Obviously, they’re going to try to find different ways to get him the ball. He’s such a threat in terms of his ability to make people miss, to use his speed to outrun people. He’s a big strong guy, he can break tackles. So we need to make sure we know where No. 88 (Lamb) is on every snap.”

The difficulty in the matchup, outside of just how dynamic Lamb has been, is that if you give him extra attention, the Cowboys still have Jake Ferguson at tight end, who totaled nearly 800 yards, and Brandin Cooks, who had almost 700 yards of his own.

If the Packers rely heavily on their shell coverage approach, as they did against Mike Evans and Tampa Bay, in order to keep everything in front of them in fear of getting beat downfield, that can create easy pitch and catch opportunities, as we saw that week. The Packers were without Alexander in this game.

Alexander was very good in his return last week against Chicago, and this includes pre-snap, communicating and getting everyone lined up correctly.

Even with Alexander, this matchup against the high-powered Cowboys’ offense will be a challenge for the Packers’ defense. But without him, the dynamic of the secondary very much changes and may require the game plan to be altered on the fly this week.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire