‘Best’ cornerback tandem? Alexander, King ‘thrive,’ not ‘survive’ vs. Vikings stars

Bill Huber

In 2015, the Green Bay Packers selected Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins in the first two rounds. In 2017, they used their first draft pick on Kevin King. In 2018, they moved up in the first round to grab Jaire Alexander.

That’s a lot of resources poured into the cornerback position. Maybe that return on investment is coming.

King and Alexander turned in strong performances as the Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings 21-16. Afterward, Alexander spoke in the strongest possible terms about their potential.

“Me and him, shoot, the best tandem in the league, I feel like,” Alexander said. “Go watch the play-by-play. We strapped them boys up.”

For the most part, Alexander was matched on Thielen and King on Diggs. Thielen, who is the only visiting player with a pair of 12-plus catches against Green Bay, caught 5-of-8 passes for 75 yards. Diggs had a 49-yard touchdown but caught just 1-of-7 targeted passes. That's a combined six catches for 124 yards for a tandem that averaged 13.4 catches for 150 yards in each surpassing 100 catches and 1,000 yards last year.

“Those guys have got all the ability in the world to do that,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said. “They have the confidence and they have the people around them to help them be that. They will be that. These guys are the foundation around the league now. This duo can be deadly. Those guys, a bunch of confidence and we have a good defense to go with it this year. Those guys are going to show up and show out.”

They showed up on Sunday in the game’s biggest moments. On first-and-goal at the 8 with just more than 5 minutes remaining, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins booted right and tried to connect with Diggs in the back of the end zone. King used every bit of his 6-foot-3 frame to make a soaring interception.

“They were just running a boot play,” King described. “I saw Stefon run across the field. He had a step on me so I looked at the quarterback and knew he was going to throw it. I put my head down and tried to run to it and the ball was there.”

It was the second career interception by King, who played in only 32.5 percent of the defensive snaps his first two seasons due to injuries. He missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury but has been sharp in both games despite missing all of the preseason.

“It’s me staying on it and getting the mental reps,” King said. “Somebody asked me that last week. It’s my job. It’s my job. It was a lady who asked me that and my response to her was if she gets pregnant, she can come back and write a good article. That’s your job. This is what I do for a living, to feed my family. There can’t be no beats skipped or it will be next man up. If I’m not out there, they’re not waiting for me. If I would’ve taken a step back, they’re not waiting for. It’s a next-man-up league. We’re professionals. I have to make sure that I’m on point.”

On the next possession, Cousins went twice to Thielen. The first, on second down, went through Alexander’s fingers. “I think he tipped it,” Alexander said. On third down, Alexander had tight coverage and Cousins overthrew Thielen.

“Oh, it feels great,” Alexander said. “I mean, we’re putting everybody on notice. This is a really good defense. This is a really good secondary, at that. So we’re just putting people on notice.”

The 45-yard touchdown to Diggs will be charged to King. King said he wasn’t ready for the Vikings’ quick snap, which allowed Diggs to get behind him. Alexander zoomed across the field and almost made the play in the end zone but the ball beat him by a fraction of a second.

That touchdown pulled the Vikings within 21-16. Not counting the last drive that started with 6 seconds to play, Minnesota got four more possessions to score the potential winning touchdown but wound up with three punts and King’s interception.

Was that pressure?

“C’mon, man. You know by now what type of people we are,” King said. “That’s what we want. That’s our time to shine. We’re trying to thrive, not survive, when we’re out there. That’s more TV time for us to go get picks, for sure. That’s what we’ve got to do. That’s the mentality we have.”

Bigger challenges are coming, such as Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz in Week 4, Dallas’ Dak Prescott in Week 5, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford in Week 6, Oakland’s Derek Carr in Week 7, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in Week 8 and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers in Week 9. If Alexander and King are as good as Alexander believes, this defense will challenge to be the NFL’s best.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had his own set of strong words about Alexander and King.

“Going against them for a couple years now, you have to be very accurate and smart about the type of ball and type of air you put on certain routes, because they’re really good when the ball’s in the air,” Rodgers said. “Ja is fast – he’s faster than Kev – but he can really go and track the ball in the air. And then Kev is just so physical. I think the thing that separates them from maybe other corner tandems is the football IQ, just understanding route concepts and break points and tendencies.

“The best guys we’ve had here in my opinion with Tramon and the two other really stud guys we had, Al Harris and Charles Woodson, were the best at that. They just knew based on splits, alignments, situations, the one or two routes to expect. Al was obviously big and powerful and strong, and Kev is the same way. Long-armed, good in press, comfortable in press. And then Wood and Ja are very similar. I’m not going to compare them because Charles, in my opinion, is the greatest player I’ve ever played with and one of the greatest of all-time. The ability to diagnose stuff quickly, like Charles, Ja does. He’s got really good ball skills. And the thing that all great corners have is confidence. You’d think every NFL player has confidence, or every corner has confidence. But we’ve had some guys over the years when that big stud receiver was coming to town, they might not be up for that challenge. Not Jaire, and definitely not Kevin.”

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