GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers made two significant changes to their lineup for Monday night’s victory over the Detroit Lions. At least one of them might stick.
In the secondary, rather than going with Jaire Alexander and Kevin King at cornerback and Chandon Sullivan in the slot – the primary grouping not only for Week 1 but most of last season – defensive coordinator Joe Barry replaced Sullivan with first-round pick Eric Stokes and shifted King into the slot.
That was a new domain for King. According to Pro Football Focus, he had played 101 snaps at that spot in his first four seasons combined. Against the Lions, he played 22 snaps in the slot – three more than the entire 2020 season.
The results were encouraging to coach Matt LaFleur.
“I thought Kevin, especially when he played inside – he hadn’t been doing it very long, so there’s definitely some teachable moments and some things that we definitely have to clean up – but I thought, by and large, when he was inside, I thought he did a really good job. I thought Stokes coming in on the outside, he competed and had multiple pass breakups. I thought putting Kevin inside was good for us.”
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According to PFF’s best estimate of coverage responsibilities, King gave up only one completion for 8 yards in 16 coverage snaps from the slot. However, LaFleur indicated the first touchdown of the game was on King, not Stokes. Before the snap, Stokes signaled and safety Darnell Savage told something to King. Stokes and King wound up doubling Amon-Ra St. Brown, leaving Quintez Cephus all alone in the end zone. Stokes was the only defender in the vicinity. When Cephus caught the ball, Stokes’ body language suggested there was a communication error.
“There’s different versions of that coverage that we play that have different rules when you’re in the field vs. down in the red zone,” LaFleur said. “I just think it was one of those deals where you just, obviously, we’ve got to work it more and put our guys through those situations more so we don’t have that because you can’t give up uncontested catches like that where a guy’s wide open. You’ve got to have everybody on the same page so you don’t give up those cheap ones.”
The beneficiary of the lineup change was Stokes. After playing just eight snaps in Week 1, he was on the field for 44 of 57 snaps (77 percent) on Monday and broke up two passes. PFF charged him with only one completion – the touchdown that really was King’s fault. He had excellent coverage on two fourth downs. It was a superb performance that bodes well for the long-term potential in the secondary.
The other change was at left guard, where Jon Runyan Jr. got the start ahead of veteran Lucas Patrick. Patrick suffered a concussion on the final offensive play against New Orleans. After not practicing on Thursday or Friday, he returned on Saturday and was listed as questionable.
Runyan, who was beaten out by Patrick in training camp, played well aside from giving up when he was late on a stunt.
“It’s going to be a competitive situation throughout,” LaFleur said. “Runyan practiced all week and we felt comfortable with him. We felt it was probably best for Lucas long-term, as well, to only use him if absolutely necessary just to kind of let him rest another week. We decided to go with Runyan early in the week. We’ll look at it on a week-to-week basis. We’re always trying to get the best five out there.”