The Vikings Need to Shut Down AJ Dillon to Beat Packers

Nov 14, 2021; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back AJ Dillon (28) scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It’s very difficult to win if the opposition can do everything. I know that Aaron Rodgers – doofus – is their best player; I also know Davante Adams will likely have Vikings fans everywhere pulling out their hair. To a certain extent, you have to live with these two finding some success. If I was defending LeBron in a one-on-one game, I’d try to merely contain him by taking away the 3 or by playing full-court defense (he’d win by a score of 100-2; I probably flopped so I could get to the free throw line). Similarly, the goal involves containing Rodgers & Adams. Slowing them down is good enough. The run defense, in contrast, needs to be stellar. The Vikings’ focus ought to be on completely shutting down AJ Dillon.

Aaron Jones will be missing this week’s game, and it’s looking like David Bakhtiari will as well. Obviously, that makes GB’s offense less dangerous. Even still, Dillon has been able to find success. Take a peak at this play from the Seahawks game:

Or this one:

Folks, Bobby Wagner is no slouch. He’s perhaps the only LB in the NFL who I’ll admit is likely better than Eric Kendricks. Dillon got the first down even though Wagner read the play well and hit his man behind the line of scrimmage.

The Vikings are surely looking at ways they can contain AJ Dillon. Currently, he is PFF‘s 7th-best RB. He has the 6th-highest running score. He has turned 97 rushes into 421 rushing yards, a 4.3 YPC average. Most people think of him as merely being a bruising runner, but he has impressive stats as a pass catcher. He has turned 18 targets into 16 receptions for 196 yards. That’s a 12.3 yards per reception average. For reference, Justin Jefferson has a 14.1 yards per reception average and Adam Thielen a 10.8 yards per reception average. Dillon, in other words, is sandwiched in between Minnesota’s elite receivers in terms of yards per catch.

In theory, Minnesota can match up. Anthony Barr will hopefully be back, and Eric Kendricks can cover anyone. The danger rests in Dillon catching the ball in space so he can get some momentum behind him. In that scenario, multiple Vikings will need to flow to the tackle.

No Michael Pierce means playing run defense is more difficult. Even still, there’s no excuse for how things have gone this year. Currently, the Vikings are allowing an average of 130.6 yards per game. That’s even after shutting down Austin Ekeler and Justin Herbert. Obviously, the Vikings will have their hands full with AJ Dillon. He presents a different challenge than the smaller, more elusive Ekeler.

To be successful, the Vikings need to get GB in third and long scenarios. That means successfully nullifying the run on early downs. Doing so makes GB more predictable. As a result, Zim can get creative with his blitzes, especially since he can feel relatively confident in Patrick Peterson being able to hold up in coverage most of the time. Plus, Harrison Smith and Barr offer great versatility. They can therefore be used to confuse Rodgers and his offensive line.

If AJ Dillon finds success on the ground, it’ll be a long day for the Vikings.