As the Green Bay Packers prepare for the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs, Minnesota Vikings fans are left to sift through the rubble of one of the most up-and-down seasons in the history of the franchise. While it’s hard to praise the Packers for anything as a Vikings fan, we can learn a lot about the purple by looking at our hated divisional rival.
The Packers’ best in the NFL offense was boosted by arguably the best season of Aaron Rodgers’ career (which is saying something), but considering the structural/philosophical similarities between the Packers and Vikings offenses, I started to wonder what the differences between the two teams was.
I started by looking at the run/pass ratio of each team and found that both are strikingly similar.
That shouldn’t surprise anyone, as the Packers and Vikings have similar offensive philosophies. The Vikings have allowed Gary Kubiak to institute his Shanahanian style since 2019, where as the Packers’ head coach Matt Lafleur is an acolyte of Kubiak.
Both Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins ended the year with around 4,200 yards (with 4,299 and 4,265 respectively). Rodgers had 48 touchdowns to Cousins’ 35. Despite playing two less games the Vikings Dalvin Cook out-rushed the Packers’ Aaron Jones with 1,557 yards (and 361 through the air) to 1,104 yards (and 355 receiving yards).
That would be great if the other outcomes were the same. The Packers lead the league with 31.8 points per game to the Vikings’ 26.9. While that isn’t exactly a terrible outcome, if the Packers’ season proves anything it’s that Gary Kubiak’s system can produce an elite offense.
Or rather, Gary Kubiak’s system with the skill position players the Vikings have SHOULD produce an elite offense.
Rodgers is proof of that. After a pretty steady decline that started in 2015, Rodgers was thought to be a shell of his former self both before and after long-time Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was fired. That lead to the Pack drafting quarterback Jordan Love last April, which some said signaled the beginning of the end for Rodgers in Green Bay.
Despite not using that pick to add more talent beyond the elite Davonte Adams, the Packers offense has flourished while running the ball slightly less than the Vikings. Some Cousins detractors may point to his play vs. the MVP season that Rodgers had as the difference. It is, but not for the reasons they’ll say.
The Vikings were second in the league in terms of explosive plays on the ground, sixth through the air and first overall. The Packers were 19th, 5th and 10th. So again, what was the difference?
It’s pretty simple. The Vikings offense wasn’t allowed to air the ball out by design. There were games where they didn’t attempt a deep ball until late in the third quarter despite the fact that Justin Jefferson was increasingly uncoverable, Adam Thielen too, the emergence of Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin as well as Cousins nigh-immaculate post-bye play.
Part of that was strategic as the Vikings preferred long, methodical drives against better teams to keep their struggling defense on the sidelines. The other part seems strategic, in that Zimmer is so averse to risk that he creates more risk (by putting a ton of emphasis on scoring touchdowns on every long drive (otherwise, as we saw against Tampa Bay, the Vikings could dominate the time of possession but still be losing where it counts)).
Part of this has to do with the offensive lines poor play, as established in part 2 of this series.
But the rest?
Zimmer holding back this team on offense, while the defense succeeds despite him. If the above stats prove anything it’s that the Vikings should be the highest scoring offense in the NFL. They have every single ingredient necessary, save for the outcome.
That in and of itself is proof that this team needs a new set of eyes overseeing things. We can’t afford (literally) to waste any more time with Cousins deal, Thielen’s prime, etc. all just rotting on the vine because of the planned mediocrity enforced by Zimmer.
The striking similarities between the Vikings and Packers should elicit hope and excitement in Minnesota. Instead, it feels muted like the offense in a league that is offense first and foremost. If the Vikings put up these numbers considering the offensive line and risk averse risk creation?
Imagine what they’d be doing with LaFleur as the head coach. Don’t get me wrong, peak Rodgers is better than peak Cousins (or really peak… anyone). However, Rodgers was on the decline, as I covered last season.
While Rodgers deserves credit for his renaissance, LaFleur does as well. Again, if LaFleur (or Kubiak) ran the Vikings? 35 touchdowns would be the minimum from Cousins, who has four times as many great-to-elite receiving targets as Rodgers has in Adams.
I’d take Cousins and Jefferson/Thielen/Smith/Rudolph/Conklin/Cook over Rodgers and Adams/Jones. So, instead of wishing we had another QB, let’s take the reins off of the one that we have. The same one that is one of the most accurate passers in NFL history by the way.
While it’s encouraging to think that the Vikings are only a draft (with offensive guards taken before the 7th-round) and coaching change away from being the best offense in the NFL?
It’s actually just as hopeless, as Zimmer isn’t going anywhere anytime soon (the injuries on defense made sure of that). That means we probably won’t get the draft we want. Which means we’ve wasted another year of potential.