It’s week two in the NFL season, and Packer week comes early again this year. It came so early last year (in the second week) that the Vikings weren’t ready to win—or lose. Y’all recall that 29-29 tie in which future Oakland Raider place kicker Daniel Carlson missed three field goals (and two in overtime) to snatch a tie from the jaws of victory. That disheartening loss, which contributed to the Vikings missing the playoffs in 2018, still resonates and will be talked about quite a lot as the team heads to Lambeau on Sunday.
But the Vikings come into this year’s first matchup in a little better mindset after a dominating win over a quality opponent. Last season the Vikings knocked off the rebuilding San Francisco 49ers as they were expected to do—and the ship began take on water the following week with the dispiriting tie versus Green Bay. This year, the Vikings soundly defeated the Atlanta Falcons in all phases of the game and looked, for the first time, like this playoff team that some national prognosticators have been talking about.
Well, we’ll see. The Packers had a less dynamic victory in their 10-3 opening-week game in Soldier Field, but they put a much-improved defense on the field that manhandled the defending NFC North champion Chicago Bears on their home turf. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned from an injury-plagued 2018 season to play fairly decent despite being sacked five times by the Bears’ defense. He looked rusty after not throwing a pass in the preseason, but he should expect to have that rust knocked off for Sunday’s tilt.
The Packers don’t yet have an experienced receiving corps (other than Devante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham—who produced the only touchdown of the game), but Rodgers has been known to make household names out of new or fledgling receivers. The Packers running game, which features Aaron Jones, was almost as non-existent (22 team carries for 47 yards) as the Vikings passing game on Sunday. The Vikings didn’t need to pass, however, whereas the Bears defense didn’t allow the Packers to run the ball.
The Vikings defense set down the Falcons rushing attack on Sunday (giving up 73 yards on 17 team carries), so expect them to do it again on Sunday against the Green and Gold running backs.
Why didn’t the Vikings need to pass, you ask? Well, their running game, a particular emphasis of head coach Mike Zimmer during the offseason in both his coaching hires (Gary Kubiak and company) and acquisitions (a new offensive line), carried the day. The return of a healthy Dalvin Cook (21 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns) demonstrated just how good the Purple rushing attack can be—and how much pressure in can take off quarterback Kirk Cousins and the passing game.
As you all recall, Cousins threw just 10 passes against Atlanta, completed eight of them (including a nice strike under duress to Adam Thielen on a crossing route for the team’s first score) for 98 yards and racked up a nice little 140.8 passer rating. Such a box score, in most cases would indicate a loss, or, at the very least, a look back through a worm hole in the space-time continuum to the league of 100 years ago (the anniversary of which the NFL is celebrating this season). The bottom line is that if the now underpaid (I kid) $84-million man can’t manage that kind of workload, then guarantee him a ticket out of town at the end of next season.
Surely, one would think, that this kind of workload will change, however. The Falcons are supposed to be a better team than they showed on Sunday, so the Vikings deserve some credit for taking the lumber to them. But heading into Lambeau Field on Sunday (where the fans will have found their voice after a bad 2018 campaign) for a rivalry game will be a different matter.
The Packers have a new head coach in Matt LaFleur, who had his offseason squabbles with Rodgers, but they have since worked things out. But the biggest smile from A-Rodge after last Thursday’s game was defensive coordinator Mike Pettine who’s charges held the Bears to a mere three points.
The Packers are feeling loads of confidence in their new defense that includes a new found secondary thanks to the additions of rookie safety Darnell Savage and free agent safety Adrian Amos, plus younger linebacker play than they’ve had in the past. So, the Vikings may not want to test the secondary and may prescribe another afternoon of battering from Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison.
Don’t bet on it. The Vikings put that excellent ground game on tape and they still have a great starting group on the receiving end of things with Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, who inexplicably didn’t record a pass catch on Sunday (his only reception was called back due to a clip). It’s as if the team’s best weapons have basically been under wraps, and the Vikings will be able to call them up when needed this week.
They will run heavy, again (until the Packers defense, which held the Bears to 46 rushing yards on 15 carries, proves it can stop Cook and Co.), but the offense will definitely be more balanced on Sunday. It needs to be against a much better defense.
The key to the game for Minnesota will be to stop Rodgers (per usual). They benefitted from three turnovers and a blocked punt last week versus Atlanta, and they shouldn’t expect that kind of benevolence from the Pack at home on Sunday. But the Vikings pass rush sacked Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan four times and hit him seven times—and if they can do that to Rodgers, a quarterback who doesn’t want to spend another season limping around, they can disrupt his timing and get him off his game.
Get to Rodgers and grind out some early points with a balanced, run-centric offense and then milk the clock again with that solid rushing game and the game will go to the visitors. You know that is how the Vikings head coach would like to see. It’s only the second week of the season, but already the NFC North Division lead is at stake. The Vikings feel good about themselves after a dominating performance last week. Many of them will easily recall the bad memories from that season-turning tie and want revenge. They look like the better team here in the early going—they just have to go out and prove it on Sunday.
And they will.
Minnesota—20, Green Bay—17