Week 2 Preview: Can Packers Avoid Another Tie With Vikings?
League-wide, it seemed like teams were more willing than ever to rest their starters in the preseason this year. As a result, the prevailing narrative throughout Week 1 centered on sloppy play, struggling offenses, and a general lack of preparation among some of the league’s best and brightest.
The crown jewel of the NFL’s opening week schedule certainly didn’t help that perception. The Packers’ 10-3 win over the Bears last Thursday night epitomized the poor offense/preseason reps/should they have played their starters more storylines that defined the NFL’s first week.
If that was supposed to be the case throughout the league, the Vikings missed the memo. They absolutely destroyed the Atlanta Falcons in Minneapolis in their season opener, cruising to a 28-12 victory that was far less close than even the not-that-close-at-all final score would indicate.
Minnesota’s typically sharp defense hassled 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan into two interceptions, sacked him four times, and kept both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley more or less in check. Outside of two scrambles by Ryan, the Falcons managed just 49 rushing yards on 15 attempts.
The Vikings’ offense, meanwhile, barely missed a beat. Dalvin Cook’s 111 yards and two touchdowns came on 21 effortless carries while backup Alexander Mattison chipped in another 49 on nine runs. Such was the Vikings’ dominance that Kirk Cousins - he of the giant fully guaranteed contract - needed to attempt only 10 passes, completing eight.
These two different ends of the NFL spectrum will meet Sunday at Lambeau Field for a midday kickoff. It will be very intriguing to see which Week 1 narrative prevails.
If evaluating the on-field performances from Week 1 is hard, putting Week 1 stats into context is almost impossible. Sample sizes are so small that even a very impressive number means virtually nothing.
For instance, the Packers handily outrank the Vikings in DVOA, posting the third-best total in the league so far this year. But impressive though the number is, was it really a better performance than that of the Vikings, who handled Ryan, Jones, and Ridley quite easily? The Packers merely had to overcome Mitchell Trubisky, who, for all his talents, remains very much a work in progress.
It’s best to take these and all stats from early in the season with a grain of salt.
The quarterback stats are even more difficult to get one’s head around. Kirk Cousins threw so few passes that he doesn’t even qualify for the league leaderboard in several categories.
Rodgers’ numbers do give some pause, though. Adjusted for defense (the “D” portion of both DVOA and DYAR), his totals in Week 1 were still below average. This bears watching closely against another difficult defense.
Player to Watch
The Vikings boast playmakers at every level of their defense, but few members of their squad have made as many plays as Danielle Hunter.
A third-round pick in 2015 (88th overall), Hunter notched a nice, round 40 sacks through his first four NFL seasons, collecting his 41st in Minnesota’s season-opening win over Atlanta. Hunter is the perfect player to take advantage of mismatches generated by Mike Zimmer’s pressure scheme. 6-5 and 252 pounds with a great wingspan, Hunter overwhelms opposing tackles with his exceptional athleticism.
His path to productivity in the NFL could also be a reason for optimism for fans still worried about Rashan Gary’s college production. Listen to the latest episode of Blue 58 below for a full explanation.
What happened the last time the Packers and Vikings played?
The Packers and Vikings last played on November 25, 2018. In what would turn out to be the last road game of the Mike McCarthy era, the Packers actually started strong, scoring to take a 7-0 lead on their second drive of the game. Minnesota quickly responded, but the Packers fired right back, taking a 14-7 lead in the second quarter. Minnesota quickly tied again, then pulled away after halftime, building an insurmountable lead with 10 points in the third quarter. The Packers added a late field goal, but it was immaterial. The Vikings came away victorious, 24-17.
Who’s going to win?
One persistent theme screams to me from the stats we looked at for this preview: we can’t trust them. It’s too small a sample size to make big conclusions. With that in mind, it’s probably best to look closely at personnel matchups. In this game, I think there are two crucial ones to watch.
The first is Davante Adams versus the Vikings’ secondary, specifically Xavier Rhodes. The Chicago Bears threw waves of defenders at Adams, but Rhodes traditionally has attempted to cover Adams one-on-one. This has worked less well recently than in the past. Adams has scored a touchdown in each of the Packers’ last four games against the Vikings and has had fewer than 50 receiving yards just once. If Adams can put up good numbers again, it could be a big boost to a Packers’ passing attack that was anemic in Week 1. If Rhodes gains the upper hand, the Packers will desperately need another pass-catcher to step up.
The second matchup I’ll be watching closely is the Vikings offensive line against the Packers’ pass rush. I assume the Packers will be able to keep the game close enough that Minnesota won’t be able to run almost exclusively as they did against Atlanta. If they have to pass, the Vikings line will have to prove that it’s not the historical weakness it’s been. The Packers will be throwing pass rushers their way by the handful and letting Kenny Clark do work against the interior.
I think the Packers can win both of these matchups, and when they do, I think they’ll come out victorious. Put me down for a Packers win.
Packers 24, Vikings 20
Understandably, optimism around the Packers is up after the Week 1 road win against the Bears. The biggest takeaway from our weekly polls is how little the win affected the approval rating of head coach Matt LaFleur. Over 40 percent of fans are still feeling neutral towards him – perhaps another divisional win will earn him greater support.
One Last Thought
Roster construction is an interesting glimpse into the philosophies of NFL teams. They’ll always tell you what they value by what they keep on their initial 53-man rosters. For their part, the Vikings made one of the more interesting decisions in this area, keeping just four wide receivers on their initial 53-man squad. They’ve since added a fifth, but that’s a significant difference from the six the Packers kept initially. And even that total has grown, with Allen Lazard since getting a promotion from the practice squad. Clearly, these two teams value their pass catchers differently.