Here comes Border Battle #118 with the Packers and Vikings feeling pretty good about themselves after opening week wins. But we don’t really know what to believe. Is the Pack’s defense going to be that dominant? Is the offense going to take a while to figure things out? Are the Vikings going to be that strong in all three areas?
Week two won’t provide any solid answers, but the additional data will start to give us an idea what these two teams are all about. The Pack gets the advantage of an additional three days to rest up and prepare, but they won’t be bringing in the healthier team. Thursday’s injury report brought the unwelcome news that David Bakhtiari missed practice with a back injury and Jaire Alexander was suddenly limited with a knee.
Needless to say, if those two guys are limited or absent, the Packers will be in tough shape against a Vikings team that has had their number the last two seasons. Vikings fans love to throw out that it’s been 900+ days since the Pack has beaten them. Of course we all remember the game at Lambeau last season when Clay Matthews crushed Kirk Cousins, causing an interception that should have been the dagger, until the errant flag was thrown nullifying the play. Over the past nine meetings the teams are 4-4-1 and the last time I checked, Matt LaFleur is undefeated against the Purple.
All kidding aside, I expect both defenses to flex their muscles in this matchup. The prevailing question outside of Wisconsin this week (and maybe inside) is whether the defense has really turned a corner and is as good as it appeared in Chicago.
Most will point to Mitch Trubisky and say that the dude his hot garbage, so what did they really prove. The fact is, no one was saying the Bears would be contenders this season if only they had a QB. Yes, he appears to have limitations, and his development will go a long way in determining how far the Bears go, but he led the ninth ranked offense in just his first year in the system in 2018 and most expect this offense to be very good.
For the first time in forever, the Packers appear to have dominant players at all three levels, with Kenny Clark up front, Za’Darius Smith (and maybe Preston Smith and Blake Martinez) at linebacker and Jaire Alexander, Adrian Amos (and maybe Darnell Savage) on the back end. They’re faster, tougher and more athletic than recent Packer defenses and appear to have a firm grasp pf Mike Pettine’s system.
Task number one will be to contain the electric Dalvin Cook, who picked up on Sunday where he left off in the preseason. The Packers will need to be disciplined in their gaps and they’ll need to tackle as well as they did against the Bears. It’s safe to say Kevin Stefanski won’t have his QB drop back to pass on 80% of the offensive plays, as Nagy did last week. This Packers team is equipped to slow Cook down, which would keep Cousins from burning the defense with play action, where he is at his most dangerous.
The Vike’s dynamic receiver duo has been very productive against the Pack the past couple of seasons, but Green Bay has invested heavily in the secondary and I’m very interested to see how they do on Sunday. I’d expect the Vikes’ tight ends to be a bigger part of the game plan than they were in game one.
The interior of the Vikings offensive line was shaky against the Falcons, with Grady Jarrett abusing rookie center Garrett Bradbury and left guard Pat Elflein struggling as well. Kenny Clark is going to be a problem and I expect the Vikings to do their damage with Cooks bouncing plays outside.
The big question mark for me about this Packer team right now is the offense, which was kept in mothballs in the preseason and was extremely slow to get going in Chicago. Part of that was the defense, the stadium, the big stage. But Aaron Rodgers has talked a lot this week about being quicker to the line, quicker to get plays off. Yes, everyone is learning the new offense, but it’s time to kick off the rust and move the football. Aaron Jones has to be productive in this game, the guards have to play a whole lot better than they did in game one, and the other receivers have to step up, if the Vikes put a blanket on Davante Adams.
I expect LaFleur to move Adams all over the field, to keep Xavier Rhodes from shadowing him all afternoon. Adams has been productive against Rhodes in the past, but look for the offense to show a lot of wrinkles that they did not show in the opener. We’ll continue to see a lot of double tight end formations and I expect Danny Vitale to be a bigger part of the game plan.
After keeping Khalil Mack in check last week, Bryan Bulaga now gets tasked with trying to handle Danielle Hunter. That’s as tough a first two weeks as any tackle will have to deal with. Bakhtiari, assuming he plays, will have to deal with Everson Griffen who looked more like the 2017 version in the Falcons game. If Rodgers has time, and the running game is productive, he should find matchups he likes. With CB Mackenzie Alexander injured and Holton Hill suspended, the Vikes are thin and may need to call on Mike Hughes a week or two earlier than they had hoped, as he recovers from last year’s ACL.
I don’t expect the Pack’s offense to really hum for a few weeks and I think the defense will be asked to carry this team until it’s up to speed. Count me among those who believes Pettine’s crew is up to the challenge. Turnovers once again will make the difference and the Vikings’ modest win streak against the Pack ends–provided Bakhtiari plays.
If Bakhtiari is out, I’ve got to give it to the Purple, 13-10. I’ll have much more on this one on “Packer Preview,” Sunday morning at 7am on KFAN, or via podcast at iHeart Radio or iTunes, whenever you wake up.