As is the case every week, but is particularly true this week, the enemy is the Green Bay Packers. The outcome of Sunday night’s matchup will give one of the two teams an early boost in their bid for the NFC North which makes it a very important one on the schedule.
A lot is going on, no doubt, with the quarterback situation and the new stadium… but make no mistake about the goal being the same as it has ever been: Beat Green Bay.
We invited back our old sparring partner, Packer Ranter, for a quick Q&A session with this idea that we’d have a little fun while also learning something about the 2016 version of the Green Bay Packers. I agreed to answer some of their questions, as well, so be sure to keep an eye out for my answers over at Packer Ranter.
Details have slowly emerged on what happened with Josh Sitton, which are probably the most waves Ted Thompson has made in years. The Packers should be able to minimize the impact of the loss with the current depth they have on the roster, unlike last year when every lineman decided to get hurt at the same time. The happiest guy on the team is probably David Bakhtiari, as he should cash in on the money that is saved (For the record, I wrote this on Monday. My sources deep within Lambeau Field tipped me off.). The newly configured line played well against Jacksonville, and the newest addition, Lane Taylor, did fine, especially in the run game. There were some communication issues with Aaron Rodgers and center, JC Tretter, that will have to be corrected this week, as it will likely be loud at State of Minnesota Billionaire Entitlement Stadium. Obviously, the Vikings’ front seven is not the Jaguars’ front, but I think the line will be up to challenge. Rodgers will use a lot of silent counts, and I expect them to try to get Eddie Lacy going early and often. He may have lost weight, but he still is a large, large load to tackle.
I think the rust from not playing in the preseason definitely showed for Rodgers and Nelson, as well. There were some glaring miscommunication issues that are a byproduct of those two not playing together for over a year and half. This was also the case with Rodgers and his new center. Correcting this will come with time. I expect Rodgers to spread the ball around more this year as the season progresses and as he develops a little more trust with the guys on offense. This past Sunday eight different receivers caught passes. If Aaron Rodgers can work through his phobia of throwing to guys not named Nelson and Cobb, he should return to form and put last year’s substandard play in his rear-view mirror. This coming Sunday, I would expect a balanced run vs. pass game plan. That’s pretty clichéd, but I think they want to feed Lacy and see how he can handle a heavy workload when it’s not 114 degrees.
The Packers’ “bend but don’t break” philosophy was on full display Sunday. It’s just how their defense operates. Opponent’s yardage stats seem gaudy, but it rarely follows on the scoreboard. Robinson, Hurns, and Thomas are an excellent threesome but combined for only one touchdown. The Packers had three sacks, four QB hits and an interception. Early on, Quentin Rollins struggled and was replaced by Ladarius Gunter but Rollins came back and closed out the game after Sam Shields left with what was now diagnosed as a concussion. Shields likely won’t play on Sunday, but the strengths of their secondary are the depth and the versatility. That is also the case for the Packers’ pass rushers. Depth that had been lacking in the past, has now become a strength. Honestly, and this truly is not meant to be a slam, the Vikings passing personnel isn’t the Jaguars. With the uncertainty at QB (QB controversy!), the lack of any contribution from Laquon Treadwell, I don’t think the Packers’ secondary or the pass rush will be a concern against the Vikings. Adam Thielen terrifies me though, not as a player, just as person who lived in Mankato for a period of time.
I’d say confident is fair. However, I wouldn’t say there are zero concerns, or maybe challenges is the right word. I think Stefon Diggs is a special talent, and even Shaun Hill was able to get him involved against Tennessee. Also, Adrian Peterson is always a threat, as I believe tales of his demise are greatly exaggerated. In the past, Mike Zimmer has a done a good job against Aaron Rodgers, on the other hand, Eddie Lacy has picked up the slack against Minnesota. That said, there’s nothing that is “scary” about this match up, as I’m sure you would say the same about the match up against the Packers. Personally, I think claiming anything is scary, or the opposite that everything is perfect, in Week Two, is usually an overreaction.
I would say Mike Zimmer gives his team an advantage on Sunday. The reason being is that he has such a grounded and realistic worldview. “We need to beat them a lot more often for it to be a rivalry.” That quote really says it all. He makes sure his team knows where they stand in the pecking order.
The three receiver sets is just what they do. Even though he adamantly says, “We’re going to run the football”, I think Mike McCarthy would throw every down if he could. While I don’t think one and two receiver sets hurt them, I think in McCarthy’s mind three receivers just give him and Aaron Rodgers the most options. So, yes, I think they will continue to spread it out. That said, Randall Cobb played out of the backfield on 14 snaps last week, so even though he is a slot receiver, he’s not always on the field as a receiver. I did find it surprising that the Packers didn’t utilize Jared Cook more and have some two tight end sets with him and Richard Rodgers. Maybe more to come on that front.