Vikes at Pack Preview: Beware the Wounded Quarterback

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.  

The Vikings travel to Green Bay on Sunday to take on the Packers at Lambeau Field in the latest installment of this great rivalry. The rivalry might not reach the longevity of the Packers versus Chicago Bears (they have played 197 games), but it certainly matches in intensity. Just ask one of the newest members to the rivalry, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“Yes, first game in the NFC North,” Cousins said. “I grew up watching the NFC North in both Chicago and the west side of Michigan. It’s a great opportunity to join this rivalry and hopefully put my best foot forward and get off to a great start.”

Okay, so Cousins is new to the Viking-Packer and not yet fully up to speed on just how intense it is. He hasn’t been here that long. But Cousins is a smart guy and he seems to be picking up on it:

“I think that we feel it throughout the year as a player for the Minnesota Vikings,” he said. “In the offseason, you feel it. You run into people and you are going to hear a lot more about the rivalry of the Vikings and Packers or you are going to hear about your opponents in the NFC North more than you are going to hear about some team in the AFC that you may play once only every four years. I think that is when you start to feel it, and it starts to build. You realize how important it is for this organization, for our fans. Just the math of needing to win your division to get a home playoff game. I think the math would say we want to win our divisional games.”

And now, particularly at his position of quarterback, the rivalry is going to be even more heated, since linebacker Anthony Barr broke Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone last season (resulting in a rule change this season), and the Vikings went out and signed a new quarterback of their own. The position will be the focal point of the game, as Cousins is trying to take his team to the next level (they finished one game shy of the Super bowl last season without him), and Rodgers is just trying to get back on the field. In both cases, the defense will be keying in on the opposing quarterback and trying to disrupt them.

Last week, one of those two quarterbacks (Cousins) looked good in his debut with a new team, a new OC and a new offense. He wasn’t stupendous, but there was plenty in the game that offers hope that he will be in time. Meanwhile, the other QB (Rodgers), was exactly that.

Rodgers (like Cousins) inked a new, massive offseason contract, and then showed up on Sunday and added to an already legendary reputation by coming out of the locker room at halftime after injuring his knee in the first half and subsequently (on basically one foot—as some would have you believe) led his team to a comeback victory with three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. Cousins had two passes in the Vikings win, and didn’t garner all the headlines that Rodgers did.

“Very impressive,” Cousins said of Rodgers comeback win. “All the way around. The throws, the way he extends plays, the toughness he showed. No surprise. I found myself sitting on my couch as I watched, saying to my family and friends that I was watching with, ‘He is probably going to bring them back.’ Watching him for years now, knowing what he is capable of doing. Sure enough, he did. You’re really not surprised because you know what he is capable of.”

Kirk is still not quite feeling the intensity level of this matchup—he’s too nice to Rodgers. Perhaps head coach Mike Zimmer, who has been around here since 2014 and both beaten and gotten beat by Rodgers and the Packers (although the Vikings have won four of the last five games), knows what it is like when these two teams meet in a border battle.

“He walks on water, so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Zimmer said of Rodgers on a conference call with reporters at Lambeau Field.

That’s it. That’s the sarcastic kind of stuff that enflames the passions of this rivalry. Brett Favre playing for the Vikings; Anthony Barr breaking Rodgers collarbone and causing a rule change to be made; the Vikings winning the NFC North last season; the governor of Wisconsin writing “Go Packers” on a beam to be installed in U.S. Bank Stadium when it was being built—that’s what we are looking for because that is what it is—a no holds barred, no love lost NFC North, black and blue division slobber knocker.

Speaking of the new hitting-the-quarterback rule in which defenders are supposed to tackle a quarterback and not fall on them with the total weight of their body—a rule by which the Vikings defenders will be heavily scrutinized on Sunday because of Barr/Rodgers and the Rodgers knee injury—another new Vikings player, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, doesn’t really concern himself with it.

“I play football. I’m not going to be dirty,” Richardson told the Pioneer Press. “I’m going to play football. It’s aggressive and it is what it is. If you’re scared, go to church.”

The big question, then, is whether or not Rodgers will play with that balky knee, which (reportedly) has been called everything from a partial ACL tear to a sprain or bruised knee. The most likely case is that it is a sprain of the MCL and not a partial tear of the ACL because the team would not consider playing him if that was the case. Rodgers did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and anyone who knows this rivalry surely believes that Rodgers wants to play badly in this game. One way or the other he will be on the field on Sunday with his helmet.

But if does play, and his knee is injured worse than a bruise (a sprain, after all is the term for a partial tear of some ligament), his mobility could be hampered—and that would be taking away one of Rodgers’ most valuable assets, making plays with his feet and arm outside the pocket. But the Vikings defenders aren’t biting. They saw just how effective Rodgers was on Sunday night just sitting in the pocket and picking the Chicago Bears defense apart. They are preparing for Rodgers, immobile or on the run, when they meet at this Sunday noon.

“Actually, I don’t care about [his injury]; we know he’s playing,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. “We’re going to out and have a great practice today, execute our assignments and get ready to play Aaron. I don’t know if he’s mobile; I don’t know if he can play; we don’t know anything. So, we are just going to go with the game plan that he is running and go out there and execute our assignments.”

That would be the best way to play him after seeing Rodgers hobble around the field in the second half of the Bears game and still make plays. Perhaps, the Vikings will not have to spend so much time (or personnel) spying on Rogers for a potential run, and his injury might allow the Vikings to get after him in the pocket.

Although they better watch just how hard they hit him if they do get to the highest paid player in the league. When you factor together that he missed most of last season (due to the Purple), and the prospect has cropped up that he could miss time this season, the referees will be watching every hit on Rodgers in Lambeau, and discretion is going to be key for Minnesota in not giving the Packers penalty yardage.

That is simply it for the defense. Stop Rodgers and you will keep the Packers within striking distance. On the offensive side of the ball, this contest might be a good opportunity for Cousins to get further acquainted with his new team and deeper into the playbook. The Packers have worked in the offseason to rebuild a struggling defense from 2017 (22nd overall last season and 23rd against the pass) by drafting two new cornerbacks (Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, who played 70 and 66 percent of the defensive snaps, respectively, last week). Cousins isn’t going to take the possibility of playing against two rookies cornerbacks very lightly.

“You think of a rookie corner last year like [Marshon] Lattimore from New Orleans,” Cousins said. “While I guess he was a rookie; he played like a veteran and was a very good corner. Many times if you have great movement skills, great ball skills, you have a confidence about you. Whether you’re young or old, you are going to be tough to go against.

“Sometimes you get a veteran corner who you can fool because his eyes are in the wrong place or he’s playing with a technique that you can take advantage of. You just try to study their techniques, study their approach, what they like to do and then go out there and trust your eyes and follow your rules and try to throw the ball with accuracy.”

It is only week two, and the intensity surrounding this game is working toward a fever pitch. Usually these teams meet in Lambeau later in the year when the division title is on the line (and the weather is in Green Bay’s favor), but the current Kings of the North are fully aware of what is already at stake.

The Vikings can score on the Packers’ defense, but it will come down to whether or not they score more than Rodgers. Gimpy or not, Rodgers will get his. If the Vikings can get to Rodgers, they will win the game. Says here they will.

Minnesota-24, Green Bay—20