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What we learned about the NFC North Monday Night

Despite what the silver-lining sect of Vikings fan will tell you, there was a lot on the line Monday Night in the second match-up between the Vikings and Packers. While the Vikings most likely would’ve ended up with the sixth seed regardless, that doesn’t mean that the game didn’t have a potentially massive impact in terms of what we know about these teams, and it turns out we learned things that some of us knew all along.

So, let’s take a look at what we learned from Vikings/Packers II – This Time it’s just plain Ugly Football.

In the build-up to Monday Night’s game, I essentially double-downed on my article from the week preceding the first Vikings/Packers game way back in Week 2. Back then, I wrote an article titled ‘Despite the Hype, the Vikings have Nothing to Fear in Aaron Rodgers/The Packers’. In the subsequent article from last week, I mainly relied on an article from LombardiAve.com (a pro-Packers website, obviously) as for most Packers fans, once they see that an article is from our network they write it off as pro-Vikings propaganda (just like I seemingly did for LombardiAve.com).

The difference here is that I meant to do that, because I intended to make a point of that concept. Sure, I am biased and my bias lies with the team I cover, that’s an inescapable truth. That doesn’t mean, however, that everything I say is immediately wrong (that is, unless I’m placing bets, then as the good people at online betting sites like the Netbet casino site know, I’m putting people’s kids through college). On the other end of the spectrum, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything negative that someone on a site like LombardiAve.com says about Rodgers is true, either. The truth like in all things lies somewhere in-between.

The truth here is that clearly Rodgers isn’t the same quarterback he was at his peak. You can look at that either in terms of his individual performance, or the performance of the team as a whole. Both show a steep decline in terms of output which doesn’t mean that Rodgers is god awful or even kinda bad, it actually means that he’s still pretty damn good, because 75% of ‘The Best Quarterback on Earth’ is still, again, pretty damn good.

But it’s that reality that shows that despite a defense that can be elite like the defense we saw last night in US Bank Stadium, this Packers team is simply not going to be a contender because Aaron Rodgers isn’t playing at an elite level. There were multiple bad throws on display Monday Night from number 12, and they were all bad in different ways. Some were overthrows, some were thrown behind the intended target, some were thrown way over the top of them. The 2010 version of Rodgers would’ve beat this Vikings team by 21-points. Period.

It’s because of that, strangely, that the Packers won’t make any hay in the post-season because the battle for the top spot in the NFC is going to be difficult and it’s going to take damn near perfect play from the top six quarterbacks to get there. The reality is that that first half of football was sloppy and downright ugly Monday night, and the sort of mistakes that the Packers made in the first half aren’t the type that a team should typically be able to rebound from. That brings up the other side of things in the Vikings and their inability to bury the Packers despite the fact that they were handed this game yet again.

I’ll make this as clear as possible (even though people will still interpret it as if I’m speaking Japanese). I am saying this solely as a theoretical concept and for effect. BUT, if someone told me that one of the Vikings coaches was losing big games on purpose because otherwise, aliens would take over planet earth, I’d believe you. Maybe not the aliens part, but definitely the losing on purpose part.

Why?

Because in big spots this season this Vikings coaching staff has continued to get TOO CUTE, something that I’ve talked about on almost a daily basis on my show, purpleUPDATE Live! What does that mean? Essentially, it means that the coaches go away from what the team typically has done, or more specifically, has done successfully, for something else that instead and increasingly has not worked for this team namely on offense.

The last three losses this team has had, against the Packers, Seahawks and Chiefs, all had the Vikings playing a completely different style of offense than other games like the Cowboys, the first Lions game, the Eagles, the Giants, Raiders, etc. It was in those games that the Vikings ran the fewest 11 personnel packages of any team in the NFL, instead opting for more heavy personnel packages that included two tight ends. It was in those packages that the Vikings ran more play action roll outs, bootlegs, etc.

In the Packers game, the fact that they didn’t run those types of plays became increasingly maddening as Packers defensive end Za’Darius Smith had a career night going against Riley Reiff who had limited to no help all night. As we saw against the Chiefs, who were down two of their five offensive linemen and going against the two players who were, at the time, number one AND two in the league in terms of QB pressures, chipping a defensive end can have an incredible impact (or negate incredible impacts).

Had they run more heavy personnel they could’ve had one or two tight ends helping Reiff out. But nope, even on the late touchdown (that was called back) to ‘Bisi Johnson, Reiff was yet again left to his own devices against Smith, who ended the night with 3.5 sacks.

Beyond that, though, the fact that this team’s coaching staff has yet again shown that it has no faith in its amazing playmakers that really should make you scratch your head until you feel brains. Sure, they were down their RB1 and RB2, so running play-action plays would be a lot harder. But that doesn’t mean you don’t do them at all! The same goes for screenplays. The best way to explain that is to say that if Monday Night Football color man/the internet’s best friend, Booger McFarland is saying “Maybe try running a screen?” deep into the second-half, maybe you’re doing something wrong?

Granted the next play was a screen and it went nowhere, but it’s astounding that the Vikings yet again went outside of what they’ve been incredibly successful at in a huge game. They essentially allowed the absence of Cook and Mattison to impact the entire offense in basically an exponential way. It was always going to hurt that they were missing, but the reality is that they let those injuries hurt the offense by running next to zero of the types of plays that they’d used to such great results.

It’s harder to run play action when the defense doesn’t respect/fear the running back. But it’s not impossible? Sure, the defense might not bite, but you still have the best two wide receivers in the game running routes for you, with a third that showed he’s no slouch on a late touchdown that was called back because, you guessed it, Riley Reiff was left to block Smith one-on-one yet again so he held him so Cousins could have enough time to get the double pump off.

Beyond that, there were no apparent changes in-game. After the Vikings offense stalled in similar fashion in the first half against the Broncos, Stefanski and company decided to come out in the second-half guns a-blazin’, running an uptempo defense that tired out the Broncos defense in the thick air of downtown Minneapolis. There was none of that until it was too late to matter. Despite the fact that the Vikings were leading going into half-time the crowd started booing thanks to the lack of apparent urgency from the Vikings offense when they had the ball deep in their territory with about a minute left to go.

What’s even more infuriating is that they still essentially don’t know what they have in Kirk Cousins, a full 31 games into his tenure. It’s easy to say that he is a QB who beats up on bad teams but shrinks when the light is the brightest because the team, again, almost does that by design. We have yet to see the Vikings offense play straight up against a good opponent this season. We have yet to see the Vikings enforce their will and say that they’re better at doing what they do best than the other team is at stopping them. Instead, they focus on spread offenses, shotgun passes, strange trick plays on third-down (followed up by deep balls on fourth and short), and a game plan that is as bad as it is a sign that these coaches have no faith in this offense.

While that may be an indictment on Kirk, I don’t think that they mean it that way (either consciously or subconsciously). I think that they truly believe that they’re outthinking their opponent, but I do think that the players have to think (consciously or subconsciously) that their coaches have no faith in their ability to just straight up outplay the opponent. That sort of stuff matters, especially this late in the season. But because the Vikings have yet to play their game against a good opponent I have zero faith that they’ll somehow figure out that it’s better to lose playing your game than to lose by allowing the other team to dictate what game you play.

That’s not to say, again, that the Packers are an elite team or an elite defense that should garner this sort of gameplan. This Packers team and Rodgers more specifically gift-wrapped this game for the Vikings Monday Night, but the Vikings simply weren’t home so instead the gift was stolen by the porch pirate that is the Packers mediocrity. Mediocrity meaning Rodgers’ 65% completion rate on 26 of 40 passing for a pedestrian 216 yards, zero touchdowns, and a pick.

While their records and post-season representation may imply that the NFC North is just a tick behind the NFC West in terms of the quality of these teams and their subsequent chances in the playoffs, we learned essentially that neither are going to go anywhere come January, albeit for different reasons. If you’re still not convinced let the following information help circle that square; the Vikings offense had 139 TOTAL yards Monday night, that’s good for 2.6 yards per play (which is the third-worst offensive output this year across the ENTIRE NFL!), 7 first downs, 8 punts and the offense only crossing into Packers territory on its own ONCE.

That’s so bad that it can’t just be on one player. It was the result of a failed game plan that the Vikings offensive coaches couldn’t fix. You’re telling me that the Vikings have this roster (with or without Cook or Mattison) and the mind of Gary Kubiak, and this is the result? There has to be something or someone else going on and at this point, I’m pointing at Stefanski because this game was not designed to exploit Cousins’ strengths, it was almost by design set up to do things that we’ve seen time-and-time again just simply DON’T work.

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started purplePTSD.com back in May of 2015 and has talked Vikings online since the advent of the internet, namely on Reddit's /r/MinnesotaVikings section under the username p_U_c_K. He purchased VikingsTerritory.com before the 2017-18 season, used to write for VikingsJournal.com and is the host of the purpleJOURNAL Podcast, as well.

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6 Comments

  1. So both teams are bad, since the Vikings offense sucked? Wouldn’t that mean Green Bay’s defense was GOOD? To hold one of the statistically best offenses in the league to 139 yards?

    Also, you can’t say the Packers offense is bad because they put up 23 points in a game with 3 turnovers, when up to that point they had 9 turnovers in 14 games.

    Wait you failed to mention is that Green Bay is a legitimate contender, even without Rodgers playing out of his mind.

  2. Color me eternally optimistic. Is it possible that with so many factors out of the Vikings control for changing their playoff position that they used this game, and the upcoming Bears game as an opportunity to try things out for when they get into the playoffs?

    I do believe they would prefer to be the 5 seed and go against the Eagles. But with the playoffs locked in after the Rams loss was it worth it to beat the tar out of the offense, defense and special teams while also hoping that the 49ers or Seattle would lay 2 eggs in the last 2 weeks to get there? Or is it best to not overextend any of those 3 phases of the team (like almost happened to Barr and Kendricks) just for the possible opportunity?

    Maybe I’m just in a mental reframing mode to justify the loss. But how many times do you see teams beat the living crap out of themselves in the regular season just to get into the playoffs like a Rocky Balboa thinking that if they make the playoffs or 5th seed they will somehow muster that second wind to beat their nemesis in those last 7 rounds like in the movies. Which rarely seems to happen outside of the theater. I am looking at it as they weren’t throwing the game, but they weren’t hell bent on winning it when it could be used as real time practice for second stringers who don’t get many reps in practice, let alone real game experience.

    Maybe it is possible that the coaching staff put their ego in their pocket(s) for the health of the team, real world reps for second string, and chance to try things they would not have a real chance to try otherwise. Not that they enjoyed losing. But why kill yourself when the post season has already been clinched?

  3. I don’t think so. They had a chance, be it small, to get a home playoff game. You would never throw that aside. The Lions are not good, but division games can be different.
    I agree with Joe… it was a bad gameplan. They didn’t show any confidence in Boone, or Abdullah. And it didn’t seem like they made adjustments.
    I don’t know… but all these NFC teams have had a game like this. Maybe not SF, but I recall NO getting whipped by the Falcons, GB by SF and LA. Seattle just got kicked by Arizona. And philly or Dallas had way more than one or two. So just call it what it is… bad game. A lot of overreacting, it’s the way these days. Maybe it was good for them… make them realize they have to be better, much better. That’s what I’m hoping.

  4. So the packers wont win because rodgers had a mediocre night? Seems aaron jones did enough to make up for it. Your or fanboy ignorance is really not a great look.

  5. The Vikings would NOT have most likely ended up as the 6th seed had they won. If they beat the Packers all they had to do was beat the Bears in week 17 and the 5th see was theirs. They only needed to win and have either the Seahawks or 49ers lose or tie in week 17 and they played each other so that part was a guarantee. The 5th Seed would have meant going to the Eagles (or Maybe Cowboys) instead of the Saints now most likely. Both the Seahawks and 49ers lost before the Vikings played so it was already known that winning out meant 5th seed, but they failed to show up and are the 6th seed no matter what happens now. It will be a tough road now but they have a spot in the playoffs!

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