Packer Week — Vikings Need a Win to Keep Momentum Going
The Vikings are coming off their biggest win of the season on Monday night against the 49ers, but it will be one step forward, one step back if they don’t follow it up with a win against the rival Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field. It’s an opportunity for the Vikings to get back to .500 with a favorable schedule on the horizon. But nothing has come easy for the 3-4 Purple, as all seven games this season have been decided by one score, and the Packer game should be no different.
Packer Week — Vikings Need a Win to Keep Momentum Going
Green Bay is 2-4 and coming off a difficult 19-17 loss in Denver when the Packers had rallied from a 16-3 deficit, but Jordan Love was intercepted on an underthrown deep ball with 1:52 left to effectively end the game. It was Love’s fourth interception in the past two games (losses to the Raiders and Broncos). Including the Week 4 loss to the Lions, Green Bay has lost three in a row, while the Vikings have won three of their last four games to get back in the playoff hunt (tied for the third wildcard spot and two games behind Detroit in the NFC North).
The Vikings can gain further motivation from last year’s 41-17 road shellacking by the Packers in Week 17 (after the Vikings had clinched the division). Kirk Cousins had four turnovers in that game (three interceptions and a lost fumble), and Justin Jefferson was held to one catch for 15 yards. The Packers rushed for 163 yards in the game (111 yards for Aaron Jones). It was Aaron Rodgers’ last matchup with the Vikings as the Packers QB after 28 previous games in the series (Rodgers wound up 17-11-1). Now, Love enters this fierce rivalry after the Vikings have battled Rodgers and Brett Favre since 1992.
Here are my keys to the Vikings winning in Green Bay to keep their momentum going:
1. Win the turnover battle for the third straight week and be better in the red zone: the Vikings are now minus 5 after having three takeaways against the 49ers. Their 14 giveaways are second most in the league, but they have only two in the past two games. The Packers are minus 2, and their five takeaways are tied for fewest in the league. Protecting the ball will be critical on a cool day, but the latest forecast is for no rain, which will be helpful.
The Vikings had to settle twice for field goals with a 1st-and-Goal from the 49ers 2 and 1-yard lines. They need to push the ball in the end zone in those situations (the Vikings have no rushing TDs this season).
2. Jump out to an early lead: The usually slow-starting Packers have been outscored 63-6 in the first half over the last four games. The Vikings have had problems with first-quarter turnovers, including the interception stolen from Jordan Addison by Charvarius Ward on the first series against the Niners. But Minnesota finally got into the end zone in the first quarter (for the first time this season) on the Cousins’ TD pass to Addison. An early lead is always good on the road to dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm.
3. Run the ball, and O-line keeps playing well with Risner in the lineup: the Packers rank 30th against the run, and the Vikings ran it decently against San Fran. Cam Akers deservedly got two more carries than Alexander Mattison last week, and that should continue, although Mattison did have the game’s longest run of 19 yards on the first play from scrimmage, so a rotation is still good, and the offensive line needs to play physical as they did against the stout Niners up front.
Dalton Risner should remain a starter ahead of either Ezra Cleveland (who is coming off a foot injury) or Ed Ingram. Risner adds a physical edge to the O-line that can help a group that is getting better as the season progresses and had their best game in several years against San Francisco. But Garrett Bradbury has had problems against the Packers and Kenny Clark in the past, so he needs to play well.
A solid running game will set up the play-action passing attack for the Vikings.
4. Cousins stays hot, keeps spreading the ball around, and no drops: Cousins was terrific on Monday night as he hit nine different receivers with Addison and T.J. Hockenson as his prime targets (18 catches between them). The Vikings also made a lot of difficult catches, so they hope the dropsies that plagued them the prior two games (against the Bears and Chiefs) are a thing of the past.
It will be a challenge in the passing game for Minnesota’s third-ranked passing game against Green Bay’s eighth-ranked pass defense, but Kevin O’Connell and Cousins will certainly test the Packers, and Cousins has had a lot of good games against Green Bay. Hockenson was effective in the last Packer game (7 catches, 59 yards), but he’s been limited in practice this week with a foot injury. He’s very much needed with Jefferson out for at least two more games (and Addison must get lots of targets as he is proving to be an outstanding rookie receiver).
The Packers’ Pro Bowl corner—Jaire Alexander—missed the Denver game and was limited in practice this week (back injury), and it will be a boon to the Vikings if he can’t play or is limited.
5. Defense stop the run and get after Love with Flores confusing Love: it helps the Vikings cause if Aaron Jones’ hamstring injury limits him or keeps him out (he’s been limited in practice). A.J. Dillon is a load, but the Packers’ offensive line has been banged up all season (Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari is on IR, and starting center Josh Myers is battling an ankle injury). The Vikings run D was terrific in allowing the 49ers only 65 yards and a 3-yard average for one of the NFL’s best rushing attacks.
Love can scramble, so the Vikings defenders need to contain him and stick with speedy receiver Christian Watson. Danielle Hunter leads the league with nine sacks, and he’ll face a lot of double teams, but he still got to Brock Purdy last week and should be schemed into some one-on-ones with DC Brian Flores’ blitzes, which will likely be a big part of the game plan (as usual) against Love and a shaky O-line this week. D. J. Wonnum has stepped up his edge rushing effectiveness in the absence of Marcus Davenport, and he should have lots of opportunities to pressure Love into sacks or interceptions.
Safeties Harrison Smith and Cam Bynum are playing well and need to continue to make big plays as Bynum did with his two interceptions, and the two of them did in forcing a Christian McCaffrey fumble on the 49ers’ first series. They also need to help out the Vikings corners, who can have problems in coverage, as we’ve seen this season.
6. Joseph gets back on track: Vikings kicker Greg Joseph was kicking great in the first few games, but he had two big misses on Monday night—an extra point and a 50-yard field goal attempt in the final two minutes that would’ve given the Vikings an 8-point lead. He also made a 54-yarder in the game, but he needs to be solid as he kicks outside this Sunday. And the Vikings allowed a 34-yard kickoff return, so it would be helpful if Joseph boots his kickoffs deep in the end zone to prevent returns.
The arrow is pointing up for the Vikings and down for the Packers, but it’s never easy at Lambeau, and the Packers will play hard with their season likely on the line as they can’t afford to fall to 2-5.
I feel the Vikings have a significant edge at QB with Cousins over Love, who likely will be bothered by Flores’ scheme and unsure who is rushing on a given play, along with having a shaky O-line.
I pick the Vikings to win 27-21 and get back to .500 heading to Atlanta.
Around the NFL Observations:
1. The Lions should get to 6-2 as they host the Raiders, who were just whipped 30-12 in Chicago. But Jimmy Garoppolo missed that game, and the Raiders starting QB is expected back this week. If the Lions defense doesn’t play a lot better than last week in their crushing defeat in Baltimore, the Raiders could pull off the upset in a league where there are major upsets every week (such as New England over Buffalo and the Vikings over the 49ers last week).
2. Other interesting Week 8 games include 3-3 Cincinnati coming off their bye with a healthier Joe Burrow going to San Francisco, and QB Brock Purdy is in concussion protocol after the Vikings game. Sam Darnold gets the start if Purdy can’t go. I think the 49ers bounce back with a win regardless of which QB plays.
5-2 Jacksonville (the AFC South leader) is at 4-2 Pittsburgh (second in the tough AFC North that has no losing teams, and I pick the Steelers at home). 4-2 Cleveland is at 4-2 Seattle, and Deshaun Watson is likely out again with a shoulder injury (he says he “can’t play a full game,” so does that mean you can play three quarters, Deshaun?). The Browns have the No. 1 defense, and Myles Garrett is a one-man wrecking crew, but I’ll take the Seahawks at home.
The teams with the best record in each conference at 6-1—the Chiefs and Eagles—should emerge victorious in divisional road games at Denver and Washington, respectively. But as I said, there have been upsets galore this season, so we’ll see what happens in Week 8.
3. This is the final weekend of games before the trade deadline. I expect plenty of moves on Monday and Tuesday before the Halloween deadline. I’d like to see the Vikings add a pass rusher (hard to count on Davenport staying healthy when he comes off IR, and there are several possibilities, including the Jets’ Carl Lawson and the Titans’ Denico Autry) and a veteran corner (Marcus Peters from the Raiders?) without giving up any high draft picks.
When the Vikings were 0-3 and 1-4, most everyone assumed the team would be sellers at the trade deadline, but now that they’re back in the hunt and coming off a big win, I think GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will be in buying mode if he can find the right deal.
Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl