Key Matchups: Packers vs. Vikings- The War for the North

This piece will highlight some of the key matchups that will determine whether the Green Bay Packers will walk out of Lambeau Field this Sunday with a win.  

With a week 1 disaster narrowly avoided, and a historic comeback win obtained, the Packers now have their sights set on the defending NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings lone voyage to Green Bay this season.  This week’s contest certainly has a lot a stake for the Packers.  It will show us whether or not their defense is improved enough to make a run at the NFC North division title, as well as, whether or not Aaron Rodgers knee will be able to hold up for the rest of the season.  Simply put, these two questions will go a long way in answering whether or not the Packers will come out of Sunday’s game victorious and whether or not they will be a playoff team in 2018.  

Last week’s victory over the Chicago Bears did little to answer what kind of team the Green Bay Packers really are because of the extreme highs and the extreme lows that they experienced throughout the game.  We realize that the Packers are not as bad as the 20-0 third-quarter score indicated and most likely are not as good as the 24-3 way in which they closed out the game.  As a result, the case to find out who the “real” 2018 Green Bay Packers are, remains open.

One thing is for certain, in order to have a chance at knocking off the Vikings, the Packers cannot have these dumpster fire like moments where the world is seemingly caving in around them.  Instead, they must play a complete game, execute their game plan, and play fundamentally sound football for a full sixty minutes.  

Here are some key matchups that I believe will determine that outcome of this all-important week 2 divisional battle against the Vikings: 

1. How Will Kirk Cousins “Vike” his Crunch Time Performance in his First NFC North Divisional Matchup? 

The trademark owner of “you Vike that” certainly has not “Viked” how he has faired in big games throughout his career.  His propensity to throw catastrophic interceptions in big games has left many to wonder whether the Vikings overpaid to acquire his services.  Sunday’s matchup at Lambeau Field will provide Cousins with a chance to start his Viking career on the right foot in a high-pressure environment, in a divisional game, in front of a hostile crowd.  

I believe that Cousins will fair better in his first high-pressure late-game action at Lambeau Field because of the team that he has around him.  The successes and failures of the team will no longer rest on his shoulders which will allow him to play within himself and his system, preventing him from taking unnecessary risks down the field and forcing passes into tight coverage with the game on the line. 

2. Can the Packers Defense Stop the Vikings Main Skill Players? (Stefan Diggs, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph) 

The Green Bay Defense will be forced to hold up under fire from a quartet of skill players that can inflict major damage to both the outside and middle of the field.  In years past, the Green Bay defense was torched by both Stefan Diggs, Kyle Rudolph, and Adam Thielen because of their inability to contain big plays on both the outside as well as over the middle of the field.  Mike Pettine, to this point, has shown a change from the Capers philosophy by adjusting his game plan throughout the contest until the defense begins firing on all cylinders and proves that it can make consistent stops.  

It will be interesting to see how Pettine will integrate Oren Burks to the game plan (if he is active) and whether he will show more formations and sets with six defensive backs in order to contain the Vikings offensive firepower.  I could see Pettine using four, five, and six defensive back formations so that Kirk Cousins is forced to read a lot of different defensive looks.

I also expect Pettine to dial up some of his exotic blitz packages using Reggie Gilbert and Oren Burks up the middle and Clay Matthews and Nick Perry on the edges coupled with a safety. If Oren Burks is active I could see Pettine using a considerable amount of five defensive back sets coupled with the big three of Kenny Clark, Mike Daniels, and Muhammed Wilkerson upfront and a rotation of Reggie Gilbert, Nick Perry, Clay Matthews, Oren Burks, and Kyler Fackrell patrolling the inside and outside linebacker positions.  

I look for Reggie Gilbert and (if active) Oren Burks to be x-factors who will determine whether the Packers defense will be able to contain the skill position players of the Minnesota Vikings.  Gilbert showed his versatility in pass coverage last week when he prevented Tarik Cohen from getting an open red zone target in the games final minutes which held the Bears to a field goal allowing the Packers to complete their comeback victory.  Oren Burks has shown his versatility throughout the preseason by adapting to, however, his defensive and special teams coaches wanted to deploy him in their attacks and I expect him to be the situational swiss army knife of Mike Pettine's game plan.   

I believe that Mike Pettine will use Burks and Gilbert’s versatility in certain blitz packages and coverage assignments against Kyle Rudolph, Dalvin Cook, and Latavius Murray.  The hope with playing a five defensive back set is that Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs will be covered exclusively by either Josh Jackson, Jaire Alexander or Tramon Williams thus avoiding anyone on one matchup with the linebackers.  

3. Can the Packers Offensive Line do Enough to Keep Aaron Rodgers on His Feet? *or DeShone Kizer

Last Sunday Night, the Bears exposed the right side of the Packers Offensive Line for much of the first half.  They sent a variety of blitz packages at Justin McCray and Brian Bulaga.  They moved Khalil Mack primarily to the right side and exposed the inconsistencies of both players which almost cost Aaron Rodgers his season.  During the second half, both players were aided by the no-huddle offense and quick passes that Aaron Rodgers was able to execute in the pistol.  

I look for Bulaga to improve with more game reps and slowly shake off the rust from his layoff recovering from surgery, and I think that Justin McCray has shown enough to believe that he will bounce back and continue to improve as the season goes on.  The combination of more in-game repetitions, in season player development, and the incorporation of quick passes out of the no-huddle offense to the game plan will help the offensive line do just enough to keep Aaron Rodgers on his feet (if he is active).    

4. Aaron Rodgers vs. The Vikings Defense (The Stare Down With Anthony Barr)

If Aaron Rodgers is indeed able to suit up for Sunday Afternoon's matchup against the Vikings, one of the most intriguing and intense moments in the game will be his first encounter with Anthony Barr.  Rodgers tried to downplay the first matchup against the Vikings standout defender, but anyone that knows Aaron Rodgers knows that he has one of the longest memories of all humankind and nothing would give him joy quite like making a long touchdown throw with Barr baring down on him and breaking out the championship belt to remind him of where the king of the North truly resides.

Getting away from the animosity and back to the matchup at hand:

The matchup between Aaron Rodgers and the Minnesota Vikings defense goes hand in hand with the Packers offensive line being able to give him just enough time to stay on his feet and get rid of the ball.  Keeping Rodgers safe from further injury will be a joint effort between the Packers offensive line, the coaching staff, and Aaron Rodgers himself.  

The offensive line must do whatever it takes to avoid any free rushing lanes for the Vikings front seven as well as avoid having any traffic accumulate around Aaron Rodgers feet by keeping the pocket upright and secure.  I never advocate for playing sloppy football but the Packers offensive line must realize that a hold, a grab, or a push down is better than an uncontested shot at their franchise quarterback.  This game is all about Aaron Rodgers survival.  

The coaching staff must get creative in their offensive play designs as well as their formations so that Aaron Rodgers can make quick, safe throws which will allow the offense to develop a rhythm and allow them to deploy their no-huddle, 2-minute offense early which will help neutralize the Vikings vaunted pass rush.  I expect the Packers to provide Rodgers with extra protection out of the pistol by having some designed packages featuring Jamaal Williams and Marcedes Lewis to help with pass blocking in obvious passing situations.  

This could mean that Jimmy Graham could see some of his reps slightly decline in favor of pass blocking tight ends like Lewis and Tonyan.  I look for the Packers to try and incorporate a lot of high percentage quick release passes using slants, a variety of screens, and maybe even some RPOs.  The key to effectively moving the ball against the Vikings defense will be to consistently get completions and positive yards on first and second down so that Rodgers and the offense can develop a rhythm and execute the two-minute offense which will hopefully, help to alleviate the Vikings pass rush.  

Predictions:

Aaron Rodgers is active.

Minnesota's secondary shines.

Minnesota's defense creates a late turnover.

The Packers offensive line makes us sweat but does just enough for Aaron Rodgers to survive the Vikings pass rush.

The Packers receivers have limited success and a tough time getting open.

The Packers fall to the Vikings 21-17.       

 

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David Michalski is a staff writer for Cheesehead TV. He can be found on Twitter @kilbas27dave 

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Comments (33)

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Bearmeat's picture

September 15, 2018 at 01:32 pm

I hate to say it, but I agree. I think GB loses by a TD or so. I think the OL will be ok, but our secondary is very young. Unless we get a turnover from Cousins, I don't think we can score enough to keep up.

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Turophile's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:51 pm

One thing this piece doesn't really reference is the best matchup (for the Pack). The Packers D line against a mediocre Vikes O line.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

September 15, 2018 at 04:10 pm

The Vikings O line was mediocre before half of it went to IR. There is a big opertunity there for the Packers front 7 to effect the game.

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Bearmeat's picture

September 15, 2018 at 09:37 pm

And that, other than QB, is the only place where we have an advantage. I guess you could make a case for TE.

Like I said, we're going to have to get a couple turnovers. I think it can happen. I think it's more likely not to - and I'm hoping I'm dead wrong. It'll be a close game either way, and winning or losing in week 2 never means the end of the year.

Lotta football left, regardless.

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Samson's picture

September 15, 2018 at 01:43 pm

Great analysis. --- Nice to be able to read an analysis that's written by an informed fan/writer instead of all the "cheerleading comments" posted here.

The Pack will lose with a limited AR by about 7-10 points.
W/out AR at all, unfortunately, the Pack will lose by 2 TDs or more.

Before anyone jumps up & down, look at season 2017 w/out AR playing. --- Hundley was not a proven quality BU QB. --- Neither is Kizer.

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PatrickGB's picture

September 15, 2018 at 02:27 pm

Great article. And a reasoned take on the current team. However, this team has at times shown an unworldly ability to pull rabbits out of the football hat. On paper and when I take off my green and gold glasses, this current team probably will lose tomorrow. But my heart says that we pull this one off and win a close one. I am pinning my hope on the revamped secondary and inside rush to knock cousins off his game.

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GBPDAN1's picture

September 15, 2018 at 04:15 pm

We will get a push up the middle by Daniels and Clark in this game. The issue is will we get enough out of our OLBs to consistently set the edges and rush the QB. Will Clay be invisible and Perry mostly a non factor again?? If not, Pettine loses extra coverage by sending extra blitzing schemes.

With K. Mack : Packers win this game and the division and go deep into the playoffs.

Without Mack or great OLB play and a non mobile Rodgers: We might lose.

Positives; Our team will be fired up because of Minnesota taking out Arod last year and, because, its the Queens after all. We are at home. We have weapons on Offense. Our secondary is better this year.

Our Oline needs to be great. Ihope we win, I hate the Queens

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Tarynfor12's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:01 pm

All week long it's Packers won't lose,can't lose because,because,because and now it seems...do I really need to say it....OK, everyone coming down from the euphoric win last week back to Earth.
I hope the Packers win...I just hope they don't lose more than can be afforded for the win.

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Kb999's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:12 pm

I think this game really exposes our line backers. They can't win without a pass rush. If Cousins has all day to pass, we're in trouble.

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Skip greenBayless's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:21 pm

If you love defense and punters this will be your game of a lifetime. I am going to say this game has virtually no offense from either side. GB has the better punter and the loud GB fans will help out just enough. GB wins in a nail biter 6-3.

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henry113's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:30 pm

Well said Mr. David. Certainly a lot to chew on. I cannot see the Packers winning with a less than 100% Aaron Rodgers. His legs are a big part of his game. If he doesn't play, they have no shot.

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PackfanNY's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:57 pm

Some here are way to positive on Kirk Cousins. You know the Kirk Cousins who has won exactly zero playoff games. Of course the game will be close. If Rodgers plays, I'll stick with him over Cousins all day every day. Even on one leg. Just because someone pays someone a lot of money doesn't make him great. He'll make mistakes and Packers will win.

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PAPackerbacker's picture

September 16, 2018 at 04:06 am

Agreed. Cousins will see pressure and feel pressure. So will Rodgers but I'll take Rodgers skills and abilities under pressure over Coussins, every play, every game, all season long. Go! Pack! Go!

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Kb999's picture

September 15, 2018 at 03:58 pm

I think the Packers also need to send Dirty Anthony an early message.

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PatrickGB's picture

September 15, 2018 at 04:34 pm

I think that the officials will probably be keeping an eye on unsportsmanlike conduct. KB, as much as I want revenge, I would rather the play speak for itself. On the other hand, I would not put it past the queens to play dirty against Aaron. The queenie fans are already calling for it and bemoaned what they call the Rodgers rule. Landing full weight on the QB is now a penalty. They also claim that our Oline holds and that the officials are not calling the game properly. That’s BS. It’s like a “hug” and perfectly legal if they don’t grab outside that area. They only wish that their line was skilled enough to do it.

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Kb999's picture

September 15, 2018 at 06:58 pm

Patrick, I still have flashbacks of that dirty play and then listening to the announcers who justified it and said it was clean. Then having to watch Hundley for the remainder of the season. At least I don't have to watch him anymore.

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Lphill's picture

September 15, 2018 at 04:36 pm

I am a lifelong Packers fan from New York and have been to Lambeau , sorry to say but the Lambeau crowd is far from hostile saying they are loud is pushing it , the first Packers Bears game I attended there whenever I jumped up and cheered nobody around me did anything more than clap from their sitting position. Hopefully hey can step it up a notch being as it's the Vikings.

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PackfanNY's picture

September 15, 2018 at 06:09 pm

I too am from New York and I can totally agree with you. People in Lambeau and Wisconsin are some of the nicest people I have met. I have attended games at Lambeau for 10 straight years but I am amazed how quiet some fans are sometimes. Sunday night I was sitting in the end zone and an entire section of fans were seated during the fourth quarter. Personally I lost my voice when the Packers were on defense. Now its not everyone, the four guys (said they were from Wisconsin) in front of me who I met at the game were trying to get some people "up" during big plays. I get in some cases there are some older folks but the "Get Loud Lambeau" encouragement is needed. Hey, folks spend their money so they can "cheer" however they want. Some here may have noticed Trubisky did have to call a timeout at one point as he couldn't hear the play in his helmet. Advantage home team. Being loud is not rude or obnoxious when it helps the home team. It disrupts the offense. Hopefully the crowd brings it tomorrow!

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Tundraboy's picture

September 15, 2018 at 09:18 pm

They have it in them. Granted it was the 97 NFCCG, but that game was one of, if not the loudest game I have ever been to. Louder than the 6th game of the 96 WS and others I have been to.

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Lare's picture

September 15, 2018 at 05:14 pm

If the Packers lose, it'll be because of a lack of performance by the same two position areas that have plagued them the last few seasons- the OL and OLB's.

Unfortunately, the Packers won't be legitimate Super Bowl contenders until their management makes an effort to improve those two key positions.

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Turophile's picture

September 15, 2018 at 05:52 pm

Every team has weaknesses, Lare. For example, would you trade the Packers O line for the Vikes O line ?

You have veteran play at four of the five spots with the best pass-pro LT in the game and a veteran first round pick opposite him. Lane Taylor fit into that line without missing a beat and Linsley is solid at center. Backups could be better, but if they were much better they'd be starting somewhere else (see J.C.Tretter, the Pack couldn't afford to keep him as a backup).

That is because the need for NFL quality O linemen is very acute across all teams. There is no position (excepting QB) where demand outstrips supply by such a margin.

The OLB position is less comfortable, but will likely be addressed in 2019.

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Lare's picture

September 15, 2018 at 06:37 pm

Agree with you for the most part, but to me the real assessment of an OL is how they pass block and if they can keep their QB healthy. The Packers OL hasn't excelled at either of those areas the last couple seasons.

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Nick Perry's picture

September 15, 2018 at 06:57 pm

Off Topic....Josh Gordon was just released by the Browns. Unless he was cut loose for something that's going to get him suspended from the NFL is he worth signing?

IMO I say yes. I know, I know, the guy has been nothing but a nightmare but being a person in a 12 step program I believe giving a person a chance or in Gordon's case multiple chances. If there's no new issues I'd love to watch him catch passes from Rodgers. That dude is amazing!!!

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henry113's picture

September 15, 2018 at 07:18 pm

Nick, A talent like Josh Gordon got released for a reason. Lets not loose focus, We need "O" lineman & line backers.

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JonnieB12's picture

September 15, 2018 at 08:09 pm

Unfortunately I have to agree. I have not seen a reason why they released him yet but I would assume he relapsed or something along those lines. He is not the kind of player green bay signs so I don't see it happening but could you imagine a-rod throwing to a talent like josh Gordon??

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dobber's picture

September 15, 2018 at 08:13 pm

If he's not about to be suspended, he'll find a home in Dallas.

https://www.profootballrumors.com/2018/09/browns-will-look-to-trade-josh...

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PAPackerbacker's picture

September 15, 2018 at 08:16 pm

I think the Packers win this one in a fairly low scoring contest 20 -16. Cousins isn't a mobile QB and I think the Packers will get pressure on him because of the problems with the Vikings OL, force some errant throws, force a fumble, and maybe even an interception or 2. Rodgers will throw short, quick passes to his TE's and RB's, and quick slants to Cobb or some screens. I look for Graham to have a good day and maybe even Tonyan has a good game as well. Monty will catch passes out of the backfield and turn them into bigger gains. Then when the Vikings start to shut that down and the pass rush slows just a little Rodgers will go deep to Adams, Cobb, or Allison for a big gain of 50 yards or more Go! Pack! Go!

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Tundraboy's picture

September 15, 2018 at 09:20 pm

As much as I want to score on the Vikings, a lot, what I most want to see is us taking it to them on Defense all day. Turnovers, great tackling, hard hits and a take no prisoners attutude. Time to reassert ourselves and make Lambeau a place they hate once again.

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PAPackerbacker's picture

September 16, 2018 at 04:22 am

Well stated and I couldn't agree with you more. A good, clean, smash mouth defense will beat the Vikings at their own game and send a clear message that Lambeau is a fierce place to do battle.

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4thand10's picture

September 15, 2018 at 09:18 pm

Does anyone know who Minnesota is? Last year, playoffs, The Saints were going toe to toe with them and we’re going to win save for 1 crucial missed tackle on Diggs. The Eagles almost dropped a 40 (38 actual points) burger on that fabled, folklore “vaunted “ great queen defense while they only scored 7.

We’ve had one game to go on this season and it’s safe to say the 49ers are still a transitioning football team...

Green Bay is a transitioning team . But I wouldn’t consider the receiver core “rookies” ....Adams, Cobb and even Geronimo have experience. QBs.....Rodgers , if he plays, one leg or not is still a hands down better QB than Cousins. Good QBs beat good defenses...

If McCarthy gets his head out of his... and uses Graham as he should...he’s tough to cover. Chicago actually put all their focus on Graham...and that actually makes Adams , Cobb and Allison that much better. I can actually count Kendrick’s in an H back role LESS than a handful of times so I don’t understand the indication why he would be any good there. I personally think they might have been saving Lewis for this game. If Lewis is the same Lewis...he can block And push himself off the line to catch...he’s a good tight end, or at least he was all of his career. Hope he’s got gas left in the tank.

The big question is really....can this defense stop the Viking s run game and can the younger improved secondary Stop Rudolph,Diggs and Theilan.

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4thand10's picture

September 15, 2018 at 09:42 pm

Oh, and the Vikings lost their center....(a crucial position ) Pat Elflein. That can only help our defense....Cousins potential miscommunication with a new center...guess we’ll see what happens.

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Andrew Lloyd Peth's picture

September 16, 2018 at 06:40 am

Why doesn't Michalski think Keven King will be used against Diggs and Thielan?

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DavidMichalski's picture

September 16, 2018 at 11:01 am

I think King will be used all over, and matched up with a few different Wideouts at some point in the game. Was just highlighting some specific guys I could see in slot and outside matchups. I’d probably start Tramon against Diggs initially and King on the opposite side. But in 5 and 6 back sets I’d keep King on the outside especially if they moved Thielen inside to the slot. I personally would rather see King switch between Thielen and Diggs on the outside on the longer routes because I think it utilizes his skill set better in coverage.

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