The Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers meet this Sunday in a showdown between 1-0 teams that, based on the squads’ performances in Week 1, could prove to be among the games that will decide the 2019 NFC North champion. The Wisconsin-based team gained an advantage in the divisional games, beating the Chicago Bears, 10-7, in the opening Thursday.
It was the defence that impressed in the game at Soldier Field as the unit limited Chicago to only 46 yards on the ground. That could be a threat to the Vikes’ most effective offensive strategy of their win over the Falcons when, led by Dalvin Cook, they rushed for 172 yards.
The Packers front seven was also very strong and even if Kirk Cousins is forced to throw the ball more, and if the OL hasn’t stepped up from last year, the former Redskin will be constantly under pressure. He’s managed to put up great numbers even behind bad offensive lines in both Minnesota and Washington, though.
And while we’re on the topic, the Vikings defence had a notable performance last week. Against the Falcons, who always have a high-scoring offence, Minnesota orchestrated three takeaways – 2 interceptions and a fumble recovery.
Despite Matt Ryan throwing for over 300 yards and 2 late touchdowns, the offence didn’t have their day until the fourth quarter, when Atlanta was trailing by four scores on the road. Julio Jones was held to just 31 yards on 6 receptions, while Devonta Freeman was unrecognizable with just 19 yards. In a season when Ryan has even more weapons and Freeman is healthy, the Vikings defence put on the usual clinic for last year’s 4th-best total defence.
Marquez Valdez-Scantling was Green Bay’s top receiver in Week 1. Considering the expected strong Rodgers-Adams connection, and the still absent consistently effective running game, the second-year WR out of South Florida is expected to be targeted even more often than the six times in the opening game of the season. Adams will face tough coverage by Xavier Rhodes, sometimes even double coverage, which will open up the field for Valdez-Scantling, who had 13 yards per reception last Thursday.
Look out for the Packers to blitz in the early part of the game. If the OL’s clinic was a fluke, Cousins will need to release the ball quickly under pressure. We’ve not seen Diggs in a role different from the wideout too often, and Cook isn’t very explosive catching from the backfield. Then again, he had only 51 receptions coming into what is expected to be his healthy and breakout season.
If the Vikings front five holds steady, as they did last Sunday, expect Packers DC Mike Pettine to rely on man-on-man 4-3 defence in order to more effectively defend through-the-middle pass attempts within 10 to 20 yards. When I say effectively, I mean very effectively because once the O-Line settles, the Dalvin Cook Show continues.
The linebacker trio of Green Bay, starring Blake Martinez, who also had a good game against the Bears, is strong so Cook will run between his linemen. Remember, the Packers defensive line is a tougher challenge to Minnesota than Atlanta was.
And lastly, Jimmy Graham, a tight end good both blocking for the ball carrier and catching even deep throws, was constantly questionable before last week’s game. However, not only did he play but he showed great signs, catching the only touchdown on a throw by Aaron Rodgers. At his best he could get Travis Kelce-type of usage and make the offense even more complex.
Last year’s Week 2 game between these two sides treated us to the second of two ties during the 2018 NFL season in game with three missed field goals – one by Mason Crosby and two by rookie kicker Daniel Carlson. They proved to make the difference between the Minnesota Vikings and a playoff spot. Even with enormous expectations for all four teams in the NFC North division, Week 1 justified what we expect to be a very competitive division.
The NFC North plays AFC West and NFC East in inter-division games, which means that there are almost no guarantees for any team. The easiest game any of the four teams could get, the Lions’ matchup in Glendale, ended in a tie, removing any kind of schedule advantage Detroit could’ve hoped to have.