Early Bird Breakdown Week 2 – Vikings @ Packers
Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown. It’s the second week of the regular season and the Packers host to their rival the Minnesota Vikings. Before diving into the breakdown, let’s look at the recap for last week’s thrilling game.
Last week was, “The Tale of Two Halves,” and more thrilling than if Charles Dickens himself penned it. In the first half, Khalil Mack and the Bears defense laid into the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, who was 3 for 7 with only 13 yards in the first half before going down with what looked like a devestating knee injury. After Rodgers was carted off the field, Deshawn Kiser took over and looked overwhelmed. As Mack capped the impressive first half with a pick six, all appeared lost. Suddenly, Rodgers returned hobbling in the second half in shades of Willis Reed in the 1970s NBA fashion. He then proceeded to complete a legendary 20 point comeback, as the Bears defense was no longer able to contain the surging offense their offensive play calling began to fall apart as did the play of their young quarterback Trubisky. Rodgers slung it all over the field, going 17 of 23 for 273 yards in the second half and three touchdowns, leading the Packers to a 24-23 win.
Packers’ Offense vs Vikings’ Defense:
Rodgers may have returned in dramatic fashion on pain killers and adrenaline to beat the Bears but he is a game time decision still for the game. Even if he plays, the Vikings know he will not be 100% nor capable of making plays outside the pocket, instead having to rely on quick throws again which the Vikings likely were studying carefully in the film room all week.
If Rodgers was fully healthy, this would be quite the battle of strength vs strength. However, due to Rodgers health and the Vikings pressure up the middle of the offensive line, the Packers might need to lean on the defense and the run game to try and pick their spots to come out on top. Expect Randall Cobb in the slot and Jimmy Graham at TE to be the bigger targets this week, as Rodgers likely will need to make quick throws to the middle of the field when the openings come.
In the event Rodgers is not cleared to play or is pulled for risk of re-injury, do not expect much help from backup Deshone Kizer. Kizer may have upside McCarthy wants to improve down the line, but at the moment he is no where near talented or aware enough to overcome this Vikings defense.
Packers’ Defense vs Vikings’ Offense:
The Vikings offense will provide new challenges to stop this year as the Vikings upgraded at quarterback significantly from Case Keenum to Kirk Cousins. Cousins never set the world on fire at Washington, but he was one of the better quarterbacks and should give the Vikings a bit of a lift on offense. The real key for the Vikings is that they have two very talented wide receivers in Stephon Diggs and Adam Theilen. The Packers corners, Tramon Williams and rookies Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, will have their hands full this week containing these wideouts. This game will be a field position grind fest, so not giving up the big play will be critical to the Packers success.
On the plus side, the Vikings only weakness on the team is their offensive line. The Bears’ offensive line is much better than the Vikings’, so expect Mike Daniels and company to make life difficult for Cousins and running back Dalvin Cook.
Lambeau will be a warm 79 degrees at kickoff with little to winds. Should be excellent weather that will not give any favors to either team.
Well, this one is a dual prediction based on whether Rodgers plays or not. If Rodgers plays (and plays the whole game) this game should be close but would favor the Vikings. The Vikings best pressure comes from the interior of the defensive line, forcing quarterbacks to the outside to make mistakes or be sacked by the defensive ends. Rodgers has always had more difficulties facing interior pressure, usually preferring to split the guard and tackle for the roll out to pass. Without the ability to roll out to mitigate the pressure, the Packers will be forced to the quick strike offense that worked well as a surprise to Chicago but the Vikings would have prepared all week for. Therefore, the Packers will have to play perfect to win.
If Rodgers can continue to generate first downs early, even if they eventually lead to points, the quick pace should tire the defense and open up holes late. That, combined with zero turnovers, should keep the game close enough if the defense can contain the Vikings receivers. The Packers cannot give up any big plays defensively, they will need to force the Vikings offense to play the same style the Packers will be: conservative and quick. This will eventually lead to a late game, close score situation that should favor Rodgers over Cousins.
The problem with this plan is a lot needs to go right and so much can go wrong. Rodgers might not get any windows in the middle to Graham or Cobb if the Vikings stack the box. If the offensive line plays as it did in the first half of the Bears game, Rodgers will not have time to stretch the defense to make them play honest. And there is always the possibility of a misstep, a hit, or any other problems that could re-aggravate the knee. The Packers defense is still young and adjusting, relying on two rookie corners. While they looked impressive vs Chicago, it may be too early to ask them to have to play perfect versus these receiving weapons to keep the game close if the offense cannot score early. The Packers unfortunately drew the Vikings early at home this season, when the weather will not help them and Rodgers is dinged up. Despite the Vikings being the more complete team, it’s not unlikely even with Rodgers only at 75% at home to win. But I do not know if we will see such magnificent heroics in two straight weeks against an even better defense. It’s hard to bet against Rodgers, but with Rodgers certainty still in doubt, Vikings will come out on top 27-20.
If Kizer starts over Rodgers…it’s not going to be pretty. The Vikings defense is nasty and might very well pitch a shutout against Kizer who struggled mightily for Cleveland last season (leading the team to 0 wins) and looked over matched against Chicago when he came in for the second quarter. If Kizer starts, this game will not be close (and the Vikings would win 34-6).As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University