The Packers notched win number 8 with a hammer and chisel, shutting out the Seattle Seahawks 17-0. Lead by the best performance of the year by the defense, the Packers looked every bit of a contender giving Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson his first shut out of his career. Now the Packers turn to the north, looking to put a death grip on the division in their upcoming opponent Minnesota. The Vikings have been a confusing team so far, at times looking like a real threat in the NFC and other times looking like a team destined for a rebuild. If the Packers wants to bury their NFC North rival, they will need monster performances from some key players.
The spotlight burns brightly on running back AJ Dillon. With Aaron Jones out the next couple of weeks with a sprained MCL, the Packers will rely heavily on Dillon to carry the load. The offense is at its best when it has a balanced attack and Dillon will have to answer the call. What looked like a deep position group at the start of 2021 has been gutted by injuries. It’s Dillon, former undrafted rookie Patrick Taylor, and a couple of practice squad guys.
Luckily, when called on before, AJ has responded in a big way. His physical style of running is exactly what the Packers need going into Minnesota. With the Packers still beat up along the offensive line, a clear one cut running game will be ideal to keep the offense moving. With Dillon as a living sledgehammer while also showing ability in the passing game, he could be the key to getting the offense back to its high scoring ways this week.
The last man standing at what started out as one of the defenses most talent-rich positions, the Packers will need best Preston Smith can offer. The loss of Whitney Mercilus to season ending injury coupled with the unknown effectiveness of an also injured Rashan Gary cannot be overstated. Smith has already had a rejuvenated season but will need to give even more in the coming weeks.
He has made massive improvements this season in both his pass rush and run fits compared to 2020. Joe Barry will need both to be on point this week against a potent Vikings offense that features Dalvin Cook and Kurt Cousins. Additionally, Smith will need to lead a group of linebackers who, if Gary cannot play, have extremely limited experience thus far. It is always best to lead with your play, but the young guns will look to him in big moments to come through. Expect Preston to have a huge day Sunday.
While it would be easy to put Aaron Rodgers on the list of key performers every week, this is an important week for the Packers and Rodgers. Against Seattle, Aaron understandably looked a little rusty, being a little more inaccurate than fans are used to. That coupled with the previously mentioned Aaron Jones injury, the weight of the offense falls even more squarely on Rodger’s shoulders.
He will have to orchestrate an effective effort the next two weeks to get into the Packers late week 13 bye. Matt LaFleur and Rodgers need to design game plans that highlight the offensive weapons they have left. Getting back to having this offense operating in rhythm is key. Hopefully he gets reinforcements along the offensive line this week in LT David Bakhtiari, which will in turn provide a boost along the interior with Elgton Jenkins. This alone should allow Rodgers to play more from the pocket and keep the offense moving in sync. This is the game where Aaron Rodgers and reminds the league that he is still the most talented quarterback in the NFL in 2021.
Jordan is a lifelong Packer fan who grew up in Idaho and now lives in Seattle, Washington. You can follow him on twitter at @jordantwolf.