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Position-by-position: How the Vikings match up with the Packers

The Minnesota Vikings travel to Lambeau Field on Sunday to face off with the Green Back Packers. Here’s how the two teams compare on paper…

Quarterback

Kirk Cousins and the challenge of analyzing ‘Situational Football’

Vikings starter: Kirk Cousins

The Vikings’ quarterback got his career in purple off on the right foot with a Week 1 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Overall he finished 20-for-36 with 244 yards and two touchdowns. He effectively worked the ball to Adam Thielen and Dalvin Cook and his two touchdown passes were both brilliant throws. The only demerit was Cousins’ fourth quarter in which he went 0-for-7. Under pressure in Week 1, Cousins also showed that he can escape the pocket and run on occasion. But he was sacked three times from the interior, which could be an issue against the Packers.

In the past, matching up with Green Bay’s defense might not concern an opposing quarterback, but with Mike Pettine as their defensive coordinator and the addition of talented young corners in the offseason, it’s hard to know yet what Cousins will be up against.

Packers starter: ??????

If Aaron Rodgers is playing on one leg, he’s still one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL as evidenced by his performance in the second half against the Chicago Bears in Week 1. He threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns and most of those numbers came after he was hurt. Rodgers did not practice all week, but if there’s any quarterback who doesn’t need the extra reps, it’s him.

If Rodgers can’t play, DeShone Kizer will get the call. He’s 0-15 in his career with a 60.0 quarterback rating. When facing Chicago’s D-line, he essentially handed the ball to Khalil Mack twice.

Advantage: Entirely depends on Rodgers’ status 

With Cousins’ supporting cast, the Vikings are built to be able to hang with the top quarterbacks in the NFL, but even Cousins said this week he isn’t in Rodgers’ stratosphere. However, if the future Hall of Famer doesn’t play, the Vikings should feast on Kizer.

Running back 

Sep 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) carries the ball during the first quarter against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings starter: Dalvin Cook

Here’s a crazy stat via PFF: Cook gained 45 yards rushing after contact last week, but only finished with 40 total yards. The Vikings’ offensive line will need to get a bigger push up front for their rising star running back. But even if they don’t, offensive coordinator John DeFilippo made it clear that Cook will be used consistently in space on screens and short passes. Also Latavius Murray reminded everyone that he’s still a solid back last week with 42 yards on 11 carries.

Packers starter: Jamaal Williams

With Aaron Jones out, the Packers lack true threat on the ground. Williams averages just 3.6 yards per carry in 168 career carries. In 2016, Ty Montgomery was briefly a threat, gaining 5.9 yards per carry and grabbing 44 passes out of the backfield. Since then he’s picked up 3.8 yards per rush and caught 25 passes in nine games. He was not a factor in Week 1, totaling seven yards rushing and 21 receiving.

Advantage: Vikings

If Rodgers is playing, he’s going to have to do the majority of the work through the air because there’s no reason for the Vikings to fear Green Bay’s rushing attack.

Wide receiver/tight end

Vikings starters: Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Laquon Treadwell, Kyle Rudolph

The Vikings’ receivers did what they usually do in Week 1: Catch everything in sight. Thielen went for over 100 yards and made a tremendous back-shoulder catch while Diggs and Rudolph grabbed touchdowns. DeFilippo showed in the first game he’s going to spread the ball all over as Cousins targeted backup tight ends Tyler Conklin and David Morgan for decent gains. Only Treadwell had a rough day, dropping an open pass that appeared to be attended for Rudolph.

Rookie cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson will have their hands full with the Vikings’ weapons. The question will be whether Pettine can pressure Cousins enough to keep him from going downfield to Thielen and Diggs.

Packers starters: Davante Adams (questionable), Randall Cobb, Geronimo Allison, Jimmy Graham

With Adams hobbled, the Packers’ group of receivers looks a lot less threatening, though Cobb is coming off a 159-yard outing against the Bears that included a 75-yard touchdown to win the game. Graham did not look anywhere near the threat he has been in the past (two catches for eight yards), though Allison, 24, might be on the rise.

Advantage: Vikings 

Adams is the only receiver that’s even close to Diggs or Thielen and he’s less than 100 percent. Whoever is quarterbacking the Packers won’t have many open receivers to target.

Offensive line

Sep 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) passes in the second quarter against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings starters: Riley Reiff – Tom Compton – Brett Jones – Mike Remmers – Rashod Hill

Minnesota’s much-maligned offensive line held fairly strong in the opening week. While they gave up three sacks to DeForest Buckner and didn’t always create the running lanes to help Dalvin Cook, overall Cousins was only pressured on nine of his 36 attempts. When he was kept clean, the Vikings’ QB averaged 7.3 yards per attempt and threw both touchdowns (per PFF). Head coach Mike Zimmer said the line needs to do a much better job reaching linebackers in run blocking — that will not be an easy task against Green Bay’s excellent interior defensive line.

Without Pat Elflein yet in the lineup, the Vikings will have an uphill battle. On the good news side, Riley Reiff had a very strong Week 1.

Packers starters: David Bakhtiari – Lane Taylor – Corey Linsley – Justin McCray – Bryan Bulaga

After a shaky first half, Green Bay’s pass blockers got in gear against Chicago, creating a solid pocket for wounded-Rodgers to throw from in the final two quarters. Overall they allowed 13 pressures (per PFF) against Rodgers and Kizer. The Vikings will be looking to attack the middle of the Packers’ O-line. Linsley was the lowest graded lineman on Green Bay’s squad by PFF in the opener. Bakhtiari remains one of the best left tackles in the game. His battle with Everson Griffen will be one to watch.

Advantage: Packers

When Elflein returns, the Vikings’ O-line will be on more solid ground. Until then, it will be a question mark each week.

Defensive line

Vikings starters: Everson Griffen, Sheldon Richardson, Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter

Pro Football Focus graded the Vikings as the third best pass rush in the NFL in Week 1. PFF credited the Vikings’ D-line with 26 pressures, 15 of which came from Richardson and Hunter. If Richardson can continue to play at his opening-week level — which even surprised Mike Zimmer — the Vikings will have an even better D-line than they did last year. Griffen was on this week’s injury report, but practiced fully on Friday, indicating he should be a full-go versus the Packers. And once again Linval Joseph remains the most underrated player in the NFL. PFF graded him the best defensive player on the Vikings in Week 1.

Packers starters: Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Muhammad Wilkerson

In just 33 defensive snaps, Daniels created three QB pressures and had four run stops. He has grown into one of the most dominant 3-4 interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Zimmer compared him to Griffen this week. From the nose tackle spot, Clark is one of the best run stuffers in the league and he can get after the passer. He came away from the opener with one QB hit and two hurries. Wilkerson did not look like the New York Jets version in Week 1, but he is still a top-notch talent who could explode at any time.

Advantage: Slight edge to Vikings

Both teams’ interior offensive lines will have their hands full this week. Since the teams play different strategies on defense (4-3 vs. 3-4), it’s hard to compare, but both are among the best units in the league. The edge goes to the Vikings’ edge rushers Griffen and Hunter.

Linebackers

Oct 15, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) passes in the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr (55) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings starters: Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr, Ben Gedeon

After spending the offseason talking about Barr becoming more of an edge rusher, we did not see much of that in Week 1. According to PFF, he only lined up on the defensive line nine times out of 70 total snaps. Barr put on a strong performance in Week 1, rating as the Vikings’ top run defender and only allowing one catch on three attempts into his coverage. His partner did not have a great start to the year. Kendricks, who is one of the game’s better cover linebackers, allowed five receptions. However, many of them were schemed by Kyle Shanahan. We can expect bounce-back game from Kendricks. Also opponents are going to work to get Gedeon on the field in passing situations this year. Will Zimmer use three safeties more often than three linebackers?

Packers starters: Blake Martinez, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Reggie Gilbert

If Matthews plays like he did in Week 1, it will be much easier to protect the quarterback than it has been for the Vikings in the past. He came up with zero pressures, one tackle and a key 15-yard penalty on Chicago’s final drive. Perry remains a force — he had one sack, one QB hit and one pressure in Week 1 – and Martinez is a capable pass defender. Last week San Francisco’s middle linebacker was able to stop Dalvin Cook consistently. It will be on the Vikings’ linemen to reach the talented Martinez, who had four run stops last week.

Advantage: Vikings 

Defensive backs

Sep 9, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive back Harrison Smith (22) celebrates a fumble recovery in the second quarter against San Francisco 49ers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings starters: Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander (?), Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo

The Vikings had to scramble last week with an injury to Waynes, but showed that they have depth in the secondary as Mike Hughes moved outside and Jayron Kearse played nickel corner. This week Zimmer’s group has a full pen with Waynes healthy and Alexander returning. It’s likely that the 2016 second-rounder starts at nickel, but there is a chance that Hughes earned a bigger role than projected with his opening-day effort. No surprise here from Week 1: Rhodes was targeted once and he picked off that pass and Smith won Defensive player of the Week with a forced fumble, sack and interception. Par for the course.

Packers starters: Kevin King, Tramon Williams, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, Kentrell Brice, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix

There isn’t a whole lot of experience in the defensive backfield for the Packers and it showed at times against the Bears. King is in just his second year while Alexander and Jackson were top picks of the Packers in this year’s draft. Brice is only in his third season. It will be worth watching Alexander, who is a physical corner, and the play-making Jackson to see if the Vikings attack them in just their second NFL game. They were targeted 10 times total versus the Bears and allowed seven catches.

Advantage: Vikings

The Vikings have a great case for the league’s best secondary. However, if the Packers’ young players show quick growth, they could be formidable.





vikings

Previous Story Kirk Cousins and the challenge of analyzing ‘Situational Football’ Next Story Reports: Aaron Rodgers to play vs. Vikings