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Vikings vs. Packers preview: Housewarming

The Vikings are hosting their biggest rivals to officially open US Bank Stadium. Will their housewarming be a success or will their neighbors crash the party?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars
There’s a Smug Warning in effect from 7:30 - 11:00 PM this Sunday in Minneapolis.
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We all have that one guy in our life.

You know the kind. He isn’t really anybody’s friend, yet he always seems to show up unannounced. This “acquaintance”—let’s call him, oh, I don’t know, Kevin—lives close by and claims to like all the same things you do, which is why he’s always around. But every time you’re in a conversation with other friends about your favorite topics, ol’ Kevin comes in and craps all over your point with some outlandish theory that makes little to no sense. He’s self-absorbed and rude but hides behind the guise that he’s simply being “honest” and “telling people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

The Kevins of the world are the worst at parties. For example, let’s say you’re having a housewarming get together for your new home. You spent lots of money and sweat equity getting everything ready. It looks like you have everything in place to create a memorable night for all your friends. But just days before your soiree is scheduled to go down, the beautiful custom lighting fixture you had hanging in the entryway falls from the ceiling and shatters without even coming into contact with anything. You’re certain that it was properly anchored; it’s just a freak accident.

You don’t have time to order a new one with the party so close, so you scramble and pay too much for a replacement that probably isn’t as good as the original. After all, you need to keep the lights on and you can’t get away with plopping down one of the cheapo Wal-Mart lamps you had lying around in the garage.

Instead of helping you clean up the mess and offering his apologies on your party suddenly being ruined, Kevin flatly snorts, “Well, hanging a light up there was always going to be a risk. And I don’t see why everyone liked that light so much in the first place. So, when’s the party again? You’re providing all the booze, right?”

On Sunday night, our fair metropolitan area is about to be invaded by thousands of Kevins on their annual trek from Wisconsin. They’re going to barge into US Bank Stadium like they own the place, get belligerent on our overpriced beer, and make sweeping declarations about how the new stadium is better than the old piece of sh*t Metrodome but will never have the prestige and history of Lambeau.

Thankfully there might be fewer Cheeseheads than normal this time around. According to some interesting research by Ben Goessling, the ticket sales suggest that it was tougher for Green Bay fans to snatch up spots for the home opener. Of course there will still be too many members of the Congregation of Clay in attendance, but it’s encouraging that most people at US Bank will be rooting for the right team.

While I love ripping on Packers fans more than anyone—I wrote an entire “Hate Week” article last year—I do have to give them some credit this time around. They have been much less “Kevin-y” lately under the current circumstances. My usual vitriol for Packer Backers has been significantly dampened since the Teddy Bridgewater injury. Just about every Packers fan I have interacted with since Teddy went down has offered sincere condolences. Nobody wanted to see that happen—even fans of Teddy’s most bitter rival. Green Bay fans know how devastating it can be to lose a quarterback, albeit to a much less serious injury. (Especially when they’re so conditioned to expecting greatness after two-plus decades of Hall of Fame signal callers.) They remember that awful Christian Ponder vs. Matt Flynn tie at Lambeau back in 2013 after Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone.

Therefore I just can’t get that lathered up about the Packers fans this time around. Maybe it’s the Bridgewater thing. Maybe it’s because everyone might be too busy oohing and ahh-ing at the new digs. Maybe it’s because it’s only Week 2 and we haven’t ramped up to our normal levels of hatred yet.

Or maybe it’s because both teams have so much to improve upon after sweating out opening week road victories over AFC South teams.

Running down a dream (of actually scoring offensive touchdowns)

The biggest concern for the touchdown-free Vikings offense last week was the run game. Shaun Hill played about as well as we could have realistically hoped for yet the run game was stymied. Adrian Peterson was held to 31 yards on 19 carries, causing everyone to collectively freak out that AP might be washed up. (Even though Peterson had the exact same amount of yards in Week 1 last year and went on to win the rushing title.)

It’s easy to point to how the Titans could stack the box with eight or nine players for much of the game since they didn’t have to worry about Hill, but the Vikings often had the numbers in place to block the extra defenders. After going back and watching the film from last Sunday, it appears to me that lack of communication along the offensive line in the run game was to blame for a lot of the shortcomings.

This two-yard loss in the second quarter is a good illustration of what happened much too often. With Kyle Rudolph, Stefon Diggs, and Adam Thielen bunched to the right of the formation, Tennessee shifts their coverage that way. The run goes to the left, where the Vikings should have enough blockers on the weak side. But watch what Alex Boone and Andre Smith do.

Boone makes an initial block but then moves off to the safety, handing his man off to Joe Berger. Problem is, Berger has handed off the same defender to block the inside linebacker, leaving the defensive lineman unblocked to wait for Peterson. On the other side of the line, Smith pulls directly behind Brandon Fusco for some reason instead of picking up a block of his own, negating any chance of a Peterson cutback. (Diggs didn’t do a great job either, but we’ll give him a pass since he was one of the few players that actually moved the sticks on Sunday.) I’m hoping that isn’t how they drew it up.

There were a few occasions where it looked like AP was dancing a bit and didn’t hit the hole like he normally does, but for the most part his runs were stopped short before he could do much of anything. The offensive line needs to get on the same page if the Vikings hope to get the run going this week. Not to go all Captain Obvious on you, but running the ball consistently and keeping Rodgers off the field would be to the Vikings’ benefit.

Can you Digg it? (We can Digg it!)

Even if the running game sputters again, some hope remains for the offense thanks to one Stefon Diggs. We can all appreciate how good he is by the raw numbers he’s able to produce regardless of who’s throwing him the ball. But the more film I watch of him, the more I’m impressed by all the little things he does.

Diggs’ ability to sell the deep route and then come back to attack the reception is excellent. What separates him from other wide receivers is that little extra space he creates while making the reception, followed by a great sense of where the defender is coming from to rack up extra yards after the catch.

The best part? He should only get better. Diggs has played all of 14 games in the NFL. He is a special player that is capable of doing some amazing things in this league. The Packers will have their hands full with Stefon, especially if Sam Shields misses out with his concussion issues.

Shifting to Sam?

Of course Diggs can’t do it all on his own—he still needs someone to get him the ball after creating that extra space. While Hill was surprisingly serviceable in Week 1, he obviously isn’t the long-term solution at quarterback. Mike Zimmer is still treating the announcement of his starting quarterback like it was a code to the nuclear football. That said, most signs seem to be pointing to Sam Bradford taking the reins on Sunday night. (Of course I incorrectly guessed that Bradford was going to start at this time last week, so take my hunches with a shaker of salt.)

I haven’t watched a ton of film on Bradford during his time with the Eagles last season, but I did study a few games to get an idea of what did and didn’t work for him. For starters, Bradford worked almost exclusively from AP’s least favorite formation—shotgun. He only attempted six passes from under center all year, so you have to wonder whether he’ll do more of it right away in Norv Turner’s offense.

In general, I was impressed with Bradford’s arm strength and capacity to find receivers when given time. He certainly has the ability to hit the intermediate throws that should help stretch the field and open more running lanes.

I noticed that Bradford had some success off play action and designed rollouts, something that could be easily duplicated with the Vikings since they did it frequently with Bridgewater last year.

However, when Bradford’s movement in the pocket was due to pressure instead of design, it often wasn’t pretty.

At first glance it appeared that the pass blocking against Tennessee was solid; I said as much in the Stock Market report because Hill wasn’t sacked and got most of his throws away in time. But after reviewing the film more closely and reading Arif’s excellent breakdown of the O-line’s performance, it becomes clear that play design and shorter dropbacks made the pass blocking appear better than it actually was. The Vikings will need similar quick-hit passing and a better showing from their new and (theoretically) improved line in order for either quarterback to succeed against Green Bay. Less pressure means fewer mistakes for Bradford if he is indeed making his Vikings debut this time around.

Of course these are just generalizations. For a much deeper dive into Bradford’s potential, I encourage you to read wludford’s excellent analysis from earlier in the week.

Gauging Green Bay

So let’s say fortune smiles upon us and the Vikings offense is much more efficient than they were in Week 1. They still have to deal with a Green Bay offense that’s, you know, pretty decent I guess. After watching the All-22 of their game in Jacksonville, I was surprised to see how well the Jaguars defense held up. The Packers had only 294 total yards in Jacksonville. The Jags were disciplined against the run and kept Eddie Lacy (aka Gouda Buddha, the phenomenal nickname for Lacy coined by Paul Charchian) in check for the most part.

The return of Jordy Nelson to the lineup didn’t immediately fix the passing game either. Nelson and Rodgers didn’t seem 100% on the same page yet, which is understandable for a wide receiver that missed all of last season and a good chunk of the preseason with different injuries. Most of the Packers passing yards came on short passes to receivers in front of the first down markers. Hill actually ended up with 37 more passing yards than Rodgers in Week 1.

Most of the Packers’ big plays were from Rodgers improvising after the play broke down, something that Vikings fans are all too familiar with. Getting lots of quarterback pressure from the likes of Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, and Danielle Hunter is nice. They should be able to make David Bakhtiari’s contract extension look foolish fairly often. But when you’re playing against Rodgers you must be able to finish the play.

Because if you don’t get him to the ground, he can make plays that only Aaron Rodgers can pull off:

I mean...what can I say about that Aaron Rodgers that Wes Mantooth hasn’t already said to Ron Burgundy? That’s just unfair.

I think the Vikings defense will certainly make things tough on Green Bay and keep the game close, but I’m just not sure we can expect Minnesota’s offense to suddenly find its identity this early in the season. We have already seen what is probably the upper end of Hill’s abilities and it wasn’t enough to find the end zone. Asking Bradford to come in and perform at a high level against one of the league’s best teams just 15 days after joining the team is a tall order as well.

The Vikings committed only three penalties and had a +3 turnover differential last week. They’ll need similar mistake-free football to pull off the victory on Sunday night. Unfortunately the Vikings are still too dependent upon the leg of Blair Walsh to put up points, even if his kicking woes might not actually be as bad as they seem. I’m afraid the Packers will end up ruining the US Bank Stadium housewarming party because the Vikings are still trying to get their house in order.

Stupid Kevins.


Packers 24, Vikings 16

And now for the rest of my Week 2 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

Jets over BILLS

The good news: the Color Rush game won’t confuse the hell out of colorblind people this time around. The bad news: the Color Rush game will still confuse the hell out of people that are expecting a good game of football.

STEELERS over Bengals

It’s the Liberty Bail Bonds Personal Foul Bowl! Team with the fewest players ejected wins?

Ravens over BROWNS

Cleveland was already terrible and now they’re without Robert Griffin III for at least half the season. How LeBron James managed to win a title in this godforsaken sports city remains beyond my comprehension.

Cowboys over REDSKINS

Even after Tony Romo went down, I picked Dallas to win the mediocre NFC East. So I should probably pick against them starting the season 0-2 in said mediocre division.

LIONS over Titans

That Detroit offense looked pretty darn good in Week 1, albeit against an Indianapolis defense mostly composed of players that would have a hard time cracking the Alabama starting lineup. Could there perhaps be some Bill Simmons Ewing Theory potential for the Lions after the departure of Calvin Johnson? Or more importantly, could the historic debut of Lions cheerleaders finally propel the franchise to the greatness they have never been able to achieve?

Nahhhh. But they should still beat Tennessee this week.

Chiefs over TEXANS

This was a really tough one to pick. Houston didn’t look all that impressive in beating the lowly Bears last week. Meanwhile, Kansas City didn’t even start their season until midway through the third quarter and still pulled out a win over the Chargers. Advantage Chiefs I guess?

PATRIOTS over Dolphins

Aaaaaaand the Pats have clinched the AFC East before Tom Brady even returns.

GIANTS over Saints

New Orleans isn’t a very good team now, and this Deadspin article about their impending salary cap apocalypse explains how they’re about to be much worse. This news should keep the cockles of us Minnesota fans warm throughout the winter.

PANTHERS over 49ers

My Survivor Pool pick of the week, 1-0 after Seattle barely survived Miami last week. Have fun trying to tackle Cam Newton, 49ers defenders. After the NFL took so much heat about the headshots Newton took last week, I’m guessing anything that resembles so much as a sneeze in the direction of his helmet is going to cost you 15 yards.

Seahawks over RAMS

This game certainly has upset potential—the Rams always play Seattle tough and Russell Wilson’s status is still a bit uncertain. But when the team that shut you out and beat you by four touchdowns last week is a two-touchdown underdog the following week, that means your team flat out sucks. Of course after LA gets blown out again I expect Jeff Fisher to sign another contract extension that lasts through 2168.

CARDINALS over Buccaneers

Last week Larry Fitzgerald once again proved that he’s a damn national treasure. I’ll still be pining for him to sign with the Vikings a decade after he’s retired.

RAIDERS over Falcons

¡Del Rio tiene huevos muchos grandes! What a tone he set for the season. My thoughts on Del Rio’s decision to go for two can best be summed up in my tweet from last Sunday:

BRONCOS over Colts

C’mon. Do you think Indianapolis’ scout team defense can simulate even 10% of what Andrew Luck is going to see in Denver? That Colts defense is going to make Trevor Siemian look like John Elway reincarnate.

Jaguars over CHARGERS

This might not look like the greatest game on paper, but I love this matchup of arguably the two best garbage time fantasy quarterbacks of the past decade.

Eagles over BEARS

Hey! Guys! Did you know that Philadelphia starting quarterback Carson Wentz went to the same college I did?! I know, right?! Crazy! I should probably mention that more often!

Last week: 11-5
Season so far: 11-5