The Vikings and Packers have compelling match-ups across the board. It’s a big division rivalry, with a lot of potential implications down the line, and right now, a game the Vikings need more than the Packers. Playing at home gives the Vikings an advantage, and in all likelihood the Vikings may have the overall advantage when it comes to injuries as well.
When the Packers have the Ball
This is the strength-on-strength match-up, and a big test for both teams at several position groups and key situations.
This is one of the clash of the titans situations. The Packers are the best in the NFL in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns (78.95% rate), and the Vikings are the 4th best in the NFL in denying opponents touchdowns in the red zone, allowing only a 38.46% conversion rate. Holding the Packers to around 50% or less in the red zone would be a big win for the Vikings defense.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Another situational clash of the titans, the Packers are 3rd best in converting on 3rd down (48.44%) while the Vikings are best in the league in denying third down conversions, allowing only a 25.45% conversion rate. Holding the Packers to around a 35% conversion rate would be another win for the Vikings defense, and would also limit red zone situations where the Packers and Aaron Rodgers are so proficient.
PACKERS WRs vs. VIKINGS DBs
These are both pretty solid position groups, and the Vikings can matchup here as well as any team in the league against three good Packers’ receivers in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Davonte Adams. The key is matching up the Vikings DBs in the best way possible to shut down these weapons.
Davonte Adams has emerged as a play-making #2 WR behind Jordy Nelson, and looks to have supplanted Randall Cobb as Rodgers’ 2nd favorite target. Adams is a big bodied outside receiver best handled by big bodied Xavier Rhodes. Aaron Rodgers is all about match-ups, so with Rhodes on Adams, he’ll likely avoid that match-up most of the time.
In the slot, it’ll be Terence Newman and MacKenzie Alexander on Randall Cobb. That’s a solid match-up for the Vikings, especially as Alexander looks improved, so I don’t expect a lot of production from Cobb against these two.
That leaves Jordy Nelson vs. Trae Waynes. This is a favorable match-up for the Packers, and I expect Rodgers will focus on targeting Waynes whenever possible throughout the game. The key here to mitigating this matchup disadvantage for the Vikings is to provide solid safety help for Waynes to bracket Nelson and prevent big plays. That would come in the form of Harrison Smith, and not Andrew Sendejo. Rodgers will pay attention to where Harrison Smith is on the field, and will hesitate to throw into a tight window where he is around.
Beyond that, Anthony Barr is much better in coverage this year, and I expect he’ll be solid against the Packers’ TEs, while Eric Kendricks can handle backs out of the backfield.
VIKINGS PASS RUSH vs. AARON RODGERS
The Vikings may be helped by injuries along the Packers offensive line here, as both starting tackles for the Packers - David Bakhtiari and Brian Bulaga - have missed time with a hamstring and ankle injury, and are still limited in practice. It’s unclear if either will start or not, but I suspect even if they do start, they may not be 100%. That should provide matchup advantages to both Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, and shorten the leash on Aaron Rodgers’ play-making ability. They will both need to be disciplined in their rush to contain Rodgers in the pocket, and hopefully can be helped by a push from the interior rushers to prevent Rodgers from stepping up in the pocket. The Packers interior line is not as good this year as it has been in previous years.
It also makes sense to have a contigency plan for Rodgers getting outside the pocket. That’s where Andrew Sendejo comes in. In addition to run support, the Vikings could use Sendejo as something of a spy on Rodgers. If Rodgers threatens to get outside the pocket, Sendejo blitzes. Blitzing Sendejo up the middle or off the edge on occasion would also help to disrupt Rodgers while still leaving all the Vikings best cover guys back.
STOPPING THE PACKERS RUNNING GAME
The Vikings defense has really improved against the run this season. They’ll need to keep that up against Green Bay, forcing difficult 3rd-and-long conversions. I expect a solid showing in that regard from interior defenders led by Linval Joseph, but it’s equally important that the DEs remain disciplined in setting the edge against the run as well, making it difficult for Green Bay’s running backs, led perhaps by Aaron Jones now, to get outside.
Aaron Rodgers is a constant threat, and the Green Bay offense is too good to shut down completely. But if the Vikings can slow them down, prevent big plays, and force unfavorable 3rd down situations, they can force them into a bad game, particularly if they get off to a slow start. Preventing late-game heroics could be another challenge, but maintaining drives and scoring touchdowns will help to keep Green Bay’s best players off the field and in unfavorable situations - the best recipe for a bad game.
When the Vikings have the Ball
The Vikings definitely have some favorable matchups against the Packers when they have the ball. The Packers secondary continues to be riddled by injuries, and they could potentially be without Kevin King, Davon House, and Morgan Burnett on Sunday. King is in concussion protocol and missed Wednesday’s practice, Burnett didn’t practice due to a hamstring injury, and House was limited with a quadricep injury. Beyond these three, none of the Packers defensive backs have played particularly well.
The Packers are 2nd worst in the league in allowing touchdowns in the red zone, allowing opponents to cash in on 84.62% of red zone opportunities. That is something the Vikings offense, which converts 52.94% of red zone opportunities into touchdowns, needs to exploit early and often. Converting at least 75% of red zone opportunities into touchdowns will go a long way toward keeping up with #12 and company on offense.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
The Vikings are 7th best in converting on 3rd down, with a 44.78% rate. The Packers rank 19th in preventing 3rd down conversions, allowing 40.68% of them to be comverted. Maintaining a mid-40s or better conversion rate will help sustain drives, lead to more scoring chances and keep the Packers offense off the field - all important factors in getting a win on Sunday.
VIKINGS PASSING GAME vs. PACKERS PASS DEFENSE
The Vikings need to exploit advantages against the Packers weak spot -their secondary. That means getting Adam Thielen and (a hopefully healthy) Stefon Diggs involved early and often. Last season, Diggs had a big game against the Packers in the home matchup, while Adam Thielen had a career game at Green Bay, with over 200 yards receiving. But in both matchups, both were either not on the field together much, or were not 100%. Having them both out there and healthy should give the Packers’ secondary fits, and at least one of them needs to have a big game, along with Case Keenum throwing the ball.
But while the Packers defensive secondary looks about as bad as it was last year, they look improved in their front seven. Clay Matthews is playing better, and he may face off against Mike Remmers most of the time. Nick Perry is also doing well, although I don’t see him as a big threat facing off against Riley Reiff. Inside, Mike Daniels continues to be a beast, and he will be the most difficult matchup for the Vikings against Nick Easton. Beyond that, while the Packers interior linebackers have improved against the run, they still struggle in coverage. Most of the time the Packers substitute a 3rd safety for a linebacker (their Nitro package) in the form of Morgan Burnett- their best DB right now. If he isn’t able to go, that could be a big loss.
In any case, I expect the Packers will follow the Steelers playbook defensively, blitzing linebackers or DBs regularly to help protect their weak secondary and force the issue with Case Keenum and the Vikings offensive line. How successful that is will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
Hopefully Pat Shurmur and Case Keenum will be prepared for those tactics, and have some plays dialed up to beat it. Using uptempo pacing and the screen game could help considerably against Packers blitz packages, but also double-TE sets and hot slant routes could be effective - along with taking shots down the field outside with Diggs or Thielen or Floyd against man coverage.
Beyond that, there could be a certain amount of cat-and-mouse formation tactics in play on Sunday, given how the Packers play defense, with McKinnon lining up outside, in motion, perhaps more bunch formations inside, etc. as well. Perhaps some pitches and rollouts too. But overall it will be interesting how much Pat Shurmur uses tempo, motion and different formations to confuse the Packers defense, make substitutions difficult, and keep them off-guard. If Dom Capers gets caught with his pants down a couple times, which happens from time to time, the Packers may be forced to play a more standard defensive scheme, which would suit the Vikings just fine too.
VIKINGS RUN GAME vs. PACKERS RUN DEFENSE
This is the most difficult matchup for the Vikings offensively, and important for them to have enough success to keep the Packers honest and somewhat off-balance defensively. This is another area where tempo, formation and not being predictable- not playing it by the book in terms of down and distance- is important. But I don’t see the Vikings having much success running the ball near Mike Daniels, except if they have Riley Reiff pinch down on him while having a TE go in motion and blow-up Nick Perry outside, creating a seam for Jerick McKinnon or Latavius Murray to get to the second level.
I do expect the Vikings could have some success running to the right side, however, behind Joe Berger and Mike Remmers- both very good run blockers- and right at Clay Matthews. Matthews can be good in run pursuit outside, but running right at him, he can have difficulty at times getting off blocks, leaving a seam for a guy like Jerick McKinnon to slip through and get up field.
Otherwise, I don’t expect the Vikings to have much success running up the middle, as the Packers are pretty solid up front against the run, and their interior linebackers, particularly Blake Martinez, have stepped up their run defense as well. But somewhat creative, quick-hitting runs to the edges could have enough success to keep the Packers honest, and combined with some uptempo at times, could catch the Packers off-guard for a big run or two as well.
BIG PLAYS AND TURNOVERS
As always, big plays and turnovers could make the difference in the game. A blown coverage, strip sack, key interception, big run, or special teams blunder could provide that extra scoring opportunity that proves the difference in the game, particularly if it is a tightly fought game, as you would expect. I’m not expecting a lot of turnovers, but whichever team generates more big plays could prove the winner at the end of the game on Sunday.
The Vikings are 3 point underdogs at home on Sunday. What will happen?
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The Vikings win outright.
The Vikings cover the spread.
The Vikings lose by more than 3 points