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Packers KO’d

New coach starts new era with a convincing win against main division rival

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

After an off-season of change, just how the Vikings would respond when it mattered has been debated and analyzed for months. But we finally got the first installment of the new Vikings team and regime on Sunday, and they made a positive first impression.

The Vikings won 23-7 in a game that was never in doubt. It was a rare multi-score victory over the Packers and Aaron Rodgers, who finished without a TD pass and his lowest passer rating since week one last season.

Led and prepared by new head coach Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings started fast with a near perfect touchdown drive to start the game, and really never looked back. Offensive play-calling was refreshingly good, and execution also sharp most of the time.

Offensively, the Vikings faced a loaded Packers defense, but were up for the challenge. Apart from a rough start by Ed Ingram, the Vikings offensive line held up well against Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, and Kenny Clark in pass protection, and also helped produce 126 rushing yards and 4.5 yard per carry average (Ingram was near elite in run blocking grade). Kirk Cousins had a great game, going 23/32 for 277 yards, 2 TDs, 1 sack, a 118.9 passer rating and 80.7 QBR. Justin Jefferson had a career high 184 receiving yards on 9 receptions and 11 targets, with two TDs.

Defensively, the Vikings were helped by a dropped 75-yard TD pass by Packers’ rookie WR Christian Watson to start the game, but made Aaron Rodgers work for what he got the rest of the game. They got more than their share of key stops, including a goal line stand and two takeaways. Rodgers finished 22/34 for 195 yards, 1 INT, 4 sacks, a lost fumble, a 67.7 passer rating and a 16.1 QBR. Running back AJ Dillon led all Packers receivers with 46 receiving yards, which speaks to the losses in Packers receiving corps. The Vikings had the third best team coverage grade in the league last weekend, at 74.7.

Overall, the Vikings’ solid performance was reflected in Pro Football Focus (PFF) grading, which had the Vikings with the second-highest overall PFF team grade last weekend, just behind the Chiefs and ahead of the Bills, at 84.6. It was also the highest overall team grade the Vikings have achieved vs. the Packers since PFF started grading.

Positive Takeaways

  • Kevin O’Connell’s play calling. They were no real groan moments in the offensive play calling for the Vikings, which was refreshing. The Vikings’ new scheme also proved more difficult for the Packers defense to defend, with pre-snap motion complicating things for the Packers.
  • Vikings tackles. Christian Darrisaw and Brian O’Neill had no trouble keeping the Packers’ top edge rush duo- Rashan Gary and Preston Smith- under wraps all afternoon. Rashan Gary had a sack going against Ed Ingram, but not much against Darrisaw.
  • Justin Jefferson. A career game for Jefferson, given his career stats, and the attention he gets, was impressive. His getting into the end zone for his second TD was elite, as Kirk Cousins described it after the game, and helps the team by not having to bring out the red zone offense and maybe not get a TD.
  • Kirk Cousins. He was efficient, accurate, virtually mistake-free, and made a nice audible to a play that resulted in an explosive play to Justin Jefferson. He seemed comfortable and in command of the offense.
  • Jordan Hicks. Eric Kendricks typically leads Vikings’ defenders in tackles, but it was Jordan Hicks that was the run-away leader in tackles in his first game with the Vikings. Hicks finished with 14 tackles, including 9 solo tackles and 5 stops, and a forced fumble.
  • Fourth down defense. The Vikings held the Packers to 0-2 on fourth down, including a key goal line stand.
  • Greg Joseph. Perfect 3/3 on field goals, 2/2 on extra points.
  • Defensive secondary coverage. Apart from Patrick Peterson getting beat by Christian Watson on the first play of the game defensively, the Vikings coverage was pretty good- holding Rodgers to just a 67.7 passer rating. Coverage stats overall were slightly worse due to the few garbage time passes by Jordan Love.
  • Penalties. Vikings had just 3 penalties for 20 yards.

Negative Takeaways

  • Third down conversions. The Vikings offense went just 4-13 (30.8%) on third down, which led to five punts on ten total drives.
  • Offensive Line Pass Blocking Efficiency. Despite some good and promising performances, the Vikings OL pass blocking efficiency ranked just 29th overall in the league week one. A total of 17 pressures on 33 pass attempts were given up according to PFF.
  • Red zone efficiency. Vikings were just 1 for 3 scoring TDs in the red zone (33%).

Bottom Line

The Vikings played well generally in all three phases against the Packers, without a lot of mental mistakes and penalties that can sometimes characterize week one games. They also tackled well (5th best PFF team tackling grade) and don’t appear to have been hindered by not playing during the preseason.

Credit the Vikings’ new coaching staff, not just Kevin O’Connell, for having their players well prepared and ready for a key division game to start the season.

Official NFL Gamebook

Here is a link to the official NFL gamebook for the Vikings-Packers game:

MIN_Gamebook.pdf (