With the return of NFL football comes the return of our Five Good Questions series, wherein we exchange some questions with the writers from the SB Nation site for that week’s opponent in an effort to gain some insight into their team. This week, yours truly has swapped questions with Evan “Tex” Western of Acme Packing Company to preview this weekend’s clash between the Green Bay Packers and our Minnesota Vikings.
When APC posts the answers I gave Evan to his questions, I will put them on the front page of the site and update this post to link them here. For now, enjoy his responses to the questions I posed to their side!
1) One of the big stories of the offseason for the Packers was the departure of a lot of Aaron Rodgers’ top targets, notably Davante Adams, who has killed the Vikings for years. How do you think the offense will look with all the new receivers?
The Packers will probably use their running backs even more in the passing game, which is no small feat considering the tandem of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 102 targets, 86 receptions, 704 yards, and 8 touchdowns last year. Look for more 21 and 22 personnel groupings to get the two of them on the field at the same time and stress defenses in a different way. Rodgers can’t simply run the offense through Adams anymore, so I would also expect even more of a reliance on play-action and a heavy rotation among the receivers depending on down/distance and game situation. Green Bay likely won’t have a single player reach 100 targets this season, but they could have as many as eight with 50.
2) Green Bay has had one of the best offensive lines in the league for some time, but both David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins are dealing with injuries that date back to last season. Will either or both of them play on Sunday and how do things change if the Packers are without one or both?
For now (as of Thursday morning, at least), the status of both of Green Bay’s tackles remains a bit unclear. Both are on the active roster and practiced in a limited fashion on Wednesday, but the team seems more than willing to take its time with them and avoid rushing them back before they feel 100% comfortable. The fact that Jenkins could return for week one is fairly remarkable, considering he tore his ACL during last year’s meeting between these two teams at U.S. Bank Stadium in mid-November. His availability might even be more critical than Bakhtiari’s this week — the Packers at least have a very capable backup left tackle in Yosh Nijman, but if Jenkins is out the team will shuffle the right side more significantly. That likely would result in last year’s starting right guard, Royce Newman, moving out to tackle and Jake Hanson plugging in at guard, a scenario the Packers should very much like to avoid with Za’Darius Smith expected to rush the passer from the interior on occasion. With all that said, Bakhtiari said earlier this week that he feels like he’s on track to play, which would be exciting and a big emotional boost for the offense as a whole.
3) On defense, the Packers saw Za’Darius Smith depart for Minnesota but appear to have gotten everyone else back from injury and have an emerging star up front in Rashan Gary. Do you expect the defense to maintain the high standing it’s had over the past couple of seasons?
Interestingly, advanced metrics suggest that the Packers’ defense has not been as good as its raw numbers suggest over the past two seasons. Although the team posted identical rankings in points allowed (13th) and yards allowed (9th) in 2020 and 2021, the group was 17th in DVOA in 2020 and 22nd last season. With that said, the 2022 unit looks to have a chance to be the Packers’ first truly great defense since 2010. Za’Darius basically didn’t play last season, so it’s not much of a subtraction from what Green Bay put on the field a year ago. Instead, Jaire Alexander is back and the emergence of Rasul Douglas and Eric Stokes last season gives the Packers arguably the best cornerback trio in the NFL. Add in a quietly intriguing addition on the line in Jarran Reed and a second big, fast, rangy linebacker in rookie Quay Walker to pair with De’Vondre Campbell and this team doesn’t seem to have a single hole in the starting lineup. The depth behind the starters is a major concern, however, so a significant injury at the wrong spot (read: safety or outside linebacker) could make things go downhill quickly.
4) The Vikings come into this one with a different defensive scheme than they ran under Mike Zimmer as well as a new offense. Do you think that potentially puts the Packers at a disadvantage in this one given that the Vikings didn’t really reveal that much during the preseason?
Although Minnesota has kept things well under wraps defensively, I can find some reasons to think that the Packers will have at least some idea what to expect from this defensive coaching staff. First, the fact that Mike Pettine seems to have a major role on the defensive coaching staff suggests to me that the Packers might be better prepared for some of Minnesota’s pressure schemes than one might otherwise expect. Then there’s DC Ed Donatell. His experience in Green Bay came almost two decades ago so that shouldn’t play much of a factor, but if he runs a scheme that looks anything like Vic Fangio’s (whom he worked for from 2011 until last season), the overall approach might not be that foreign to the Packers either given their extensive time playing against his defenses in San Francisco and Chicago. The Packers have their own connection to the Fangio tree, with Joe Barry working under Fangio disciple Brandon Staley before arriving in Green Bay. Surely Donatell and Pettine have come up with their own wrinkles and philosophy, but there should be some aspects that the Packers are familiar with and I’m more worried about the Vikings’ personnel on defense (especially at relatively full health) than their scheme.
5) Give us one player on each side of the ball that might be “under the radar” to Vikings fans that will play a key role in Sunday’s result.
On offense, I’m comfortable predicting that we see fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs make a few plays. The preseason darling is a better route runner than most rookie receivers and has made huge plays consistently throughout the preseason. I expect his speed to challenge the Vikings’ cornerbacks and he might get a lot of playing time if Allen Lazard’s injury keeps him out or limited on Sunday. Defensively, keep an eye on Jarran Reed, the former Seahawks and Chiefs defensive tackle. He’s also drawing rave reviews in camp and his presence next to Kenny Clark gives the Packers a quality pairing on the interior of the defensive line. If Green Bay’s defense does improve significantly against the run this season (the rushing defense ranked 28th in DVOA last year), Reed should be a big reason why.
Once again, a big thank you to Evan Western from Acme Packing Company for taking a moment to answer our questions.