MINNEAPOLIS - Welcome to Minneapolis, where the Green Bay Packers will take on the Minnesota Vikings in an early-season showdown for divisional superiority as their rivals open their new, $1.1 billion home, U.S. Bank stadium.
For the second week in a row, the Packers adjusted their injury report the day before the game, this time downgrading cornerback Sam Shields from doubtful to out. The move isn’t surprising, as Shields did not practice all week after suffering a concussion during the team’s victory in Jacksonville last Sunday.
The Packers’ offense will be looking for a smoother start on Sunday night than what they showed early on in Jacksonville, when they looked very much like a unit in need of a few more practice reps. Things were so bad at times that Aaron Rodgers called it “embarrassing.”
As it always is this early in the season, the Green Bay Packers' offense is a work in progress, but the work that remains after the great escape Sunday from EverBank Stadium is pretty substantial.
When you get called for a delay-of-game penalty after a timeout, there’s work to do. When on one third-and-goal play half the unit thinks the call is a pass and the other a run and on another the pass protection goes one direction when it’s supposed to go the other, you have work to do.
Elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball, Rodgers will undoubtedly be looking to get Ted Thompson’s one big offseason acquisition a bit more involved.
Tight end Jared Cook was an afterthought in Jacksonville, after what looked like a promising camp and preseason. The first-year Packer caught one pass and rarely seemed to be a primary target in any of Rodgers’ progressions against the Jaguars.
Of course, it’s only one game and things have a tendency to be spread around in McCarthy’s offense. We’ve seen plenty of players go multiple game stretches without doing much, then suddenly have what looks like a huge game (memories of James Jones).
After one game, Cook is still waiting for those throws to come his way. He was targeted twice in the Packers’ opening win at the Jaguars, fewer chances than Jordy Nelson (nine), Randall Cobb (eight), Davante Adams (seven) and Richard Rodgers (three). He caught just one pass for seven yards, though he drew a 30-yard pass-interference penalty that flipped field position before half.
Cook wasn’t frustrated with his lack of targets. Quite the opposite. He said some plays called for him were scrapped because the Jaguars provided safety help over the top, opening up chances for teammates.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Packers find themselves not only without Shields but also won’t have the services of rookie Josh Hawkins, out with a hamstring injury.
Damarious Randall, Quinten Rollins and LaDarius Gunter undoubtedly will be the top three corners Sunday night in Minneapolis, but should the Packers need to dig deeper into their secondary depth, look for undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice to build on his cameo role in Jacksonville.
That’s right, you may not have noticed, but Brice played nine snaps on the final drive down in Jacksonville when the Packers defense needed a game-winning stop. Safety Morgan Burnett was moved to the dime cornerback spot due to injuries and Brice was called upon to man the safety spot opposite Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
In the bigger picture of what was an exciting game, Brice's contribution is largely insignificant. But given the health of Shields, who is unlikely to play against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night, Brice is almost certainly the next man up if the secondary suffers any further injuries.
As of Friday morning, the Packers had only three healthy corners on the roster: Rollins, Gunter and Damarious Randall, the new No. 1 for cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt Jr. If injuries force the introduction of a new player, it would have to be a safety. And Brice, whose remarkable athleticism flashed throughout training camp — 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash, 42-inch vertical leap, 21 reps on the bench press, 11-1 broad jump — is in line to get the nod over Milwaukee-native Marwin Evans, another undrafted safety who made the 53-man roster.
Another group that will be asked to work without the benefit of a bevy of veteran depth is the defensive line. Tasked with controlling the line of scrimmage against the Vikings and Adrian Peterson, Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion will be asked to build upon their stellar showing down in Jacksonville.
Speaking of Guion, he will be making another “homecoming” of sorts as he faces off against the team that drafted him in the fifth round back in 2008. The Vikings let him walk after his rookie contract and the Packers grabbed him.
Bob McGinn wrote this week about the history Guion not only has with the Vikings, but his complicated relationship with the Packers organization.
In his own inimitable way, defensive lineman Letroy Guion will be one of the more compelling players on the field Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
The Minnesota Vikings were making more than a business decision in March 2014 when they released Guion. The new coach, Mike Zimmer, saw enough on tape and heard enough from team officials to know he didn’t want Guion on the team.
It’s remarkable that Guion has lasted this long with the Packers despite a pattern of behavior that would test any NFL team.
His three-game NFL suspension to start the 2015 season was the result of the incident in February 2015 when he was pulled over by police in Florida and almost three-quarters of a pound of marijuana, a handgun and about $190,000 in cash were found in his truck.
It would be so easy for the Packers to say goodbye to Guion and the baggage, just as the Vikings did.
But for now, at least, Guion plays, and plays hard, for a team that appears incapable of making do without him.
Speaking of the Vikings, the current NFC North champions are set to go on a serious run for a championship. That is in the estimation of our Pete Dougherty, who sees a team that has not been knocked off its stride by the serious injury to its starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.
On offense, Bradford will have Adrian Peterson to chew up yardage and clock, and to run play action off, and one of the game’s best offensive coordinators in Norv Turner, who runs a traditional drop-back offense that doesn’t require his quarterback to be mobile.
Would I pick the Vikings as the division or Super Bowl favorite? No. But with Bradford I wouldn’t count them out, either. In fact, if I had to pick a dark horse, they’d be it. The biggest thing going against them is that Bradford wasn’t with them for training camp.
The defense of their NFC North crown essentially begins tonight in their new home.
Here’s how we’re picking the game: