Vikings must tackle problems to compete with Packers

Michael Cohen
Packers News
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Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) sacks Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) last December.

Sixth in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2017 regular season.

GREEN BAY - The Adrian Peterson era came to an end earlier this year when the Minnesota Vikings declined to pick up his option for the 2017 season. Peterson became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the New Orleans Saints in late April.

Moving on from a franchise player is never easy; especially when said player ran for 1,000 or more yards seven times in the last nine years, including five seasons with 1,300 or more yards.

But the Vikings got to work quickly, and in late March they signed ex-Raider Latavius Murray to a three-year, $15 million deal. Murray ran for 1,854 yards and eight touchdowns in the last two seasons combined.

RELATED: A look at all the 2017 Packers opponents

Then the Vikings selected running back Dalvin Cook in the second round of this year’s draft. Cook starred at Florida State and twice earned first-team All-American honors. He ran for 4,464 yards and 46 touchdowns in just three seasons with the Seminoles and added 79 catches for 935 yards as well.

Murray and Cook join incumbent Jerick McKinnon to form a trio of running backs that looks very good on paper. McKinnon took over as the starter when Peterson tore his meniscus last season. Though he struggled as a featured rusher, McKinnon is a proven weapon as a pass-catching back, especially on third down.

But even Peterson floundered behind the Vikings’ horrendous offensive line last season. It is a crippling weakness at a time when the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions are both capable of winning the division.

Here are three things to know about the Vikings:

» Tackling fuel: It’s not unusual to hear personnel men assess the strength of an offense in tandem with the strength of the tackles. If a team has sturdy bookends on the left and the right, things tend to go fairly well. The Vikings had anything but stability along their offensive line last season, and quarterback Sam Bradford paid the price with 37 sacks taken. He was constantly under pressure and, as a result, constantly banged up. The Vikings were unfortunate in that the 2017 draft was poor for offensive linemen. Instead, they had to spend big in free agency: five years and $58.75 million for Riley Reiff, the former Lion; five years and $30 million for Mike Remmers, the former Panther. Will they be better options? It’s too early to tell.   

» On the mend: With Bradford entrenched atop the depth chart, it’s easy to forget that the Vikings were supposed to be Teddy Bridgewater’s team. Bridgewater, a first-round pick in 2014, showed nice improvement between his rookie and sophomore seasons that left fans optimistic about the future — until the injury. Bridgewater suffered a horrific non-contact injury last August, and the official diagnosis was torn ACL and dislocated kneecap. That’s when the Vikings traded for Bradford. Ten months later, Bridgewater took part in OTAs on a limited basis. He went through individual drills and worked off to the side with his knee in a massive brace. The progress is encouraging, even if his return is far from imminent. 

» Eye exam: Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer endured health problems of his own in 2016 after scratching his eye during a game against the Chicago Bears. Zimmer has undergone eight surgeries since October to repair a detached retina, and the injury prevented him from working at various times throughout the year. This spring, Zimmer missed two weeks after doctors ordered him to rest following the latest procedure. He has no plans to stop coaching and joked with tight end Kyle Rudolph about returning “with one eye or two. Doesn’t really matter — I’m going to be back.”

Packers schedule glimpse

Oct. 15 at Minnesota, noon, FOX

Week before: at Dallas, Oct. 8

Week after: vs. New Orleans, Oct. 22

On the horizon: Bye week

Minnesota Vikings

Coach: Mike Zimmer (26-22 overall, fourth season)

2016 record: 8-8, third in NFC North

Scoring offense: 20.4 points per game (23rd in NFL)

Total offense: 315.1 yards per game (28th)

Scoring defense: 19.2 points allowed per game (6th)

Total defense: 314.9 yards allowed per game (3rd)

Series: Packers lead 60-51-2

Last meeting: The Packers lost the NFC North title to the Vikings in 2015 when they were unable to win at home in Week 17. A year later, the Packers earned a slice of revenge by defeating the Vikings in Week 16, on Christmas Eve, to set up a title showdown with Detroit that Green Bay won the following Sunday. Aaron Rodgers was terrific against Minnesota with 347 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Jordy Nelson caught nine passes for 154 yards and two scores. In the end, the Packers ran away from the Vikings for an easy 38-25 win.

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