Packers at Vikings preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (4-1) at Minnesota Vikings (3-2).
WHEN: Noon Sunday.
WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis.
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, AM-1360 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 59-50-2.
LINE: Packers by 3.
SURFACE: Artificial turf.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (128-70-1) vs. Minnesota's Mike Zimmer (29-25-0).
5 THINGS TO WATCH
BIG LETDOWN: In six quarters this season, Minnesota quarterback Sam Bradford has completed eight passes of 20 or more yards. In 14 quarters, backup Case Keenum has 11. That’s a considerable drop in the rate of big plays. The Vikings won't have Bradford and also will be without receiver Stefon Diggs (groin), who ranks tied for first in the NFL in 20-plus yard receptions, so their ability to get the ball down the field is going to be affected. After allowing an average of 3.6 20-yard completions per game a year ago, the Packers are down to 2.6. “The last three games I think we’ve done a better job of not giving up the big play,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “If you don’t want to let people score many points, you’ve got to make them go the hard way.”
TY GOES TO THE ROOKIE: Now that rookie Aaron Jones has posted the season’s first 100-yard game, the coaches have a decision to make. Is Jones their new No. 1? It appears that Ty Montgomery will return from broken ribs this week, so a call must be made right away on who should get the majority of carries. Montgomery’s inability to produce on the ground and stay healthy weigh heavily against him. “He should be used as a match-up gadget back,” said an NFL scout this week. “That’s what he is.” Jones will be a marked man this week and you can expect the Vikings to pay more attention to him than the Dallas Cowboys did.
EIGHT MEN IN: The challenge of a Mike Zimmer-orchestrated defense is trying to figure out what its intentions are. Zimmer consistently will bring a safety in the box and walk his inside linebackers up to the line of scrimmage, creating a threat that he’s going to devote them all to stopping the run or rushing the passer. “The thing about that defense is there’s eight guys up and there’s seven blockers, so you’re always outnumbered by one if they decide to bring them all,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “But they’ve got to play empty pressure behind it and go one-on-one outside. Any completion or broken tackle’s a big play. So, it’s a gamble for both sides.” Zimmer will bring all kinds of combinations of those eight players, so it’s up to quarterback Aaron Rodgers to figure out who’s coming.
BACK TO BACK: Losing running back Dalvin Cook for the season to a knee injury was a huge blow to the Vikings' offense. Despite missing last week and part of the week before, Cook still ranks seventh in the NFL with 354 yards rushing. The Vikings thought Latavius Murray would pick up most of the carries, but third-down back Jerick McKinnon exploded for 146 total yards, including a 58-yard touchdown run, against Chicago and now stands to be a major part of the offense. The 5-9, 205-pound former college option quarterback is in his fourth year and familiar to the Packers. “He’s kind of been their match-up guy,” Capers said. “He’s been a good receiver, does a lot of different things. They’ve run wildcat with him They did a nice job getting him out on the perimeter and getting him in space. You saw him break the long one against the Bears outside.”
MIDDLE MAN: The Packers debuted a 4-3 look in which Clay Matthews lines up as a stack linebacker against Dallas and probably will use it some against the Vikings. But it was used to help keep quarterback Dak Prescott from scrambling and running back Ezekiel Elliott from running wild. The Packers probably are going to use more of their “nitro” defense so they can pressure Keenum. But the 4-3 is in their back pocket and Matthews had an impact in that defense. “I think for the most part as we’ve always done moving guys around, especially in these latter couple years, we’re just trying to find mismatches and ways to improve the defense,” Matthews said. “I think we got exactly what we wanted out of that defense.”
If Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs were available, this would be a different game. When healthy, Bradford pushes the ball down the field and continually stresses opposing secondaries. The Packers are stressed in the secondary with two starters possibly out, so they’re catching a break. They’ll need just a couple of touchdowns to win. Packers 24, Vikings 17
Minnesota has some of the best defensive talent in the NFL and a top-notch defensive play caller in coach Mike Zimmer. But with Sam Bradford (knee) and Stefon Diggs (groin) ruled out, and Dalvin Cook (knee) out for the year, the Vikings are going to have trouble keeping up with Aaron Rodgers and Co. Packers 27, Vikings 17
Pretty simple this week: The Vikings' defense is really good; the Vikings' backup quarterback is not. I can't see Case Keenum scoring enough points to match Aaron Rodgers. Packers 20, Vikings 13
The challenge for the Packers is different this week. They are playing an inverse of the Dallas Cowboys team that had a potent offense, but a defense that could not keep Aaron Rodgers out of the end zone. In Minnesota, the Packers' offense will have one of its stiffest challenges of the season: a good Vikings team in their own building. But it’s hard to see how a Vikings offense missing rookie running back Dalvin Cook can score enough points to win. Packers 23, Vikings 10
The Packers may be dealing with a plethora of injuries, but they actually are the healthier of the two teams here. This game won't be pretty and points will be at a premium, but Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense should find a way to outpace Case Keenum and the Vikings. Packers 23, Vikings 20