GREEN BAY - With a free weekend following the grind of camp that flowed into opening the 2019 NFL season on a Thursday night, it would’ve been understandable if Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur spent a couple days away from football.
Of course, as LaFleur said, “it’s pretty hard to do.” This is more than a profession. It’s a lifestyle. So while LaFleur gave his coaches a chance to stay home this weekend, he said “most of the guys” found their way inside Lambeau Field. They started some work, watched some games.
There was one matchup that drew particular interest: Minnesota’s drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons, where LaFleur coached quarterbacks under Dan Quinn in 2015 and 2016.
“Yeah, I did. I watched it,” LaFleur said. “That was an impressive performance by them to beat — I know what Atlanta’s all about and how good they are — and they handled them pretty good. We’re gonna have a really tough challenge coming in here.”
The Packers host the Vikings on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field. Their NFC North rival will be fresh off a 28-12 shellacking of the Falcons. The Vikings took a 28-0 lead into the fourth quarter, intercepting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan twice and holding receiver Julio Jones to six catches for 31 yards.
None of which surprised LaFleur. While the Packers coach hadn’t faced Bears defensive play caller Chuck Pagano as a coordinator, LaFleur was the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017 when they traveled to Minnesota. So he has some familiarity with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s defense.
“He stresses you,” LaFleur said. “He presents a lot of similar looks, and they do a lot of different things off of those looks. Then you combine that with the talent they have, and again on all three levels of that defense, they’ve got Pro Bowlers everywhere. So it certainly is going to be a good task for our offense and a good measuring stick to see where we’re at, see how much we can improve from last week."
A year ago, the Vikings handed Kirk Cousins $84 million guaranteed so he could, judging from the team’s opener Sunday, hand off the football.
In a game that’s now dominated by throwing the ball, the Vikings turned the tables in their Week 1 win against the Falcons. Cousins threw just 10 passes, completing eight for 98 yards, one touchdown and a 140.8 rating. For comparison, the second-fewest passes thrown by any team entering Monday night’s games was Seattle’s 20.
The Vikings didn’t need to air it out because running back Dalvin Cook carried the load with 21 carries for 111 yards. Cook’s 21 carries were second in the league to Indianapolis running back Marlon Mack’s 25. In all, the Vikings’ 38 carries were second only to Baltimore’s 46, but the Ravens still threw 26 passes.
“I think it’s crazy,” inside linebacker Blake Martinez said, “to kind of see how they switched from last year. I feel like last year they passed the ball a ton, did a lot of things in that aspect. It’s going to be another tough test for us, especially the front seven to stop the run game.”
The Vikings will likely even their run-pass differential as the season progresses. A year ago, Cousins never threw fewer than 21 passes in a game. He threw more than 40 passes seven times, including a pair of early-season games with more than 50 pass attempts.
LaFleur to face mentor
Gary Kubiak is perhaps best known as the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl-winning head coach in 2015, but he also served as the Houston Texans’ head coach from 2006-13 — and from 2008-09, Matt LaFleur was on his offensive staff as a quality control staff.
Kubiak is now the assistant head coach/offensive consultant for the Minnesota Vikings as they head into Lambeau Field on Sunday to take on LaFleur’s Packers. Kevin Stefanski is the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, but Kubiak’s influence could be seen on film.
“When you're watching the tape and you're watching Minnesota's offense, you can see a lot of similar concepts, especially they ran the ball,” LaFleur said Monday. “What, did they throw the ball like 10 times, or whatever it was? Yeah, there's a lot of similarities between what they do and some of the stuff that we do.”
Packers start the week healthy
Not only did the Packers get a mini-bye after their Thursday night season-opener Chicago, they escaped the game without any serious injuries. Every player but linebacker Oren Burks (pectoral) and wide receiver Darrius Shepherd (hamstring) practiced to some degree during Monday’s short session. Rookie corner Ka’Dar Hollman (neck) remained in the red non-contact practice jersey.
The club practiced on Clarke Hinkle Field for a little more than an hour, followed by a weight-lifting session.
“We came out of the game healthy, too, which was a bonus, obviously,” LaFleur said. “It was just a quick, crisp practice out there.”