Packers must adjust after Vikings lose QB Kirk Cousins to COVID-19 list
GREEN BAY – De’Vondre Campbell had just finished with the platitudes, how Minnesota Vikings backup Sean Mannion is “an NFL quarterback,” how starter Kirk Cousins’ absence Sunday night doesn’t change a thing for the Green Bay Packers' defense.
Then, in the midst of an eventful day for any defense preparing to play the Vikings, Campbell showed just how peculiar this week will be for the Packers.
“I haven’t had a chance to check him out,” Campbell said when asked what he has seen from Mannion, the Vikings' backup quarterback, on film. “I just found out that Kirk tested positive (for COVID-19). So I’ll start doing my research now once we got off this meeting and kind of ask my coaches to send me some film on him. To be a hundred percent honest, I’m not a hundred percent familiar with him. I know who he is, but I’m not too familiar with who he is as player.”
The Packers will be cramming late this week to prepare for the Vikings' backup quarterback after Cousins was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday morning. The Packers have plenty of familiarity with Cousins, who spent the past four seasons in the NFC North. Before that, Packers coach Matt LaFleur coached Cousins while the two were in Washington.
But the Packers' coaching staff has ties to Mannion as well. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry was the Los Angeles Rams linebackers coach when Mannion was the team’s backup quarterback in 2017 and 2018. LaFleur was the Rams’ offensive coordinator in 2017.
Surely both are aware Mannion’s career numbers leave much to be desired. Mannion has completed 45 of 74 passes (60.8%) for 384 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 57.5 rating making two starts in 13 games during his career. The 2015 third-round pick does not strike fear in opposing defenses.
LaFleur said Mannion’s pocket-passing style, similar to Cousin's, preserves much of the game plan the Packers implemented during the week.
“If you’re going to get a guy who can really run around, and they’re going to switch to all zone read,” LaFleur said, “I think that has more of an impact. Certainly there’s always adjustments, but that goes on throughout the course of a game, it goes on throughout the course of a week as you find new guys, whether or not they’re playing or if there’s a new injury or whatnot. But I think by and large, your game plan stays pretty much intact.”
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Campbell rightly pointed out the key to the Vikings' offense remains the same. Running back Dalvin Cook, himself recently off the reserve/COVID-19 list, is in the midst of his third straight 1,000-yard season. Cook was held relatively in check when the Packers traveled to Minnesota in November, rushing 22 times for 86 yards and a touchdown.
He has had monster games against the Packers in the past, including 163 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries in a Vikings win last season at Lambeau Field. Cook had 154 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries when the Vikings traveled to Lambeau Field in 2019.
The Packers would like to prevent Cook from having a third straight 150-yard game on their home field, no matter the Vikings quarterback.
“The Vikings are a run-first offense,” Campbell said, “and everything they do is predicated off the run. So it doesn’t matter who’s at quarterback. It’s a system. If they’re running the ball well, then the quarterback will play well.
“We just have to continue to prepare as we have, and if anything changes then we’ll adjust on the fly. I don’t think much will change.”
Left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) and right tackle Billy Turner were ruled out Friday for the Vikings game. Defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster (back) is questionable.
Alexander was a limited participant in practice this week but apparently is progressing.
“He certainly looks good out there running around, bringing a lot of juice, a lot of energy, doing a great job on both sides of the ball,” LaFleur said on Friday.
The hint Alexander is working on both sides of the ball confirmed a report from PackersNews.com reporter Tom Silverstein, that Alexander is getting some work at wide receiver.
The Packers also had quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the practice field Friday, during which he was listed as a limited participant.
“He did an outstanding job today,” LaFleur said of Rodgers. “You can feel the urgency when he's out there and he kind of sets the tone. And everybody is on top of the details and you can see it. We did primarily red zone today, and he did everything that everybody else did.”
Also back on the practice field was receiver Randall Cobb, who has been recovering from a core muscle injury and has not played since Week 11 against the Los Angeles Rams. Cobb practiced Thursday in pads then again on Friday.
“It's great to have a guy like that out there," LaFleur said. "You talk about just a guy that you love being around, just the energy he brings, his attention to detail. He’s so helpful for his other teammates and he's always upholding that standard. I still think he might be a little ways away yet.”
Packers look at punter Townsend
The Packers worked out punter Johnny Townsend this week, in light of punter Corey Bojorquez being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Townsend was a fifth-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in the 2018 NFL draft. He has spent time with six teams over the years, plus two stints with both the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. During that time, he has appeared on four active rosters.
Townsend’s brother Tommy is the punter for the Chiefs and was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after a standout performance against the Packers this season. Two weeks ago, Townsend was signed to the Chiefs' practice squad as a backup for his brother and after the younger Townsend returned a positive COIVD-19 test, Johnny Townsend was elevated to the game-day roster last Sunday, for the Week 16 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Townsend punted twice, averaging 45.5 yards per punt with a long of 50 yards.
Bojorquez was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, but tested positive Tuesday. Therefore he could return Sunday, after spending five days in the protocol, and play against the Vikings. The Packers have until Saturday to elect whether or not to add Townsend to the roster for Sunday night’s game.
The Packers returned safety Henry Black, linebacker Tipa Galeai, corner Shemar Jean-Charles and corner Kevin King off the reserve/COVID-19 list. They activated linebacker La’Darius Hamilton off the practice squad reserve/COVID-19 list and placed kicker JJ Molson and linebacker Ray Wilborn on that list.