After flirting with a shutout in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, the Minnesota Vikings defense had reason to be confident.
After generating just 10 points in their Week 1 performance against the Chicago Bears, the Green Bay Packers had cause for concern on offense.
Both narratives took a 180-degree turn in the first 16 minutes of Sunday’s 21-16 win for Green Bay.
The Packers scored all 21 of their points by the second play of the second quarter, finishing their first three drives with touchdowns to build a 21-0 lead that the Vikings couldn’t erase. To the defense’s credit, it shut the Packers out for the better part of three quarters, but the adjustments didn’t come in time.
“They had us off balance,” said head coach Mike Zimmer. “They didn’t start fast last week, so we figured they would this week. They caught us on a couple things, and we were a little bit banged up in the secondary so we had to make some adjustments.”
Green Bay drove 171 yards on the first three drives, needing just 19 total plays, a gaudy average of 9 yards per play.
Their first play from scrimmage found Davante Adams open for 39 yards as he fooled Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith with an over route that featured a double move bringing him toward the sideline after he appeared to be crossing the field against Rhodes’ outside leverage.
“I mean, it was a new play,” Rhodes said. “We thought something else. There was no audible or nothing. Adams ran a different route than we thought he’d normally run on film. So I thought something, Harry thought something. It’s just not what we’d seen on film and he just broke it off. The first 15 plays are always different from what you see on film. It was a good play at the right time.”
Green Bay then gave Minnesota a taste of its own medicine with two pitch plays out to the right, one week after the Vikings abused the Falcons with a similar concept. Running back Aaron Jones gained 21 yards on two plays to put Green Bay in the red zone.
On the next play, Vikings linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks got out of position on a screen pass to Jamaal Williams, who motored in for a 15-yard touchdown reception, capping a four-play, 75-yard drive that offered little resistance from the Vikings.
“The fun thing about it is we have moved the ball at times very easily,” Rodgers said after the game. “I think we made improvements from Week 1 to Week 2.”
Drive No. 2 was all about Rodgers converting third downs with his arm. On 3rd and 6 he found Marquez Valdes-Scantling for 14 yards on an in-cutting pattern against Trae Waynes. Three plays later, Rodgers converted a 3rd and 5 to Adams, who beat fill-in Jayron Kearse, the starting nickel replacing Mackensie Alexander (elbow). Three plays later, Rodgers took advantage of Rhodes’ off coverage with a quick pass to Adams in the flat to set up 1st and goal.
With Alexander out, Rodgers found a way to exploit not only Kearse on this drive but rookie Nate Meadors — who was moved to the active roster from the practice squad this week. Shortly after entering, Meadors was targeted on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison, which Zimmer called a “bad matchup.”
“They found some of our substitution guys and hit them early,” he said.
The third drive came courtesy of a shortened field following Kirk Cousins’ fumble. Green Bay took over at the Minnesota 33-yard line and needed just four plays. Adams, who was huge in the first half, beat Rhodes on a crossing route for 15 yards on the first play. After that, it was the Aaron Jones show. The running back took a draw for nine yards, a dump-off pass against Barr for seven yards and a 2-yard read-option plunge into the end zone.
Packers 21, Vikings 0.
“Typically we’re pretty good in the red zone,” said Zimmer. “Today we weren’t good enough.”
It’s remarkable that the same defense proceeded to shut the Packers out for 44 minutes, allowing no drive longer than six plays until the Packers’ final possession.
But some lapses in coverage against a quality receiver, linebackers scuffling to defend running backs and reserve nickels getting picked on all contributed to the insurmountable deficit.
“They just took their shots,” said defensive end Danielle Hunter. “They came out and took their shots and we didn’t start fast enough.”