The Minnesota Vikings allowed Aaron Rodgers plenty of time in the pocket on Sunday, and the Green Bay Packers quarterback was able to pick apart a young and inexperienced secondary. The 43-34 loss was embarrassing from a defensive standpoint, and the Vikings have now dropped three straight to their division rival going back to last season.
Here are three things we learned about the Vikings following their Week 1 loss:
They miss Danielle Hunter
The biggest reason why the Vikings lost this game was they could not generate a pass rush. Rodgers had all the time in the world to scan the field and find the open man: Whether it was Davante Adams, Allen Lazard or Marquez Valdes-Scantling, it didn’t matter because Rodgers never had a Vikings pass rusher in his face. The only time he even got close to getting hit by a Vikings’ defender was early in the game when Harrison Smith came flying in off a blitz. Other than that, Yannick Ngakoue or Ifeadi Odenigbo couldn’t get a sniff of Rodgers.
Much of the blame for this has to be put upon head coach Mike Zimmer. He didn’t come prepared with creative blitz packages that allowed a corner, safety or linebacker to come shooting through the line. He seemed to assume that Ngakoue and Odenigbo would be able to generate that rush on their own, and failed to make adjustments at halftime when it was evident they weren’t getting close to Rodgers.
Minnesota clearly missed Hunter and what he brings to the team, not just from a pass rush standpoint but also his run defense. Without him on the field, the Packers weren’t concerned about the Vikings pass rushers, and clearly didn’t have to be. Rodgers had an embarrassingly long time to sit in the pocket and find a wide open receiver.
Thielen is Cousins’ favorite target
Many figured that the Packers would do their best to take Adam Thielen out of the game. With little to no proven receivers in the passing game other than No. 19, it was assumed the Packers would double team Thielen and force Cousins to throw the ball to unproven targets like Justin Jefferson and Bisi Johnson. That wasn’t the case. Cousins looked to Thielen twice on the opening drive and looked for him later in the game when they were trying to mount a comeback.
Thielen ended up with six receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He was able to get open even in double coverage, and he made some grabs that only he can. Despite the extra attention paid to him and the other legitimate options the Vikings have in the passing game, this game proved that Thielen will be Cousins’ first option when he needs a big play.
The young secondary is going to be an issue
The Vikings had plenty of concerns heading into this game: The offensive line was an issue, the run defense was paltry, and there were was also plenty of uncertainty surrounding their inexperienced cornerbacks. After the first game, that concern manifested as a major weakness. Granted, this unit was not helped at all by a lack of pass rush — and you have to factor in that they faced a Hall of Fame quarterback in Rodgers and one of the best receivers in the game in Davante Adams — but their lack of coverage ability looks like it will be an issue for a while.
Holton Hill was clearly the biggest offender in Week 1. He was consistently two steps behind Adams just about every time he caught the ball. Whether Adams was breaking to the sideline or streaking down the field, Hill was usually trailing by a yard or so. He was picked on constantly by Rodgers and never could seem to regroup or win his fair share of plays. Cameron Dantzler also struggled and was out-positioned by the Packers’ receivers on multiple occasions while missing a handful of tackles.
Jeff Gladney was basically AWOL the whole game and Mike Hughes also struggled. It’s hard to find any sort of silver lining in this group when they allowed Rodgers to throw for 364 yards and four touchdowns. He would’ve easily gone for over 400 had Valdes-Scanting been able to hold on to the football and not committed a couple of horrible drops.
The only good thing about the performance of the Vikings’ cornerbacks is that it can’t get any worse. Hopefully they learn from this, are able to correct some of the mistakes they made and have a much better showing against the Indianapolis Colts, an inferior team, in Week 2.