Danielle Hunter landed on IR and isn’t going to play. Dalvin Cook’s lack of a contract extension is still a smoldering issue. Oh, and there’s no depth at safety. Other than that — and a few pets’ heads falling off — the Minnesota Vikings are ready to go for their Week 1 game against the rival Green Bay Packers inside an empty US Bank Stadium.
If that uplifting preface doesn’t get you all lubed up for the semi-annual installment of The Border Battle, then maybe some additional preview fodder will do the trick.
THE BIG MATCHUPS
If you somehow hadn’t heard, Mike Zimmer wants his team to run the ball. That means Cook – who is actually still under contract and was named by Zimmer as one of the Vikings’ team captains – is slated to get a lot of work. That plan functioned pretty well in the first Vikings-Packers matchup last season when Cook carried 20 times for 154 yards and a touchdown. However, both Cook and Alexander Mattison missed the rematch last December, leaving Mike Boone to “carry the load” as he wandered around for 28 yards on 11 carries.
The thing is, the Packers are transforming themselves into a power run offense as well under head coach Matt LaFleur. If you’ll recall, Aaron Jones – who, like Cook, is only under contract through this season — ran roughshod over the Vikings defense last season to the tune of 270 yards and three touchdowns in the two matchups. Stopping him, not Aaron Rodgers, is the first priority of Zimmer’s defense on Sunday.
As for Rodgers, one of the primary talking points going into this game will be his efforts to pick on the youthful Vikings’ cornerbacks with his one established star wide receiver. Said target is of course Davante Adams, who caught 20 passes over the two games against the Vikings last season. You may have caught wind of this not-so-secret Border Battle narrative by now, so we won’t dwell on it here. It would be a surprising little plot twist, however, if the new fleet of Vikings cornerbacks stole the show in this matchup. But make no mistake, the veteran Rodgers-to-Adams combo certainly holds the upper hand, especially given the lack of preseason prep for the Vikings’ corners.
The more intriguing matchup to keep an eye on might be on the other side, following Packers stud cornerback Jaire Alexander when he lines up on Adam Thielen. If the ultra-confident Alexander stifles Thielen or at least holds him in check, when the two are matched up, Bisi Johnson, Irv Smith Jr. and Justin Jefferson will be responsible for making some big plays. Note: This could become a frequent storyline this season until Jefferson or someone else proves to be enough of a threat/adequate replacement for Stefon Diggs. Watch this space.
PACKERS PLAYER TO WATCH
The ideal scenario for both teams: Get ahead, pound the ball on the ground, force the other team to throw, and get after the quarterback.
In 2019, that’s exactly what the Packers were able to do against the Vikings. And in the second game, when the Packers knew the Vikings wouldn’t be running effectively without Cook and Mattison, they just pinned their ears back and went after Kirk Cousins like a Packers fan after a case of Old Milwaukee.
That was the Za’Darius Smith game.
The Packers’ Pro Bowl edge rusher got to know Cousins well that day, shredding the Vikes for 3.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and five quarterback hits. You can bet the Vikings have watched and re-watched the film of that mismatch from last season over and over. Aside from Rodgers and Jones, it’s Smith that could single-handedly tilt this game in the Packers’ favor if the Vikings don’t have an answer for him.
Getting a win against a division rival to open the season is obviously big. However, Week 1 results have been an omen for Vikings teams for the past 30 years regardless of who they face.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, the Vikings have gotten off to an 0-1 start to the season 13 times since 1990.
- Of those 13 seasons with an 0-1 start, they have finished above .500 only five times.
- Of those five times, they’ve reached the playoffs four times — and lost in the Wild Card round all four times.
On the other hand, the Vikings have started 1-0 in 17 of the past 30 seasons.
- Of those 17 seasons with a 1-0 start, they have finished above .500 in 12 of them.
- Of those 12 seasons with a winning record, they’ve made the playoffs 11 times.
In summation, you could probably surmise this Week 1 Packers-Vikings game is fairly significant in this neck of the woods.