The Minnesota Vikings opened the season on Sunday by getting shellacked by the Green Bay Packers, 43-34 inside US Bank Stadium. Legendary Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers reverted to his old self, completing 32 of his 44 attempts for 364 yards and four touchdowns without turning the ball over.
It was the worst kept secret this side of the Mississippi that Rodgers was coming into his Week 1 contest against the Vikes with a specific plan to get his favorite target, wide receiver Davante Adams, the ball early and often. I knew that, you knew that, and most importantly, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer knew that.
Let’s take a look at how Adams torched Minnesota, setting a franchise record with 14 receptions to go along with 156 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
After losing his top two cornerbacks from the year prior (Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes), it’s understandable that the Vikings faced an uphill climb in defending the best receiver within the division. But a defensive mastermind such as Zimmer should be capable of making life a little more difficult for Rodgers’ lone playmaker on the outside.
Zimmer went into Sunday with a plan to give Adams myriad different looks and coverages, but Adams found himself with ample breathing room throughout the afternoon. Let’s take a peek at his first catch of the day, and the slippery slope that came of it for Zimmer’s defensive unit.
On this particular play, Adams lines up in a tight/bunch formation, matched up in man coverage against rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler. Rodgers confirms the man coverage by sending fellow receiver Marques Valdez-Scantling into motion with Vikings cornerback Mike Hughes tracking his every move. With Zimmer bringing an eight-man front, you’ll notice that five-time Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith is providing the single-high protection over the top.
The five-yard cushion that Dantzler gives on this play allows Adams a free release into his route. Adams’ get-off is stupendous, immediately pushing the route vertically, making the rookie corner honor the vertical threat. The play action fake to Jamaal Williams keeps the Minnesota linebackers’ focus on the threat of a run, opening up the entire middle of the field.
Adams makes his cut back towards the middle of the field on the dig route once he hits his landmark 10 yards downfield at the sticks. You’ll notice — apologies for the lack of film, as of Wednesday morning, the All-22 film has yet to be uploaded to NFL Gamepass — that Dantzler does a good job of sitting down at the sticks, not getting fooled by Adams’ threat to push his route further downfield.
It’s difficult to see with the broadcast film, but Adams rounds his dig route, continuing to climb as he reappears on the screen 14 yards down field with the ball already in the air heading his direction. Again, the rookie Dantzler does a fairly decent job of recognizing the dig concept. But by allowing Adams to win the initial hand fight at the sticks and to get inside position on his break, Adams has already won. The play action fake prevented Eric Kendricks from dropping into coverage, providing Adams with nothing but green real estate once he beats the rookie inside on man coverage.
Valdes-Scantling’s deep post forces Smith, as the single-high safety, to honor the vertical threat. MVS’s deep post further vacates the middle of the field, allowing Adams to complete the catch – his first of the season – and to keep the chains moving for the Packers after picking up 14 yards. Considering how much open field there is, you have no choice but to tip your cap to the rookie Dantzler for immediately bringing Adams to the ground and preventing a chunk play.
On this next play, Zimmer dials up a zone coverage look with his nickel defense as Adams works out of the inside slot. The Packers are in the midst of a two-minute drill knocking on the red zone’s doorstep.
You’ll notice that Zimmer elects not to bring any additional pressure, instead relying on his front four to get after Rodgers and, at the very least, force the ball out of his hands before he’d like. Kendricks immediately drops into his zone with eyeballs on the aforementioned culprit in Adams, with safety Anthony Harris providing further protection over the top in this cover-2 look.
Dantzler and Hughes do a good job of “passing along” the Packers receivers in MVS and Allen Lazard once they cross into their respective zones. With one timeout and less than a minute remaining with the Packers already well within field goal range, the Vikings appear to be more than content with giving up the short stuff. The real issue that lies with this play has nothing to do with Zimmer’s secondary, but everything to do with the Vikings’ inability to get home with their front four.
With Adams no longer on the screen, it’s at this very moment when Rodgers realizes that he has room to escape the pocket and attack the Vikings in multiple ways. Rodgers can take the safe, intermediate throw to either MVS, Williams or Lazard and pick up positive yards for a third and manageable. Rodgers also appears to have a running lane, if he so chooses, to pick up as many yards as he can before setting up a pivotal third down.
Instead, Rodgers decides to trust his mind warp rapport with his most trusted receiver, reminiscent of his days spent with former alpha wide receiver Jordy Nelson, as Adams deviates from his route and continues to work back towards his quarterback that has since left the pocket. Not to beat a dead horse, but this is exactly where Danielle Hunter’s absence was felt on Sunday. You’d like to think that one of the best pass rushers on the planet would be able to prevent Rodgers from essentially getting wherever he wants on the field in order to make this throw.
Not to mention, the Packers were without two starting offensive linemen last week with right tackle Billy Turner in street clothes and later losing guard Lane Taylor to a season-ending knee injury. I don’t care if you happen to clone Deion Sanders six different times for your secondary. If you give Rodgers all day to throw, allowing him to get out of the pocket and to throw on the run, it’s game over.
Rodgers’ ball placement here is exactly the reason why he’s been a longtime member of the Greatest Quarterback of All-Time discussion. His ability to throw with such velocity and precision while on the move is what makes him quite different from the rest of the quarterbacks that came before him. Adams’ toe drag swag on the edge of the sideline is the cherry on top of a truly beautiful connection out of these two.
When you’re going up against two guys that are near the top of their respective positions in Rodgers and Adams, Zimmer has to bring a little more Xs and Os, as well as Jimmys and Joes to the table.