The Minnesota Vikings should be feeling pretty good about themselves following a victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, but a reality check might be coming to town as the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers will spend Sunday in U.S. Bank Stadium. It isn’t the high-flying offense that fans are accustomed to, but the Packers still have many ways to win. They’re 8-2, after all.
Here are four things that the Packers do well that the Vikings will have to prepare for.
possessing the ball
The Packers haven’t been hitting teams with quick-strike touchdowns this season, but that doesn’t mean the offense isn’t moving the ball. They lead the NFL with an average time of possession of 3:17 per drive. For comparison’s sake, that’s 37 seconds longer than the average Vikings offensive drive.
There are many factors at play here. For one, they have the 12th-ranked third-down offense in the league, which of course, keeps the offense on the field. They also have only committed nine turnovers this season, and two of those came against the Kansas City Chiefs when Aaron Rodgers sat out due to COVID. Even though he hasn’t practiced so far this week with a toe injury, Rodgers said he plans on playing Sunday. The offense hasn’t been pretty this year, but it hasn’t set the team up for failure.
stifling the Passing game
Green Bay has been stingy against the pass all season. Even though they rank 17th in the league in passing attempts given up, they have allowed the third-fewest yards through the air. They are opportunistic in taking the ball away, picking off 11 passes, good for seventh in the NFL.
The Packers have done this despite the absence of star cornerback Jaire Alexander, who has missed the past five games with injury. With him and Kevin King missing time, the team has relied on rookie Eric Stokes, Chandon Sullivan, and Rasul Douglas to hold things together.
For the most part, they have succeeded. In three of the past five games, the Packers have allowed 160 yards or fewer through the air. No opponent has eclipsed 264 yards passing on the season even though they have faced quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and (albeit an injured) Russell Wilson. Douglas picked off what would have been a game-winning touchdown pass from Murray in Week 8.
rushing the passer
The Green Bay pass rush has been a big help to the secondary. They are tied for the ninth-most sacks in the NFL with 24 on the year. 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary leads the way, finally coming into his own in Year 3 after finishing last year on a strong note. He leads the team with 5.5 sacks. He has been limited in practice the past few days, but head coach Matt LaFleur says that he is “day-to-day.”
Complicating matters is that Green Bay has four other players with at least 2.5 sacks. This includes Kenny Clark, an interior defensive lineman known for blowing up Vikings offensive lines in the past. The pure star power may not be abundant in the Packers’ front seven, but they have scrappy players who can make life hell for quarterbacks.
Mike Zimmer wants fans to be loud on Sunday to disrupt the Packers’ offense. The energy can help the Vikings’ defense come off the ball faster (something they lacked last season when the teams played in Minnesota), make pre-snap changes more difficult, and force false starts.
However, the Packers have done a better job of avoiding penalties than almost anyone else in the NFL. Only the Cincinnati Bengals have been called for fewer penalties this year, and Green Bay has played one more game than them. With 12 pre-snap penalties, the Packers sit all alone with the fewest infractions in the league.
Green Bay hasn’t played a brand of football that draws comparisons to the 2007 New England Patriots. But everything they do complements each other. They have rarely had to go off-track and veer away from what they want to do on offense and defense. If they can stick to the script again Sunday, they have a chance to have the NFC North all but wrapped up by Thanksgiving.