Why Are the Packers More Opportunistic Than the Vikings?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

If you watch a Green Bay Packers game with a group of Minnesota Vikings fans, you’ll hear the same thing.

Why do they always get the calls?

The refs missed ANOTHER hold?

The NFL loves Aaron Rodgers!

The greatest hits of angry Vikings fans watching the Packers reached a crescendo as the playoffs loom. Entering Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field, the Packers are comfortable atop the NFC North. They’re pushing for the top seed in the NFC and already have victories over several contenders.

Right below them is the Vikings. At 7-8, Minnesota is mired in a battle for the NFC’s final playoff spot. They are behind the Philadelphia Eagles, who may have a lame-duck quarterback, and the New Orleans Saints, who currently do not have a quarterback.

Looking at the two offenses, it’s hard to fathom how this could be. Both have quarterbacks capable of leading their teams to victory. Both have an elite receiving weapon that few can stop. Their running games are near the top of the league, and their offensive lines — well, that’s a big difference.

Therefore, Vikings fans point toward the calls. Green Bay’s 68 penalties against are 31st in the NFL, and their net yardage (plus-7) ranks 15th. Meanwhile, the Vikings have been called for the fifth-most penalties at 104. They also have the third-worst net yardage total in the NFL (minus-209).

But this might not be about the number of penalties. Instead, it’s about one team’s ability to cash in on opportunities.

When it comes to penalties, both teams are similar. This season, the Packers have made 30 drives when their opponent has committed a penalty. Green Bay scored 12 touchdowns (a 40% rate) and six field goals (20%) for a 60% overall scoring rate on those drives.

The Vikings aren’t far behind here, mainly because they’ve had more opportunities to score. Minnesota ranks 16th in the NFL, benefitting from 90 penalties this season. Green Bay ranks 27th with 83.

Because of the extra opportunities, Minnesota’s numbers off penalties are similar. The Vikings have had 29 drives where the opponent commits a penalty and have found the end zone 12 times (41.3%). While they also have seven field goals (24.1%), their overall 65% scoring rate is exactly what you want in these situations.

Where the Packers have an advantage is when the defense sets the offense up for success.

The Packers have had 35 drives coming off a turnover this season. Green Bay scored a touchdown on 13 of them on those drives – a 37.1% clip. Mix in six field goals, and the Packers have scored 54.3% of the time when they force a turnover.

The Vikings’ overall rate of 48.3% isn’t alarming, but they haven’t been able to find the end zone. On 29 drives, the Vikings have scored a touchdown just six times (20.7%) and come away with eight field goals (27.6%).

There are several reasons why this is the case. First, Mike Zimmer has opted to take the points more often than not in these situations. While Zimmer is concerned about making a mistake and squandering their opportunities, he’s been more apt to put points on the board than come away with nothing at all.

This approach worked when the Vikings had an elite defense. But with the unit crumbling to a bottom-five operation over the past couple of seasons, it may benefit the Vikings to be more aggressive.

That thinking has trickled down to the players on the field. Since tossing 10 picks in the first six games of the 2020 season, Kirk Cousins has cut down significantly on his turnover rate. However, that’s come at the cost of making plays downfield.

The play-calling suggests it’s also more of a component of the passing game. The Vikings have thrown the ball 48.9% more often than they’ve run (44%) in those situations.

But the biggest issue has involved penalties. The Vikings have wound up with negative penalty yardage on eight of those drives, which have accounted for one touchdown, a field goal, and six punts.

Even when Minnesota is on the other side, they’ve come away with three field goals on the four drives with positive net penalty yardage. Compare this with the Packers, who have seen six of their drives impacted by negative penalty yardage and have scored on five of them – including four touchdowns.

There is something to be said for the missed penalties that Vikings fans swear they see every game. But the Packers have made a living capitalizing off other teams’ mistakes. It’s why Sunday’s game means a lot for both teams but only has long-term implications for one of them.

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