Joe Barry’s defense had played as well as any unit in the league over the last month. Still, the Green Bay Packers rode the roller coaster of disaster much of the afternoon on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. Most notably, a secondary that had been locking down some of the best receivers in football got lit up by Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
Whether it was lousy tackling, poor coverage, or not capitalizing on opportunities, it all contributed to a Packers secondary that could never solve the riddle against Minnesota’s offense.
Kevin King, who had been so reliable since returning from injury a few weeks ago, was targeted early and often by Klint Kubiak’s offense, and it worked again and again. Eric Stokes, the sensational rookie out of Georgia, also had his down moments trying to keep up with Jefferson. Unfortunately for the Packers, it wasn’t only the cornerbacks on the back end that couldn’t come up big.
Darnell Savage had three excellent chances at flipping possession back to Green Bay with interception opportunities. He executed his end of the bargain on one, picking off Cousins inside the red zone in the first half. It was waved off after Kingsley Keke was flagged for what Shawn Hochuli and his crew said was roughing the passer.
Two more opportunities popped up for Savage, one at a critical moment in the fourth quarter with the game tied at 31 apiece. Savage appeared to have an interception after a questionable decision by Cousins on a deep ball downfield into plenty of traffic. A replay review overturned the call after it was clearly shown that the ball hit the ground.
Savage was also flagged for a 37-yard pass interference call on a drive in the first half. Minnesota ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive. Some will say these sorts of days happen, but they can’t happen often for a defense still trying to prove its dominance.
This Green Bay defense will always have doubters who think Aaron Rodgers has carried the unit for his entire career. This year started in classic Packers fashion for the defense, but in the last six or seven weeks, that’s the group that stepped up for big wins.
Yet there were careless penalties against the Vikings, including a devastating flag on the final drive. After Green Bay had sucked the life out of US Bank Stadium with a one-play touchdown drive to knot things up with a little more than two minutes to go, the defense was called for having 12 men on the field on the first play of Minnesota’s ensuing possession. The trainwreck began before Cousins even had the ball snapped to him.
“Inexcusable” and “embarrassing” were the two words that head coach Matt LaFleur used in his postgame press conference when he was asked about that late penalty.
It wasn’t all the fault of the secondary for Barry’s defense on Sunday. The pass rush was inconsistent without Rashan Gary. Preston Smith had both sacks for Green Bay. While they generated some pressure on Cousins, it was never hefty enough to disrupt No. 8 in the pocket. As a result, the secondary was asked to cover for quite a long time on some looks. It’s not time to panic after this one game, though.
This secondary has pieced together far too many stellar performances this year to believe that what occurred against the Vikings will become the norm. Adrian Amos and Savage still combine forces to make up one of the best safety duos in the league. They know they underperformed on Sunday, but the larger sample size has shown great play from both this year.
Stokes has been a standout as a rookie after being thrust into a spotlight role with the early injuries to Jaire Alexander and Kevin King. Expectations are now high after he has excelled in the lead role at cornerback. Like Amos and Savage, his performances throughout the year are a likely indicator that Sunday was an outlier for not only himself but the cornerback room as a whole. The problems that popped up Sunday need a tweak, though, because the road ahead doesn’t get easier.
The Packers welcome the Los Angeles Rams to Lambeau Field next week. LA will be coming off of a bye week and will now have Odell Beckham Jr. far more familiar with the playbook than in his Rams debut. Green Bay’s secondary won’t have an easy time with OBJ and Cooper Kupp. They’ll need to get back to locking things up as they did against DK. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Tyreek Hill, and DeAndre Hopkins. Sunday needs to be the anomaly.