The Minnesota Vikings went into Week 17 with a simple equation: Win and keep their playoff hopes alive for yet another week, or lose and face elimination before the last week of regular-season games. Unfortunately for the Vikings, the Green Bay Packers beat them 37-10 to lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, avenging their loss to the Purple and Gold earlier this season.
The task of beating the Packers was only made harder late in the week when quarterback Kirk Cousins tested positive for COVID. Therefore, career backup Sean Mannion was tasked with keeping the Vikings’ season alive.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, things played out much how everyone expected them to. The Packers were in control of the game from the opening drive, dominating the Vikings on offense and defense. The final score somehow felt generous to the Vikings.
Here are five numbers that tell the story of the Vikings’ loss to the Packers.
Kris Boyd struggled to fill in for Cameron Dantzler, allowing 81 yards on seven catches. After Dantzler sustained a calf injury in practice, Boyd was thrust into guarding Davante Adams, one of the best wideouts in the league and Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite target.
The writing seemed to be on the wall for Boyd on the first passing play. Rodgers hit Adams in stride for 19 yards with Boyd in coverage. Being the primary defender on one of the best receivers in the NFL is far from easy, but the Vikings needed Boyd to step up and be less of a liability.
The Vikings will need to address corner in the offseason and maybe revamp the secondary as a whole yet again.
The defensive line did the secondary no favors. They were only able to manage nine pressures on 45 dropbacks against a depleted Packers offensive line. The way to beat Rodgers has always been to get pressure on him and force him to make quick decisions. You can’t give him all day to survey the defense in the pocket, and Minnesota’s front four wasn’t able to muster much pressure at all.
This issue has troubled the Vikings ever since Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen have been out. The rest of the defensive line has been unable to pick up the workload. It is clear that the defensive end position either needs to see some of the previously drafted players step up, or they need to bring in a blue-chip talent to pair with Hunter next season.
One of Minnesota’s longest plays of the day was a 21-yard pass completion to Garrett Bradbury. The Vikings’ center was able to just scoop a batted pass and barrel ahead for 21 glorious yards.
On a night where the Packers were selling out against the run, the offense was still somehow unable to get anything going in the passing game beyond the sticks. The offense wasn’t able to get the ball moving until one incredible play where Tyler Conklin was drilled over the middle. The ball popped out of his hands, leading Bradbury to make an outstanding catch and showing off his yards-after-catch ability.
Bradbury has struggled in pass protection since coming into the league, in part because the Vikings prefer their lineman to be able to move instead of being maulers. But we finally got to see the athleticism that the former NC State center has on Sunday night.
Dalvin Cook was unable to dominate on the ground in a game where the Vikings needed him to, only managing 13 yards on nine carries. Cook finished the night as Minnesota’s second-leading rusher behind Mannion (14 yards on two carries). Minnesota needed a performance similar to his game at Lambeau last season, and Cook was unable to replicate it. Green Bay’s defense sold out against the run at all costs and the Vikings fell behind early.
Cook was unable to get anything going with Kenny Clark and Green Bay’s front four getting to him early, bringing him down before he could reach the second level. The inability to run was frustrating to Mike Zimmer who, while down 20-3 at the half, said that they needed to focus on running more.
The Vikings were unable to get anything downfield in the passing game. Manion averaged just 5.3 yards per completion. In a game where your season — and maybe your job — is on the line, you would figure that the Vikings and their coaches would be aggressive and try to put points on the board. Instead, they settled for check-downs in the passing game, routinely throwing the ball behind the sticks and hoping that their playmakers would make someone miss and break one of these short plays for a touchdown.
It isn’t as though Manion can’t make the deep throws. The entire Sunday Night Football crew spent countless segments raving about his alleged arm strength. But it was more that Minnesota’s coaches wanted to play it safe instead of getting aggressive like they did in the previous game against the Packers.
In a game like this, where you are already short-handed and your season is hanging by hanging on by a thread, you can’t afford to not be aggressive and press the issue. Everyone is already expecting you to lose, so you might as well go down swinging. Alas, they did not.