The Green Bay Packers head to the Twin Cities to face the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in an NFC North clash. The Packers had their first shutout since 2018 last week when they blanked the Seahawks 17-0 and are now 8-2 on the season. The Vikings improved to 4-5 by beating the Los Angeles Chargers last week, 27-20.
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The Packers lead the all-time series between these division rivals 62-54-3. The teams have split their two postseason meetings. The rivalry began when the Vikings entered the NFL in 1961. The Packers have won three of the last four meetings including the last clash in Minnesota which came in Week 1 last season.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game in Minnesota:
- Slow Down Dalvin Cook
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is an elite runner who has hurt the Packers several times in recent years. Cook has played in seven games this season and has 648 yards and a healthy 4.7-yard per carry average.
Cook has a great combination of speed and power and he is capable of being the difference maker in any game when he’s at his best.
The Packers have faced Cook five times in his career. In the three games the Packers held Cook to less than 100-yards rushing, the Packers are 2-0-1. In the two games Cook gained more than 100 yards, the Packers are 1-1.
Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry, De’Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes will be key players for the Packers run defense. The Packers may also move a safety into the box to try to stop Cook but that may make it tougher for them to cover the Vikings dangerous wide receivers.
- Get Pressure on Kirk Cousins
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is one of the biggest enigmas in the NFL. Statistically, he is having an outstanding season. Cousins has completed 68.1 percent of his passes for 2,434 yards, 18 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His quarterback rating of 104.0 is outstanding.
But Cousins misses some throws he easily should make and sometimes has problems reading defenses and knowing when to go deep and when to check down. It causes him to miss some excellent scoring chances.
The Vikings rebuilt offensive line has allowed only 12 sacks in nine games and is playing much better than they did a year ago.
The biggest matchup advantage for the Packers will be Kenny Clark against center Garrett Bradbury and right guard Oli Udoh. If Clark has an advantage there it will give the Packers the ability to rush from the inside.
The status of edge rusher Rashan Gary remains uncertain. Gary suffered a hyperextended elbow last week and will try to play with a brace. How effective he can be a key factor in this game.
The Packers will also be counting on Preston Smith to get pressure off the edge. They are without edge rusher Whitney Merciless who is now out for the season with a biceps injury. That hurts the Packers depth at edge rusher.
Making Cousins uncomfortable will limit his effectiveness and efficiency. It may also pressure the Vikings into penalties which the team has a penchant for taking this season often at the worst possible moments.
- Keep Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen from Making Big Plays
The Vikings have two outstanding wide receivers and they will be going up against a Packers secondary that has done an excellent job of preventing long gains.
Justin Jefferson is fast and dangerous. He’s coming off his best performance of the season last week against the Chargers where he had nine catches for 143 yards.
If the Packers try to shut down Jefferson, the Vikings can turn to Adam Thielen. The Minnesota State alum is very efficient in the red zone and already has seven touchdown catches in nine games this season. Thielen has 50 catches for 548 yards. He’s more dangerous underneath and in the middle of the field while Jefferson is more of a deep threat.
The Packers play a mix of zone and man coverages. They like to line up their safeties deep and have their corners cover a side. Kevin King has played well since returning from injury while Rasul Douglas and rookie Eric Stokes have also exceeded expectations on the boundary in the absence of Jaire Alexander. Chandon Sullivan has been solid in the slot.
Jefferson and Thielen will get their share of catches, but the Packers must prevent them from making momentum-changing big plays. They also need to keep an eye on tight end Tyler Conklin who has 35 catches and has been a bigger part of the offense in recent weeks.
- Keep Feeding A.J. Dillon
The Packers will be without Aaron Jones against the Vikings which makes second-year man A.J. Dillon the team’s go-to back. Dillon is a tough, inside runner which surprising agility for a 247-pound big man.
The Vikings run defense has struggled this season and is 28th in the NFL allowing an average of 130.6-yards on the ground per game. Injuries along the defensive line haven’t helped the Vikings ability to stop the run.
The Packers offensive line is still waiting for the return of David Bakhtiari back although when he’ll play is still not certain.
With Dillon getting the bulk of the carries, the play of the Packers interior linemen may be more important in this game. That may include Pro Bowler Elgton Jenkins who could move back to guard if Bakhtiari returns to left tackle.
The Packers need to run the ball effectively and can’t abandon the run early if it isn’t picking up chunks of yards per rush.
Patrick Taylor will take over as the second option and should get a chance to show what he can do with the ball on Sunday.
If Dillon runs effectively, the Packers offense should put up points.
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- Take Advantage of the Vikings Cornerbacks
The Packers offense has struggled at times in recent weeks although part of that was due to Aaron Rodgers missing one game and playing another without practicing all week. The week before that, the Packers didn’t have any of their top three receivers in Arizona.
The Packers offense must be able to take advantage of Minnesota’s cornerbacks in this game to get the passing game going. Quick release passes and screens early should set up longer passes later in the game.
Former Packers corner Bashaud Breeland has been struggling this season and has been nursing a groin injury on top of that. The Packers need to be able to take advantage of Breeland, Cam Dantzler and the other Vikings corners who should have problems staying with Davante Adams and if he’s healthy, Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
Head coach Matt LaFleur should be able to scheme his receivers or running backs open and start to get the passing game back on track.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers was clearly not 100 percent last week after missing a game due to Covid-19. The Vikings are presently first in the league with 29 sacks this season although their top pass rusher, Danielle Hunter, will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
Still, the Vikings have 15 different players who have recorded at least half a sack this season which shows they aren’t afraid to throw a variety of blitz packages at opposing quarterbacks.
The chess match between Rodgers and Mike Zimmer is always a fascinating one and the Packers offensive line will have to do a good job of protecting Rodgers. The Packers quarterback needs to read the blitzes well and call audibles at the line of scrimmage to counteract the blitz.
Expect the Vikings to try to pressure the Packers in the A-gap the way the Chiefs did effectively two weeks ago. Fortunately for the Packers, Royce Newman had his best game of the year against Seattle and hopefully will continue to make progress.
If Rodgers has time to throw, he can pick apart the Minnesota secondary. If he harassed consistently, he could make a key mistake that could be the difference in this game.
This is a must-win game for the Vikings and the Packers cannot take their division rival lightly. Minnesota is catching the Packers are the right time because of the injuries the Packers are dealing with while the Vikings are getting healthy.
Still, the Packers have found ways to win close games all year while the Viking often find ways to lose them.
This game will be close but the Packers will find a way to get it done.
Packers 23, Vikings 17
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