Can Vikings’ Offensive Line Generate a Push?
The Minnesota line was solid in pass pro last week. Kirk Cousins took a few hits, but most were either the result of a schematic disadvantage or the fault of the quarterback. Overall, they stood up well, despite a rough start against DeForest Buckner. However, in the run game, they were never really able to get much going. Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray combined for 82 yards on 27 carries, only 3.03 yards per attempt. As the game wore on, the Vikings’ inability to get a push up front allowed the 49ers to sit back on the pass, and as a result, the offense stalled a bit in the second half.
The Packer front is stronger than San Francisco’s. Now, there is no single player as dominant as Buckner, but all three starters on the Packer defensive line are high-caliber players. If the Vikings struggled to gain an advantage up front against the 49ers, they may have a tough time once again Sunday. Obviously, this will not discourage the effort; the Vikings were and continue to be one of the more balanced offenses in the league. The question is just how effective that balance will be.
Cousins in First Game at Lambeau
Cousins has started 58 regular season games and one postseason game in his NFL career. Three of those games have come against Green Bay. All three were in Washington. The only time Cousins has traveled to Lambeau for a game that counted, Robert Griffin III was the starter. So Sunday will mark the very first time that Cousins will have his name announced as a starter to a stadium of Cheeseheads.
As an historic venue, one’s debut there likely carries more weight for the observer than the player. Since it should be 80 degrees and sunny, there is no reason to believe that the first game in Green Bay will have a dramatic effect on Cousins. That said, Cousins is coming off a Vikings opener that was largely positive, but still mixed. He was efficient and effective for a full half. But as the running game slowed and Cousins was asked to make more plays outside the script, his accuracy waned. You can bet that the Packers are going to throw a lot at Cousins throughout, forcing him to make plays and move through a number of reads under pressure.
How Much Blitzing Will Rodgers Face?
By the same token, Aaron Rodgers is going to see a lot of purple bearing down on him Sunday. His knee injury is reportedly improving, though it is still not a given he plays. If he does, Mike Zimmer is going to test Rodgers’ relative lack of mobility early and often. The Vikings last season were actually middle of the pack in terms of blitz frequency, but they were atop the league in terms of blitz effectiveness (passer rating allowed on blitz). Zimmer is a master of confusion with his linebackers and secondary. And while Rodgers is not one easily confused, one would expect Zimmer to throw everything at him to keep the ball in his hands and out of the air as much as possible. After all, the Packer offense really does not go if Rodgers is not on his game.
Jimmy Graham, Jimmy Graham, Jimmy Graham
The Packers probably saw the 49ers film and drew one big conlcusion: San Francisco found gaps with their tight end. George Kittle caught five balls for 90 yards, though a drop cost him an extra 80 yards and a touchdown. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk added another catch for 56. All game, the 49ers made plays with their big targets via bootleg, play action and misdirection. It was a surprisingly undisciplined performance from the Viking defense, and San Francisco took advantage.
Green Bay’s tight end Jimmy Graham, while perhaps not the dominant force he once was, is a bit better of a physical weapon than Kittle. The Packers will likely find ways to use him in similar misdirection schemes, wheel routes and mismatches with safeties and linebackers. Fortunately, knowing Zimmer, the Vikings have probably also put a focus on this area in game planning for this week. So the question comes down to: have the Vikings patched things up or will the Packers find the windows like San Francisco did?
George Iloka was nowhere to be seen on defense last week. Instead, Jayron Kearse and Mike Hughes handled all nickel and three safety sets. With another week of practice, the hope would be that Iloka will be ready to get significant playing time Sunday. However, Kearse played well in his limited reps. Given that he, like Iloka, is long, rangy and aggressive, Zimmer may be a bit more cautious about throwing Iloka in.
That said, given that Iloka is one of the few safeties in the league who can match up size with Jimmy Graham, now may be a good time to feature him more. The price for the former Bengal was not high, so in that sense, it is not urgent to get him in. However, the excitement for the move was palpable, so fans are getting itchy to see Iloka play.
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