Vikings Interior vs. Packers Interior
Despite a career season, last week seemed to mark the demise of Kirk Cousins. At least that is how it appears if you spend enough time on social media. Week 11’s loss in Chicago was undoubtedly Cousins’ worst game as a Viking, including several missed open receivers and a pair of bad interceptions. Some of the blame/credit goes to pressure up the middle; Cousins faced a clean pocket on only 56.6 percent of dropbacks. Akiem Hicks in particular had himself a field day up the middle.
And it was not just in the passing game. The Vikings struggled all night to get the running game going, creating a one-dimensional, turnover-heavy offense. Minnesota’s interior line was simply controlled from whistle to whistle. Fortunately this week, Green Bay is without arguably their best defensive player, interior lineman Mike Daniels. With Daniels out of the lineup, Minnesota has their best opportunity to establish a tone up the middle, opening up play action and giving Cousins more room. Theoretically, winning this matchup would limit the turnovers and keep the depleted Packer defense on its heels.
Danielle Hunter vs. Aaron Rodgers
Green Bay boasts arguably the best pass blocking tackle in football with David Bakhtiari. With Everson Griffen seemingly still working his way back to 2017 form, the Vikings will probably find more success getting to Aaron Rodgers from the left side with Danielle Hunter against Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga, while a solid tackle in his own right, is not quite the dominant force Bakhtiari is.
The problem for the Vikings will be not only getting to Rodgers, but bringing him down. This is not a new phenomenon; Rodgers has been one of the most elusive quarterbacks in football for over a decade. However, with his receiving corps as shallow as ever and the play-calling still stuck in 2012, Rodgers will hold the ball a lot on Sunday. As such, the Vikings’ pass rush as a whole, but Hunter more specifically, will have their shots on Rodgers, assuming they can stay disciplined on the edges. Mitchell Trubisky was able to shred the Vikings out of the pocket because they crashed down, leaving them vulnerable to scrambles and open throws on the run.
Adam Thielen vs. Jaire Alexander
Three games in a row now have seen Adam Thielen contained for long stretches. And while the Vikings have scored at least 20 in all three, there was not the fire power in the passing game we have seen much of the 2018 season. It is clear teams are making an effort to contain Thielen, allowing Stefon Diggs to get his but keeping Minnesota’s primary chain-mover in check.
Vikings opponents have rarely stuck one guy on Thielen for an entire game. Generally, both Diggs and Thielen get their shots at the number one guy. But rookie Jaire Alexander is having an excellent season defending short routes and crossing routes, two areas where Thielen thrives. One would assume most of Alexanders’ coverage snaps will be mano-a-mano with Thielen. It should be a strong battle of youth against experience, one that meshes styles perfectly.
Minnesota will have Anthony Barr back for the first time in weeks. Unfortunately, they will also be down a few bodies once again, most notably starting Will linebacker Ben Gedeon and safety Andrew Sendejo. Rookie receiver Chad Beebe and blocking tight end David Morgan have also been ruled out.
That said, Green Bay is in far worse shape. Mike Daniels and Nick Perry have been ruled out, while a whole host of other players are listed as questionable. Kentrell Brice, Randall Cobb, Jimmy Graham and Kevin King are just the starters who are questionable, while several depth players are also unknowns. Not even Rodgers is healthy as he is nursing a knee injury, though he was a full participant all week in practice.
While not mathematically eliminated, the loser of Sunday night’s game will effectively see their playoff hopes dwindle away. Both have performed below expectations this year and are coming off major road losses in week 11. These division rivals have everything to play for.
Cousins had a poor performance a game ago and faith in the Vikings’ offense has waned a bit in the past week. That said, Minnesota has several things going its way. For one, they have home field advantage. Secondly, Green Bay is essentially a MASH unit, the way they are battling injuries. And most importantly, Cousins and the passing offense played one of their best halves in week two at Green Bay. There is good reason to think that the Vikings will get the offense back on schedule and put up some solid numbers Sunday. Rodgers will keep it close as he always does, but I like the Vikings to hold serve and serve their biggest rival a de facto elimination.
Final Score: Vikings 27, Packers 23
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.