Arguably the most anticipating game for the Green Bay Packers season was a Week 16 date against the Minnesota Vikings. As the 2019 season went on it became more and more evident that the matchup in Minnesota would decide the division. Below is the full Packers @ Vikings recap.
Giving It Away
The Packers moved the football fairly well. However, at times that meant moving it into the hands of Vikings players. On only the third play from scrimmage, Aaron Jones fumbled the football. Credit goes to Anthony Barr who ran up and punched the ball out from Jones’ grasp. Erick Kendricks recovered it and returned the football to the Green Bay 10-yard line. However, the Packers defense held up and forced the Vikings to kick a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
After both teams punted, Green Bay got into field goal range and tied the game at 3-3. Their defense continued to dominate, specifically Za’Darius Smith. The Vikings 3rd drive of the game began with Smith tackling Mike Boone behind the line of scrimmage. He red and reacted very quickly to the run and did not let any offensive linemen get a hand on him.
On the ensuing Packers possession, Aaron Rodgers threw only his 3rd interception of 2019. His favorite target, Davante Adams was double-teamed on his intermediate crossing route. The Vikings did a great job of disguising coverages and gave the impression that both safeties were playing deep. Instead, Anthony Harris undercut the route, picked off Rodgers and gave Minnesota the ball back.
Three plays later, Kirk Cousins found Stefon Diggs in the end zone for the TD and the 10-3 lead. Jaire Alexander had great coverage on the play, but Cousins made a perfect pass over his head and right into Diggs’ arms.
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In response, the Packers put together the longest drive of the game. The possession took up over 6-and-a-half minutes and 13 plays. Still, they could not find the end zone and Green Bay’s offense stalled at the Vikings 15-yard line. Another Mason Crosby field goal ate into the lead as the score became 10-6.
Next, the Packers defense forced a 3-and-out. Often throughout this contest, Minnesota’s offensive line double-teamed Kenny Clark and left other defenders 1-on-1. Za’Darius Smith took advantage by beating Riley Reiff and sacking Kirk Cousins.
The defensive dominance continued as Anthony Barr and Michael Kendricks combined for another fumble and a recovery. Davante Adams caught the football for a first down but almost immediately, Barr came in and once again punched out the football. Kendricks was in the area and was able to secure the fumble recovery.
Offenses Falling Flat
The Vikings, however, could not add to their lead with more points off of the turnover. The Packers defense forced another 3 (or in this case) 4-and-out. From around midfield, Minnesota gained 6 yards on two Mike Boone runs. Knowing that they would go for it on 4th-down, Kevin Stefanski called for a trick play. What looked like an end-around run, turned into a flip to Stefon Diggs. He looked for a wide-open Kirk Cousins who was running along the sideline. However, Diggs overthrew him to set up a 4th-and-4. On the next play, Cousins looked for Adam Thielen deep but Kevin King had good coverage and the ball fell incomplete.
Following the turnover on downs, both teams experienced a 3-and-out on offense. The first half was dominated by the defensive units. The Vikings accumulated only 61 yards of offense and two 1st downs in the opening half. For their part, the Packers moved the ball fairly well. The problem was the 3 turnovers off of which Minnesota scored all 10 of their points.
Green Bay did put together one final drive before halftime. The great field position (they started on their own 45-yard line) was almost ruined by yet another turnover. On his only target of the game, Jimmy Graham caught the ball for a 1st-down, but then fumbled it. Luckily for the Packers, Geronimo Allison recovered the football and allowed the team to maintain possession.
This offense was only finding consistent success through the air with Davante Adams and Allen Lazard. Those two combined for 25 targets on Aaron Rodgers’ 40 pass attempts and were the only Packers that caught more than 2 receptions in this game. Adams was targeted on 3 of Green Bay’s final 5 offensive plays and he allowed them to get into field goal range. Mason Crosby added 3 points and the Packers trailed 10-9 at halftime.
After the Break
Both teams began by punting the football to open the second half. The Vikings’ second drive of the third quarter featured some impressive plays. For starters, Za’Darius Smith, one of the best edge rushers in the league this season, was lined up over the center on a 2nd-down play. The downside of moving Smith around is that it is easier to double-team an interior defender. Smith, however, beat the double team block and got to Kirk Cousins for another sack. It was arguably his most dominant play of a game where he produced 7 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 5 QB hits and 3.5 sacks.
Not to be outdone by the defensive effort, Cousins found Stefon Diggs deep on the ensuing 3rd-and-18 play. Kevin King was originally covering Diggs. Thanks to a lack of communication, Kings passed off his coverage to Chandon Sullivan playing from his dime corner spot. Sullivan did not take over responsibility of Diggs who got open deep over the middle. An Adrian Amos tackle prevented a further gain than 28 yards.
After another 1st-down courtesy of Ameer Abdullah, the Vikings looked to be rolling. Deciding to take a shot, Cousins fired for Diggs deep again. Only this time Jaire Alexander was in coverage and kept himself tight to the receiver down the field. Cousins trusted what he saw as a 1-on-1 matchup since Darnell Savage dropped to cover intermediate routes. However, King, who had no player to cover, ran back and operated as a free safety. Showcasing his ball skills, King picked the pass mid-air and ripped off a 39-yard return.
After the momentum swinging interception, the Packers offense had arguably their best drive of the game. The offensive line was key to a run game that accounted for 31 of the team’s 53 yards on the possession. The receiver also held their own responsibilities in the run game. Robert Tonyan had a good block on an Aaron Jones 1st-down run. A few plays later, Jones ran behind Allen Lazard and sprinted past a couple of Vikings defenders for a 12-yard run into the end zone. It was the Packers’ first touchdown as well as lead of the game as the score became 17-10 in their favor.
While he was held without an official catch in this game, Geronimo Allison made significant contributions to the outcome. His fumble recovery was outlined earlier, but he was also on the receiving end of a 2-point conversion pass following Jones’ first touchdown. Yes, I wrote first, meaning that there was another.
But before that, there was a pair of Vikings possessions that ended in punts. The first was due to a Kevin King tackle on Adam Thielen 1-yard short of the line to gain on 3rd-and-3. The next Minnesota drive stalled after a 3rd-down sack by Kenny Clark. On that particular play, Josh Kline tried to get a hand on Clark to slow him down. But Clark fought through that hand contact and was then left 1-on-1 again rookie Garrett Bradbury. The defensive lineman tossed Bradbury out of the way and took down Kirk Cousins.
Nose for the End Zone
As referenced earlier, Aaron Jones scored a second touchdown. On this particular play, Jones ran through a big crease created by David Bakhtiari and Corey Linsley. It was redemption for Linsley after Steven Weatherly sacked Rodgers on the previous Packers possession. As the center, it is Linsley’s responsibility to set up his fellow offensive linemen. He did not properly assign blocking duties to Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner which created the sack.
Back to Jones’ run, he was able to get to the outside thanks to a great downfield block by Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Jones got to the edge and used his speed to run 56-yard along the sideline for the score. It was actually Green Bay’s longest rushing play of 2019. While the big play aspect has been missing from the ground game, one thing that is undeniable is Jone’s ability to sniff out the end zone. After week 16, Jones leads the NFL in touchdowns scored with 19.
Some luster was taken away from the score after Mason Crosby had his first missed PAT of the season. However, the Packers still had a two-score lead at 23-10.
Shut It Down
The Green Bay defense was truly dominant in this contest. The Vikings were completely shut down in the second half. The 10 points they produced all came off of the Packers’ first-half turnovers. Once Green Bay’s offense really got going, Minnesota had no answer on defense and their offense continued to struggle. They only managed to account for 7 first-downs in the entire contest, the fewest that they’ve had in a home game since 1971. They also lost the time of possession battle 37:32 to 22:28
It is difficult to pin the success of an 11-man unit on one player, but Za’Darius Smith was truly dominant in this game. He helped the second-half shut out with a sack on 3rd-and-6 during the Vikings’ final offensive possession. Smith demonstrated why he has the highest cap hit of any Packer’s defender.
Green Bay not only won the game 23-10, but also secured the NFC North division title. At 12-3, the Packers still have a chance at a first-round bye during the playoffs. The Vikings meanwhile, and their 10-5 record will also be in the post-season dance, but will likely have to carve their playoff path on the road.
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