After a long rollercoaster of an offseason, it’s finally Week 1 and the Green Bay Packers will travel west to open the season vs the Minnesota Vikings.
Much has changed since the last time these two teams faced off in January. Star wide receiver Davante Adams is no longer on the Packers after he was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders last March.
After firing Mike Zimmer after another disappointing season, the Vikings enter this season with a new head coach in Kevin O’Connell.
It seems as if the rivalry games between these two teams always go down to the wire. Here are three things the Packers must do if they want to enter Week Two with a win.
Packers tackles vs the Vikings pass rush
There is still some confusion on who the starting five offensive linemen will be for the Packers on Sunday. Both left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Elgton Jenkins are coming off of ACL injuries and are listed as questionable ahead of Sunday’s duel with the Vikings. The Packers might elect to hold out one or both tackles to make sure they are fully healthy to play.
If Bakhtiari and Jenkins are unable to go, the Packers will most likely start rookie Zach Tom at right tackle and backup Yosh Nijman at left tackle.
Regardless of who ends up starting, the Packers tackles will have their work cut out for them as they will have a full plate facing defensive end Danielle Hunter and former Packers outide linebacker Za’Darius Smith. Smith has proved when healthy, he is a game wrecker who can and will make a quarterback’s life a living hell. Hunter had an underwhelming 2021 season, only accumulating 6 sacks after coming off a neck injury, but will look to emulate his 2019 season where he had 14.5 sacks.
Packers linebackers vs. the run
Last year Dalvin Cook had a good day against the Packers at home, averaging nearly 4 yards-per-carry on 22 attempts. While he didn’t run all over the Packers like he did in 2020, he was efficient. This led to the Packers loading the box, which in turn, made them extremely vulnerable to play action, and the Vikings made them pay. Justin Jefferson was practically unstoppable catching 8 passes for 169 yards and 2 TDs.
If the Packers want to win the game they will have to shut down the run early. This offseason, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst heavily invested in linebackers, including re-signing All-Pro linebacker De’Vondre Cambell and drafting Georgia LB Quay Walker with the 21st overall pick.
If the Packers can stop the run in their base nickel package and force Cousins to throw the ball from the gun without having to stack the box, they will be better positioned to create turnovers and get the ball back in Rodgers’ hands.
Rookie receivers vs. the Vikings secondary
No other position group has been talked about more this offseason than Packers receivers. With the departure of Davante Adams, there are a plethora of question marks surrounding the wide receiver room, specifically how the loss of Adams will affect the Packers offense. To combat this, the Packers added three receivers through the draft and signed free agent Sammy Watkins.
Rodgers has yet to play a regular-season game with the Packers three rookie receivers, but he’s had all offseason, including mini camp and training camp, to create chemistry with them.
On Friday, Allen Lazard was listed as doubtful to play in Sunday’s contest, opening the door to fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs who has been the talk of town this preseason. After his stellar play throughout camp, Rodgers is holding him to a higher standard than other rookies.
“Doubs has done a lot of really nice things,” Rodgers said. “But I think the standard for him is not going to be maybe the standard for a rookie that we’ve had here in the past, especially in the past four or five years because he’s going to be expected to play based on his performance so far. So we got to hold him to a standard I know he’s capable of reaching.”
If Matt Lafleur can scheme the rookie wide receivers open early and often, they will gain confidence and, most importantly, build trust with Rodgers. And if this game comes down to the wire, that will create all the difference.
The X Factor: Darnell Savage
Last year Darnell Savage sealed the game in Minnesota after intercepting Kirk Cousins with less than two minutes left in the game. But after reviewing the play, he lost control of the ball going down to the ground, ultimately costing the Packers the game as the Vikings won on a field goal as time expired. That wasn’t the only interception Savage dropped that day. He nearly had two more interceptions, both of which went through his hands. Savage’s performance in that game was indicative of his entire 2021 campaign. However, Savage always seems to be around the ball, so if he can turn some of those drops into interceptions, the Packers will not only keep the ball out of Dalvin Cook’s hands but give Rodgers and the offense more opportunities to score leading the Packers to victory.