Game Scout: Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)
SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 59-52-3. The Packers have lost both games at the Vikings' new U.S. Bank Stadium. In nine meetings against head coach Mike Zimmer's Vikings, the Packers are 4-4-1. The third tie of the series came in Week 2. Minnesota's rookie kicker, Daniel Carlson, missed three field goals, including two in overtime. It was the end of Carlson's time with the Vikings.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Green Bay should look different than the first meeting with Aaron Rodgers healed from injury and back to his mobile self, as well as running back Aaron Jones becoming a weapon on the ground. Minnesota will, of course, look to stop the run first as it preaches each week. Under head coach Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have done better in slowing Rodgers in the pass game. Rodgers owns a career 103.7 passer rating that rises to 110.7 in 20 matchups with Minnesota. But Rodgers has a single-game passer rating under 100 in five of the past six games with the Vikings. Minnesota has won four of those games.
Green Bay's surprising mediocrity on offense stems from its inconsistent play in the red zone and on third down. The Packers enter this week ranked 19th on third down (38.4 percent conversion rate) and 14th in the red zone (59.4 percent touchdown rate). Minnesota's defense is No. 1 in both areas. The Vikings' defense has been especially stingy on third down, with opponents moving the chains only 28.3 percent of the time.
On the offensive side, the Vikings want to get more out of their running game and, if possible, on screen passes to running backs. Zimmer has preached often the past two weeks of the need to run more. Cousins and the passing game has been a success, but Minnesota wants a more well-rounded approach and Green Bay is 26th in the league in run defense, giving up 126.1 yards per game.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--OUT: DE Mike Daniels (foot), LB Nick Perry (knee)
--DOUBTFUL: S Raven Greene (ankle)
--QUESTIONABLE: CB Bashaud Breeland (groin), S Kentrell Brice (ankle), RB Tra Carson (rib), WR Randall Cobb (hamstring), TE Jimmy Graham (knee, thumb), CB Kevin King (hamstring), G Lucas Patrick (concussion)
--OUT: WR Chad Beebe (hamstring), LB Ben Gedeon (concussion), TE David Morgan (knee), S Andrew Sendejo (groin)
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Packers LG Lane Taylor vs. Vikings DT Sheldon Richardson. Minnesota has two premier pass rushers with DEs Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen. But this interior battle will be key. Richardson has only 1.5 sacks but is second on the team with 12 quarterback hits. While he had only a half-sack in the 10-sack onslaught against Detroit in Week 9, he was a constant presence in the Lions' backfield. Taylor, meanwhile, has allowed 6.5 sacks this season compared to a combined five sacks the past two seasons.
--Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes vs. Packers WR Davante Adams. Rhodes' shadowing responsibility has led him to Adams, who is quarterback Aaron Rodgers' first option many times and he's fifth in the league in being targeted at 10.6 times per game. Rhodes has shadowed a few receivers in his career against the Packers and now it's Rhodes against Adams. The two matched up in Week 2 with Adams catching eight passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: With Jimmy Graham's broken finger, the door might be open for first-year TE Robert Tonyan to get more playing time. Tonyan had one of the big plays of last week's loss at Seattle, a 54-yard touchdown reception from Aaron Rodgers. With Graham's injury and the offense's general struggles, Tonyan's combination of size (6-foot-5) and speed (4.58 in the 40) could be an asset. Tonyan started three games at quarterback as a freshman at Indiana State.
FAST FACTS: PACKERS QB AARON RODGERS completed 21 of 30 (70 pct.) for 332 yards with 2 TDs. vs. 0 INTs for 128.8 rating last week. Has 9 50+ yard passes this season, incl. 2 in Week 11, most in NFL. His 26 consec. TD passes without INT vs. division is 3rd-longest streak since 2002 (DREW BREES, 28 vs. NFC South from 2009-14 & Rodgers, 28 vs. NFC North from 2013-15). ... RB AARON JONES had 103 scrimmage yards (63 rec., 40 rush) & 2 TDs (1 rush, 1 rec.) in Week 11. Aims for his 3rd in row with 100+ scrimmage yards & 2+ TDs. In his past 4, has 446 scrimmage yards (111.5 per game) & 5 TDs (4 rush, 1 rec.). ... WR DAVANTE ADAMS had 10 receptions for career-high 166 yards last week. Since 2016, ranks 2nd in NFL with 31 TD catches (ANTONIO BROWN). ... TE ROBERT TONYAN had 54-yard TD catch in Week 11, his 1st-career reception & TD. ... LB KYLER FACKRELL had career-high 6 tackles & tied career-best with 3 sacks last week. Aims for 3rd in row with sack. ... LB CLAY MATTHEWS had FF in Week 11. ... DL KENNY CLARK has 4 sacks in his past 5. ... VIKINGS QB KIRK COUSINS completed 35 of 48 (72.9 pct.) for 425 yards with 4 TDs vs. 1 INT for 118.8 rating in Week 2 meeting. Leads NFL with 289 completions in 2018. ... RB LATAVIUS MURRAY has rush TD in 4 of his past 5. ... WR ADAM THIELEN leads NFL with 85 receptions. Had 12 catches for 131 yards & TD in last meeting. In his past 4 vs. GB, has 35 receptions for 453 yards (113.3 per game) & 3 TDs. ... WR STEFON DIGGS had 13 catches for 126 yards & TD last week. Aims for his 5th in row vs. GB with TD catch. Had 9 catches for career-high 182 yards & TD in his last home meeting (9/18/16). ... DE DANIELLE HUNTER has 7.5 sacks & FR in his past 5 at home. Had 6 tackles & sack in last meeting. ... S ANTHONY HARRIS had 2 INTs last week, his 1st-career multi-INT game.
PREDICTION: Both teams are playing for their playoff lives, but the Packers are affected by injuries on offense. The key will be how the Vikings and QB Kirk Cousins perform in prime time.
OUR PICK: Vikings, 24-21