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Packers at Vikings: Two X-Factors

Looking beyond the obvious names, these two players must deliver if the Green Bay Packers are going to beat the Minnesota Vikings.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – You know all the big names that will play key roles on Sunday – Aaron Rodgers, AJ Dillon and Davante Adams on offense and Kenny Clark and De’Vondre Campbell to stop Dalvin Cook on defense. Looking beyond the obvious, these two players will have key roles when the Green Bay Packers face the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Offense: WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Adams, who destroyed the Minnesota secondary in last year’s Week 1 matchup in Minneapolis, will be the center of attention for Vikings coach Mike Zimmer. His secondary is mostly healthy, with the return of former All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson and former All-Pro safety Harrison Smith.

Green Bay is down two targets, with receiver Allen Lazard doubtful with a shoulder injury and tight end Robert Tonyan on injured reserve with a knee injury. That puts the spotlight on Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who returned last week after missing five games with a hamstring injury. He played 49 snaps and didn’t do much beyond a 41-yard reception on the opening series.

“Last week, we saw the practice habits and saw him running full speed and just feeling good,” receivers coach Jason Vrable said on Thursday. “The conditioning was up and he said, ‘I’m ready to go. You can take the trainers off.’ So, he was out there and it was good. We didn’t see a lot of man that game but there was one clip we saw man coverage and Marquez won his one-on-one and it was great. Obviously, he wanted to score there, to get points out of that, but it was good to see him get off the line and work the guy, move him and then just take off like he can do. So, I think it was more the excitement of our sideline, knowing, ‘Oh, man, ‘Quez is back.’”

This will be Rodgers’ 25th regular-season start against the Vikings. He knows what Zimmer wants to do and Zimmer knows what Rodgers wants to do.

“You’ve got to do a great job of working on making him see what you want him to see, and then when the ball’s snapped, he’s seeing something else and he’s got to figure it out as he starts to drop back with the ball," co-defensive coordinator Andre Patterson said. “That takes great teamwork between the secondary, the linebackers and the front. ... If you look at it, he snaps the ball later on the time clock than any quarterback. He lets it come down to 3 or 4 seconds because he’s trying to wait and see it all – see the complete picture. Our guys have to be disciplined to make sure that we don’t give away what we’re trying to do.”

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Defense: CB Eric Stokes

Last week, Zimmer sat down with quarterback Kirk Cousins and told him to be more aggressive. The result? A 27-20 upset victory at the Los Angeles Chargers in which Cousins threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns and got reacquainted with premier receiver Justin Jefferson.

In losses to Dallas and Baltimore the previous two weeks, Jefferson caught 5-of-9 passes for 90 yards. Against the Chargers, Jefferson caught nine passes for 143 yards.

“I feel like any receiver would be a little frustrated, just wanting to be a big part of the offense,” Jefferson said after the Chargers game. “Wanting to make big plays. I really didn’t get that many opportunities in the last games. This game stressed giving me the ball, giving me the opportunity to go up and make a play. And definitely grateful for that and making those plays.”

The formula is rather simple. When Jefferson has seven-plus catches this season, the Vikings are 4-0. When he has less than seven catches, they’re 0-5.

Jefferson is coming off a rookie season of 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns. It was the most receiving yards by a rookie in NFL season. He figures to see plenty of Stokes, who’s been frequently matched against the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. If Jefferson wins that matchup, Minnesota likely will be victorious.

“I see a six-year vet when I watch him play,” Adams said. “I haven’t seen anybody come in in a while and play the way that he’s playing right now. He really strikes me as somebody that has it figured out, whatever that means. I truly hope that it doesn’t look like what it’s been looking like the past few weeks against us because it’s definitely fun to watch.”


The Key to the Defense