GREEN BAY, Wis. – With the first-place Green Bay Packers soaring with a 5-1 record and the last-place Minnesota Vikings staggering with a 1-5 mark, the home team is a 6-point favorite for Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field.
Still, this won’t be a slam dunk for the Packers. Here are three reasons to be concerned.
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If starter Kevin King misses a third consecutive game, that would press Josh Jackson back into action. He took his lumps in Week 6 against Tampa Bay, allowing one touchdown and being flagged for pass interference to hand the Buccaneers another, but was much better last week at Houston.
The challenge will be enormous against the Vikings, who feature the premier one-two punch of veteran Adam Thielen and hot-shot rookie Justin Jefferson. Thielen is tied for the NFL lead with seven touchdown receptions, including two scores in Week 1 against Green Bay, and Jefferson leads the NFL in receiving yards over the last four games.
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Aaron Rodgers and Corey Linsley made a combined 289 regular-season starts for the Packers. To be sure, defenses will attack an offense piloted by Jordan Love and Josh Myers much differently.
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“Just look at the top two,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said. “Thielen’s been a perennial Pro Bowler and has a great relationship with the quarterback. Much like Davante (Adams) and Aaron (Rodgers), they’re very much on the same page. And what’s really changed from the first game is the rookie Jefferson has stepped up and took on a much bigger role, and see how he’s developed as a receiver, so much more confident. He’s winning a lot of those 50-50 balls, he’s running real sharp routes. There’s a trust in him. You can see things are schemed up for him and the ball is getting to him and he’s made some explosive plays. If you had to ask me, what’s the biggest difference between Week 1 and now, it would be his emergence, which obviously is a challenge for us on the back end.”
Minnesota’s defense is terrible. It ranks 28th with 413.7 yards allowed per game. Its pass defense is especially horrendous, ranking 28th with 286.7 yards allowed per game and 30th with 8.15 yards allowed per play.
However, the Vikings are tough where it matters. They’re third on third down with a move-the-chains rate of 33.8 percent, sixth in the red zone with a 52.2 percent touchdown rate and an even tougher second in goal-to-go situations at 57.1 percent.
“That’s a big time credit to him and the scheme that they have there in Minnesota,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “They give you a lot of different looks – a lot of tough looks – and they run all the complements off of it. So, from an offensive perspective, it totally keeps you off-balance. You’re not quite sure what you’re attacking on every situation. Really, the whole communication amongst the entire defense is pretty incredible. But with Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris, those safeties, they do a great job of giving you kind of false tells from the quarterback position.”
The forecast for Sunday calls for a high of 38 with winds gusting from the northwest at more than 40 mph. To be sure, both teams will be playing under the same conditions. Also to be sure, the Packers, as an outdoors team playing in their home stadium, should have a better feel for it.
“You have to have an awareness of what the wind’s doing and you can’t quite always rely on the flags in the stadium,” Rodgers said. “They’re kind of all over the place. So, you learn which ones to look at, and often it’s opposite of the north end zone flag. That I’ve learned.”
Nonetheless, in what could be a hotly contested divisional battle, one wind-blown blunder one way or another could make all the difference. Whether it’s fielding a kick, throwing downfield or even snaps on special teams, the elements could make the game an adventure.
That also could make running the football absolutely critical. The Vikings, with Dalvin Cook running at Packers defense that is 20th in yards allowed per carry, would appear to have an edge over Jamaal Williams running at a Vikings defense that is 10th in yards allowed per carry.