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Two Days to Kickoff: 2 Vikings at Packers X-Factors

Looking beyond the obvious names such as Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, these two players could have major roles on Sunday.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers will host the Minnesota Vikings in Round 2 of their annual border war on Sunday at Lambeau Field. You know the main characters: Aaron Rodgers, Davante Adams and Jaire Alexander for the Packers, and Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and Harrison Smith for the Vikings.

Looking beyond the obvious, here are two X-factors.

Packers RB Tyler Ervin

Ervin appears on track to return after missing the last couple games with a wrist injury. His absence has impacted the offense, as he was the main threat on all the jet-sweep-style plays. Without him, that section of coach Matt LaFleur’s playbook was greatly reduced.

For the first time in his career, Ervin was a big-time threat in the opener at Minnesota. His 38 rushing yards crushed his four-year total of 25 yards. His 21- and 12-yard runs were the longest of his career. The mere threat of him getting the ball on the fly continually kept the Vikings off-balance.

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“It’s something that they have to prepare for,” Ervin said of the jet sweeps after that game. “I think, at the end of the day, the more things they have flashing in front of their face, the more things they have to worry about.”

Assuming he plays, Ervin will have a key role in the return game, as well. With winds gusting in the neighborhood of 40 mph, it’s going to be an adventure for both teams’ returners. Simply catching the ball will be a challenge. The ability to do so will save field position and eliminate game-changing turnovers.

Vikings DE Ifeadi Odenigbo

Last season, Danielle Hunter (14.5 sacks, 22 quarterback hits) and Everson Griffen (eight sacks, 24 quarterback hits) combined for 22.5 sacks and 46 quarterback hits. The Vikings parted ways with Griffen but sent second- and fifth-round draft picks to Jacksonville for Yannick Ngakoue, who had eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in 2019 and 9.5 sacks and a third-in-the-league 33 quarterback hits in 2018.

On Sunday and for the rest of the season, the Vikings will line up with neither player. Hunter is out for the year following recent neck surgery; he didn’t play a snap all season. And in a curious move, Ngakoue, despite five sacks in six games, was traded to Baltimore last week for third- and fifth-round draft picks.

So, Minnesota will go into this game with Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes as their starting defensive ends. Odenigbo is the Vikings’ best pass rusher with 2.5 sacks and nine quarterback hits. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s tied for 20th among edge rushers with 21 total pressures. He lines up on both sides of the formation.

It will be up to Odenigbo to win his matchups and coach Mike Zimmer to create pressure with his extensive blitz packages.

“You never have enough pass rush and you never have enough guys who can cover – not in this league and not when you’re playing a guy like this guy,” Zimmer said of facing Rodgers. “You know, it’s a little of both. We’ve got young guys that we’re trying to continue to teach and grow with their pass rush and, obviously, we have to manufacture some, as well.”

More Countdown to Kickoff

Five Days: Keys to the Game

Four Days: Views from Inside the Vikings

Three Days: Reasons to Worry