Wouldn't it be perfectly on-brand for the Vikings to find a way to win on Sunday?
They're 1-5, they just traded their best pass rusher, they're playing three rookie cornerbacks, and absolutely no one thinks they can go to Green Bay and beat the 5-1 Packers. Two weeks removed from a horrific performance at home against the Falcons, wouldn't it be all too Vikings-y for this team to pull out a win at Lambeau Field, thus hurting their draft position and breathing some misguided hope back into a nightmarish season?
It's almost certainly not going to happen. The Packers are the far better team in this matchup, and Aaron Rodgers should face virtually zero resistance in shredding Mike Zimmer's depleted defense.
But stranger things – much, much stranger things – have happened. As I gaze into the full moon on this Halloween weekend, allow me to explain the three things that must occur if the Vikings are going to spring a major upset on Sunday.
1. Control the time of possession by feeding Dalvin Cook
When these teams met in Week 1, the Packers had the ball for an absurd 41 minutes and 16 seconds. That's the second-highest time of possession a team has had during the 2020 season, and the most either the Packers or Vikings have ever had in the 120-game history of this rivalry. Here's some expert analysis for you: the Vikings can't let that happen again. They need to find a way to extend drives, limit turnovers, and get the Packers' offense off the field from time to time.
Offensively, that starts with feeding Dalvin Cook. The Vikings' star running back has had three weeks to heal from the groin injury he suffered in Seattle, and despite carrying a 'questionable' tag into this game, he's expected to play and have a full workload at Lambeau. Gary Kubiak and the Vikings need to get Cook involved both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield, using his elite talent to create chunk plays and set up play-action shots downfield.
A big-time performance from Cook would go a long way towards evening out the disparity in time of possession, and it's a crucial first step in our plan for a hypothetical upset.
2. Have 'Good Kirk' show up
We'll discuss the Vikings' defense in a second, but it's no secret that things are probably going to be a struggle on that side of the ball. That means the offense will have to keep pace in what could be a high-scoring affair (assuming the forecasted gusts of wind don't wreak havoc on both passing games), and Cook can only do so much to that effect. Ultimately, a Vikings upset is going to require a surprise appearance from 'Good Kirk,' the alter ego of the player known as 'Bad Kirk' who has run amok this year.
Kirk Cousins, like the Vikings franchise as a whole, has always been capable of looking fantastic when the world least expects it. Throughout Cousins' career, bad games or bad stretches have typically been followed by good games or good stretches, and vice versa. This year has been unusual in that despite some excellent throws and moments, it's basically been one long run of 'Bad Kirk.' He's tied for the league lead with ten interceptions, having made some uncharacteristically awful mistakes to get to that point.
If the Vikings are going to win this game, they need Cousins to look a lot more like he did at Lambeau Field in 2018 (425 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) than he did in 2019 (230 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT, including a back-breaking pick in the end zone). He has the weapons to do it. Adam Thielen has had a lot of success against Jaire Alexander, the Packers' shutdown cornerback. Justin Jefferson is an entirely different player now than he was in Week 1. Even Irv Smith Jr. emerged with the best two-game stretch of his young career prior to the bye week.
Earlier this week, Mike Zimmer gave an excellent quote regarding Cousins' struggles.
"An old coach told me one time, when you don’t play as well as you hoped to, it’s, ‘What are you going to do when you get back in the huddle on Monday and they’re all looking at you?’" Zimmer said. "You’ve got to go in there and prove that you’re the guy. You’ve got to go back in and do it. You’ve got to go back out and fight and show everybody that you’re the guy that they can rely on. That’s what it’s really all about and what I’ve told him before. ‘If everybody is looking at you, now what are you going to do?’"
We're about to find out.
Somehow, someway, make Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable
Zimmer and the Vikings are in a tough predicament in terms of how they approach defending Rodgers and the Packers in this game. If they're content to send four-man rushes and focus on helping out their young corners on the back end, Rodgers will have all day to find Davante Adams and pick the defense apart. Without Yannick Ngakoue, the Vikings' already-weak defensive line is even less intimidating. Outside of Ifeadi Odenigbo, they don't have anyone capable of generating consistent pressure up front.
But if the Vikings decide to go blitz-heavy in the hopes of confusing Rodgers, they'll be leaving their rookie corners on an island against Adams and the Packers' other pass-catchers.
There's no simple answer here. Given the state of the defensive line and cornerback rooms, it's going to take a coaching masterclass from Zimmer in order to make things happen on defense. We saw such a thing take place in the first half against the Seahawks, but that defense had Ngakoue and Mike Hughes. The Vikings need a stroke of genius from Zimmer. They need Odenigbo and Shamar Stephen to carry the defensive line. And they need their veteran safeties and linebackers to make plays all over the field.
Even then, it'll be a case of limiting the damage instead of shutting the Packers down. A turnover here, a sack there, a pass breakup on third down – anything the Vikings can do on defense to get the ball back to their offense would go a long way.
Of course, it's easier said than done when it comes to these three keys to an upset. But hey, if Adams goes for 200 receiving yards and Cousins throws multiple interceptions once again, at least Vikings fans can take solace in moving up to the No. 3 overall pick in next year's draft.
After a bye week, it'll be fun to have football back, regardless of the outcome.
Let's see if the Vikings can find it in themselves to work some magic in Green Bay.
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