A lot has changed since the Vikings and Packers first clashed back in Week 1. What was billed as a heavyweight fight between the two leading contenders for the NFC North was instead a dominant performance by the road team, with the Packers winning 43-34 in a game that was much more of a blowout than the final score indicates.
Since then, the two teams have essentially continued to play like they did in the opener. The Packers are 5-1 and look like one of the top contenders in the NFC, while the Vikings are 1-5 in what has been a disastrous season in Minnesota. Ahead of the rematch this Sunday at Lambeau Field, I caught up with Bill Huber of SI's PackerCentral to chat about how Green Bay has looked through six games.
Outside of a clunker in Tampa, the Packers have been phenomenal all season. Was there anything too concerning that happened in that Buccaneers game, or was it just a dud performance against a really good team?
Well, that’s what the team is calling it – a dud. Aaron Rodgers called it an “anomaly” after the game. I’m not so sure.
The Packers are second in the NFL in scoring but their five victories have come against teams ranked 20th or worse in points allowed. Their one game against a quality defense was against Tampa Bay, which is eighth in points allowed. The Packers couldn’t even get to midfield during the final three quarters, let alone score points.
So, we’ll see. Players aren’t supposed to look ahead but journalists can do whatever we want. After this game, the Packers will play at San Francisco on Thursday. They got crushed by the 49ers twice last season, including the NFC Championship Game. That can’t happen again.
Davante Adams might be the best receiver in football, but the secondary weapons just don't seem to be there with Allen Lazard on IR. Adams getting 196 of Rodgers' 283 passing yards last week is a mind-blowing stat. Considering how well rookie receivers are doing this year, do you think Brian Gutekunst has any regrets about not taking one?
It’s funny how the draft worked out. The Packers loved Justin Jefferson and Brandon Aiyuk, a couple of guys who could have been instant contributors in the slot, where they haven’t had anyone since Randall Cobb. I’m guessing they never thought Jefferson would get within a country mile of them, and they were right. Aiyuk was the guy. I wrote it the morning of the draft. San Francisco jumped ahead of Green Bay to take him.
So, at that point, that really only left Clemson’s Tee Higgins. Instead, the Packers traded up to take Jordan Love. Higgins has been good, with 27 catches for 410 yards and three touchdowns. Maybe there’s some regret there.
Let’s go to the second round, where the Packers selected running back A.J. Dillon with No. 62 overall. Laviska Shenault, Chase Claypool, Van Jefferson and Denzel Mims were gone before Green Bay was up. Who did that leave? Well, nobody. After Mims to the Jets at No. 59, no receiver was taken until No. 80.
So, let’s go to the third round, where the Packers selected tight end Josiah Deguara with No. 94 overall. Baltimore took Devin Duvernay, another potential slot player, at No. 92. Who did that leave? Well, again, nobody. After Duvernay, no receiver was taken until No. 128.
The board simply didn’t work out. Now, you can blame Gutekunst for using a fourth-round pick to help get Love, which meant the team couldn’t be aggressive in the second or third rounds. But, by and large, if you look at the receiver group by the tiers in which they were drafted, I’d say they were just incredibly unlucky.
Minnesota football fans know all about Kamal Martin, the former Gopher who made his season debut with 29 snaps last week. How did he look against the Texans, and what do you think his role will be for the rest of this season and beyond?
For a guy who hadn’t played a game since late November, I thought Martin looked good.
His coach at Minnesota, Joe Rossi, swears by Martin. When I talked to him after the draft, he saw Martin having a true three-down skill-set. I can see that. He won a starting job in training camp because he had a nose for the football. He’s got incredible length to go along with a nice combo of physicality and athleticism.
I would expect Martin to play more and more this season with the hope that he’s developed into a quality starter for the playoffs. The Packers haven’t had that Eric Kendricks-style, difference-making linebacker in forever. Maybe Martin can be that guy.
One thing I noticed when perusing the stats is that the Packers' defense is in the middle of the pack in sacks and towards the bottom in ESPN's pass rush win rate. Have the Smiths regressed, or is there another explanation there?
I’ll go with another explanation. The Packers have 71 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That puts them on pace for 189 – far distant from last year’s 304.
To be sure, the Smith Bros. have been responsible for a big part of the drop-off. After registering an NFL-high 93 total pressures last season, Za’Darius Smith has 19 and is on pace for 51. Preston Smith had 55 pressures last season; he has eight this year for a pace of 21.
There is a story for every stat. In Week 2, Green Bay faced Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. In Week 3, it battled New Orleans’ Drew Brees. In Week 6, it was Tampa Bay’s Tom Brady.
Of 32 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks, Stafford is the sixth-fastest in average time to throw, Brady is ninth and Brees is 12th. The other games were against Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (26th in time to pass), Atlanta’s Matt Ryan (22nd) and Houston’s DeShaun Watson (20th). The Packers produced 11 hurries against Cousins, 18 against Ryan and 18 against Watson. That’s 47 of the 71 pressures – or two-thirds in half the games.
Lastly, a quick injury-related one. Do you expect Aaron Jones to play this week?
If I had to guess, I’d say no. There’s a really big game coming up on Thursday. I’d think coach Matt LaFleur would like to ensure one of his two premier playmakers will be on the field. (Editor's note: Jones didn't practice on Wednesday and it sounds like he might be out this week.)
Thanks to Bill for answering my questions. To read my answers to his questions, where I discuss Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, the cornerbacks, and the broader state of the Vikings, click here.
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