The Vikings will open U.S. Bank Stadium against the rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. Daniel House previews the game and gives you five keys to a Vikings victory.
Updated: September 17th, 2016 12:31pm
Updated: September 17th, 2016 12:31pm
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
I'm not sure the state of Minnesota has been more excited for a regular season game like this one in quite some time. The Vikings are opening U.S. Bank Stadium against their biggest rival on Sunday Night Football. Does it really get any better? The atmosphere is going to be electric as the fans watch the game they have been waiting to see for over a decade. Minnesota pulled off a 25-16 win in their regular season opener, which was fueled by two defensive scores. The offense was moving the ball, but couldn't punch it in to the end zone. Green Bay opened the season in Jacksonville and held off an improved Jaguars squad in the final seconds. After taking a second look at the film, the Packers secondary showed some vulnerability, but their defensive front did a great job stopping the run. Offensively, Aaron Rodgers put together a fantastic performance and was protected well. The main blemish was their run blocking up front. The Vikings had similar problems and must establish the run in this game to open up more opportunities through the air. Additionally, they need to pressure Aaron Rodgers and prevent his ability to leave the pocket. If Rodgers can extend plays and Eddie Lacy runs the ball well, it could be a long day for the Vikings.
I breakdown the keys to a Vikings victory with these five critical points of emphasis:
Getting the running game going
The Vikings need to run the ball better -- it's that simple. Adrian Peterson rushed for 31 yards on 19 carries in Week One. The offensive line did a poor job getting a push and Peterson ran very indecisive in the backfield. By my count, he missed at least three open lanes where he needed to cutback and create yardage. An improvement won't be easy against a Packers defensive front that allowed a league-low 48 rushing yards against Jacksonville last week. The entire offensive line needs to play more physical and open lanes for Peterson to be successful. What's more, Peterson needs to run north and south, minimizing his tap-dancing in the backfield. Hopefully, Jerick McKinnon is healthy enough to play and he can be blended into the game plan too. McKinnon's athletic skill-set can be used in the passing game and as a change of pace running back on the ground. The Vikings must run the ball effectively to set up more opportunities to pass the ball down the field. Last week, the offense moved up the field, but couldn't drive the ball vertically with any consistency. With a better offensive balance, the Vikings will find more success and score points.
Sam I Am?
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has been rather quiet about his starting quarterback for this game. However, let's keep it real, Sam Bradford is going to be playing on Sunday night. A team doesn't trade equity for a quarterback who isn't going to take the field in a game like this. Bradford has been putting an extensive amount of time into learning the system and Mike Zimmer did say he is ready to play. Bradford needs to make the short-to-intermediate throws and connect on the vertical passes when they become available. More importantly, he can't make mistakes and must take care of the football. Shaun Hill did the job last week and played efficient within the scheme. He is proof that completing passes and finding a rhythm in the system can be enough to win games. Nonetheless, Bradford needs to complete open throws in the red zone and the Vikings need to have opportunities inside the 20-yard-line. Bradford must have good protection up front and the running game needs to be effective. I was pretty impressed with Green Bay edge defenders Datone Jones and Nick Perry last week. The Vikings must keep a close eye on those pass rushers if they want to make plays in the passing game. If all of the above variables can come together, Bradford has the chance to really help the Vikings offense find the complete identity they were missing last week.
Containing Rodgers in the pocket
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is one of the most deadly quarterbacks in the league when he escapes the pocket and creates plays. He has the ability to keep his eyes up the field and find his receivers. Rodgers' arm strength is off the charts and he can make so many throws into tight windows. The Vikings schemed Rodgers very well in the NFC North Championship game last year and brought plenty of pressure. The key was how they kept Rodgers contained in the pocket and didn't allow him to creep out and make plays. Everson Griffen looks even more polished as a pass rusher and the blend of Danielle Hunter into the rotation has really helped the Vikings develop their pass rush even more. The Packers offensive line ranked very well, according to Pro Football Focus, but look for Mike Zimmer to bring a massive amount of confusion and stunts up front. If Rodgers has time to throw and extend plays, the Packers are deadly offensive unit.
Stopping the Gouda Buddha
The immortal Gouda Buddha reigns supreme in his cheese infested body. The Vikings defensive line must stop Eddie Lacy. I cannot emphasize it enough. In five Green Bay wins, Lacy has rushed for 549 yards on 114 attempts, averaging 4.82 yards per carry. In the one Packers loss, Lacy ran for just 34 yards on 13 carries, averaging 2.62 yards per carry. The statistics illustrate the importance of stopping Lacy. If he can run the ball well, the entire passing game opens for Rodgers and the Vikings have to adjust their defensive scheme to stop the run. Minnesota has to eliminate Lacy and do everything they can to limit the success of Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings allowed just 64 yards rushing against Tennessee and will need to have similar success if they want to stop a potent offensive attack like the Packers have established. Shamar Stephen will start for Sharrif Floyd at defensive tackle, but as Mike Zimmer said this week, "I'm used to it." I think we are all familiar with Floyd's past injury problems and at least the team has better depth to withstand his injuries with Shamar Stephen in the fold for 2016.
I'm most concerned about cornerback Xavier Rhodes missing this game with a knee injury. Trae Waynes will get the start opposite of veteran Terence Newman. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota exploited Waynes last week and Newman isn't a lock-down cornerback either. Aaron Rodgers is going to distribute the ball all over the field and will particularly target Waynes throughout this game. We likely will see rookie Mackensie Alexander on the field for a portion of the game too. The Vikings secondary suddenly becomes less experienced with Waynes and Alexander seeing more action. However, they certainly are capable of being up to the task.
Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson is back after missing last season with a knee injury and is Aaron Rodgers' favorite target. Davante Adams preformed relatively well last week and Randall Cobb will challenge Captain Munnerlyn coming out of the slot. Waynes needs to improve his alignments on the field and he can't get his eyes caught inside in the running game. The young cornerback is converting to the opposite cornerback slot and has to do some things different with his footwork. He always seems to play well in these situations and will be tested frequently against one of the best passing attacks in the league. If Aaron Rodgers can find his receivers, have time to throw, and escape the pocket, the Green Bay offense performs at an extremely high level. Those three situations are exactly what the Vikings defense must prevent if they want to slow the Packers offensive rhythm.