Three Keys to a Vikings Victory Over the Packers on Sunday

Photo: Mike Roemer - AP

After a quick jab that landed on Thursday night, the 2020 NFL football season is currently stepping back and preparing to deliver a cold-blooded knockout punch directly to the nose of fans across the nation, on Sunday. And we are so ready for it.

Without preseason games, this Minnesota Vikings’ season has snuck up on us faster than ever before. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are in town for week 1, however, so there’s no time for opening day jitters.

I don’t have to tell other fans how important Sunday’s game is. It’s the Packers! I know it’s only the first game but this is also our first chance to see a completely revamped defense and the 3rd straight season where we see Kirk Cousins driving the ship.

The Green Bay locker room has been fragile since Matt Le Fleur stepped into it, so who knows what kind of 2020 season a stomping at the hands of the Vikings in week one, could do to the psyche of our biggest divisional threat.

As much as I wish it were going to be easy, Sunday will be anything but that… This Vikings team has a lot of question marks. Fortunately for them, so do the Green Bay Packers. After doing a bit of research on the enemy, I’ve come up with a few keys to victory, if we’re going to score a victory over the green and yellow (and sometimes brown — like poop).

#1: Who Wins the Foot Race?

Both Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones are expected to be near the top of the NFC in most 2020 rushing categories, as long as they can stay on the field. They will get an abundance of opportunities and both have excelled with those opportunities in the past.

Combine that with the fact that both defenses could struggle against the run all season… and we could have an RB track meet on our hands come Sunday.

The Vikings have two backups, from 2019, starting on the interior of their defensive line, after Michael Pierce opted out. Shamar Stephen and Jaleel Johnson will step in to man the middle. They were some of the best 2nd-stringers in the NFL, but they were still 2nd string. Can those two hold up in a starting role against Aaron Jones, especially in the red zone? Jones scored a league-high 16 touchdowns last season.

On the flip side, the Packers rush defense SUCKED last season. It was on full display in their crushing NFC Championship loss to the 49ers. The Packer Swing Gates allowed 285 yards on the ground, and let Jimmy Garoppolo beat them while throwing for just 69 yards of his own. It wasn’t just that NFCCG. Green Bay gave up the 9th most yards per attempt on the ground last season and they didn’t change much to address the problem in the offseason. They needed Jordan Love and AJ Dillon too badly.

#2: Can Vikings Get Pressure?

The Vikings are sporting an entirely different defensive line and cornerback group on Sunday. Can Yannick Ngakoue disrupt Aaron Rodgers by himself or will Ifeadi Odenigbo step up and make a difference?

Odenigbo has reportedly been taking reps from the right side of the line, meaning he will be the one going up against the Packers’ all-pro left tackle, David Bakhtiari. That will be quite a task, but could also allow Ngakoue a chance to get loose on the (defensive) left side vs a much lesser blocker, in RT Rick Wagner.

Could we see more blitz packages from the linebackers, to help create pressure? Could we see Mike Zimmer’s AA Gap blitz, that Rodgers hates so much, come back again? Unfortunately, more blitzing would lead to more responsibility out of our fresh new cornerbacks.

I’ve already written about it so I don’t need to go there again. The Vikings cornerbacks are all brand new. That may not be bad… but we just don’t know. Can they hold up long enough for the Minnesota pass rush to get to Rodgers?

#3: Does Kirk Cousins Get ANY Time to Throw?

The Green Bay pass rush absolutely emasculated Kirk Cousins and the Vikings in their last meeting. Za’Darius Smith was in the backfield all day, racking up 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 of those being QB sacks.

You can give me all of the “under pressure” stats on Kirk Cousins, but that man is much better when he has time to use his big brain and dissect defenses. I can’t imagine he is sleeping very well, thinking about the lack of improvements made on his offensive line in the offseason. That’s especially true leading up to a game against Smith.

Luckily, the Minnesota Vikings’ two strongest OL players line up at tackle, and that’s who the Smiths (don’t forget about Preston) will battle all day. Can Kubiak and Co. come up with a plan that gives Cousins enough time to feel comfortable and to find targets? If not, it could be a long day. How loose Dalvin Cook can get early on (#1 key) will definitely play a factor here, too.

If the Minnesota Vikings O-line can keep Za’Darius Smith out of the backfield and open decent holes for Dalvin Cook (vs a bad running defense), then the Vikings will be fun to watch on Sunday.

If they can do those things AND stop Aaron Jones from going crazy, they’ll put up a W for sure. That’s right, I’m saying it. The Vikings need to make Aaron Rodgers (and his shitty WR’s) beat them.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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