The Purple Path Forward will take a look at upcoming games this season – what opponents’ trends are and how the Minnesota Vikings might exploit matchups for a win. Since we haven’t seen what the Green Bay Packers will do in 2022, we’ll look at what they are good at historically, then down a 32-ounce bottle of cheddar cheese-flavored Gatorade to put myself in a Packers’ mindset.
The higher the score, the more we like the Vikings’ chances
Here’s what we know: Since 2021, the Packers’ defense has gotten better, and the Packers’ offense has gotten worse.
The defense gets Jaire Alexander back and adds two first-round draft picks (Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt), and even though Za’Darius Smith should help the Vikings, his loss won’t sting the Packers much since he only played 18 snaps total.
Compare that to the Packers’ offense – most of the talk has been about Davante Adams leaving, but I am just as interested in Marquez Valdes-Scantling leaving. Even if David Bakhtiari comes back, Royce Newman (left guard) and Billy Turner (80% of snaps at right tackle) are gone; so, at minimum, there are guys shuffling positions and doing something different than last year.
To look at how the Vikings counter the Packers, we’re going to start with the Packers’ offense; what are they best at? We compared Kirk Cousins to Aaron Rodgers‘ passer rating across different down and distances to see where Rodgers excels:
Related: 4 biggest concerns for Minnesota Vikings heading into 2022 season
Aaron Rodgers lacks a proven deep threat
Here’s the thing Rodgers is best at: take a quick look deep, and if the play is there, take a shot; if not, check down to a short completion. It really only takes one or two deep connections to swing the entire game. This works great if the distance to go is relatively manageable. Look at those highlighted passer ratings, especially 2nd-and-4 when a check down is a fine play to keep a drive alive. There’s no urgency there, so Rodgers can always just take the easiest possible way out that requires very little skill but still makes him look good, just like hosting a game show.
This “look quick for a deep shot” matters a lot for this first game because of the Packers’ offseason changes. We wanted to figure out who may be on the receiving end of those game-changing plays. Who was successful with those deep balls in 2021? We went back and checked what the longest reception was for each of the Packers’ top four receivers in 2021. We highlighted which receiver had the longest reception in each game to see who was the deep guy most frequently:
*Lazard gets no credit for being the deep guy in a game where many of the Packers starters sat and tight end Josiah Deguara had a 63-yard catch.
Knowing that deep balls are critical to the Packers’ strategy, this chart shows why the Valdez-Scantling departure matters a lot more than the coverage it has received: Valdez-Scantling was good at being that deep dude. He had fewer games played than Lazard, and the deep threat totals aren’t even close. Even if Lazard can be an actual WR1, who is going to catch the deep, game-changing passes now? Cobb? Cobb was getting deep as much as Lazard in fewer games. Let’s look at how Cobb broke that 54-yard play in Week 12:
Just have the defender tackle the wrong team! That won’t work; Cobb’s not the deep guy.
Maybe Sammy Watkins? He’s been good for about one deep bomb a year playing with Patrick Mahomes. No, this explains why the Packers had a great interest in completing the draft day trade-up to get Christian Watson despite the speedster playing against non-elite FCS competition at NDSU. Watson is at least fast enough to do that one thing the Packers really need to flip the field.
If the deep passes aren’t there, the Packers’ offense will be way less explosive. The Vikings definitely can be explosive; this means that the higher scoring the game is, the more we like the Vikings’ chances. Rodgers can always hit a deep ball if there’s a breakdown in coverage. But with fewer guys experienced at forcing those breakdowns, they are less likely.
Related: How the Minnesota Vikings can be Super Bowl contenders in 2022
Minnesota Vikings Week 1 matchup targets Packers DBs
The question then becomes: can the Vikings’ offense make the game high-scoring and explosive? It may come down to one player for the Packers: Eric Stokes. Stokes was fine for a rookie corner last year, but he got absolutely shredded by the trio of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and K.J. Osborn in the Vikings versus Packers matchup.
We’ll assume Jaire Alexander is back and just as good as before, but one corner can’t cover all the Vikings’ weapons (or even just Jefferson). So Stokes will need to play well covering a second guy. The Packers’ safeties are serviceable at best, so if they are under siege all game trying to pick up mistakes in coverage, the Vikings’ offense should be absolutely stoked to have a huge day.
This doesn’t take into account changes the Packers have made – specifically if the two first-round picks on defense will provide an improvement in coverage to stop the Vikings after Cousins hung 341 yards with three touchdowns on them last season.
Here are a few summarized comments about Quay Walker:
- Long linebacker with good speed and range
- Possesses the physicality and quick hands to take on and shed blocks consistently
- Displays below-average recognition skills and lacks instincts in coverage
- Instinctive, with confident eyes in the box
- Quick recognition into response
- Mirrors runner’s lane choice from his perch
- Recognizes blocking scheme and play design
- Erratic vision and response in coverage.
- Will overrun his target in space.
So he’s supposed to be a linebacker who is good against the run but erratic in coverage.
Then the Packers added Wyatt with the other first-round pick, who looks like a rotational defensive lineman. Dalvin Cook should return to top form this year, but the Packers’ front seven was already good, and they added more to it with Walker and Wyatt. Don’t expect Cook to have a great game in Week 1 – meaning that the Packers loaded up on stopping something the Vikings don’t really care about all that much.
Related: Overpaid or underrated: 2022 outlook for Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
How the Minnesota Vikings can beat the Packers
The Packers’ front seven does look formidable against the ground game. Cook isn’t going to win this game (or if he does, the Vikings are probably annihilating the Pack). The Vikings need to cause confusion, mismatches, and blown coverages by Stokes (and likely slot corner Rasul Douglas) to put the secondary under huge pressure. If the Vikings’ passing game can consistently beat Stokes and Douglas, they should win the game. Early on, the Packers’ offense may not have the horses to win a shootout. This is an exciting test for the new offensive scheme right out of the gate.
Related: Love the Vikings? Get involved in the discussion on the Purple Pain forums