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Green Bay Packers Week 2 Preview: Who’s The King Of The NFC North?

NFC North - NFL Joe Bielawa via


Packers-Vikings battle for NFC North Supremacy

Since Aaron Rodgers took over as the starting quarterback for the Packers, he has ruled over the NFC North with a heavy hand. He has compiled a 34-12 record in his 8 years at the helm against his divisional foes, but no team has felt his wrath more than the Vikings.

In fact, a majority of Rodgers most impressive performances over the years have come against many sub-par Minnesota defenses. He has thrown for a combined 3,993 yards, 34 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions in 16 games (regular and post-season) versus the Vikings.

However, in a “what have you done for me lately” league the Vikings own the most important win, the last one.

Great minds collide as Rodgers and Zimmer face off

With their week 17 win, the Vikings dethroned the Packers as North champions in 2015 and new head coach Mike Zimmer seemed to find a way to slow Rodgers production.

In two games against Minnesota in 2015, Rodgers only completed 56% of his passes on 78 attempts. He was able to throw 3 touchdowns to 1 interception, but nothing came easy. It could be said that a lot of this had to do with the absence of Jordy Nelson, but it goes much deeper.

His decrease in efficiency goes back to his 2014 MVP year. He had an outstanding 138.7 rating in Week 5 of that year and than saw it fall to 109.7 during that season’s last match-up of the two teams, not a bad mark, but the beginning of a trend. Last season, Rodgers only put up a passer rating of 86.9 in a Packers week 11 win, and followed it up with a rating of 80.8 in the aforementioned battle for the North in week 17. As Zimmer has settled in with his young defense they been able to steadily decrease the QB rating each game.

Zimmer has also been able to achieve what most find to be the most effective strategy to stop the explosive offense, constant pressure. In 2014, the Vikings only sacked Rodgers 3 times and barely got any other hits on him, hence the high QB rating. In 2015 they rose the number to 7, and will continue to bring the heat in both games this year.

An important part of rushing Rodgers effectively is not letting him escape. Zimmer and the Vikings will look to contain at all times. If a team goes in wild and allows him to slip free, it almost always results in a big play. This is why Minnesota will have to rely on their young defense to make smart plays.

One of those young players, Eric Kendricks, a second year guy out of UCLA won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his week 1 performance against Tennessee last Sunday. On the day, he returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown and added seven tackles (five solo), including one tackle for loss. Kendricks showed great instincts and explosiveness all game long.

The Vikings defense as a whole was responsible for both touchdowns the team scored against the Titans. This included Kendricks touchdown and a 24-yard fumble recovery picked up by another young star Danielle Hunter for 6.

The Packers offensive line will have a challenge dealing with the aggressive nature of Zimmer’s defense. They not only throw young guys like Kendricks, Hunter, and linebacker Anthony Barr at you, but also have veteran leaders like safety Harrison Smith and defensive lineman Brian Robinson, who have years of experience against Green Bay, waiting to make big plays.

Smith has long been the Joker to Rodger’s Batman. The two have had many battles, most of which Rodgers has won, but Smith has still given him more fits than any other secondary player in the league. As the Packers often do, I expect as much as possible for them to avoid where he is on the field.

The Titans didn’t have much success against the Vikings in the running or passing game, but when they did it came in the flats, away from Smith, and in delayed routes. Running back Demarco Murray scored both touchdowns for Tennessee on receptions around the line of scrimmage that he was able to turn into big plays.

If the Packers are going to be successful, it will be in much of the same way. For years, Green Bay had been at the pinnacle of screen passes, but lately they have fallen off with Eddie Lacy as the lead back. I think back-up James Starks could have a career night if he is given the chance Sunday. He is the kind of back that can make plays on the outside, and spreading out the Vikings linebackers will open up a most likely congested middle of the field.

Packers Defense Looks To Hold Down Old Foe Adrian Peterson 

Probably the most intriguing match-up in this game comes from the unknowns of the Vikings offense.

Mike Zimmer still claims he hasn’t chosen a starter for Sunday Night after losing franchise quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a season ending knee injury, and acquiring Sam Bradford from Philadelphia in a trade.

Last week, the Vikings started perennial NFC North back-up Shaun Hill as a fill in quarterback. He played a solid game but nothing that is worthy of top billing. Every reasonable person on earth should conclude Sam Bradford will be QB1 moving forward. The Vikings are opening up a brand new stadium and gave up a first round pick for him, there is no way in my mind he won’t be starting.

This really doesn’t change the game-plan for Green Bay, as there isn’t much of a difference in the way Bradford and Hill play the position or in how the Vikings will be calling plays. Until the day he retires it will always be about Adrian Peterson. Last week, Peterson was all but useless within the offense and was only able to accumulate 31 yards on 19 carries. It is almost inconceivable that Peterson would end a game with under 40 yards and less than 2 yards per carry, but when your offensive line can’t maintain a block no running back can succeed.

The Titans front seven was able to completely dominate the trenches against the Vikings line, and the Packers are even more build to stop the run. Daniels sets the tone, but young linebackers like Nick Perry, Jake Ryan, and Blake Martinez are primed for the challenge of holding another back under 50 yards like they did T.J. Yeldon week 1.

Peterson’s long history against Green Bay has been a roller coaster of big games and big failures. Most recently, in 2015 the emergence of Mike Daniels in the middle and Clay Matthews move to inside linebacker slowed the former MVP to a halt. Despite Peterson leading the NFL in rushing, he only was able to gain 112 yards total against the Packers defense in two games.

Like in week 1, Green Bay will also be tasked with stopping two speedy wide-outs and a large target over the middle. Both Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are underrated speed and possession receivers that make for dangerous targets. Diggs is an absolute speed demon who provides a constant threat of taking any play to the house. Last week against Tennessee, he put up 103 yards on 7 catches, including a few deep balls down the sideline. His north to south speed is among the best in the league.

Thielen is a much more frustrating target. He plays very similar to how Packers slot receiver Randall Cobb does, and may give Green Bay trouble in 3rd down and key passing situations. He is kind of a wild-card within the Vikings offense. Like most of their attack, he has not proved to be completely reliable as of yet.

On the other hand, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has proven time and time again if given the targets he is someone you can count on. Against Tennessee, he caught 4 passes for 65 yards and proved to be a tough cover for all who tried. He is part of the unique breed of tight ends that are deceivingly quick for linebackers and entirely to big for safeties. He also has a history in burning Green Bay.

Perhaps the greatest game of Rudolph’s career came last season against the Packers. He amassed 100 yards on 6 catches and tacked on a touchdown. He seemed unstoppable at times, but rookie Blake Martinez was drafted specifically to fill Green Bay‘s need for a coverage linebacker. How often the two are matched up one on one will be an interesting story-line to follow.

Final Thoughts

For week 2, this game carries vast importance in the North. Minnesota more than likely sees this game as far more crucial. Green Bay has had such a long reign of dominance that a loss won’t make or break them, but for the Vikings this game is enormous for their confidence. The Packers must maintain a level of energy as high as Minnesota or they risk being run over.

If Green Bay is able to control the time of possession, they should be in a great position to win. Neither offense is making big time plays at the moment, and in my opinion if Eddie Lacy and James Starks don’t go over 100 yards rushing, it will be very difficult for the Packers to walk out victorious. The game will come down to balanced play-calling and protecting Rodgers from bad situations.

No matter the final score this game will deliver a look into the NFC North race, and if made to choose, I’m never betting against number 12 and company.

For updates daily on Packers news & gameday live tweets, follow me on Twitter, @MikeTSJ101.