The Green Bay Packers open the 2022 NFL season Sunday afternoon when they travel to Minnesota to meet the Vikings. The Packers are once again considered Super Bowl contenders entering the new campaign. While the team has a very talented roster, there are injury and depth questions at several key positions as they try to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2010 season.
The Packers are coming off their third straight 13-win regular season, finishing with a 13-4 record a year ago while the Vikings finished the year 8-9 and missed the playoffs. This game will be Kevin O’Connell’s Vikings head coaching debut.
The Packers lead the all-time series between these division rivals 63-55-3 in the regular season while the team split their only two postseason meetings. The two teams have split the season series in each of the last two seasons.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game in Minnesota:
- Don’t Let Justin Jefferson Beat You
Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson finished last season with 108 catches for 1,616 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is a fast and dangerous receiver who can create big plays any time he touches the football.
The Packers have three strong cornerbacks but the big matchup will be Jaire Alexander against Jefferson. Alexander has elite speed for a cornerback and was rated as one of the best cover corners in the league before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury last season against Pittsburgh.
The Packers will need Alexander to stop Jefferson from being a dominant part of the Vikings attack. Jefferson will get his catches and his yards but the Packers can’t let him make big plays and must limit his productivity. If they do this, the Vikings offense will have to make long, error-free drives to score which won’t be easy for them.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Vikings have two excellent pass rushers in Danielle Hunter and ex-Packers edge rusher Za’Darius Smith. The Packers offensive line remains full of injury questions. We don’t know if either David Bakhtiari or Elgton Jenkins will play on Sunday. It would certainly benefit the Packers in a big way if at least one of them is able to play.
If not, Yosh Nijman is the likely starter on the left wide with either Royce Newman or Zach Tom to start at right tackle.
The Vikings are now playing a 3-4 base defense after playing a 4-3 in recent seasons.
If neither starting tackle is ready to play for the Packers, look for more short passes and for Matt LaFleur to have his running backs and tight ends help chip block Hunter and Smith to help protect Rodgers. It is imperative that the Packers give Rodgers enough time to be effective.
- Contain Dalvin Cook
Cook missed four games last season but still went over 1,000 yards rushing for the third consecutive year. The former Florida State star has had two monster games against the Packers including a 163-yard rushing and four total touchdown performance in 2020.
Last year, Cook gained 115 total yards in the Vikings win over the Packers but was a non-factor in the loss, gaining only 13 total yards on nine rushing attempts and three pass receptions.
The Packers new-look defense is designed to be better against the run in part because they’ll keep two off-ball linebackers on the field most of the time. Both veteran All Pro De’Vondre Campbell and rookie first round pick Quay Walker will have roles to play as will the revamped defensive line led by Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Jarran Reed.
If Cook doesn’t have a big game, the Vikings will be forced to pass and the Green Bay pass rush will have a chance to thrive.
- Establish the Running Game
The Packers are expected to run the ball more this season without Davante Adams available to be part of the passing attack. The Packers are also unsure if Allen Lazard will play in Week 1 due to injury. The Packers are expected to utilize Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon more often in both the running game and as pass receivers.
The Vikings run defense was shaky at best last season, ranking 26th in the league and allowing 130.7-yards per game.
The Packers offensive line was not great at run blocking last season with most starters faring better at pass protection than they were at opening holes for the run game.
The Packers may try to run directly at Za’Darius Smith who often had issues with that when he was with Green Bay.
If the Packers can run the football, they can keep the chains moving while keeping the defense off-balance.
- Get Pressure On Kirk Cousins
When Kirk Cousins has time to throw the football, he has elite statistics, in fact, he was ranked second in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus. When the Vikings signal caller is under pressure, however, he is a below average quarterback statistically. He averaged just 5.1-yards per attempt which was a full yard per attempt below the league average.
The Packers have more ways to get to the quarterback now than they have in the past. Rashan Gary and Preston Smith are both formidable forces off the edge. Kenny Clark and Jarran Reed can get to the quarterback from the interior defensive line while Darnell Savage, De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker can all be utilized as blitzers on occasion.
If the Packers get Cousins off his game, they can establish the dominance of their new defense in Week 1.
- Special Teams Can’t Beat the Packers
Special teams have been a disaster for the Packers in recent years and they were a big reason they lost their playoff game against San Francisco last season.
Rich Bisaccia was brought it to turn this unit around and the team also drafted and signed players primarily for their ability to contribute on special teams.
The Packers special teams unit struggled again during the preseason but now it counts. The Pack simply need their special teams not to turn the ball over and not to cost them significant field position or points. If by the end of the season the Packers special teams are in the middle of the league rankings, that would be a vast improvement.
The Packers are hoping veteran kicker Mason Crosby is ready to play and new punter Pat O’Donnell is more consistent than Corey Bojorquez. They also need return specialist Amari Rodgers to use better judgement when fielding the ball and to be more decisive once he does. Coverage teams need to play well also.
If the Packers can not be hurt by special teams, they’ll be vastly better off this season.
The Vikings are the Packers toughest competitors in the NFC North and this road game may be the toughest matchup they’ll face against a division opponent this season. The Vikings have the weapons to put points on the board and the Packers highly touted defense will be tested.
The Packers have the better defense and the better quarterback. This will be a tough game but the Pack will find a way to get it done.
Packers 23, Vikings 20
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