The Green Bay Packers return home to Lambeau Field Sunday when they host the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers enter the game with a 2-4 record while the Vikings are 3-4. The Packers are coming off a disappointing 19-17 loss to the Broncos in Denver while the Vikings just upset the 49ers on Monday night 22-17. Here are six key matchups that determine who will win Sunday’s Packers game.
The Packers lead the all-time series between these two teams 64-56-3 in the regular season. These two division rivals first met in 1961 when the Vikings joined the league. The Packers won the last meeting between these teams last season, beating the Vikings 41-17 in Green Bay. They have also won two of the last three meetings. The teams have split their two postseason meetings with the last coming after the 2012 season.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game at Lambeau:
Packers Key Matchups: Number One Get Pressure on Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins can be a very efficient quarterback when he has time to throw but he struggles under pressure. The Packers don’t necessarily need to sack Cousins often but if they can pressure him and rush his throws, they can force him into mistakes and possibly even turnovers.
The Vikings offensive line has permitted 15 sacks through seven games this season. The Packers need a strong pass rush from Rashan Gary, Preston Smith, Kingsley Enagbare and Kenny Clark to get to Cousins. Cousins has also fumbled seen times already this season.
Vikings left guard Ezra Cleveland was limited in practice due to a foot injury. Even if he plays, the Packers need to take advantage of his injury and get some pressure on Cousins.
Key Matchups: Number Two Run the Ball Effectively
The Packers running game has struggled all season. The injury to Aaron Jones and the poor blocking of the offensive line have been major factors.
The Vikings run defense ranks 15th in the league and is allowing 105.6-yards per game on the ground.
Jones should be on less of a play count as he continues to recover from the hamstring injury he suffered in Week 1. A.J. Dillon had his best game of the season last week in Denver and needs to continue to run hard and be tougher to bring down.
The Packers offensive line struggled to block for the run with Zach Tom being the only exception. The blocking must improve, or Jones must return to form for the running game to be better.
Head coach Matt LaFleur also can’t abandon the run too quickly, which he has done too often this season.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Three Protect Jordan Love
The Vikings pass rush is 11th in the league with 19 sacks through seven games. Danielle Hunter leads the team with nine sacks followed by safety Harrison Smith who has three.
The Packers must double team Hunter and stop him from dominating the line of scrimmage like Maxx Crosby did in Las Vegas.
Tom will draw the primary responsibility for blocking Hunter if he lines up where he usually does. The Vikings will likely move him around to create more favorable matchups so the Packers will need to be aware. If Hunter lines up opposite Rasheed Walker, he will certainly need help. Walker has been particularly vulnerable to inside pass rush moves. Walker has talent but needs to regain his confidence.
The Packers will also need to figure out how to pick up extra pass rushers as Minnesota blitzes more than any other team in the NFL.
Jordan Love can make plays with his legs, but the Packers would prefer for him to pass than run. Giving him time to throw will be an important component for Love having a better game this Sunday.
Key Matchups: Number Four Get the Lead Early
Both the Packers and Vikings struggled to score points in the first half of games this season. For the young Packers offense, starting quicker would be a key to improvement and success.
Instead of having to play from behind, the Packers could use the entire playbook and have more flexibility in their approach.
Scoring early will also depend on LaFleur’s ability to call an effective game which he hasn’t done consistently this season.
Likewise, the Packers defense cannot allow the Vikings offense to get on track early. If Minnesota gets ahead quickly, they’ll be able to run the ball more effectively and keep the Packers defense off balance.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Five Cut Down on the Mistakes
Too often we’ve seen the Packers hurt their own cause with mistakes. Whether it’s untimely penalties that disrupt drives or fundamental errors by inexperienced players, the Packers need to get out of their own way.
Love needs to make better decisions. He has thrown to covered receivers or forced the ball downfield more than he should.
His receivers have also not run the right routes consistently. Against Denver after the bye, we saw too many plays where multiple receivers ran the same pattern and ended up in the same spot on the field. That takes away Love’s options and can create turnovers at worst. At best, it leads to wasted plays and incomplete passes.
This young Packers team needs to make progress in this area and the sooner it starts, the better.
Packers Key Matchups: Number Six Contain Jordan Addison
We know the Vikings are without Justin Jefferson, but the Packers will still have to contain Jordan Addison. The rookie has excelled in Jefferson’s absence with 16 catches for 215 yards and four touchdowns in the last three games. Addison is only 5’11” but he has good speed.
The Packers secondary has missed Jaire Alexander who has only played three games this season due to a back injury. He has not been his usual self this season in part due to that injury. Alexander missed practice Thursday and his status for Sunday’s game remains uncertain.
If Alexander can’t go or is limited, we may see more of either Carrington Valentine or Corey Ballentine. Valentine had his welcome to the NFL game as the Broncos picked on him last week. Ballentine has just been elevated from the practice squad but may see action if Alexander can’t go.
The Packers will rely on Rasul Douglas to steady the secondary and provide leadership.
The Packers revamped secondary must play well enough to contain the Minnesota passing game which currently ranks second in the league in passing yards per game with 293.9-yards per game.
The Packers are uncertain right now on both sides of the ball. A combination of injuries and inexperience has hurt the team. So has questionable coaching decisions and a lack of adjustments.
The Vikings have won two straight and three of their last four while the Packers have lost three in a row. Green Bay won’t get back on track this week even though they’re at home.
Vikings 24, Packers 17
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