3 Key Matchups for Green Bay Packers against Vikings

Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) carries the ball past Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos (31) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) carries the ball past Green Bay Packers safety Adrian Amos (31) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports /

As the Green Bay Packers look to keep their playoff hopes alive, they face a Minnesota Vikings team with an explosive offense led by Justin Jefferson but a defense that has surrendered nearly 25 points per game this season.

In all three phases, the Packers are playing their best football of the season right now, as they ride a three-game win streak, in addition to winning four of their last six games. Green Bay has positioned themselves well to make the playoffs, but they are still in need of help, including either Washington losing once more or New York losing each of their last two games.

When it comes to Sunday’s game with Minnesota, if the Packers are going to come away with the win, these are three key matchups that are going to play key roles in determining that outcome.

Preston Smith and Kenny Clark vs. Vikings Offensive Line

One of the best ways that the Green Bay Packers defense can go about trying to slow Justin Jefferson and the rest of the Vikings’ offense is by putting pressure on Kirk Cousins. Putting pressure on the quarterback means less time in coverage for the secondary, longer developing routes don’t have the chance to form, and it could also mean turnover opportunities as well.

Since losing Rashan Gary to a season-ending injury, the Packers haven’t been able to get after opposing quarterbacks with any regularity. The good news is that it would appear that Kenny Clark and Preston Smith are playing some of their best football right now. On top of that, this is a Vikings’ offensive line that ranks in the bottom third in pass-block win rate, and Cousins has been pressured on a whopping 36% of his dropbacks, according to PFF ($$).

However, as Matt LaFleur mentioned on Wednesday, just because the pressure may get to Cousins doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to result in a positive play for the defense. Cousins has been very good under pressure this season, throwing nine touchdown passes and averaging 7.5 yards per attempt, both of which rank third in the NFL, while hanging in the pocket, willing to take a hit.

If Green Bay can’t pressure or convert those pressure opportunities into sacks, and the cornerbacks have to defend Jefferson for three or more seconds regularly, it is not going to end well for this defense.

Packers offensive line vs. Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter

The Green Bay Packers offensive line is going to look a whole lot different this time around than when these teams first met. Rather than having Jake Hanson and Royce Newman on the right side, the Packers will have their preferred starting five with Elgton Jenkins at left guard, along with David Bakhtiari and Yosh Nijman both available, after each was on the injury report all week.

Both Za’Darius Smith and Danielle Hunter have been incredibly disruptive this season, with Smith ranking third in total pressures among edge rushers and Hunter ranking eighth. The passing game was a mess for Green Bay the first time these two teams played, with Aaron Rodgers under pressure and lacking the confidence to hang in the pocket for more than a few seconds.

Any success that the Packers’ offense is going to have begins with the offensive line giving Rodgers time but also creating running lanes–Green Bay has been at its best when they have a balanced attack. Minnesota ranks slightly below the league average in yards per carry allowed and run defense DVOA.

As I wrote following the Miami game, Rodgers has been at his best when being blitzed, but that isn’t something the Vikings do a lot of. Under defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, I would expect them to play cover-2, trying to limit the big play and forcing Rodgers to be patient and take what is available. Christian Watson’s status will also have a major impact on this game. Without his big play ability, it will allow Minnesota to condense the field and play the Packers much more aggressively, making the run and quick passing games more difficult.

Packers secondary vs. Justin Jefferson

There is no stopping Justin Jefferson. He is closing in on 1,800 receiving yards this season, including 184 and a pair of touchdowns against the Packers in Week 1, but Green Bay must try to limit the big plays.

From a game plan standpoint, there are things that Joe Barry can do differently this time around, I including more man and press coverages, but I still wouldn’t expect Jaire Alexander to solely follow Jefferson around, either. The Packers play a heavy dose of zone coverage, specifically cover-2, and with how often Minnesota moves Jefferson around pre-snap, mixing those man and zone principals regularly, as LaFleur mentioned following the Week 1 matchup, can cause issues for the rest of the defense in terms of responsibilities.

Also, if there are as many coverage breakdowns and the tackling is as bad as it was the first time around, it doesn’t really matter what Barry’s game plan is; Jefferson is going to torch this defense if that’s the case.

Miscommunications and coverage breakdowns are what led to Miami generating explosive plays in the first half last Sunday. The Packers’ ability to clean that up, however, in quarters three and four, was a big reason why they were then able to hold the Dolphins scoreless. Wherever Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle were, there were multiple defenders in the area. Green Bay’s ability to communicate and maintain their coverage responsibilities in the midst of all the pre-snap movement will be the biggest factor in whether or not they can slow Jefferson.

As Adrian Amos said on Wednesday, slowing Jefferson begins with everyone on defense doing their job and knowing where he is at all times.

In addition to trying to contain Jefferson, Dalvin Cook has the sixth most rushing yards this season, TJ Hockenson has the second most receiving yards at the tight end position, and of course, there is Adam Thielen. Priority No. 1 should be slowing Justin Jefferson, but he can’t garner all the attention either, as this Vikings offense has several players who can create big plays.