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Key to the game: Corey Ballentine's first INT sets tone for Packers' defense

Green Bay generates two Jaren Hall takeaways, 14 quarterback hits

CB Corey Ballentine
CB Corey Ballentine

MINNEAPOLIS – All season, Corey Ballentine has taken pride in his ability to maintain a starter's mindset even when his number might not necessarily get called on defense.

That headstrong mantra was put to the test again this weekend after the Packers' fifth-year cornerback was informed on Saturday he would be starting against Minnesota after Eric Stokes was placed on injured reserve due to his recurring hamstring injury.

Ballentine didn't just step up – he balled out. The 27-year-old cornerback recorded five tackles, three passes defensed and his first career interception to help propel the Packers to a critical 33-10 victory over the Vikings.

His interception came on Minnesota's second series, snagging an errant Jaren Hall pass intended for Johnny Mundt less than 10 minutes into the game. Two plays later, Jordan Love threw a 33-yard touchdown to Jayden Reed to get the Packers rolling.

"He set the tone," cornerback Carrington Valentine said. "Going out there, when he got the pick, it set the tone. Keep going, honestly. Don't let off the gas and let's roll."

After allowing Bryce Young's first 300-yard passing game during last Sunday's 33-30 win in Carolina, Green Bay was thrown for another loop when it was announced on Wednesday Jaire Alexander would be suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team.

Stokes' sudden absence confirmed the Packers would need to turn back to the combination of Ballentine and Valentine at the outside cornerback spots, but they wouldn't be asked to do it alone.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry lessened the coverage's burden with a blitz-heavy gameplan that helped limit Minnesota to just 36 total yards on its first three possessions and 82 yards in the first half.

Hall, a rookie fifth-round pick out of BYU, struggled in his second NFL start. He was sacked three times, with the backbreaker being a Preston Smith strip sack that rookie defensive lineman Karl Brooks recovered at the Vikings' 37 with just 32 seconds left in the first half.

Green Bay used the favorable field position to tack on a second Reed TD to take a 23-3 lead into the break. Hall completed just 5 of 10 passes for 67 yards with the interception before being pulled at halftime for veteran Nick Mullens. All told, nine Packers players combined for 14 hits on Vikings QBs.

"I just think we had a lot of guys playing at a high level, executing their assignments, and playing well together and not allowing the quarterback to get comfortable," said Smith, who led Green Bay with three QB hits. "They were trying everything they could to affect the quarterback and make a play and also put our offense in great position."

Mullens had a bit more success in the second half (13 of 22 for 113 yards with a TD) but Valentine and Ballentine succeeded in holding the dynamic combination of Justin Jefferson (five catches for 59 yards), Jordan Addison (three catches for 28 yards) and K.J. Osborn (no catches for the first time this season) in check.

Check out photos from the Week 17 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023.