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Mike's Mid-Week Chat: Is the Vikings' offense hitting high gear?

Senior writer Mike Spofford answered fan questions in his weekly live chat

Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins

Hey everybody. Thanks for logging on today. Go ahead and start sending in questions and I'll get going shortly.

Hi Mike, Whats the status of DB? I know he practiced in a limited capacity last week, but am curious if he is on track to get the start this coming weekend?

That's something we'll find out more as the week goes on. The Packers are practicing very late today for a Wednesday, and given what LaFleur said about how tired the team is, I'm guessing it's mostly a "neck-up" mental prep day on the field anyway. I would surmise the first time David Bakhtiari is a full-time participant in a Thursday practice is when we can think he's headed toward playing in a game. When I saw he was limited last Thursday in the padded practice, I figured he wasn't coming back to the lineup yet.

Lions and Vikings and Bears...Countach!

Ha, word travels.

With Whitney Mercilus out for the season, and the unkown timeline for Rashan Gary, who will we see fill in at OLB alongside Preston Smith? What can we expect in terms of production from said player(s)?

Jonathan Garvin will get most of the snaps, I think. He's shown flashes this year, and he held up well in the one game Preston missed, but a lot could potentially be asked of him here. Oren Burks has trained at OLB a bit and is another option, while the Packers brought La'Darius Hamilton back yesterday, too.

With Za'Darius Smith & Jaire Alexander on IR what is the soonest they can play in a game once they are back to practice?

No way to predict that. Once they're back in practice, there will be a ramp-up period, like there is for all players returning from injury, and the medical and athletic training staffs will take it from there. Not everyone's ramp-up is the same.

Who do you expect to line up against Jefferson?

For the most part, the Packers have been letting their corners play sides rather than matching up. With Eric Stokes, Rasul Douglas and Kevin King all playing pretty well right now, I wouldn't anticipate GB picking one guy to match against Jefferson. That's always something that could change depending on how the game goes.

I read that we worked out Kerryon Johnson. Do you think that is a viable option @ RB2 until Jones comes back? Or are we going to stick with AJ Dillon & Patrick Taylor?

Until they actually sign him, it's not worth talking about. Just because they brought a guy in for a workout doesn't mean they'll sign him. So we'll see. But even so, Johnson wouldn't immediately jump in front of Taylor on the depth chart, not a new guy who hasn't been here and doesn't know the offense. The Packers are interested in what Taylor can do, and so am I.

Has there been any info on Jaire's potential return?

No timelines have been established for either Alexander or Z. Smith on their potential returns. LaFleur last week indicated both are a ways off yet, which I took to mean neither is even a possibility until after the bye week at the earliest.

Is AJ Dillon's chest bruised from the hit Davante Adams gave him after his 50 yard catch?

Ha, Adams was pretty fired up about that play. As a lot of readers who watched the All-22 of the play have pointed out, if Adams had been able to get a block himself, Dillon might've gone the distance. But killing a few more minutes on the clock before scoring worked out well for the Packers anyway.

Any updates on Gary? Can he practice with a brace?

No word on anything yet.

Lots of crazy upsets this year. Who should be on upset alert this week?

I haven't looked at the full slate of games, but I'm already seeing the Vikings as a trendy pick to pull an upset this week. They're coming off a big road win, with their passing game in high gear, and the Packers were sluggish on offense for 3 quarters last week with more injuries piling up. Plus, Minnesota absolutely has to win this game to have any chance at a division title, or it basically becomes wild card or bust for them.

I'm looking forward to seeing what De'Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes can do against Cook.

Yes, with this being Green Bay's best defense in a number of years, and having shown the ability to contain the run without loading up the box, I'm very curious how the Packers fare against Cook on Sunday. But Cook is just as dangerous on swing/screen passes as he is with traditional runs. He's just a scary dude with the ball in his hands. This is the most dangerous RB the Packers will have faced since probably Pittsburgh's Najee Harris back in Week 4.

As our FG kicking has struggled recently, with Sunday's game being played inside that should help them get back on track. What seems to be the leading factor in the FG misses?

For a while, it was the snap/hold as well as protection. This most recent miss, LaFleur indicated it was more the timing, that Mason Crosby started his approach too early, so it threw everything off. The snap/hold/protection were all good. So they just have to get their timing in sync and hopefully square it away from there.

I am going to my first Lambeau game for the Rams and I am super excited. The 12 day window has closed to flex the game to Sunday night, right?

Correct, the league would have made that change by yesterday if it was going to get flexed to prime time. As I noted somewhere earlier (chat or Inbox, can't remember), I suspect FOX protected that game from being moved.

Great job on the latest WYMM! Love to watch those. Only thing more awesome would be if you could do one incorporating the LEGO technology. How cool would that be?

Ha, WYMM with Legos. Hadn't really thought of that. I'm definitely not capable. I bet Larry could do a Lego Rock Report, though.

Is this the week the offense kicks into the next gear?

Well, Rodgers should be healthier and better prepared physically with all the practice reps. But the Vikes' defense is no slouch. Kendricks is a stud and they just brought back Harrison Smith from the Covid list. Plus, first game without Aaron Jones will require some adjustments, and Jones is such a dynamic player. I certainly believe Dillon can handle whatever load the Packers give him, but Jones brings a dimension to the offense no one else does. That's why they paid him what they did.

Mike, do you have a favorite Packers-Vikings game?

Boy, that's a good one. As far as one I've covered, the finale in '12 was an incredible game but the Packers lost when Peterson ran for 199 or whatever. I also loved the James Jones hoodie game at the campus stadium in '15. That was a neat place to cover a couple of rivalry games.

I have absolutely loved what Joe Barry has done so far this year. I know it was talked about some in the inbox, but what do you think the main difference is this year compared to last year that has caused such great improvement (besides signing Campbell)?

Campbell is the biggest difference, because I think he's the guy who's allowed them to contain the run well enough without bringing a safety into the box. So then, keeping two safeties back, it's easier to prevent the big play in the passing game, too. But to answer something aside from that, when I watch the defensive film, I'm impressed with the coordination of all the DBs and LBs with the pass coverage. When they're passing off routes to one another in zone or bracketing guys on deep routes, it all looks really smooth. There were some rough moments in that regard early, but they worked out the kinks and a guy like Douglas entered the picture out of necessity and has fit right in.

With the injuries at passrush, could more blitzing be an altenative?

It certainly could be if the standard pass rush isn't getting the job done, but that puts a lot of extra pressure on the back end to cover with fewer players. There's always risk-reward. Barry will have all his options available and can call things based on how the game is going.

Do you know where the Packers' D ranks overall in Team D up to this point in the season?

I believe they're up to third in both yards and points allowed. The number that blows me away is since Week 1, they've allowed 15.8 points per game. That's over a nine-game span. Incredible.

Looks like you are on your own Sunday. Wes is headed to Detroit to watch TBLS

Ha, yeah. If he calls in sick Sunday morning, we'll know why.

I would like to give a shout out to our defensive line. This is the most disruptive defensive line I have seen in years. I hope we are able to stay healthy in that area.

Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry are both playing their tails off, and they're a big reason the standard four-man rush has provided adequate pressure most of the time. T.J. Slaton has really come on the last couple weeks as a run stopper, and Tyler Lancaster has gotten better as he's gotten healthier from his arm/elbow injury. Hopefully they can get Kingsley Keke back soon. But it starts up front with Clark and Lowry. They've been impressive.

Who gets the first touch down Sunday, Marquez Valdes-Scantling or AJ?

MVS is due for a TD. Playing indoors on that surface could point toward a big game for him. He went off in Mpls last year.

Hey Mike just wanted to say that I was at the game Sunday. I was able to take my wife for her first ever game. She had a great time at the Johnsonville Tailgate but was to cold to enjoy the game. Any advice I can use to convince her to go again next year?

Having a cushion or blanket to sit on, and a piece of styrofoam to put under your feet to keep them off the cold concrete makes a difference, from many I know who have attended chilly games. But if she's just not cut out for the cold, I don't know how to help you.

How many TDs does TBLS throw if he starts on Sunday?

I don't know, but it would make a lot of us Packers beat writers proud if Boyle were to be the QB for Dan Campbell's first win in Detroit.

Do you have any updates on Josh Myers?

No. Haven't heard anything. Nobody has said he's out for the season or anything, but there's been no indication when he might be coming back.

Lucas Patrick has really stepped up.

He has. As I've mentioned before, I love the way Patrick just battles people. He's a tough dude and has earned a lot of respect in the locker room.

Mike, Wes made a comment yesterday regarding an 18 game schedule. Do you expect that to happen when the current CBA expires?

I'm sure the owners will push for it, and I'm sure the players' union will resist. It's not something we have to worry about for about a decade, thank goodness.

With Aaron Jones out this week for sure, do you possibly see Randall Cobb/Aaron Rodgers lining up in the backfield for some screen passes?

I don't think the Packers are going to get too far away from what they do. We've seen Cobb run some motions in and out of the backfield already, so that could continue or increase, sure.

Won't the Vikings just key on Dillon?

We'll see. Will they add a safety to the box and play single high, leaving either Adams or MVS in single coverage? That's always the dilemma.

What new challenges (wrinkles, personnel, etc.) might Zimmer's defense present this week? Or is it the same old Vikings defense of years' past?

A lot of personnel has changed, especially up front and at corner, compared to prior years. But Zimmer is still going to show that double A gap blitz look and either bring it or drop out of it, back and forth, to keep the Packers guessing. That's how they try to keep protection units off balance.

Any thoughts on the possibility of the Bears and Vikings home games being flexed out of Sunday night. There appears to be some good alternatives to the Packers Vikings contest. Especially after the Pack crushes the Vikings this Sunday.

The Packers are always such a strong national TV draw that I don't recall them ever being flexed out of a Sunday night game except when Rodgers wasn't playing, no matter the opponent.

Is this a make or break game for Zimmer?

In terms of his job status? I don't think so. As mentioned, it's make-or-break if the Vikings want a shot at the division title. But even with a loss, they'll still be right in the hunt for a wild-card spot the rest of the way with some more wins.

Way back when, the USFL operated with an 18 game season. I prefer 16 to 17 or 18, but its kind of remarkable that the NFL stayed with 16 games for 42 years.

Yeah, that is a long time for anything to stay the same in professional sports.

I hope the Packers don't forget about Thielen.

Oh, they won't. He's had plenty of strong games against GB over the years, and a whale of a third offensive option after Cook and Jefferson. This Vikings offense has had its ups and downs, but if last week was a sign they're putting it together, this will be a huge test for GB's defense.

What does TBLS stand for?

It's an acronym for Tim Boyle Laser Show, which generated from the beat writers watching Boyle firing passes during training camp practices and preseason games. His arm is no joke. We really enjoyed having him around, and were impressed with what he made of himself as an NFL QB considering his nondescript college career. He's a good dude and a good story.

Over/under 10 times for the stupid Vikings horn?

They blow it every first down, don't they? That would be something if the Packers' D could keep it under 10.

Cousins can make plays but to me seems inconsistent

Agreed, and it's usually dependent on his offensive line, a unit the Vikings have struggled to get any consistency with over the years. Cousins can hurt you, but he can also force things when the pressure in the pocket cranks up.

The Packers need this kind of test, we can see where we stand when the pressure is on.

I think the Packers have been tested plenty this year, but this will be another one against a very familiar opponent that has a ton on the line.

Aaron Jones out for the next couple of games is truly unfortunate and he is one of my favorites. However, has there been some physical reason his production is down this year? The gashing runs from the previous years are missing it seems...

Back in October, the Packers were facing a run of opponents with really stout defensive fronts. About 4-5 weeks in a row against top 10 units in that regard. I think that's the biggest reason. The Packers have still been able to run the ball effectively and productively, even without as many explosive runs.

Do the Vikings still pump in all the artificial crowd noise like they used to? I find that really cheap especially in an indoor stadium. I never understood how that is fair by NFL rules considering how picky they are on everything.

They do it, Seattle does it (outdoors). It is cheap, but it's part of the "charm" of those places, I guess.

It seems AJ is just one trip or one small cut away from some longer gains.

No doubt. Remember the long Jones run in Cincy late in the game? He made two guys miss in the hole and that's what turns a good run into a great one. One of these times when the hole is there for Dillon, he's going to make the safety miss and be off to the races.

All right, folks, with that I'm going to sign off. All the best to everyone and we'll chat again next week. Take care, Mike

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