GREEN BAY – Off on Sunday, the Packers naturally watched their Week 2 opponent, the Vikings, very closely.
What they saw, particularly from Minnesota’s offense, surprised them a little bit.
A trio of Vikings running backs combined for 32 carries while quarterback Kirk Cousins threw just 10 passes in a 28-12 victory over the Falcons that was much more lopsided than the final score would indicate.
Always known for his swarming defense, Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer has been pushing to develop a run-first offense and probably would love to play every game like Sunday’s. Whether that approach continues in Week 2 at Lambeau Field will be up to the Packers clamping down on third-year running back and emerging star Dalvin Cook.
“He ran behind his pads really well,” defensive lineman Kenny Clark said of Cook, who powered Minnesota’s offense with 21 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns. “He got to the edge and got out. The other running back, (Alexander) Mattison, he did a great job. Offensive line, they look pretty quick off the ball. They pulled them a lot, got them out into space.
“It’s a lot different Minnesota team as far as the run game is concerned than last year.”
Mattison, a rookie third-round pick from Boise State, added nine carries for 49 yards for a ground game the Falcons could not handle. The flow of the game also dictated the grind-it-out style, as the Vikings took a 21-0 lead with just under five minutes left in the first half.
From that point on, Cousins attempted just three passes. The Falcons never closed the gap, so they never forced the Vikings to do anything else.
“It’s crazy to kind of see how they’ve switched since last year,” linebacker Blake Martinez said after the Packers conducted a short practice Monday following their weekend off. “I feel like last year they passed the ball a ton. It’s going to be another tough test for us, especially the front seven to stop the run game and make sure we’re on our P’s and Q’s with fundamentals.”
Last Thursday in their opener, the Packers successfully bottled up Chicago’s ground game, allowing Mike Davis, David Montgomery and Cordarrelle Patterson to combine for just 35 yards on 12 attempts (2.9 avg.).
Interestingly, they did so with Martinez as the only true inside linebacker in the defensive front. Instead of inserting rookie Ty Summers or newcomer B.J. Goodson next to Martinez, safety Raven Greene played a hybrid linebacker role much of the game, and the defense was able to be effective against both run and pass.
“It helps a bunch,” Martinez said. “It makes us versatile in what we can do, and there’s a lot of different looks we can have. Whether it’s one linebacker, two linebackers, three linebackers, seven DBs, whatever it ends up being, we can go out there and play good football.”
What the Packers’ plan is for Cook remains to be seen, because in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs the Vikings have more dynamic downfield threats in the passing game than the Bears. Both receivers have posted big games against Green Bay in the past, and for as little as Minnesota threw the ball against Atlanta on Sunday, Thielen still had a 23-yard touchdown and Diggs recorded a 31-yard reception to set up another score.
So selling out to stop the run isn’t practical, and even if Cook can be limited on the ground, the Vikings will get him the ball through the air, too.
A 2017 second-round pick out of Florida State, Cook injured his knee as a rookie and didn’t face the Packers until last season. Over two games in 2018, Green Bay kept Cook in check as a runner (20 carries, 67 yards, 3.4 avg.), but he actually did more damage as a receiver out of the backfield (six catches, 99 yards, one TD).
The defensive challenge for the Packers will be much larger in this matchup, but they have a heck of a performance from Week 1 to build upon. For as impressive as the Vikings looked in their victory, the Packers aren’t looking at their own opener as being any sort of peak.
“Just keep trying to be us – be fast, be physical at the point of attack, knock guys back, and make sure we wrap up and tackle,” Clark said of the focus moving forward. “That’s the constant message from the coaches and the leaders on the team. We’ve got to keep being us and keep doing what we’re doing.”
The Green Bay Packers practiced ahead of the Week 2 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings.