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Packers-Vikings rematch looking very different

Personnel changes galore for Green Bay’s defense, Minnesota’s offense since first meeting

Vikings WR Jordan Addison
Vikings WR Jordan Addison

GREEN BAY – The first meeting this season between the Packers and Vikings was just two months ago.

But personnel-wise, in terms of Green Bay's defense matching up against Minnesota's offense, it might as well have been two years ago.

Very little will be the same Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium compared to the Week 8 matchup at Lambeau Field, beginning at quarterback for the Vikings, of course.

It won't be Kirk Cousins, who was lost for the season to a torn Achilles in the fourth quarter of the first meeting, but the Vikings aren't saying who it will be.

The top candidates are Nick Mullens, who has started Minnesota's last two games, or rookie Jaren Hall, who replaced Cousins in Green Bay and started the following week for the Vikings but was quickly sidelined by a concussion and hasn't started again since.

As for the uncertainty, it's the last thing on the Packers' mind amidst the struggles they're dealing with defensively.

"I think we've got a lot to clean up ourselves right now," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "We've got to focus on the things that we can control and the challenges that that offense presents no matter who's at the quarterback position. So that's where our focus would lie."

Also unlike the first meeting, the Vikings will have All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson available, but won't have tight end T.J. Hockenson, who went down with a knee injury last week. Since late October, the Vikings also have turned their running game over from Alexander Mattison to Ty Chandler, who had his first career 100-yard game two weeks ago in Cincinnati.

But the spotlight surely will be on Jefferson who, following a two-month absence due to hamstring trouble, has played the last three games with his production ramping up each week – from two catches for 27 yards to seven for 84 to six for 141 and a TD in Minnesota's loss last week to Detroit.

Alongside Jefferson, the Vikings also feature receivers Jordan Addison and K.J. Osborn, who combined for 15 receptions for 181 yards and a TD in the previous game at Lambeau. Addison is considered day-to-day with an ankle injury and did not practice for the Vikings on Wednesday.

"They've got elite speed," LaFleur said of Addison and Osborn. "They've made big plays all season long and it takes a lot of the burden away from Justin when you have multiple people that can contribute in the fashion that they're able to."

Green Bay's secondary will have a very different look in this rematch, too, other than nickel cornerback Keisean Nixon.

The starting outside cornerbacks two months ago were Jaire Alexander and Rasul Douglas, but Alexander will be serving a one-game, team-imposed suspension and Douglas was traded at the deadline right after the first Minnesota game.

Instead, the Packers have been working third-year pro Eric Stokes back into the fold after an extended injury absence. Over the past two games, Stokes played his first snaps on defense since early November of last year.

Starting opposite Stokes will be either rookie Carrington Valentine or Corey Ballentine, both of whom have played extensively this season, while safety Darnell Savage has returned to practice and could be back this week. He was on injured reserve back in Week 8.

"We got dogs in the room," Stokes said. "That's what I keep saying. We got CB, we got me, we got Kei, we got other guys that have been playing. We got dogs that have been here, been in the moment, and it's their time to step up.

"I'm ready for whoever it is. It could be Jefferson, it could be Addison, it could be K.J. Osborn. It doesn't matter. We gotta be ready, be prepared for this week, for whoever."

The Packers are looking to rebound defensively after three straight rough outings that have seen opposing QBs put up big numbers.

No matter the Vikings' decision – which could come down to ball security with Mullens having thrown six interceptions in his two starts – the Packers must change their defensive ways with their season on the line.

"You never know who's going to be in there," Stokes said. "But at the end of it, you just have to stick to your assignment, do your job, and everything else will flow with it."

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