GREEN BAY – Since the start of the 2017 season, the Minnesota Vikings are 11-3 in their shiny and rather spectacular indoor venue known as U.S. Bank Stadium.
In its early stages, it appears to be just as tough a place to play as the old Metrodome, with all the noise and the horn and the fast track for the Vikings' pass rush and everything else.
But if you think those three victories by visiting teams over the last two years – by Detroit in 2017, then Buffalo and New Orleans this year – were the result of Matthew Stafford or Drew Brees solving that Minnesota defense and having one of those light-it-up kind of days, you'd be mistaken.
In none of those three home losses by the Vikings did they give up even 300 total yards. Leading 2018 MVP candidate Brees threw for just 120 yards in Minnesota last month. Stafford has actually beaten the Vikings twice at U.S. Bank Stadium, going back to its inaugural year in 2016, but he's thrown for 219 and 209, respectively, in those contests. Buffalo rookie Josh Allen back in September? 196.
So how did they beat the Vikings at their place? In a word, turnovers. More meaningfully, scoring points off of turnovers.
In Minnesota's three losses in 2017 and '18 at home, the Vikings have lost the turnover battle by a collective 8-1. And the Lions, Bills and Saints all converted those turnovers into multiple scores in each game, piling up a combined 34 points off takeaways in the three contests.
So, there's the formula for beating the Vikings on the road – protect the ball, take it away, and convert turnovers into points.
Which is exactly how the Packers started last week's game at Seattle. On the Seahawks' first play from scrimmage, Clay Matthews forced a Chris Carson fumble, Tramon Williams recovered, and three plays later, Aaron Jones was running into the end zone.
One more sequence like that, or even just one more takeaway period, probably would have been enough to turn the game Green Bay's way and get the Packers their long-awaited first road win of 2018. But that second turnover-induced momentum swing never came, and a multi-takeaway game might be just what's required of the Packers on Sunday night in Minneapolis.
"I think we need that," Matthews said this week. "I think we've played really good defense, it's just the turnovers haven't really been in our favor. That's always been a staple of our defense for the past however many years, and that shouldn't change with coordinators. It's definitely something we have to get back to."
The Packers' defense has generated three multi-turnover games this season, but none on the road. In fact, the early fumble at Seattle was just the Packers' second takeaway on the road all season, and first since an interception at Washington in the first road game of the year back in Week 3.
But maybe the fumble in Seattle was a good sign. What Head Coach Mike McCarthy liked best about it is it came on a rushing play, which has been rare, and it sounds like that play was used this past week as a prime example of how to attack ball carriers.
"We have to start getting the ball out with our run defense," McCarthy said. "It can't always just be interceptions. The fumbles are (a result of) everybody clawing at the ball. It was a great way to start that game. We definitely need turnovers. It's always been a staple of our success here, and Sunday night will hopefully be that game."
Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook, healthy again after an extended absence due to a hamstring injury, has lost two fumbles in just 55 carries this year. The Packers also have pressured quarterbacks to the tune of 34 sacks on the season, and Vikings QB Kirk Cousins has coughed the ball up eight times, losing six. Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer has preached all week about cleaning up the turnovers from his offense, particularly after Cousins threw a killer pick-six at Chicago last week.
The flip side, of course, is protecting the ball in a venue where the Vikings have generally thrived in the turnover department.
The Packers have kept giveaways to a minimum this year, with Aaron Rodgers now the lone full-time QB in the league with just one interception in 2018 after Brees threw his second on Thanksgiving night. The Packers have just 11 total giveaways through 10 games, but the timing of them has been the issue, with fourth-quarter fumbles at Washington, Los Angeles and New England factoring heavily into three of the five road losses.
"We emphasize to all of our ball carriers, and we talked about that today as a unit, how we have to carry the ball," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said on Wednesday. "They do a good job teaching the club, strip, those type of things, and they've had production."
The Vikings have forced 19 fumbles this season, though they've recovered only seven or their plus-one turnover margin on the season (which is the same as Green Bay's) would certainly be better.
Realistically, an argument could be made the reason the Vikings (5-4-1) and Packers (4-5-1) are both hovering around .500 this late in the season is their pedestrian plus-one turnover mark. Minnesota has taken it away a bunch more than Green Bay (17 to 12) but given it away a lot more, too (16 to 11).
It's always the talk of the NFL, how turnovers win and lose games, so this is nothing new. But look again at those numbers in Minnesota's three home losses over the last two seasons.
To beat the Vikings at their place, the blueprint is clear.