GREEN BAY – With Aaron Jones out due to a knee injury, the Packers were missing a polished pro at picking up the blitz.
But at Minnesota, running back AJ Dillon proved to be plenty effective in that role, and the entire pass-protection unit executed in reliable fashion in several key situations when the Vikings sent an extra pass rusher or two.
Here are the examples.
Play No. 1: Third-and-12 from the Green Bay 36, second quarter, 14:13 left
Result: 39-yard completion to WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Third-and-long is not where any offense wants to be against the Vikings' defense, but here the Packers' handle Minnesota's pressure with an empty backfield. How? By providing help on the edges, which effectively clogs up the middle and leaves the Vikings' extra rusher with no way to get through. On the right side, TE Josiah Deguara (81) throws a heavy chip block on DE Everson Griffen (97), knocking him to the ground. On the left, Dillon (28) helps out on DT Sheldon Richardson (90). By squeezing the pass rush to the inside, the blitz by LB Anthony Barr (55) is dead in its tracks, and the Packers have a huge third-down conversion.
Play No. 2: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 26, second quarter, 4:18 left
Result: 17-yard completion to WR Equanimeous St. Brown
This is as basic as it gets, as Dillon simply stands his ground against the blitz by LB Eric Kendricks (54), and the ball is out of QB Aaron Rodgers' hand before Barr can have an impact as a delayed rusher.
Play No. 3: Third-and-8 from the Green Bay 45, second quarter, 2:34 left
Result: 15-yard completion to WR Randall Cobb
From rudimentary to highly unconventional just three plays later, but the Packers still prove up to the task. Pre-snap, Kendricks and Barr start with the Vikings' signature double-A-gap look, lined up on either side of the center. But then they shift, sliding DT Armon Watts (96) over and lining up next to one another in the A and B gaps on the offense's right side. S Harrison Smith (22) is also up at the line of scrimmage on that same side ready to attack. But it's all a ruse. Kendricks, Barr and Smith all drop back into coverage, and the extra rusher is actually CB Mackensie Alexander (24, out of frame) coming from the slot off the left side. LT Elgton Jenkins (74) picks him up as Griffen stunts to the inside, where C Lucas Patrick (62) and Dillon are waiting for him.
Play No. 4: Second-and-7 from the Green Bay 28, third quarter, 7:15 left
Result: 12-yard completion to WR Davante Adams
Back to a more conventional call here, as Dillon holds his own against a hard-charging Kendricks to allow a quick, clean connection for a first down.
Play No. 5: Third-and-6 from the Green Bay 23, fourth quarter, 12:18 left
Result: 13-yard completion to Adams
This is another classic Vikings' ploy of guess who's rushing and who's not. Kendricks and Barr are showing the double-A-gap look, with Smith and Alexander up at the line on both edges, forming an eight-man front. How many will rush? Turns out five. DE D.J. Wonnum (98) drops off the line into coverage, as does Alexander. Kendricks and Barr both look like they're dropping at the snap, but Barr is faking it. He's coming, and so is Smith. Deguara handles Smith, and Dillon isn't fooled by Barr's bluff, adjusting in the hole to stay in good position.
Play No. 6: Third-and-6 from the Minnesota 18, fourth quarter, 7:55 left
Result: TD pass to Adams
Here, Kendricks and Barr switch from their traditional double-A-gap look to double-B-gap, and they're both coming (at least initially, before falling back). With an empty backfield and no help on the edges, the Packers have just five to block six. This might be why Rodgers tries to call a timeout, but he signals too late. When the defense has a free rusher – in this case it's Griffen off the edge – it's the QB's responsibility to know and account for it somehow. So what does Rodgers do? He begins a potential escape to his left, which freezes the free runner Griffen just long enough for him to get the pass away to a wide-open Adams for the score while he takes the hit in the pocket.
Play No. 7: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 25, fourth quarter, 2:17 left
Result: TD pass to Valdes-Scantling
Back to the double-A-gap for Kendricks and Barr, and they're both coming, but with a twist. Kendricks rushes straight ahead, while Barr runs a stunt around Wonnum, who is simultaneously running a stunt around Kendricks. Across the board, it's 6-on-6, and it's up to the trio of Patrick, RG Royce Newman (70) and Dillon to handle the three defenders mentioned on the interior. They do so, flawlessly. Patrick starts by double-teaming with Newman on Kendricks before peeling back to pick up the curling Wonnum. Dillon reinforces inside first, then bounces out to get in Barr's way, and the Packers tie up the ballgame.