GREEN BAY – Without top running backs Dalvin Cook or Alexander Mattison, the Minnesota Vikings were going to have to rely heavily on receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen to carry the offense on Monday night.
Last year, that dynamic pass-catching duo certainly did that against the Packers, combining for a whopping 37 catches, 461 yards and five TDs in two games.
This year has been a different story.
With the Packers on Monday night limiting Diggs to three catches for 57 yards and a TD, and shutting out Thielen on four targets, the Minnesota pair's combined numbers this season against Green Bay are a much more palatable nine grabs for 181 yards and two scores.
The Packers focused on the Vikings' key targets particularly at key times in the game. Here's a sampling of how they clamped down.
Play No. 1: Second-and-goal from the Green Bay 5, first quarter, 13:24 left
Result: Incomplete pass
This is a big moment early following Green Bay's quick turnover, putting the Vikings in goal-to-go right away. With Diggs (14) and Thielen (19) stacked on the right side, the Packers have four players in zone coverage on that side to take them away. LBs Blake Martinez (50) and B.J. Goodson (93) along with S Darnell Savage (26) and CB Jaire Alexander (23) all do their part, but an especially savvy move is made by Alexander. As he jumps to help on Diggs, allowing Savage a moment to recover after getting bumped at the line, Alexander also takes a step toward Thielen as he curves out of his break, so QB Kirk Cousins has nowhere to go with the ball.
Play No. 2: Fourth-and-4 from the Green Bay 42, second quarter, 2:42 left
Result: Incomplete pass
Another big moment, as Minnesota is in position to add to a 10-6 lead before halftime, and the Vikings are going for it on fourth down in Green Bay territory. Diggs and Thielen are again lined up on the same side. Alexander has Diggs in the tight slot, but he has help from both safeties on the hashes, Savage and Adrian Amos (31), so Cousins doesn't even look there. He wants Thielen one-on-one against CB Tramon Williams (38), who holds his ground perfectly on the stop-and-go and is practically running Thielen's route for him. Thielen's frustration is evident as he boots the ball through the end zone.
Play No. 3: Third-and-5 from the Minnesota 15, second quarter, 1:06 left
Result: Incomplete pass
Head Coach Matt LaFleur took a chance here, calling timeout just before this third-down play to see if his offense could get the ball back before halftime, and his defense rewarded his faith. It's a classic cover-two look, with the two deep safeties (Savage and Amos) helping CBs Kevin King (20) and Alexander on the outside deep routes by Thielen and Diggs, respectively. The Vikings' top targets have no opportunity to get the ball on another key play, Williams blankets WR Laquon Treadwell (11) in the slot for the incompletion, and the stop leads to the Packers getting another field goal before intermission.
Play No. 4: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 46, third quarter, 7:27 left
Result: Interception by King
Two snaps earlier, the Packers had just lost track of Diggs and allowed him to make a big catch on third-and-18. Now the Vikings want to take their shot, but the Packers once again are all over Diggs and Thielen. Cousins runs a play-action bootleg, allowing a lot of time for the downfield routes to develop, and it's a pretty standard concept with Diggs running a deep route and Thielen an intermediate one. Except the Packers have both double-covered. On the cross, Thielen is bracketed by Martinez and Savage, while Alexander chases Diggs deep with King helping by recognizing where the ball is going and winning the race to the spot.
Play No. 5: Third-and-6 from the Minnesota 47, fourth quarter, 2:06 left
Result: Sack by Za'Darius Smith
On the Vikings' last-chance drive, Diggs isn't even on the field for this play, so there's plenty of attention on Thielen. Amos is deep on Thielen's side, and when Alexander passes Thielen off to pick up TE Irv Smith Jr. (84) in the flat, CB Chandon Sullivan (39) is right there, body turned for maximum leverage, as Smith gets home for the sack on just a three-man rush.
Bonus play: Third-and-3 from the Minnesota 43, fourth quarter, 15:00 left
Result: 2-yard run by Thielen
This has nothing to do with the coverage, but it's worth giving props to the guys up front – particularly DL Dean Lowry (94) – for making a play on Thielen, too. This has a really good chance to pick up the first down and perhaps gain a bunch more if not for Lowry just bulldozing T Brian O'Neill (75) into the backfield to blow this play up. King makes a solid tackle, but Thielen has to back up a full two yards when he gets the handoff due to Lowry's penetration.