Sitting on a 4-1 record, some might think this game will be low pressure, maybe a bit of a relief from the extremely close games against the Bengals and Cowboys. However, the Packers know they cannot rest against a divisional opponent, especially since the Lions and Vikings are waiting in the wings with 3-2 records of their own. With a week 16 matchup against the Vikings likely carrying playoff implications, this game will be important for both teams. I’ll break down how the Vikings plan to tie up the divisional record, and what obstacles they’ll face in doing so.Embed from Getty Images
Strength – Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon
If Dalvin Cook were healthy, this section would be about him and it would be a firm opportunity. However, I am still a believer in Murray’s potential. He never really found his groove in Oakland after sitting out his rookie year on IR, though he had a respectable 4.3 yards per carry during his tenure. Of course, he’s not the only runner to have trouble there—just look at Marshawn’s struggles in his place.
Jerick McKinnon, Minnesota’s perennially enticing speedster back, exploded against the Bears last week, and it’s tempting to think he stole the starting job. But McKinnon is no stranger to outlier games, and I believe Minnesota will stick with Murray. Even though he only had 31 yards on 12 carries, it was apparent that Murray’s early down running wore down the defense.
McKinnon is an excellent complement to Murray, acting as the lightning to Murray’s thunder. Unless the Packers jump out to an early lead, expect Murray to test the defense early and often. The health of Mike Daniels and Nick Perry will be key to limiting damage on the ground.Embed from Getty Images
Weakness (Wildcard?) – Case Keenum
It’s tempting to list Keenum as a ‘Wildcard’ instead of a ‘Weakness,’ as the veteran quarterback has shown flashes of ability. Undersized with a strong arm, Keenum is almost like a very poor man’s Drew Brees—at his best, he finds yards with ease, but he lacks Brees’ accuracy, vision, awareness, decision-making, and.. just about everything else, typically. But he has always shown a veteran savvy, and has a penchant for unexpectedly taking over starting roles.
This season is shaping up to be one of Keenum’s finest. The Vikings deployed a hobbled Sam Bradford against the Bears initially, but he was pulled after going 5-for-11 and sacking himself at least once. They probably should have just started Keenum, as he went on to lead three scoring drives, with one touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph and zero interceptions (Keenum has zero INTs on the season, so far).
Of course, I should temper praise with the likelihood that Keenum will come down to Earth. Through 4 games he has only 4 TD passes, and three came against Tampa Bay. He has always been end zone-challenged, and in his career has 28 TDs to 20 INTs (and 15 fumbles!). Without Kevin King, Keenum will look to test Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins, who have both surrendered easy TDs in the past few games.Embed from Getty Images
Opportunity – Kyle Rudolph
Without Morgan Burnett to line up at inside linebacker and slot cornerback, where he has frequently matched up against receiving tight ends, the Packers will have to find a replacement. Their options are essentially to find another safety or a slot CB. They could try an ILB, but Joe Thomas is their best coverage LB and has been ruled out. Nobody on the Packers defense quite matches Burnett’s versatility, athleticism, and strength, all of which are needed for TEs like Rudolph.
If I had to guess, I would say the Packers use Josh Jones heavily against Rudolph. However, if Kentrell Brice aggravates his ankle injury, then Jones might be needed on the back end. Absent Jones, Rudolph would likely be looking at Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. Neither is an inspiring matchup for the Packers, and I’m sure Keenum would love to see Rudolph working against Rollins in the end zone.Embed from Getty Images
Threat – Trae Waynes
Waynes was once a promising young cornerback, taken 11th overall in 2015, but so far this season he has not held up well. He is a decent run defender for a CB, but he’s increasingly a liability in coverage. Waynes is allowing the sixth-most yards per coverage snap, per PFF. Some might remember his game-sealing interception of Rodgers in the Vikings’ 2016 home opener. However, if Rodgers had thrown it just a bit further and led Adams to it, then it could’ve easily been a TD.
With Xavier Rhodes likely handling Jordy Nelson, expect Rodgers to look at the likely matchup between Adams and Waynes. I have a feeling this game might be decided by another Adams/Waynes battle at the end, and this time Rodgers and Adams will be looking to get revenge.