Revenge is a dish best served…freezing?
Temperatures could reach single digits when the Green Bay Packers host the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night. A win would avenge the team’s Week 11 loss and could help eliminate the Vikings from playoff contention.
In the first meeting, Minnesota handed Green Bay their third loss of the season by way of a last-second field off the foot of Greg Joseph. With a little over two minutes left in the game, quarterback Kirk Cousins drove his team down to the Packers’ 11-yard line to set up the game-winner.
Cousins was efficient throughout the day, much like he has been all year. He hopes to finish one of the best statistical seasons of his career on a high note. However, he won’t have one of his top pass catchers in wide receiver Adam Thielen after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week.
The Vikings still have Justin Jefferson, and that is all they really needed to beat the Packers the first time. Despite a productive day from the offense, Green Bay’s defense was completely overwhelmed by Jefferson’s playmaking. On Thursday, we highlighted how they need to do a much better job in the second meeting.
Of course, Jefferson can’t do it all by himself, so here are the four key matchups to watch for this week.
Packers RB Aaron Jones vs. Vikings Run Defense
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Jones did not play in the last meeting, but Green Bay’s run game still averaged 5.0 yards per carry. Led by AJ Dillon’s 53 yards on 11 carries, the Packers could do a better job of pounding the rock this time around. Dillon is the perfect back for this type of weather, but Jones has been the leading rusher in consecutive games. Jones was listed on the injury report with a knee issue, the same injury that kept him out of the first matchup. Hopefully, Green Bay will have both running backs against a struggling Vikings run defense. Last week, Rams running back Sony Michel exploded for a season-high 131 rushing yards. Jones could be in for a big day if he is healthy.
Packers WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling vs. Vikings S Xavier Woods
(AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
Valdes-Scantling had his best game of the season against the Vikings, so it was hard not to put him on this week’s list for the rematch. The Packers’ deep threat caught four passes for 123 yards in the first meeting, including the go-ahead 75-yard touchdown in the final minutes. Aaron Rodgers delivered a strike to Valdes-Scantling, who beat Woods in coverage. Woods has started all 15 games for Minnesota in 2021, and he’s enjoyed some better performances since his one against Valdes-Scantling. According to PFF, two of Valdes-Scantling’s four catches came against Woods for 114 yards. Valdes-Scantling is back practicing with the team after missing last week’s game with COVID.
Packers OLB Preston Smith vs. Vikings LT Christian Darrishaw
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Smith has provided a nice boost to Green Bay’s pass rush recently with 3.0 sacks in his last three games. He is now up 8.0 sacks on the year and has a decent chance of hitting double digits sacks in a season for the second time in his career. Fortunately, Smith had a lot of success against the Vikings in Week 11 as he totaled two sacks and six pressures. Smith traditionally faces the opposing team’s left tackle, who happened to be a rookie in Darrishaw. The Vikings left tackle allowed one sack and a team-high seven pressures in his first game against the Packers.
Packers CB Eric Stokes vs. Vikings WR Justin Jefferson
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
Stokes will be thrown into the fire yet again. All-Pro corner Jaire Alexander was activated to the 53-man roster on Wednesday, but it is still unknown when he will return to the field. It is almost a given that Alexander will not play this week, which means Stokes may find himself lining up across from Jefferson a lot this Sunday. Green Bay’s rookie corner hopes to have a better performance than the one that saw him surrender a large chunk of Jefferson’s 169 receiving yards. The Packers could always try to give Jefferson a different look with their playmaker Rasul Douglas, but Stokes’ quickness and speed make him the better choice to try and combat Minnesota’s Pro Bowl receiver. At this point, anything would be better than the performance this defense had against Jefferson back in November.