The NFC North Division is projected as one of the tightest races in professional football. This past week did little to alter that early season projection. The Packers are getting an early look at two of three teams who are ranked as division title worthy.
Green Bay went into the Windy City and disposed of the top-rated Bears in a good old-fashioned NFC North defensive struggle. This week, the Pack will host the 1-0 Minnesota Vikings, fresh off an impressive opening victory themselves. Here are three keys we’ll be looking at in this Sunday’s Vikings vs. Packers matchup at Lambeau Field. Green Bay & Minnesota rank in the Top 10 of the Lineups NFL Power Rankings.
How Many Times Will the Ball Fly Through the Air?
One might expect a game matching Aaron Rodgers against Kirk Cousins would be in some respects have a high number of passing attempts. However, looking back at both week-one final box scores, we might want to reconsider those estimations.
Thursday night at Soldier Field in Chicago, Michael Trubisky out-passed Rodgers. The Green Bay passing game barely surpassed 200-yards. Rodgers did hurl 30 balls into the air, but Packer receivers latched onto only 18 of them.
Minnesota; however, threw only 10 passes all game against the Falcons. Sure, they jumped out to a big lead and rode the legs of Dalvin Cook and rookie backup Alexander Mattison when they got up by three touchdowns at intermission.
What may be even more important is how accurate Rodgers and Cousins are when they put the ball in the air. Rodgers wasn’t his trademark accurate self, and while he only tossed 10 passes against Atlanta, Cousins hit the mark on 80 percent of those balls.
How Good Are These Defenses, Really?
The Packer’s new coaching philosophy made no secret they would increase the team’s tendency to run the football and play better defense. They realized that 25 percent of their regular season schedule would be matched against two of the league’s staunchest defenses.
They’ve won round one of four, and will face round two next Sunday against Minnesota. Head coach Matt LaFleur has been productive offensively during his first decade as an NFL coach. However, everyone in Green Bay wanted to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
Holding even an average Bears team to a field goal, obviously met that goal. Putting a man in charge of the defensive side of the ball who had a top-10 defense pedigree was important. Mike Pettine brought that pedigree to Green Bay this off-season, and if week-one is any indication of future success, the Packers will be a formidable defensive team.
No one makes any pretense that Mike Zimmer doesn’t value strong defense. The Vikings have been a leading defensive team every season Zimmer has been in charge. Minnesota was the top overall defense in pro football in 2017.
While they fell off the pace a little in 2018, they still ranked in the top-10. Last Sunday, the Vikings held a solid Falcons offense to under 400-yards, while picking off Matt Ryan twice. The opportunistic Vikings also picked up a fumble dropped by Devonta Freeman.
Atlanta did push out 27 first downs, but much of their offensive success was after they fell four touchdowns in the hole. Minnesota only generated one sack, but the Packers matched the Bears with five QB sacks. Both teams played exceptionally well in their first game, but Sunday we’ll find out whether they are both as good as advertised.
Who Wins the Turnover Battle?
Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s say Green Bay roster really does boast an improved and solid defense. We had a good idea the Vikings had a strong D before the Atlanta game, and their performance reaffirmed our suspicions.
We’ve all heard the old adage a million times; the team who turns the pigskin over the fewest number of times wins the big games in the NFL. Green Bay had zero fumbles and Rodgers didn’t throw any balls the Bears could get their paws on.
Cousins laid the ball on the carpet twice, but his teammates covered up both. So, both Green Bay and Minnesota went through their openers without a turnover. Since they collectively gave up 15 total points, we must assume that both defenses are competent.
Neither team had a turnover week-one, so the winner of the turnover war this Sunday will have a definite advantage. Timeliness of the turnovers may be a factor, but mistakes will certainly be important to which team takes the early lead atop the NFC North.
Most projections had Green Bay and Minnesota presenting a strong challenge to Chicago for the NFC North. The Packers have already grabbed a huge advantage over the Bears by winning game one of their two game season series.
Sunday Green Bay could take a monumental step towards assuming the favorite’s role in the division by going up to 2-0 in head-to-head battles. Minnesota will simply be looking to win number two on the season, but a big win against a bitter rival.
These are the three keys we see as important to the outcome of Sunday’s game. After the final gun sounds, we can only imagine that the futures odds for the winner will shift to them being the NFC North favorite.