HEADLINE

Vikings visit Packers seeking NFC North edge

Field Level Media

September 12, 2019 at 1:54 am.

The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings rode stifling defenses to Week 1 victories. On Sunday at Lambeau Field, they’ll battle for early control of the NFC North.

“We know that they’re flying high right now,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of the Vikings, who pounded Atlanta 28-12 in their opener. “They just put a thumping on a really good football team. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

While the Packers have a new coach in LaFleur, it’s the Vikings who have a vastly different approach to offensive football under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and assistant head coach and offensive advisor Gary Kubiak.

Last season under former coordinator John DeFilippo, the Vikings had the fourth-highest pass percentage (64.4 percent) in the NFL. After Week 1 of this season, they have the highest run percentage (79.2 percent). Kirk Cousins threw only 10 passes against the Falcons.

Dalvin Cook ran roughshod behind the Vikings’ revamped offensive line and their new zone scheme. He rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. With rookie Alexander Mattison chipping in 49 yards, the Vikings piled up 172 rushing yards.

“Dalvin, No. 1, he’s a great person,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “He’s a very, very hard worker. He’s a great leader. And then secondly, he’s got outstanding quickness. I’m amazed at his feet — just the way he can scoot through a hole, the way he can pick up his feet, the way he can accelerate, the vision he has and he’s a physical runner.

“You know, quite honestly, he’s always been pretty good. I think the maybe the area he’s improved the most in is catching the football.”

While Minnesota looked sharp in all three phases against the Falcons, Green Bay beat Chicago 10-3 behind a powerful performance by its defense. The Packers, however, will face a bigger challenge against Cook, Cousins and receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

“I was with (Cousins) in Washington (from 2012-13),” LaFleur said. “If you let him sit back there and have time, he’s going to pick you apart.”

To start 2-0 for the first time since 2015, the Packers are going to need more from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers was just 18 of 30 for 203 yards and one touchdown against the powerful Bears defense. He struggled handling Chicago’s pressure, which is the calling card of Zimmer’s defense.

Zimmer, in fact, has had as much success against Rodgers as any coach in the NFL. The Vikings are 5-1-1 in their last seven games against the Packers, although Rodgers missed one of those and left another early with an injury.

“He’s had our number many times, as well,” Zimmer said. “I don’t really take much stock into that because each week’s a different week, and each game that we play him is always a tough, competitive game.

“He’s a great quarterback, a great leader, can throw the ball anywhere, and the game’s never over until that final gun goes off with him. It’s a sleepless week for me.”

Rodgers isn’t getting a lot of sleep, either, as he goes from facing last year’s top-ranked scoring defense to 2017’s top-ranked scoring defense.

“He’s a great coach,” Rodgers said. “I have a ton of respect for Mike Zimmer and what’s he’s done in this league. I love his demeanor. I have a lot of respect for him and the way him and his staff have gone about their business over the years.

“He obviously presents a really difficult challenge and an even greater challenge when you look at the personnel he’s got to work with, the number of Pro Bowlers on that side of the ball. It’s a tough week. You definitely think about all the different things they can do.”