EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings have changed a lot since Week 2.
Then again, so have the Packers.
Green Bay and Minnesota will meet for a Week 16 matchup after not playing each other since Week 2, like the 2016 schedule.
The stretch between games is the longest in series history except for the 1992 campaign, in which the Vikings defeated the Packers in Week 1 (overtime) and again in Week 17.
The division rivals know full well that they're prepping for an opponent that has evolved quite a bit.
"I think they're a completely different team – in all three phases," Packers Head Coach Matt LeFleur said of the Vikings. "All you've gotta do is cut on the tape and watch – they're just playing at a really high level, and they've beaten some really good teams and gone on the road and done it. … They're undefeated [at U.S. Bank Stadium this season], so I know how tough they are at home."
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said it's hard to review the tape from their game at Lambeau, when Minnesota was defeated 21-16.
"We're so much better of a football team, so much better as an offense than we were in Week 2," Rudolph told Twin Cities media members earlier this week. "The biggest thing that jumps out to me is the opportunities that we had that we didn't take advantage of, whether it was because of turnovers or penalties, dropped balls.
"It's a hard tape to watch from start to finish," he added. "With that being said, we're 14 weeks better, but they're 14 weeks better, as well. It will be a dogfight for four quarters on Monday night."
Wide receiver Adam Thielen looks at it a little differently.
He called it "exciting" to review the September film and seeing "how far we've come" since.
"You hope you've gotten a lot better, but so has everybody, right? That goes for defense, offense and special teams," Thielen said. "They've gotten a lot better, as well. We'll have our work cut out for us."
Since starting the first quarter of the season 2-2, the Vikings have lost just two of the past 10 games.
The offense has found a rhythm and established its identity, and quarterback Kirk Cousins is putting up career numbers.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the biggest difference in Cousins' game is its speed.
"He is playing fast. As far as making quick decisions, understanding what the concepts are," Zimmer said. "I think all that stuff at the beginning, what we were trying to get him to understand, and teach and all that, it was a tad foreign to him even though it was a lot of the same system. But the things we're doing with him now have been really good, and he's been playing really fast.
"I think part of that is, the things that we're asking him to do, we're trying to do the things that he's really good at," Zimmer continued. "And then everybody being detailed about where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be there."
The Vikings on Saturday ruled out running back Dalvin Cook (chest) for Monday night's game.
Alexander Mattison (ankle) is questionable.
That means that fans will likely see a heavy dose of Mike Boone, while Ameer Abdullah will also continue to be a solid option out of the backfield. And don't minimize the involvement of fullback C.J. Ham, either.
The Vikings otherwise are relatively healthy. Xavier Rhodes (ankle), Linval Joseph (knee), Shamar Stephen (knee) and Jayron Kearse (toe) were all full participants throughout the week and should be good to go.
The Packers ruled out tackle Yosh Nijman and listed defensive lineman Dean Lowry (ankle) as questionable.
Tight end Jimmy Graham (wrist/groin), cornerback Kevin King (shoulder), tackle Alex Light (illness) and linebacker Blake Martinez (hand/calf) did not receive statuses and will be active.
Nothing against [Alexander] Mattison, he's a good back, but with [Mike] Boone's great play in preseason, I thought he might be the Vikings second back behind Cook. He's very quick and seems to slide through the smallest openings. I hope he gets more playing time the rest of the season.
– Jim K. from Michigan
Zimmer and a few players commented on Mike Boone's performance against the Chargers and made a point to emphasize that they weren't surprised after watching him in practice and on special teams all season.
It's always great to have sufficient depth at a position, as we saw in Los Angeles with the absence of Mattison and Dalvin Cook leaving the game with an injury. So to your point, it was great to see Boone get an opportunity to show his abilities, and Vikings coaches know they can rely on him going forward.
I would also note that Mattison and Boone aren't quite the same type of backs, and there's significant value to both. Boone also has been a major contributor on special teams.
"To be honest, the only thing I can worry about is winning. It's what is required for me to do my job well enough to help this team win. I think that is kind of everybody's attitude — we don't really care what happens outside of the result of this game other than winning. That's a testament to the guys here and the way the coaches keep us focused on the most important thing. And the most important thing is always winning. That's what we're going to try to do."
– RT Brian O'Neill on the Vikings chance at division title
Stat of the Week
The Packers and Vikings rank third and fourth in the NFL with defensive interception rates of 3.10 and 3.05, respectively.
Minnesota's stats were padded a bit by seven takeaways – which included three interceptions – at Los Angeles, but both NFC North teams have been effective at creating turnovers this season.
The Vikings have at least one interception in each of the 10 games they've won this season. They have only one across their four losses, a pick of Russell Wilson by Anthony Harris in Week 13.
Intercepting Aaron Rodgers, however, isn't an easy task. He's thrown just two picks this season – one in a loss to Philadelphia in Week 4 and another in a win over Detroit in Week 6.
"[Aaron] Rodgers does a great job with it," Zimmer said. "They do a great job of protecting the football. We're going to have to do the same thing."
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