Kickoff for the much anticipated Sunday Night Football showdown between the Vikings and Green Bay Packers is only hours away. Here are a few final thoughts on the game.
Different week, same caveat with quarterback question
As was the case hours before last week's season opener, the Vikings have not announced who will start at quarterback. But as was the case last week, the uncertainty of who will start does not diminish the importance of playing well around the quarterback. Whether it's Shaun Hill, who started last week, or Sam Bradford, who most expect to start this week, the Vikings must protect the quarterback, they must run good routes and get open, and they must threaten (and produce) with the running game.
One way to get Adrian Peterson going early
Adrian Peterson had only 31 yards rushing last week, which means all eyes will be on No. 28 early on Sunday night to see if he'll be able to put up a bigger number against Green Bay. But it might actually be impressive early passing numbers that will be the better indicator of whether Peterson can get back on track. In holding Peterson to a modest rushing total last week, Tennessee stacked the box with as many as eight and nine defenders early and often. Teams will likely follow this blueprint until the Vikings prove they can take advantage of it with the passing game consistently. Getting into a quick and efficient rhythm with early completions to move the chains may cause Green Bay to adjust and back off a bit. That's why getting into an early rhythm in the passing game could eventually lead to Peterson rushing for the kind of yardage Vikings fans are used to seeing.
Rushing Rodgers intelligently
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers does his best work from the pocket. If he has to, though, Rodgers can still get the job done while escaping pressure. In fact, avoiding pressure and then throwing on the run is something Rodgers does better than any quarterback in the League. This is why it's important for the Vikings to rush Rodgers intelligently. The atmosphere will be insane, the crowd will be going crazy and Vikings pass rushers will be eager to bring down Rodgers, but they must not lose their discipline in staying in their rush lanes and doing their part to prevent Rodgers from escaping the pressure, buying time and finding receivers who've found a way to get open with an extra few seconds.
Where is Cobb?
With all the talk this week about defending Rodgers, tackling Eddie Lacy and the return of Jordy Nelson, it's easy to forget one of Green Bay's most versatile weapons – WR Randall Cobb. Without Nelson in the lineup last year because of a knee injury that cost him the entire 2015 campaign, life was tougher for Cobb because defenses could afford to focus on him. Now that Nelson is back, some of that attention has gone away. Aside from his ability to catch the ball and make plays, what makes Cobb a tricky figure is his versatility. In last week's game against the Jaguars, the Packers used Cobb in the slot, lined up out wide, motioning to the backfield, lined up in the backfield and in the pistol formation. He had touches out of all those alignments, too. He does most of his work from the slot, which means a lot of matchups with Vikings nickel CB Captain Munnerlyn, but he'll also be in many other places and that means it's up to the entire defense to keep tabs on Cobb.
There are 14 games to go after tonight
There have been many chapters in the Vikings-Packers rivalry, and tonight's is yet another. It's a dramatic one, too. Both teams have high expectations for 2016, both are 1-0, it's the first time they've seen each other since the Vikings won the division championship game at Lambeau Field in Week 17 last year, it's the regular season opener for U.S. Bank Stadium…and it's all happening on NBC's Sunday Night Football, the most-watched television program in the United States for five years running. There will be a lot of "Super Bowl contenders" talk for the winner, and a lot of "Uh, oh, going to have to get in with a wild card now" talk for the loser. The truth is, there are 14 games to play after this one. There is a long way to go and a lot will happen between now and crunch time in the NFL schedule.