EAGAN, Minn. – The 2021 Packers defense is no joke.
Last season, Green Bay ranked 14th in the NFL defensively in total yards allowed per play (5.49). The Packers so far this season rank third in the league (5.10). Their interception rate of 3.2 percent is sixth best in the NFL, and they are allowing opponents to average just 18 points – which trails only the Bills and Patriots – compared to last year's 23.1.
Under Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry, who was hired for the role when Green Bay opted not to renew Mike Pettine's contract after last season, six of the Packers opponents have scored 17 or fewer points. Of those, four of the past five have been limited to 14 or fewer.
"They're stout defensively," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told media members Wednesday. "They do a good job without a lot of pressure, being able to stop the run and pressure the quarterback and do a good job in the back end. The corners are sticky. Safeties do a nice job disguising."
The Packers have been without Pro Bowl cornerback Jaire Alexander, who landed on Injured Reserve after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 4, but they've gotten plenty of production from 2021 first-round draft pick Eric Stokes, who's recorded an interception, 31 tackles and nine passes defensed. Cornerback Kevin King remains a threat in the backfield, and safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage, Jr., can give an offense fits. Amos is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two; he's also second in tackles, having totaled 60 so far.
Vikings receiver Adam Thielen sees Alexander's influence on the cornerbacks group even though he's not able to play.
"I think he still brings that leadership to that group. He's probably around there," Thielen said. "You can tell that the rookies are playing very similar to the way that he does and bringing that same energy and that passion to the game.
Thielen is seeing plenty of production from the entire Packers secondary.
"You see on tape, watch [their game against Seattle], and you see guys are just on top of people when the ball is in the air. It's not like guys are running free or have a lot of separation," Thielen noted. "That's a credit to that secondary of just kind of being on their assignments. Usually, it's a good sign of a good secondary when there's not a lot of free runners, not a lot of people running with a lot of separation. So, they're doing a good job.
"It's a tough task for us, and that's what you look forward to in the league," Thielen added. "You know it's going to be a battle. You're going to the game, knowing you've got to have your best to perform well, and that's exciting."
And it isn't only the defensive backs making an impact.
Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell has shown his ability to be a game-wrecker.
Campbell, a 2016 fourth-round pick, leads the Packers with 88 tackles. He also has two interceptions, a sack, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and three passes defensed.
Rashan Gary leads Green Bay with 5.5 sacks on the season, and three of his teammates – Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry and Preston Smith – have 3.0 apiece. And one has to remember, the Packers are also without two-time Pro Bowler Za'Darius Smith.
Kirk Cousins noted that Green Bay's defensive success is a testament to the level of talent not only with the starters but beyond.
"It's a credit to the depth they have, the scheme. It's really a great team defense," Cousins said. "When you look at some of the players, who I have a lot of respect for, who aren't playing, and then the production they have, it says a lot about their unit.
"Great challenge for us," Cousins added. "We'll have to have a good week of preparation to put a good plan together."
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook scored four touchdowns in the most-recent Border Battle, a Week 8 matchup last season at Lambeau Field. He certainly knows those kinds of numbers won't be easy against the division-rival's defense, though.
"They're just doing a good job of playing good football all around. They're matching their offense's energy," Cook said. "I think overall as a team, they're playing good football. I just think their energy is in the right place and they're in the right spots at the right time. We've got to do a good job of being detailed in our play, take care of the football, and I think we should be good."