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5 Vikings-Packers Storylines: Intrigue to Illumination

EAGAN, Minn. — The 62nd Minnesota Vikings season and 124th Border Battle is on the way.

At times, it's seemed like the 3:25 p.m. (CT) kickoff at U.S. Bank Stadium can't get here soon enough.

Anticipation for seeing Minnesota's starting offense and defense in its new systems has been building throughout the preseason.

First-year Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell didn't shirk the magnitude of opening his first season at the helm of an NFL team at home, in a division game against the squad that has claimed the past three NFC North crowns.

"I've got to remember to try to get some sleep and rest in addition to, you know, we're pouring into this thing pretty good," O'Connell said. "But at the same time, I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't going to be a little extra excited, a little bit more than just any other game.

"This isn't just any other game … I'm well aware of the importance of this football game for our team," O'Connell added. "But I also think it's important to know we're not getting in the playoffs by the outcome of Sunday. I think this 17-game season, looking at it, what's out in front of our team, it's important that we get off to a good start, we want to play the right way, but we know we're playing a really good football team that we're going to see again later in the year."

Matchup to watch: Vikings receivers vs. Packers secondary

Adam Thielen is the established vet, Justin Jefferson an ascending star and K.J. Osborn is an up-and-comer who capitalized on a dramatic increase in opportunities in 2021 over his 2020 rookie season.

The trio turned in a strong showing at training camp, but Osborn was the only one to appear — briefly at that — in a preseason contest. He caught a 10-yard pass on his only target at Las Vegas.

The group will face a strong secondary that features cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes, along with safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.

Amos has started 105 of the 109 regular-season games he's played for Chicago (2015-19) and Green Bay (2019-21) since entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick. Alexander (2018), Savage (2019) and Stokes (2021) all were first-round picks as the Packers boosted the back end of their defense three times in a four-year span.

1. Intrigue to illumination

Natural light will be flowing through U.S. Bank Stadium's signature ETFE roof and Legacy Gates long before kickoff, but the real illumination might not occur until a ways into the game.

O'Connell and Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur have been mindful of not showing much on offense or defense during preseason games because they didn't want the opposite sideline to be able to scheme for anything.

Minnesota also did not scheme for its opponents.

That meant preseason games had the zest of an unflavored rice cake.

Sunday will be the first chance to add some zeal and reveal how the Vikings plan to implement their offense and defense in this new era.

2. Rest vs. rust

Minnesota was incredibly mindful of trying to be as healthy as possible for Week 1. That meant resting most starters throughout the duration of the preseason.

So far, it's helped, with defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard being the sole Viking on Wednesday's injury report.

Kirk Cousins last set foot in a pocket with defenders trying to tackle him on Jan. 9, but O'Connell and the defense (and San Francisco's defense in two joint practices) have tried to help the QB feel the pass rush during practices.

The Packers also rested a bevy of starters, including Aaron Rodgers, during preseason games.

Green Bay, however, hasn't had as good of fortune with its injury report. Eleven players were listed by the Packers. Receiver Allen Lazard did not practice and four other key players — David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins, Darnell Savage and Robert Tonyan — being classified as limited participants.

It might take several snaps or a couple of drives for either team to settle in, but the bottom line is that Cousins looks like he'll have his full complement of cast members.

3. Adios, Adams

The Vikings coaches have invested a considerable amount of time this offseason building concepts for a generational talent at receiver in Jefferson, who has racked up 3,016 yards — the most by any NFL player in his first two pro seasons.

The Packers coaches have likely allocated a chunk on trying to replace a generational talent at receiver after the departure of Davante Adams to Las Vegas.

It was a relief to see Adams on the Raiders sideline in Preseason Week 1, given the damage he's wrought on the Vikings to the tune of 93 career receptions for 1,050 yards and 13 touchdowns in 15 Border Battles.

Minnesota is scheduled to visit Las Vegas next year, so the adios to Adams won't last forever. The Vikings will need to make the most of this transition out of the gate.

4. More balance for backs?

Dalvin Cook has been a thoroughbred with a workhorse mentality that has earned respect across the league.

He wasn't fully maximized in 2018 (133 rushes for 615 yards and two scores) and was arguably overused in 2020 (312 rushes for 1,557 yards and 16 scores).

In 2019, Cook rushed 250 times and added another 249 carries last season, his third in a row to earn Pro Bowl honors.

How will the new offense of O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips use one of the game's best in this system? Will they be enticed to stretch carries across a talented room with Alexander Mattison, Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler?

"The ball's going to get spread around," Cook said Wednesday. "I'm not going to tell you the X amount, Z numbers, the carries we're going to get, but I do need to come out the game."

Green Bay is led by Aaron Jones, who also has been highly productive over the past three seasons with 2,987 yards and 29 touchdowns on 608 carries.

He is backed up only by AJ Dillon on Green Bay's 53-man roster. Dillon, a thumper picked in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, rushed for 803 yards and five scores on 187 carries in his second pro season.

Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.

5. Defensive overhaul with a reunion tour

Minnesota used much of its focus in free agency and the draft to revamp its defense.

The moves included signing former Packers outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith and cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who is playing nickel for the Vikings.

Other additions to the starting lineup (3-4 base) include Harrison Phillips, Bullard and linebacker Jordan Hicks.

Everyone has played Rodgers and the Packers elsewhere, but there's a sense that the newcomers are particularly excited for this one.