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Final Thoughts: Vikings at Packers in Week 8

EAGAN, Minn. — Against the 49ers, the Vikings offensive line protected the quarterback and enabled some successful runs throughout the game.

Kirk Cousins threw for a season-high 378 yards and wasn't sacked, despite the 49ers featuring several Pro Bowl pass rushers. The Vikings also converted 62 percent of their third-down tries and three times rushed for a fresh set of downs.

The Vikings did so with Dalton Risner filling in at left guard for an injured Ezra Cleveland, who is listed as questionable this week. Risner delivered a great block out of the gate for a 19-yard rush and showed his savvy to prevent a sack on a pass play late in the game.

He lined up between left tackle Christian Darrisaw and center Garrett Bradbury, building off the 10 snaps Risner played at the end of Minnesota's Week 6 game at Chicago.

Cousins has the highest completion percentage, highest passer rating, and the second-most touchdowns when allotted 2.5 seconds or more to throw, according to Pro Football Focus.

But there is never time for complacency in the NFL. Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips made that clear this week.

"Is this one of the best fronts in the league that we're playing? I mean, I look at Kenny Clark and Rashan Gary and Preston [Smith] and all these guys. They're really good. And I can show you some clips," Phillips said. "So there can't be a letdown."

Gary is second in win rate behind Browns All-Pro Myles Garrett, according to Pro Football Focus. Clark, a two-time Pro Bowler, and Smith have helped the Packers rank 18th in total pressures this season.

In what should be chilly late October temperatures, the Vikings offensive line will want to establish a ground presence and protect Cousins again this week.

Matchup to Watch

Jordan Addison (and) T.J. Hockenson versus Packers pass defense

The Packers are dealing with some injuries, which is forcing them to reshuffle their secondary.

On Wednesday, the team placed safety Darnell Savage, Jr., and cornerback Eric Stokes on Injured Reserve. Savage has played more than 83 percent of the team's defensive snaps, which is third most on the team behind only cornerback Rasul Douglas and safety Rudy Ford.

It's unclear whether All-Pro Jaire Alexander will be available. He's been dealing with a recurring back injury. He missed Weeks 3 and 4 but then played every defensive snap in Week 5. Following the Packers bye week, he missed Week 7 at Denver. This week, he practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Friday but did not participate Thursday. He is listed as questionable for Sunday.

In addition to all the moving parts in the secondary, Packers Defensive Coordinator Joe Barry is preparing for the Vikings to be without Justin Jefferson for the first time since Barry joined Green Bay in 2021.

It's unclear how Green Bay will defend Cousins, who ranks second in passing yards and first in touchdowns, and his skill players. But maybe there is something to learn from how the Packers played Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson last week.

The Packers played zone coverage on 58.1 of dropbacks last week against the Broncos and paired that with single-high safety looks on 74.2 percent of snaps, according to Next Gen Stats.

Despite leading by 13 halfway through the third quarter, Green Bay scored 14 unanswered points before Broncos kicker Wil Lutz hit a 52-yard field goal with 3:50 to play. According to Next Gen Stats, the Broncos used play-action just seven times despite leading for more than three quarters.

Maybe the Vikings can attack the Packers single-high looks with 1-on-1 speed outside or with Hockenson down the seam. If the Packers don't play much man coverage, remember that Cousins completed 28 of 31 passes 238 yards and a touchdown versus zone coverage last week, according to Next Gen Stats. And Hockenson notched 10 grabs for 85 yards against zone.

"We're just continuing to try to build an offensive philosophy for each and every game. But that holds true regardless of how we're being defended. Try to avoid negative plays, stay efficient on early downs and, and show the ability to be explosive and efficient," O'Connell said. "T.J. [Hockenson] being critical and getting the target volume. Kind of can show up for him again, the rhythm and timing of our offense. And then Jordan [Addison]. Jordan's growth has been tremendous, but not surprising to me at all. Just the confidence is great to see him building, snap in and snap out."

Addison caught seven passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.

Six Points: Memorable Week 8 Quotes

LB Jordan Hicks on following 'emotional high' of upsetting San Francisco:

"I mean, this is Year 9 [for me in the NFL]. … You understand that what you did in the prior weeks means nothing moving forward. Every week you've gotta bring the same energy, the same chip on your shoulder, so it's the mindset coming into [this week]."

O'Connell on Aaron Rodgers no longer being in Green Bay and Jordan Love at QB:

"Yeah, it is a little different to turn on the tape and not see him out there. Not only just from my time here but going back a few years, playing him at multiple spots, and I will say that Jordan [Love] has made some big big-time throws. He's made some plays. They're pushing the ball down the field a lot, getting those explosive plays, getting quite a few of the calls down the field, moving the ball via some of those interference calls and it's because they're taking their ops down the fields, and we have to be ready for it. He's got athletic ability to get out of the pocket and change the game with his legs and he clearly has demonstrated his high capacity to throw the football, so we know he's a young player, but I've always had a ton of respect for him since I evaluated him coming out and we've got to play really, really well defensively to limit Jordan and all the skill players that they can attack you with.

Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips on comparisons between Christian Darrisaw and Andrew Whitworth, whom he coached in L.A.:

"I mean, similarities in size and athleticism, those types of things. Mindset. And really, football intelligence is a big part of it. […] There's an understanding of the game and how it works, and Christian certainly has that. Andrew Whitworth was one of the smarter players that I had been around. I think in that way, they're similar. To have a guy where, there are times where … they overload fronts, they got a bunch of guys on one side, and some guys you'd say, 'Hey, we've gotta keep this guard here in case something happens,' and some guys you feel comfortable – like Christian and, really, Brian [O'Neill], for that matter – we can send the line that way and try to pick up these guys who are running all kinds of gains and stunts on the other side. To have that luxury to be able to activate different calls, knowing we feel solid with that left side, is really comforting."

Cousins on chemistry with Hockenson:

"I think there's a trust level with him. He showed right away that he has a good feel for some of those routes where he has to make a good decision on the fly. That he'll make the right decision, that with his athleticism he'll create separation, and a lot of it is also Kevin designing the plays and putting him in a position where the ball is likely going to go to him. As long as I throw with accuracy and he does his job, the ball goes to him. He's proven to be a reliable player for us over the past year-and-a-half, and I don't really see that changing much moving forward."

Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores on evolving defenses and collaboration within the coaching staff:

"Creativity is king in this league. I think if you do the same thing over and over again, it normally doesn't work out. I like to think that I've always been open to different schools of doing things. When I was in New England, there was a certain way that was done, and that was always evolving, also. I think the game is ever changing. I try to stay up on the trends and the things that are in vogue within the league. You know, there were no jet motions 10 years ago. There just weren't. Offensively, the game's changed a lot in the past 10 years, so defensively, we need to change with it. I think you always have to be open to that. You've got to be willing to collaborate and hear the views of some other people."

Special Teams Coordinator Matt Daniels on Kene Nwangwu returning to action in Week 7:

"It was great. There's always that feeling that when a ball gets kicked off and Kene catches it and does return it, there's a blocker-returner relationship there, a firm belief that it's going to go the distance. It was great to get him back there, to get his feet wet. He hasn't played football in almost a year now, with no preseason, really kind of missed OTAs and training camp, so there's a little bit of nerves there, but a lot of excitement to get him back out there."

Milestones Approaching

Danielle Hunter has recorded at least one sack in six of seven games this season, boosting his career total to 80 sacks, matching the number of games he's started (he's played in 109). Hunter passed Everson Griffen for seventh in franchise history last week (rankings include Vikings Legends who played before sacks becoming an official stat in 1982).

By the way …

Cousins recorded his 50th career game with 300 or more passing yards. He became the fifth player in NFL history to have 50 or more such games in his first 12 seasons, joining Drew Brees (67); Matt Ryan (64); Peyton Manning (56); and Kurt Warner (52).

Hockenson set an NFL record for fewest games to record 100 receptions with a team, hitting the mark last week in his 17th regular-season game as a Viking. The previous record was 20 games.

"Fan-ally" Friday

It's been five days, and the good vibe from the Vikings Monday night win hasn't worn off yet. I have to admit I haven't always been this optimistic about the team because the last three or four years, I couldn't stomach watching the whole game because of the defense and because of the offense going three-and-out most of the games. I also was getting angry at the TV ever since I was a kid 50 years ago, watching this team. That being said, I was able to watch the last two games from beginning to end and not get terribly upset. I'm staying optimistic this week and believe the Vikings will beat the Packers and not be a trap game after the Monday night game. Do I expect them to be as good as last week? No, but I do expect the game to be competitive and the same mistakes in their four losses don't show up. But win or lose I'll be looking forward to their next game. Living in Packers country, it's always a good week after the Vikings beat the Packers. Enjoy the game.

— Al Lindberg in Denmark, Wisconsin

We'll have to start off this renewal of Border Battle week with someone who has continued to represent the Vikings while living a little southeast of Green Bay.

The Vikings-Packers rivalry is so special. I appreciated it long before moving to Minnesota, and those feelings have only grown since 2014. The introduction didn't take long. The Vikings trip to Lambeau Field that season was within my first week on the job (my first day had been the Sunday game just days earlier when the Vikings topped the Falcons in Teddy Bridgewater's first NFL start). That Thursday game got lopsided fast, and Green Bay prevailed the next two times before Minnesota won the NFC North in the final game of the 2015 season on a cold night that still invokes some warm memories.

Friends, neighbors and even family members find themselves with split allegiances. There's deep passion by both sets of fans, and even if words get a little testy, the relationships are generally maintained when the clock hits zero.

The Vikings will need to continue to reduce their mistakes and making the most of opportunities as this — still long — season advances week to week.

Every week I run through's QB Index, and I have to say that the methodology confuses me. Do the experts pull names out of a hat, or do they have a cork board with names that they throw darts at blindfolded?

My opinion of Cousins is still subjective on a post-game weekly basis, but when you compare his numbers throughout the season up to that point, he would appear to be more consistent and productive than several of the QB1s listed ahead of him. So what is the deal?

— David Altonson

I truthfully don't pay too much attention to external rankings, and I bet Kirk pays even less attention to those than I do.

Without knowing all of the information, the game plan, the dialogue with coaches, the plays Cousins checked to or changed from, it seemed like Monday's game was one of the finest Cousins has played. He'd probably tell you, me or anyone else about the parts that he'd like to do better before convincing him to talk about something he did particularly well.

There's been years of building a national narrative about Cousins, and I don't think it's always been a level playing field or at least a view that includes enough nuance. I think some of his critics who watched the Netflix Quarterback docuseries or games this season with an open mind would admit he's playing some great football. There's so much more to that position than just the statistical output, and I think he put several of those qualities that he's refined over the years on display.

Teammates and coaches already know he's going to put his best foot forward every week to be as prepared as possible for each contest. He, the o-line, the skills group and the coaching staff took another step forward together.

In light of the fact that there were no sacks by San Francisco's elite defense, is it premature to say of Monday night's O-line that, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?"

— Jerry in Miramar Beach, Florida

I thought the unit played exceptionally well, and the schemes that were designed gave Cousins some outlets for the football, which he delivered at just the right time. There were other instances of collaboration with the tight ends and the offensive line, as well as a couple of times when Kirk was able to avoid a sack by getting rid of the football (incompletion with a teammate in the area) or navigate through the pocket.

One of my favorite plays was Cousins staying upright when the 49ers had collapsed the pocket. Cousins was getting sandwiched with Risner and Brian O'Neill backpedaling, but just at the key moment, Risner was able to stick out his left arm and get his right arm behind Javon Hargrave to cleanly remove the interior defensive lineman from being a threat. Cousins bounced off the contact, hopped to his left and delivered a strike.

I casually asked Risner about the play this week, and he provided a demo for me in the locker room — without tossing me to the carpet, thankfully! He said people who watch his game won't say it's "pretty," but I'd say that move was "pretty effective."

O'Connell said they'll continue to evaluate Cleveland's progress and echoed a sentiment of having the best five play together. As we've already seen, it's good to have multiple linemen a team can trust.