Back from their bye, the Vikings (1-5) are preparing to visit the Packers (5-1) for the 121st Border Battle, a noon (CT) Sunday rematch between rivals that opened the 2020 season in Week 1 with a 43-34 win by Green Bay.
Minnesota's coaches spent much of last week self-scouting and evaluating factors that have led to a disappointing start by a team that won 10 games and a road playoff game in 2019.
They also tried to better understand how a team that lost by one point to Tennessee and at Seattle (who are both now 5-1) dropped a bad beat against a previously winless Atlanta team on the way to the bye.
"I'm just trying to dig into everything," Head Coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. " 'What can we do better, how can we win a game in the fourth quarter, how can we be better at time of possession, how can we be better on defense in the passing game?' Quite honestly, 'How can we help these young players to play with more confidence and play with better technique?' That's really what we're trying to do, more than numbers."
Here are five storylines to watch this week, as well as a link below to the game preview by the Vikings PR staff and a list of connections between the teams.
1. Under uncharted water
The Vikings are four games under .500 for the first time in Zimmer's tenure. In his first season, the Vikings were 2-5 through their first seven games after suffering a last-second loss at Buffalo. The Vikings won five of their final nine games to finish 7-9 and build momentum for 2015.
Minnesota is currently 14th in the NFC Standings, looking up at several teams.
Last week's trade of Yannick Ngakoue, who was acquired in August and recorded 5.0 sacks for Minnesota, caused speculation of a sell-off of players as the Nov. 3 trade deadline approaches and a wait-until-next-year approach.
"We're not looking to 2021," Zimmer said Monday. "What we're looking to do is, 'What is the best thing to do for our football team, this year and moving forward?' "
Ten games is still a lot of football for the Vikings to make a rally, but the margin for error for this team appears small in games and us even smaller in the standings.
Wins and losses matter more than anything to coaches, players, staff and fans, particularly when there are only 16 opportunities in an NFL regular season, but coaching at any level is about developing players in practices, meetings and crucial moments in games.
Anyone that's paid attention to Zimmer the past six-plus seasons can expect a dogged determination to improve.
2. Turnaround the turnovers and time of possession
The Vikings status at minus-7 in turnover margin ranks 30th in the NFL. Giveaways have been particularly problematic. The only game in which Minnesota has won the turnover battle was against Houston in its lone win of 2020.
The Packers are plus-2 in turnover margin with four takeaways against two giveaways. Both rare interceptions thrown by Aaron Rodgers — just one pick by the QB is a rarity — occurred in Green Bay's only loss. Tampa Bay won the turnover battle by two that day on the way to a 38-10 victory.
Time of possession has been particularly lopsided in losses to Green Bay, Indianapolis and Atlanta. Minnesota ranks 29th with an average time of possession of 27:27. The Packers rank fourth, averaging 32:59, which was boosted by a whopping 41:16 in Week 1.
In addition to turnovers, Zimmer said "there are a bunch" of stats the Vikings need to improve.
"Obviously time of possession was not in our favor for the most part," Zimmer said. "We haven't had very many three-and-outs on defense, which leads to some of that time of possession.
"We've got to do a better job in the passing game, defensively, for sure," he continued. "The quarterback's been knocked down a high percentage of times. So if you're just looking at stats, that's what it is, but at the end of the day, it's not so much about the stats, it's 'Why are these things happening?' The second and third quarters have not been good to us for some reason, so that's part of it as well."
Opponents have outscored Minnesota 120 to 56 in second and third quarters this season, including a 26-3 edge by Green Bay.
3. Find a way to the QB
With the departure of Ngakoue after less than two months, the Vikings remaining sacks leader is Ifeadi Odenigbo with 2.5.
Barr, who is a significant threat as a blitzer, is unavailable for the rest of the season because of a torn pec suffered in Week 2. The Vikings already were without Danielle Hunter, who suffered an injury in August.
Minnesota has struggled to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks throughout the season, but it was particularly the case in Week 1 when Rodgers had his most comfortable game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Rodgers completed 32 of 44 passes for 364 yards with four touchdowns and a passer rating of 127.5 for a strong day against a rebuilt and inexperienced group of Vikings cornerbacks.
Pressure and pass coverage go hand-in-hand, and the Vikings will try to improve both against the two-time NFL MVP.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Packers.
4. Show what has been learned
The Vikings became a much different defense between hosting the Packers in Week 16 of 2019 and Week 1 of 2020.
The same can be said, to a lesser degree, when comparing Week 8 to Kickoff Weekend.
Defensive end D.J. Wonnum and defensive tackle James Lynch, for instance, were inactive but have each recorded their first career sacks and appear to have earned more opportunities for playing time.
Cam Dantzler and Jeff Gladney have been starting at cornerback, becoming the first pair of Vikings rookies to start at the position since 1999.
With a truncated offseason program and the absence of a preseason, first-year players across the league are having to learn on the fly. This will be their first rematch opportunity, albeit against a team that is second in the NFL with 32.8 points per game.
5. RBs a go? What about RG?
The game could feature two of the top running backs in the NFL, one or neither. The first injury report of the week will be out later today, and eyes will be on the status of RB1s for the Vikings and Packers.
Minnesota's Dalvin Cook suffered a groin injury at Seattle on the first play of the second half and missed the Atlanta game but still ranks fifth in rushing yards (489) and is tied for the NFL lead with seven rushing touchdowns.
A calf injury sidelined Green Bay's Aaron Jones at Houston last week. Jones has 389 yards (17th in the NFL) and is tied for fifth with five rushing touchdowns.
Attention also will be placed on what's happening at right guard where rookie Ezra Cleveland started in Week 6 against Atlanta.
Despite working most of the offseason at left guard, Cleveland slid over so that only one position would be affected. Cleveland stepped in after Dru Samia suffered a wrist injury after making four starts in place of Pat Elflein, who opened against Green Bay after playing left guard in 2019.
Packers T/G Billy Turner attended Mounds View High School in Arden Hills, Minnesota. He played for Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison and assistant offensive line coach Phil Rauscher in 2016 when Kubiak (head coach), Dennison (offensive coordinator) and Rauscher (offensive coaching assistant) were with the Broncos. Turner's father, Maurice Turner, ws a 12th-round pick by the Vikings in the 1983 NFL Draft. He played 23 games for Minnesota from 1984-85 before finishing that season with Green Bay.
Vikings LB Ryan Connelly, who attended Eden Prairie High School, played collegiately at Wisconsin.
Packers LB Kamal Martin played quarterback and safety at Burnsville High School before playing linebacker for the University of Minnesota.
Packers inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti's father, Tom, was a defensive assistant coach for Minnesota from 1996-99.
Packers defensive backs coach Jerry Gray held the same role with the Vikings from 2014-19.
Vikings Senior Defensive Assistant Dom Capers was defensive coordinator with the Packers from 2009-17.
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak was head coach of the Texans from 2006-13, working with Vikings Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Rick Dennison (2010-13) and tight ends coach Brian Pariani (2006-13); Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur was an offensive assistant in Houston from 2008-09.
Vikings QB Kirk Cousins (2012-17) teamed with Packers OLB Preston Smith (2015-18) in Washington. Cousins worked directly with LaFleur in Washington from 2012-13.
Vikings backup QB Sean Mannion was with the Los Angeles Rams when LaFleur as the offensive coordinator in 2017.
Vikings T Rashod Hill overlapped with Packers TE Marcedes Lewis in Jacksonville in 2016.
Vikings K Dan Bailey and Packers G Lane Taylor [IR] at Oklahoma State
Vikings LB Anthony Barr [IR] and LB Eric Kendricks with Packers NT Kenny Clark at UCLA; Vikings running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu was UCLA's running backs coach from 2014-15 and offensive coordinator in 2016
Vikings RB Mike Boone and LB Eric Wilson at Cincinnati with Packers TE Josiah Deguara [IR]
Vikings CB Cameron Dantzler at Mississippi State with and Packers LG Elgton Jenkins and LS Hunter Bradley
Vikings RG Pat Elflein [IR-Designated to Return] and Packers C Corey Linsley at Ohio State
Vikings assistant special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken overlapped with Packers TE Marcedes Lewis at UCLA.
Vikings CB Jeff Gladney at TCU with Packers LB Ty Summers and S Vernon Scott
Vikings DT Jaleel Johnson and Packers CB Josh Jackson at Iowa
Vikings DE Ifeadi Odenigbo at Northwestern with Packers DL Dean Lowry and DL Tyler Lancaster; Vikings LB Eric Wilson also began his college career at Northwestern, overlapping with Odenigbo and Lowry; Vikings offensive quality control coach Christian Jones played wide receiver for the Wildcats from 2011-15.
Vikings PR/KR K.J. Osborn and Packers LB Jonathan Garvin at Miami
Vikings T Riley Reiff and Packers LB Christian Kirksey [IR] at Iowa
Vikings TE Irv Smith, Jr., and Packers P JK Scott at Alabama
Vikings DT Shamar Stephen and Packers backup QB Tim Boyle at Connecticut
Vikings DT Armon Watts and Packers LB Randy Ramsey at Arkansas