With an abbreviated practice schedule and no preseason games, it was even more difficult to predict what was going to happen in week 1. That said, seeing the Packers put up 43 points and over 500 yards was still a surprise. Using enough motion to make even an experienced sailor seasick, Matt LaFleur had the Vikings’ defense on its heels all afternoon. And while the Packers’ defense gave up far too many big plays in the fourth quarter, it played well enough for the first 45 minutes to help forge an insurmountable 29-10 lead. And while it’s only one of 16 games, winning convincingly on the road against the team that’s expected to be your biggest competition in the division is a heck of a start for the defending NFC North champs.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Coaches and teammates raved about Aaron Rodgers all summer, and on Sunday in Minnesota, the rest of the NFL got to see what all the fuss was about. Taking full advantage of excellent protection and inexperienced cornerbacks, the future Hall of Famer completed passes at will against the Vikings’ defense. He finished 32 of 44 for 364 yards and 4 TDs, and those numbers would’ve been even better if not for three drops. Rodgers threw only five poor passes all game. His other 39 attempts were either right on the money or smart throwaways. It was a virtuoso performance by a player who’s been conducting prolific passing attacks for well over a decade. Whether this will turn out to be an outlier for an offense that still lacks playmakers at tight end and wide receiver remains to be seen. What’s obvious is that the 36-year-old can still spin the ball as well as any of the star twentysomethings in the league.
Elgton Jenkins gave hints at being a special player last season. On Sunday, he left no doubt. Despite barely practicing at the position all summer, the former Mississippi State star replaced an injured Billy Turner at right tackle and turned in an outstanding performance. He didn’t allow a single pressure in 19 dropbacks against Ifeadi Odenigbo and Yannick Ngakoe, who combined for 15 sacks last season. He also did an adequate job in the run game. And if that wasn’t enough, Jenkins switched back to left guard after Lucas Patrick hurt a shoulder in the second quarter. Turner is expected back in the next week or two, but the Packers have to at least consider keeping Jenkins at right tackle. If he could play as well as he did with virtually no preparation, just imagine what he’s capable of doing with more reps under his belt.
Vikings coach and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knew that keeping Davante Adams under control was the key to slowing down the Packers’ passing attack, and yet he had no answers on Sunday. The Pro Bowl wide receiver caught 14 passes for 156 yards and scored 2 TDs against an assortment of overmatched young cornerbacks. The 14 receptions tied a franchise record set by Hall of Famer Don Hutson in 1942. Zimmer made some adjustments at halftime, and while that slowed Adams a bit, it also allowed Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Allen Lazard to become bigger parts of the offense. Six of their eight catches, 105 of their 162 yards, and one of their two TDs came in the final 30 minutes. In short, Adams was the epitome of a star. He played a great game, and he made those around him better.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
You can be sure that Jaire Alexander will be kicking himself for allowing a 19-yard TD in the fourth quarter, but he shouldn’t be too hard on himself. That’s because two of the plays he made in the first half were the reason Adam Thielen’s score came in garbage time and not in the final minutes of a close game. Twenty minutes into the new season, Alexander sacked quarterback Kirk Cousins for a safety. What made the play even more impressive was that the young corner did it on his own. He was supposed to be playing the run, but saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. His interception two series later led to a TD that put the Packers ahead for good. Alexander allowed 4 catches for 77 yards. He’ll undoubtedly have better days in coverage in the coming weeks, but he might not make a bigger impact.
Talk about making the most of your chances. Krys Barnes was added to the active roster on Saturday, and he played only 15 snaps on Sunday. Still, the undrafted rookie was one of the best defenders on the field. The undersized inside linebacker had six tackles, including two for losses. His most impressive play came in the second quarter. Dalvin Cook caught a short pass, but before the explosive Pro Bowl running back could take advantage of the open space in front of him, Barnes got him to the ground with a shoestring tackle. And while the former UCLA star did get stuck on blocks a few times in the run game, all in all, it was a very impressive debut. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Barnes remain in the starting lineup at least until fellow frosh Kamal Martin returns from a knee injury in early November.
His final numbers weren’t overly impressive (32 snaps, 3 hurries, and 2 tackles), but Rashan Gary was involved in two of the biggest defensive plays of the game. It was his pressures on Cousins that led to both of Alexander’s big plays in the first quarter. Last year’s No. 1 pick drew praise all summer, and at least for one game, he lived up to the hype. In fact, he thoroughly outplayed starting outside linebacker Preston Smith. This also happened a few times late last season. And while the Packers are paying Smith too much money to reduce his snaps from the low 40s, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is going to have to find ways to get Gary on the field more if he continues to play like he did on Sunday.
1) After a disappointing training camp, Jace Sternberger had a disappointing opening game. He played only 12 snaps, and while he blocked adequately, he appeared sluggish as a receiver. LaFleur wanted to get him lined up against a linebacker, but Pro Bowler Eric Kendricks had no trouble keeping up with the second-year tight end. Sternberger will have easier matchups in the weeks to come, but there’s little to suggest that he’s ready to make any kind of serious impact.
2) The plan all offseason was to get Tyler Ervin more involved in the offense. Mission accomplished. The small but speedy returner carried the ball three times for 38 yards. Along with the expected explosiveness, Ervin also showed pretty good vision and even picked up an additional nine yards after contact. Of his 14 snaps on offense (6 pass/8 run), 11 saw him begin in the slot. From there, he moved around more than an Army brat.
3) Rick Wagner, who’s being paid $6 million this season, wasn’t deemed one of the team’s top seven offensive linemen heading into the opener, but he proved his worth by the end of the game. The 30-year-old former Lion stepped in at right tackle after Jenkins moved to left guard and got the job done. Not only did he keep pass rushers away from the quarterback, but he also provided some nice blocks in the run game.
4) Running back Aaron Jones has had better days. While he averaged a respectable 4.1 yards against a lot of stacked boxes, he wasn’t as effective as usual after contact. That, along with some shaky blocking up front, is why he had only one run longer than 10 yards. Jones (42 snaps) barely played more than his backups, Jamaal Williams and AJ Dillon (36 combined snaps). That trend could continue throughout the season.
5) After seven years and more than a dozen extremely intense battles with former Vikings right defensive end Everson Griffen, left tackle David Bakhtiari faced no such challenges on Sunday. A variety of edge rushers tried their luck against the 4-time All-Pro, but none of them had even the slightest bit of success. Bakhtiari also did a very nice job in the run game. He seemed to be moving better than he did late last season.
6) Kingsley Keke played a career-high 29 snaps, and the results were mixed. The second-year defensive lineman offered very little as a pass rusher, but he generally held his own against the run. That’s been his MO so far in the NFL, and it’s the opposite of what most scouts expected. With star nose tackle Kenny Clark likely to miss some time with a groin injury, Keke could set a new career-high in snaps as soon as Sunday.
7) Sunday was a disappointing debut for $13 million free-agent addition Christian Kirksey. The veteran inside linebacker made too many of his 11 tackles six or seven yards past the line of scrimmage. He also allowed five completions in five targets, although to his credit, he was able to keep yards after the catch to a minimum. Nobody was expecting Kirksey to be the next Ray Lewis, but he at least needs to be the next Blake Martinez.
8) Za’Darius Smith had a sack, a couple of hurries, and drew plenty of attention, but his zeal to get to the quarterback left the run defense vulnerable on numerous plays. This was also a problem late last season. There’s no question that sacks get a linebacker to the Pro Bowl, but running backs will continue to find success against the Packers’ defense until Smith starts paying more attention to the less glamorous part of his job.
9) Chandon Sullivan played 36 snaps – 22 in the slot, 12 in the box, and 2 outside. He had a rough day. The third-year corner gave up a 22-yard completion to tight end Ben Rudolph at the end of the first half and a 17-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson in the fourth quarter. In between, he missed a tackle and took a few poor angles. The Packers need much better play from Tramon Williams’ replacement.
10) It’s an understatement to say Darnell Savage‘s expected breakout season got off to a disappointing start. Aside from a few physical tackles, the second-year safety played arguably his worst game as a pro on Sunday. His late hit cost the Packers 15 yards and enabled the Vikings to kick a field goal at the end of the first half, and I’m still trying to figure out what he was thinking on Adam Thielen’s 37-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
ROOKIE REPORT CARD
AJ Dillon – The No. 2 pick and No. 3 RB looked good in a brief appearance (5 snaps). He ran for 14 yards in two carries, with eight of the yards coming after contact.
Josiah Deguara – As expected, the versatile third-round pick was lined up all over the field – in the backfield (15 snaps), next to the tackle (4), and in the slot (3). He caught one short pass for 12 yards, but his finest moments came as a run blocker. This was one of the best first games by a Packers’ rookie since Brian Gutekunst took over as GM in 2018.
Jon Runyan – The sixth-round pick wasn’t supposed to play this season, but lo and behold, there he was in the fourth quarter. His 15 snaps were rather uneventful, and that’s a compliment. Things will be a lot more challenging if he has to play an entire game against Detroit on Sunday as opposed to finishing out an easy win.
Vernon Scott – The seventh-round pick played a few snaps at safety, but as expected, most of his work came on special teams. He was used on both return units.
Jonathan Garvin – The seventh-round pick was asked to rush on all six of his defensive snaps, but he didn’t make an impact. The rest of his playing time came on special teams.
Tipa Galeai – The undrafted free agent was one of two players elevated from the practice squad to the active roster on Saturday, and he played nine uneventful snaps at defensive end less than 24 hours later. It was kinda interesting that Galeai saw more action than Garvin, who edged him out for a spot on the final 53.
It’s time to say goodbye to Oren Burks. Despite an injury to projected starting inside linebacker Kamal Martin, the former third-round pick played only three snaps on defense against Minnesota. That the coaches preferred to go with a player (Krys Barnes) who was cut a week earlier says it all. Burks has been given chance after chance since coming to Green Bay two and a half years ago, but he’s been unable to beat out Antonio Morrison in 2018, B.J. Goodson in 2019, and now Barnes. And it’s not like he’s a huge plus on special teams. I understand that it’s not easy for GM Brian Gutekunst to admit a mistake when it comes to a fairly high draft pick, especially one he traded up to get, but it’s time to face reality. There are dozens of linebackers currently looking for an opportunity to get back into the league. It’s hard to believe at least one of them isn’t better than Burks.
On the same subject, what exactly are defensive end Montravius Adams and cornerback Josh Jackson contributing? The former played two snaps on defense in the opener, and the latter was inactive due to a nagging toe injury. Most importantly, neither has done much of anything since entering the league in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Jackson and especially Adams were drafted on day 2 because of their potential, but at some point, potential has to be replaced by production. Again, as is the case with Burks, it’s difficult to imagine there aren’t quite of few better players just begging for an opportunity to get back into the league.
Late in the first quarter, the Packers gained 31 yards on back-to-back plays. First, Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to Davante Adams for 12 yards, and then Allen Lazard picked up 19 yards on an end-around. But neither of the plays would’ve happened had it not been for the great work done by Jamaal Williams and Josiah Deguara.
In the first video, watch how Williams (#30) picks up blitzing safety Harrison Smith. This isn’t an easy block. Williams doesn’t see Smith coming until the last second, but he’s still able to get just enough of him to allow Rodgers to convert on third down. In the second video, Degaura (#81) isn’t satisfied with taking out one tackler, so he takes out two. This springs Lazard for an additional 15 yards. Neither play will help Williams or Deguara rack up fantasy points, but these are the types of plays that help a team to rack up wins.
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