Coming off a week in which the Green Bay Packers’ defense attracted national praise for clamping down on the Chicago Bears and Mitchell Trubisky, the unit will face a duo of receivers who have given it fits over the past several seasons. If the new-look Packers defense is for real, it will withstand the test.
Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have proven to be nuisances for Green Bay dating back to the 2016 season. Thielen has racked up at least 96 yards in four of the past five games against the Green and Gold, while Diggs has hauled in at least one touchdown pass in five consecutive games against the Packers. Their combined numbers truly are staggering figures that have changed the complexion of games in the rivals’ past few matchups.
Vikings’ WRs Against Green Bay
|2018, Week 12||8-77-1 (11 targets)||8-125-1 (9 targets)|
|2018, Week 2||9-128-2 (13 targets)||12-131-1 (13 targets)|
|2017, Week 16||5-60-1 (8 targets)||2-24-0 (6 targets)|
|2017, Week 6||Did not play||9-96-0 (13 targets)|
|2016, Week 16||4-29-1 (6 targets)||12-202-2 (13 targets)|
|2016, Week 2||9-182-1 (11 targets)||4-41-0 (5 targets)|
Last season in particular, Diggs and Thielen combined for over 200 receiving yards in each of the divisional clashes while netting five touchdowns. Those kind of weapons helped newcomer Kirk Cousins to pass for 767 yards in the two games and accumulate quarterback ratings of 118.8 and 129.5, the second- and third-highest ratings of his entire 2018 season. The Packers’ defensive struggles of the past few seasons have shown up especially in games against Minnesota, where the Vikings have used vertical attacks and creative sets to exploit the unit.
¡Increíble! ¡Touchdown de 75 yardas de Cousins a Diggs!— NFL México (@nflmx) September 16, 2018
Los @Vikings se ponen a dos puntos de los @packers 21-23 #MINvsGB #NFLMX pic.twitter.com/9Xjv6XKqKy
Who wants to see #Vikings Stefon Diggs do this to the Packers a couple times this season!? pic.twitter.com/JYnIrMBXge— Dominique Clare (@DomClare) July 26, 2017
Stefon Diggs touchdown to cut he #Packers lead to 20-14.pic.twitter.com/2piABWquyo— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 16, 2018
Diggs and Thielen also represent a variation of styles for Green Bay to contend with. Whereas Diggs has challenged the Packers with his route-running and deception to gain separation in all areas of the field, Thielen’s ability to work sidelines and make contested catches has made him a great complement in the receiving game. Although neither receiver has elite speed, they have tortured Green Bay with their craft.
However, Green Bay hopes to combat Diggs and Thielen this season with a more experienced secondary and an improved pass rush. The Packers’ front seven was active in week one with five team sacks and 10 quarterback pressures from Za’Darius Smith alone. Their back half was just as active, with Adrian Amos making a game-clinching interception, Darnell Savage flying around the field, and Jaire Alexander providing a lockdown effort on one side of the field.
Alexander may, in fact, hold the biggest key to the afternoon on Sunday. The second-year corner made a splash play in run support last season when he blew up Thielen to tackle Diggs in the backfield. But Alexander played well against the Vikings overall in 2018, notching a sack, critical fourth-quarter pass breakup, and a near game-ending interception (wiped out by Clay Matthews penalty) in week two before adding another seven tackles and playing well in coverage during the week 12 edition. If last year’s week two matchup was any indication, Alexander will be assigned to Thielen this week. (He did appear on Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant with a knee injury, however, so his status will be worth monitoring up until game time.)
If that is the case, Green Bay will be looking at Kevin King and Tony Brown to step up in coverage against Diggs after splitting time last week at boundary corner. King was limited in the week two meeting against Minnesota last season after leaving at halftime with a groin injury and did not suit up in week 12. His return should give Green Bay a capable opponent for Diggs, who has found a way to beat Green Bay over the top in the past. The Packers will hope that the speed of King and Brown provide a good match for the Minnesota wideout. While Brown was impacted by a couple of precise passes from Trubisky to Allen Robinson last week, both Alexander and King graded out well in week one according to Pro Football Focus.
Minnesota’s offense was hyped for its running game in a first-week victory over Atlanta, with Thielen and Diggs being targeted just five total times. With the Vikings’ previous success throwing on Green Bay’s defense, the pair of receivers should be expected to receive many more targets this week. But will the Packers be able to overcome the terror that has been Thielen and Diggs over the past three seasons?