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Public enemies revisited: Packers’ defense gave Diggs & Thielen fits

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The Green Bay defense, especially Jaire Alexander, did its part to hold Minnesota’s stars mostly in check.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

While there are certainly still things to work on for the Green Bay Packers in all phases after a 2-0 start, the defense remains one of the team’s strong points after two weeks. Holding the Vikings’ offense to just 16 points despite being placed in tough situations in the second half, the Packers’ defense finished the day with four takeaways. Outside of a handful of big plays that helped pad the stat line, the Vikings struggled to move the ball for the majority of the game.

Aiding the cause was the Packers’ ability to contain Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, two players this author referred to as public enemies one and two heading into Sunday’s game. Diggs entered the game with a touchdown reception in five consecutive games against Green Bay, while Thielen had put together a strong stretch of 100-yard performances in the teams’ past several meetings.

This time around, Green Bay’s defense was stingy and slowed down the two stars, particularly in the first half.

Diggs finished with zero catches on four targets in the first two quarters of play. The former Maryland Terrapin dropped a key 3rd-and-2 pass in the second quarter before having a ball tipped away from him in the end zone at the last moment later on as Kirk Cousins tried to find him down the seam. Jaire Alexander contested that ball and did his part to keep Diggs at bay for most of the game. Darnell Savage also helped the cause, jumping a Cousins pass to Diggs and deflecting it into the waiting arms of Preston Smith for a critical turnover earlier in the game.

When Diggs did touch the ball in the first half, he was a a victim of pass interference penalties. Diggs caught a red zone touchdown that was later nullified by a PI call on Dalvin Cook after an official review inside of two minutes to play in the first half. He was then flagged himself for a push-off on a 15-yard reception that would have put the Vikings in position for points with under a minute to go in the half.

It was not until the third quarter when Diggs would break free, catching a 45-yard touchdown pass that sailed through the hands of Alexander. If not for Alexander’s short-armed attempt at an interception — which he said after the game was caused by losing the ball in the sun — the ball could have easily been deflected away in double coverage. Diggs’ frustration was visibly released after catching the ball, picking up an unsportsmanlike conduct flag for taking off his helmet and taunting the Lambeau Field crowd. The penalty would cost the Vikings an extra point after their backed-up kick from Dan Bailey was blocked.

While Diggs nearly hauled in another 40-plus yard throw in the fourth quarter that was just overthrown, he was well-covered in a red zone attempt that Kevin King was able to pluck away for an interception to effectively ice the game late in the fourth. Diggs did continue his touchdown streak against the Packers, but Green Bay deserves a lot of credit for holding the Pro Bowler to just one catch on seven targets, his lowest yardage output against the team since 2016.

Likewise, the Packers kept Thielen in check throughout the game. At halftime, Thielen had just one catch for 20 yards on two targets. While he finished with five catches for 75 yards, it took an additional six targets to get there and one was a bobbled 30-yard catch in which Thielen did not look comfortable with Alexander in tight coverage. Thielen, like Diggs, also was charged with an offensive pass interference penalty in the third quarter during a jump ball situation with Savage in the end zone.

On Sunday, the Packers’ defense bottled up Diggs and Thielen for the majority of the game, keeping the pair of receivers, as well as Cousins, out of sync. While a few missed opportunities from Alexander provided Diggs and Thielen with their best plays of the day, the corner’s aggressiveness was felt by the Minnesota offense. Green Bay will surely need to shore up its run defense this week, but its performance against the pass helped solidify the feeling that the Packers’ secondary is playoff-caliber for the first time a long while.