For the first time since 2015, the Green Bay Packers are 2-0 to begin the regular season with a couple of standout victories over NFC North rivals.
Despite some late-game struggles to contain Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, the Packers’ defense remained stout in early-season action, forcing four turnovers on Sunday, including a pivotal fourth quarter interception by Kevin King. But another key player also made some heady plays during the game to pace the Green Bay defense and the effort of that particular free agent acquisition cannot be lost in post-game observations.
Meanwhile, the Packers also helped get an offensive player more involved in the game plan for week two and succeeded in not beating themselves with penalties. Here is a further look at those notes from a critical week two matchup.
A pair of Smiths made game-changing plays for both defenses
Preston Smith burst onto the scene in a green and gold uniform in week one with 1.5 sacks against Chicago. On back-to-back plays in the second quarter, his impact was felt once again.
First, Smith was not fooled on a Kirk Cousins playaction bootleg, setting the edge on Cousins and forcing the quarterback to throw the ball away. While it was not a turnover, it was a play that the Packers’ edge rushers would not have made last season when they were over-committing and biting on the deception. Often, those rollouts led to first downs and often 20-plus yard throws. But Smith was not fooled and kept the play to a mere incompletion. The impact of that specific play was lost a little with what happened on the very next one, an interception for Smith after an instinctive deflection from Darnell Savage. The turnover could have, and should have, led to Packers points with a drive starting in Minnesota territory.
Yet another eye-catching play from Smith came on a hustle effort in the third quarter on a third down, well-designed screen pass to Dalvin Cook. Smith forced Cook out of bounds one yard short of the first down to force a punt and get the defense off the field. It was those type of small plays that might have gotten lost in the shuffle, but helped Green Bay all afternoon despite the absence of splash sacks.
Not to be outdone by Preston, safety Harrison Smith almost single-handedly kept the Vikings in contention in the minutes leading up to halftime. Green Bay could have put the game away early with points on one more drive in the second quarter. But Smith was all over the field on two consecutive plays midway through the period, breaking up a well-placed deep pass to Davante Adams on first down before making a sure tackle on Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the backfield, who was reversing field after a receiver screen on second down. Later in the half as the Packers were driving after Preston Smith’s interception, Harrison made a critical 3rd-and-1 tackle on Geronimo Allison to force fourth down and an eventual Green Bay turnover on downs (which came after an unusual mental mistake by Aaron Rodgers).
Green Bay may have won the ball game, but Minnesota was in the contest much longer than it should have been because of Harrison Smith.
Aaron Jones was much more involved in the running game
Packer fans were clamoring for more Jones during Mike McCarthy’s final season in Green Bay to no avail, but on Sunday they got what they were asking for.
Jones’ career high for carries in a single game was 19 heading into the divisional matchup with Minnesota, but the third-year back set a new personal best with 23 carries Sunday. After rushing just 13 times for 39 yards in week one against Chicago, Jones finished with 116 yards against the Vikings to go along with his first rushing touchdown of the season. Head Coach Matt LaFleur vowed to utilize the running game more in week two after abandoning the attack versus a stout Bears defense. Jones’ sharp cuts helped make LaFleur’s decision easier, averaging over five yards per carry on the day. Meanwhile, Jones added 34 yards on four catches to eclipse the 150-yard mark from scrimmage. Jones and Jamaal Williams should continue to be utilized in the passing game as the season progresses.
Penalties plagued Minnesota throughout the contest
Green Bay was not immune to the yellow flag against the Vikings in committing six penalties. But the Packers kept the consequences to a minimum with just 35 yards. Minnesota was not as lucky. The Vikings were flagged eight times for a whopping 100 yards on Sunday, with several of the errors representing influential plays in the ball game.
Perhaps none was bigger than a pass interference penalty on Dalvin Cook, which wiped out a Stefon Diggs touchdown. Cook appeared to set a pick to clear the middle-right side of the end zone for Diggs and he was, in fact, flagged after the officials went to review. The Vikings had to settle for a field goal on the drive instead of a touchdown before halftime, cutting the Packers’ lead to 21-10 instead of 21-14.
Just a short time later, after the Packers’ final drive before the half stalled, the Vikings were given decent starting field position for a chance to drive into field goal range. A 15-yard pass to Diggs was called back after the wideout was hit with a pass interference penalty. Minnesota then decided to run the clock out and head to the locker room with the Packers still up 11 points.
Even when the Vikings were able to get a touchdown in the third quarter, they were met with consequences. A Diggs’ 45-yard scoring reception was flagged after the Vikings’ receiver took his helmet off in the end zone. The 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was assessed on the extra point attempt and the longer attempt was blocked by Tony Brown to take another point off the board for Minnesota.
On top of those penalties, center Garrett Bradbury was charged with two holding penalties, Adam Thielen with offensive pass interference, and Xavier Rhodes with a 25-yard defensive pass interference. The Vikings were a bit undisciplined against Green Bay and it cost them dearly.