Who is the greatest rival of the Green Bay Packers?
The legendary rivalry with the Chicago Bears is by far the most documented in NFL lore. Postseason outcomes may indicate that honor goes to Seattle or San Francisco. But if you asked this writer, it is the Minnesota Vikings that are the Packers’ chief rival. There is some bitterness between the two teams, with moments such as the Randy Moss faux moon at Lambeau Field, the antics of Chris Hovan, the hit by Anthony Barr on Aaron Rodgers, and the genuine competition for division titles as of late.
This week, the rivalry is renewed. Yet, the attention might be more on the Packers’ eventual postseason seeding than on the matchup itself with the Vikings trailing well behind in the standings. Today’s musings discuss a few reasons why this weekend’s game might just be a trap game for Green Bay.
This is a great audition for Patrick Taylor
Since Taylor joined the Packers a year and a half ago as an undrafted free agent, the team has seen something worth keeping around despite several injuries. In fact, injuries have been a plague of sorts for Taylor, whose senior season at Memphis was cut short by an ankle injury as well. Memphis has produced several NFL running backs in recent seasons, including Darrell Henderson and Antonio Gibson. Taylor is another back to get a carry in the league, but those injuries have prevented him from ever having a true opportunity to make a name for himself.
With the injuries to Kylin Hill and Aaron Jones, Taylor toted the ball for his first carries last week and will have that unique chance for a breakthrough over the next two-plus games. Taylor had just two carries for seven yards in the second half against Seattle, but figures to be the backup to AJ Dillon and spell him on several series versus Minnesota. With good size, Taylor offers a blend of power and speed that was seen in spurts at Memphis and during this past preseason. He should also have an opportunity at some point on third down, where his pass protection and receiving skills are adequate. This season, Dillon was earning between eight and 15 touches per game as the second-team running back and a similar number of touches could be in store for Taylor.
There is no mistaking that Jones and Dillon are the Packers’ bell-cow backs when they are fully healthy. But Sunday is a film audition for Taylor in trying to earn a role in Green Bay moving forward or even for another team, especially if he can prove valuable as a pass blocker. For a beaten-up Packers team, hopefully their patience in Taylor will be rewarded.
Minnesota’s secondary will be closer to full strength, just in time for Green Bay
The Packers’ offense looked a bit rusty last weekend as Aaron Rodgers returned to the field with limited practice reps leading up to Sunday. Timing was a bit off in the passing game, and several passes were either dropped or thrown slightly behind receivers. With yet another abnormal week of preparations (Rodgers has been a limited practice participant), will Green Bay’s offense look any more in sync?
Meanwhile, the Vikings’ secondary should be in much better shape. A middle-of-the-road passing defense this season, Minnesota has given up the seventh-most passing yards per game in the NFL over the last three games (255). A significant factor has been injuries, as Harrison Smith was placed on the Covid-19 list and missed the past two games and Patrick Peterson was placed on injured reserve in Week 6. With both players being activated and practicing this week, it is likely that the Packers will face two high-caliber defensive starters, even if Cam Bynum filled in admirably at safety for Smith. While Bashaud Breeland and Anthony Barr were limited participants at practice earlier this week, the two veterans could also suit up on Sunday and put Minnesota near full-strength.
Green Bay passed for 364 yards in Week 1 and 291 yards in Week 8 last year against Minnesota, but the latter game included a rather inconsistent offensive performance. Mike Zimmer’s defenses have typically been tough for Rodgers and the Packers, and the Vikings’ newfound health could pose an extra challenge.
Is this a trap game for the Packers?
On top of Rodgers’ health and some concerns on offense with Jones out, the timing of this Packers-Vikings game could prove to be somewhat of a trap.
Green Bay is getting some buzz as potentially the best team in the NFC after surging to an 8-2 record with last week’s win. The marquee scheduling matchup also comes in two weeks when the Los Angeles Rams come to town in a possible battle for the number one seed. Will the Packers begin looking ahead to that game and overlook a hungry divisional rival that is several games behind in the standings? On the road in Minnesota can be a daunting task in itself. A loud venue for opposing teams, the Packers had the luxury of playing Minnesota in front of zero fans in last season’s road opener. The crowd noise dynamic will be different this time around for the Packers.
After three weeks of impressive defensive performances, the law of averages suggests the Packers are overdue for a difficult game. The Vikings have some receiving threats in Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, while Dalvin Cook has had his share of success against Green Bay in the past. With a looming date with the Rams and a tired team, as Matt LaFleur even admitted last Sunday, the Packers might have a tougher test than they imagine when they play a Vikings team that has played multiple close games.