It was a tough loss for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, but things could have looked a lot different if they were able to capitalize on the takeaway opportunities that the Minnesota Vikings gave them.
Green Bay’s secondary looked vulnerable for the first time in a while this past week. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 24 of 35 passes for 341 yards, three touchdowns, and a 128.4 passer rating. We will get into some of the mistakes that Cousins got away with, but it was Justin Jefferson who truly stood out for Minnesota and helped the Vikings' passing game in a big way.
Jefferson finished the day with eight receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. That performance helped Jefferson tie a franchise record with 11 games of at least 100 receiving yards in their first two seasons.
The other player with 11 such games? Randy Moss.
Still, the Packers had real opportunities to stifle Minnesota’s explosive offense performance, so let’s take a look at some of their missed opportunities.
The first takeaway chance instead resulted in a costly pass interference penalty. Kenny Clark did a great job of driving his blocker into Cousins’ lap, making it hard for the Vikings quarterback to throw off a clean platform.
This was Green Bay's first real takeaway opportunity.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 23, 2021
Pressure on Kirk's face, and Savage has a real chance to jump the pass but can't track the ball. pic.twitter.com/WllhyD8rv8
Darnell Savage did a good job breaking towards Jefferson, but turned his head too late and was unable to track the ball. Instead of being able to make a play on it, he bumped into Jefferson instead, resulting in a 37-yard penalty.
The next opportunity to force a turnover stung quite a bit. The Vikings were facing third down in the red zone, with Green Bay’s defense having an opportunity to stop them from a field goal or get a crucial turnover.
Savage was able to get an interception thanks to what initially looked like a great pass rush from Kinglsey Keke. However, Keke made a couple of mistakes on the sack attempt, aiming at Kirk’s helmet and then driving the QB into the ground with his entire body weight.
Second missed takeaway, just a tough mental error from Keke.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 23, 2021
Not only did he aim high, but he also drove Cousins right into the ground on the follow-through. pic.twitter.com/9H7XOAJmVu
It was a gut-punch for Keke and the rest of the defense, but something that can be corrected going forward. It’s also worth noting here that the Packers' defense actually did a good job of getting pressure on Cousins throughout Sunday’s game despite not having Rashan Gary on the field.
Cousins was pressured on 45.9 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Defensive coordinator Joe Barry had a solid game plan to get Cousins to throw under duress. This involved a lot more blitzing than usual, sending extra rushers 14 times this week compared to just twice the previous week against Seattle.
Cousins’ third potential interception came without throwing under pressure. Rookie cornerback Eric Stokes had a terrific rep playing man coverage on the sideline, but couldn’t finish the play.
Third takeaway chance.— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 23, 2021
Stokes ends up running this route for his receiver. Is in a perfect position to get the INT.
Ball goes right through his hands instead. pic.twitter.com/tPxcfYmobS
Stokes did a great job sticking to his man, then flipping his hips and finishing the route for the wide receiver. It seemed like he also had a hard time tracking the ball, however, getting his hands up late and missing the ball.
The next turnover opportunity was just a great defensive play by Vikings receiver Adam Thielen. Cousins was forced to throw under pressure thanks to a good bull rush from Jonathan Garvin, and Savage read the ball the whole way.
Unfortunately, Savage couldn’t haul it in as Thielen attacked the ball at the catch point to force an incompletion.
Takeaway opportunity #4— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 23, 2021
Savage tracks the deep shot the entire way, gets his hands on it, but can't reel it in.
Nice defense from Adam Thielen. pic.twitter.com/iapTKi8uzm
Thielen deserves some credit on this one. Wide receivers are often coached to play like a defensive back on bad throws, but we still see players with minimal effort in situations like that.
Probably the most impactful missed turnover came on the final drive of the game. After Aaron Rodgers connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 75-yard bomb to tie things up, the defense has a chance to step up and give the offense the ball back with a chance to win.
That almost happened on the first play from scrimmage. Savage jumped in front of a pass intended for Justin Jefferson, and nearly finished the process of the catch while falling to the ground. On film, it was still a great play up until the catch, with Savage showing nice closing speed to get in front of the ball.
Takeaway opportunity #5— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 23, 2021
So close to a game-winning play from Savage. Jumps the route, just doesn't finish the catch. pic.twitter.com/ryscgJcmZw
It was such a tough day for Savage, who was consistently in the right place but couldn’t finish the play. He had one interception called off for a roughing the passer and three other opportunities for a pick that he was unable to finish.
Rasul Douglas was the victim of the final turnover opportunity. After the interception was overturned, Cousins threw another risky ball to Thielen. Douglas was in a great position to make a play on the ball but wasn’t able to find it once he turned his head.
Instead, it was a huge play from Thielen that ended up putting the Vikings in field-goal range to ultimate pull out the win.
(Final) takeaway opportunity #6— Tyler Brooke (@TylerDBrooke) November 23, 2021
Rasul Douglas in position to break up a pass to Thielen. Doesn't find the ball when he turns his head.
It turns into a big gain instead. pic.twitter.com/6GcQAUqtER
The entire secondary struggled to make game-changing plays, and that might have decided it in a three-point loss.
They’re far from the only unit to blame, however. The offense was extremely slow out of the gate, and the field goal unit missed yet another chip shot that ended up being a costly missed three points.
Still, the secondary finally got exposed, and with Jaire Alexander’s return date still uncertain, Green Bay’s cornerbacks and safeties will need to step up this coming week in a tough matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.