The Green Bay Packers dropped a wild one in the closing seconds on Sunday in Minnesota by a final score of 34-31. The defense, which was playing well in previous weeks, played perhaps their worst game of the season when they could not capitalize on potential interceptions and could not stop Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson. The Packers are still firmly in first place in the NFC North, but the race tightened up with this result.
The defense surrendered eight receptions, 169 receiving yards, and two touchdowns to Jefferson. Kirk Cousins passed for 341 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Per Pro Football Focus, however, Cousins had multiple dropped interceptions skew this stat, registering three “turnover-worthy plays.”
The Packers were without Rashan Gary in this game as well but it’s unclear how much impact he would have had in the pass rush. The defense was able to pressure Cousins on 17 dropbacks which included two sacks. Preston Smith had another great game, recording six of those pressures and both of the sacks, one of which resulted in a fumble (that Minnesota recovered).
In the end though, Jefferson proved too much to handle and the Vikings seemed content to use Jefferson to pick on backup safety Henry Black and other members of the secondary multiple times.
Defensive miscues lead to big day for Justin Jefferson
First play, 1Q 13:17, 3rd-and-6 at MIN 29
Here the Packers lined up in a quarters coverage to match the Vikings 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) on 3rd-and-6. The play call is deep mesh crossers designed to put the safeties in conflict with an underneath shallow crosser. Cousin’s initial read is the tight end on the delayed route where he chips the end and crosses the formation.
On the back end though, Henry Black (No. 41), as the quarters safety, for some reason gets his eyes on the shallow crosser once he realizes Jefferson is running a deep crosser. Either he got confused by the route distribution or he thought the field safety would pick up the crosser. In either case, since he played top down over the shallow crosser initially, his movement would have left K.J. Osborn wide open as well had safety Darnell Savage picked up Jefferson.
Jefferson gets open and Cousins finds him downfield with nothing but open grass, gaining 43 yards on the pass play.
Second play, 1Q 2:40, 2nd-and-7 at MIN 43
While Black isn’t in on this play, Jefferson still caught a deep pass for 56 yards, setting up the Vikings offense at the 1-yard line. The play call is a Gary Kubiak staple shot play: pylon corner.
The Vikings are in 21 personnel here against the Packers, who are playing cover-3. Jefferson’s inside vertical stem looks initially like a deep crosser as he angles at safety Adrian Amos who’s playing the opposite hash. Amos backpedals straight back instead on widening to the field side of the formation as Jefferson cuts sharply to the front corner of the end zone (“pylon” corner) and catches a deep pass in stride for 56 yards.
Third play, 3Q 8:31, 3rd-and-9 at GB 9
On Jefferson’s first touchdown catch of the day, the Vikings got a little creative in their formation by lining up the running back out in the slot and Jefferson in the backfield in what is usually the halfback alignment in shotgun, revealing zone coverage since the corner did not travel with Jefferson into the back field.
The Packers are in quarters coverage at the goal line and get Jefferson matched up on safety Henry Black. Jefferson is running a choice out of the backfield and gets Black to widen with him before he cuts inside on the choice. Cousins throws a strike and Jefferson crosses the goal line untouched. Black simply gave up too much ground and allowed the receiver to dictate the route choice.
Fourth play, 4Q 2:24, 3rd-and-3 GB 23
In the final minutes of the game, the Packers led 24-23 with crucial 3rd down stop needed and force a fourth down. On third down, defensive coordinator Joe Barry sent a 6-man pressure while dropping Jonathan Garvin from the defensive front into coverage while overloading the Vikings right side with the blitz, including safety Darnell Savage.
The Vikings are running a mesh concept with Jefferson running a quick out and up. Jefferson is the alert route here, meaning that the quarterback can abandon the route progression and throw deep if he has a favorable matchup.
There is not deep safety to provide help over the top so Cousins takes the deep shot as the blitzing defenders get there, not allowing him to step into the throw. He gets the throw out quickly and Jefferson makes a nice adjustment on the pass, beating rookie Eric Stokes for the touchdown.
Preston Smith is generating a ton of pressure
Preston Smith continues to play at a high level for the defense and on Sunday he recorded six pressures including two sacks.
On his two sacks, he displayed nice pass rush moves to beat his blockers and sack the quarterback. The first sack is more of a high effort sack where he doesn’t quit and is able to get the sack because the coverage on the back end was great. He was still able to shed the blocker, peel off, and get into the backfield to shove Cousins to the turf.
On his second sack, he showed nice speed and and bend around the edge as he swiped away the blocker’s punch. He doesn’t break stride as he gets into the backfield to record a strip sack as Cousins fumbled the ball.
Much like last week, Smith was able to wreak havoc in the backfield. He certainly gave his defense multiple chances to affect the outcome but they couldn’t get the job done around him.
The is just a minor road bump in a long season. Division games are notoriously tough and this game was no exception. The defense has some issues from this game to clean up but it was not reasonable to expect they’d keep up the high level of play they had for the last several weeks. It’s also in no way indicative of a regression or backslide. Ultimately, Joe Barry must make the adjustments and corrections going down the stretch, where there still some decently tough opponents remaining.