On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers’ defense spent most of the afternoon trying —and failing — to keep Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook in check. Minnesota ran its offense through its ground game as Cook racked up 163 yards on 30 carries in the contest. Just one week after holding the Houston Texans to 79 yards on the ground, the Packers gave up a total of 173 to the Vikings, and they did so with a huge dose of base defense, which theoretically should be the ideal personnel grouping to use to slow down a ground game.
Indeed, the Packers averaged 2.54 defensive linemen on the field per play, a huge number for a Mike Pettine defense that loves to play light. Even slot corner Chandon Sullivan was on the field for just 1⁄4 of the team’s defensive snaps, his lowest rate of playing time (non-injury related) since he was left off the field entirely in week 10 last year.
But the stops didn’t materialize until the fourth quarter with the Packers down two scores. Minnesota broke off touchdowns on each of their first four series as Pettine and his group had no answers.
Here’s how the playing time broke down on Sunday afternoon.
OFFENSE (75 total snaps)
Aaron Rodgers 75
Honestly, the Packers’ offense was not that bad on the day. Rodgers completed just under two-thirds of his passes (65.9% to be exact) in going 27 for 41. A few of those incompletions were drops, hurting that average and his yards per attempt. Still, he posted a passer rating of 110.9 and he distributed the ball to ten different receivers.
However, the potential for bigger, more explosive plays was there and lacking a bit. Rodgers missed a wide-open Jace Sternberger for a chunk play in the second half — whether the issue was Rodgers’ accuracy or Sternberger having to cut his route a little shallower than desired due to traffic is unclear — and he had trouble leading Robert Tonyan on a deep ball that could have been a touchdown but instead forced Tonyan to make a diving catch.
Rodgers was sacked only once, on the game’s final play.
Jamaal Williams 64, Tyler Ervin 20, AJ Dillon 10
With Aaron Jones out once again, Williams was on the field for nearly 90 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and was a workhorse on the ground. His running was never explosive — he had no carries for more than ten yards — but he still managed a 4.7-yard average with 75 yards on 16 carries. Williams also caught six passes for 27 yards.
Dillon carried the football five times for 21 yards and added his first NFL reception, a 16-yarder, shortly after dropping a ball in the flat on a play that was erased by a penalty. Ervin returned to play the role of the jet-motion decoy; he was targeted three times, catching one pass, dropping another, and seeing the third fall incomplete at his feet due to a poor throw from Rodgers.
Davante Adams 71, Marquez Valdes-Scantling 62, Equanimeous St. Brown 22, Darrius Shepherd 19, Malik Taylor 13
Adams was targeted 12 times in this game while matched up in coverage against the Vikings’ young, inexperienced secondary. However, most of his work was of the short variety. His three touchdowns all came close to the end zone, where safety help is less helpful — indeed, Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris limited his explosive plays by bracketing him all game long.
MVS saw just a single target on his 62 snaps against the Vikings’ secondary; if Allen Lazard is back on Thursday, expect him to take a major share of the reps from MVS and relegate the speedster to a tertiary role. Taylor caught his only target for 26 yards on a nice post route, while Shepherd had one catch for six.
Then there’s St. Brown. He failed to corral passes on back-to-back plays, first a perfectly-thrown ball on third down that he had in his grasp before dropping it when he hit the ground, then an end-zone heave on fourth down that he had his hands on in the end zone. Both were tough catches, but ones that NFL receivers can and should make — particularly the third-down play. He did catch his third and final target, a 12-yard gain to move the chains on fourth down.
Robert Tonyan 46, Jace Sternberger 28, Marcedes Lewis 20
The Packers got some good production from Tonyan and Sternberger in the passing game, as the two went 5-for-79 and 3-for-46 respectively. As mentioned above, however, some errant throws robbed the duo of even bigger plays and better production.
Billy Turner 75, Elgton Jenkins 75, Corey Linsley 75, Lucas Patrick 75, Rick Wagner 75
All told, the Packers’ line held up mostly well. Rodgers was not heavily pressured for most of the day, while the team averaged 4.5 yards per carry on the ground.
DEFENSE (52 total snaps)
Kenny Clark 46, Dean Lowry 37, Tyler Lancaster 27, Kingsley Keke 16, Montravius Adams 6
The Packers’ defense allowed four touchdown drives in this game, three of which were steady, sustained series of 10, 12, and 10 plays. Minnesota’s ability to keep taking time off the clock — along with the Packers’ offense’s similar slow and steady pace — gave both teams just two effective series apiece in the first half.
The defensive line struggled to get much push in the run game, however. Clark’s four solo tackles led the unit, with Lancaster posting two solos and two assists. Lowry had the Packers’ only sack in the game, when he crashed unblocked on Cousins, who was preparing to bootleg off play-action.
Adams’ light snap count is particularly mystifying here, however. He has been one of the Packers’ best interior run defenders in recent weeks, and if the team knew that the Vikings would plan to focus on the run game, giving him just six snaps in this contest seems like malpractice.
Za’Darius Smith 47, Preston Smith 41, Rashan Gary 28
The Packers got six total tackles from Za’Darius in this game, including one for a loss in the run game. Preston Smith found himself in coverage on the boundary on at least a few instances in the contest, matched up with a tight end or running back on those occasions. He struggled when asked to cover Kyle Rudolph or Irv Smith, however. Gary did not show up on the stat sheet.
Krys Barnes 49, Kamal Martin 42, Oren Burks 9
After an encouraging debut last week, Martin’s day was much more mixed on Sunday. Playing the Will linebacker next to Barnes, Martin totaled three tackles, a few of them on impressive plays. His best rep was splitting through the blocks of two bunched receivers to blow up a would-be wide receiver screen to Thielen that fell incomplete.
However, both he and Barnes struggled with their run fits, sometimes overcommitting and allowing big cutback lanes on the back side. Inconsistency is to be expected from rookies, but hopefully the expected return of Christian Kirksey soon will be helpful to avoid some of these issues.
Adrian Amos 52, Darnell Savage 52, Henry Black 5, Vernon Scott 4, Will Redmond 4
Although most of the defense had a tough day, Amos actually had a few nice plays. He had a big tackle for loss in the run game and eight total stops. Savage struggled once again, however, both in coverage and tackling in space. The Packers used little of their other safeties due to their heavy use of base defense and Raven Greene’s absence.
Jaire Alexander 49, Josh Jackson 45, Chandon Sullivan 13
The Packers’ corners had a tough day at times, as both Alexander and Jackson were flagged for pass interference on consecutive third downs on the Vikings’ third touchdown drive. Both passes were arguably uncatchable and the contact on the Alexander call was particularly questionable; Jackson’s probably deserved to be a holding call if not a DPI. The two had five tackles each in the game as Alexander shadowed rookie Justin Jefferson all game, leaving Jackson mainly on Adam Thielen. Each of those two receivers had just three catches for fewer than 30 yards on four targets apiece, but it was just enough to keep the chains moving at key times.
SPECIAL TEAMS LEADERS
Burks 17, Ty Summers 17, Taylor 13, Black 11, James Burgess 11, Ka’Dar Hollman 11, John Lovett 11