U.S Bank Stadium usually splits eardrums. One of Week 1’s inescapable storylines, no matter what happened on the field between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, would be how different the game felt with the low din of prerecorded fans and empty seats due to the coronavirus pandemic. But it was remarkable for how unremarkable the difference was. Aaron Rodgers still ducked in under center, barked out signals before the ball was snapped, and a mess of purple-clad behemoths tried to chase him down. It was a Packers-Vikings game, and much like last season, Green Bay got off to a good start, Minnesota couldn’t cover Davante Adams, and Mike Pettine put together a great plan for Kirk Cousins in a wild 43-34 win.
Rodgers getting the Vikings to jump offside on the first third down of the game thanks to the hard count doesn’t happen under normal circumstances, but Minnesota had its own problems stopping Green Bay outside the red zone. Matt LaFleur came out with a diverse array of formations, personnel groupings, pre-snap motions and unscouted looks. Rodgers and Co. marched up and down the field at will in the first half, racking up 271 yards and their most first-half points since 2016, a game that also happened to be against the Vikings.
If not for a fourth down goal line stop and a pair of field goals, the 22-10 halftime lead could have been even bigger. Beautiful touchdown throws first to Davante Adams and then to Marquez Valdes-Scantling evened the scoreboard with how the team had played, making up for the paltry 6 points the Packers managed on three masterful drives, only to bog down near the goal line. A Jaire Alexander sack earned the other two points on a safety coming off the failed fourth-and-goal attempt.
LaFleur insisted during the offseason he wanted more explosive plays, taking the onus on his play-calling and design to find more ways to manufacture chunks of yardage. He started the game somewhat conservatively with runs and built-in pass plays to go along with short shovels and end arounds. His patience paid off, but so does having a quarterback like Rodgers whose confidence and pinpoint accuracy found openings in an inexperienced Vikings secondary. Adams, Valdes-Scantling, and Allen Lazard all found holes in the Minnesota defense for big plays.
Davante Adams put up 103 yards and a score on 9 catches in the first half alone, finishing the career-high 14 catches for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. And Rodgers, without much help from play design, found ways to create explosives with the Adams touchdown coming on a dime outside structure, and the MVS bomb a 45-yard beauty at the end of the first half. If the Valdes-Scantling training camp hype shows up this acutely all season, Green Bay’s offense could be dynamic against just about anyone. If not for two drops, this would have been an even bigger blowout and the MVS hype train would be full steam ahead.
Even without Danielle Hunter, the Packers’ right tackle situation loomed as a potential problem spot with new Viking Yannick Ngakoue set to take on whomever ended up getting the start. Elgton Jenkins answered the bell with the start, with Lucas Patrick sliding in at left guard. Patrick left the game in the first half, forcing Jenkins back to guard and putting free agent acquisition Rick Wagner in at tackle. It didn’t matter. Rodgers played in complete control against a Mike Zimmer defense, putting up 522 yards, the second-most ever allowed by a Zimmer defense and the most in this matchup’s history.
LaFleur used his full array of personnel, getting rookie Josiah Deguara lose on a slip one play and using Tyler Ervin on a shovel play for another. Green Bay cycled in new players on just about every snap, forcing the Vikings to either match or declare coverage. That let Rodgers read Mike Zimmer’s mail, identifying coverages and picking out favorable matchups, en route to 364 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a 127.5 passer rating.
Defensively, the Packers looked overmatched on the first drive of the game, letting Cousins create plays out of nothing and getting out-gapped in the run game. But timely splash plays from Alexander and Za’Darius Smith made up for a critical injury to Kenny Clark and despite giving up 134 yards on the ground, Cousins didn’t hit the century mark in passing yards until the fourth quarter.
A prevent fourth quarter made the game look closer than it was, but let’s be clear: this was a game the Packers dominated from the first snap. An even scarier thought: they can be better. Clean up the drops, play run defense the whole game the way they did move of the afternoon outside of two or three drives.
After an offseason answering questions about receiver talent, Rodgers’ future, defensive, and LaFleur’s approach, the Packers left U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday with only one question: How far can they go? They looked like a Super Bowl offense against one of the best defensive minds and rosters in the league. We didn’t expect a shootout coming in, but winning one shows championship mettle from Green Bay as well as a significant offensive improvement. Assuming Clark’s injury doesn’t linger, this looks like a team who can once again compete for the Lombardi Trophy, a kind of answer in and of itself. The 2019 campaign, a flukey 13-3, or so it seemed, no longer looks as such. This is a talented, dynamic team with a coach who knows how to put them in positions to win. Expect they’ll be doing a lot more of that in 2020.