To kick off the 2022 season, the Green Bay Packers will open up with a road game against the Minnesota Vikings. This is the second time in three years that these two teams will start the season at U.S. Bank Stadium, as the Packers won 43-34 in week one of the 2020 season.
This year, however, the Vikings have a very different feel after an overhaul of the front office and coaching staff. Out are former GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, replaced by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell, respectively. This takes the Vikings from a defensive-minded head coach to an offensive-minded one, and there could be some more similarities between them and the Packers from a scheme perspective than in recent years, thanks to some of the backgrounds and experience of prominent members of Minnesota’s staff.
For this week’s game, the Packers are a narrow favorite, with the line currently sitting at 1.5 points on DraftKings. That’s pretty close to a toss-up, of course, but it’s still notable that the Packers are road favorites in an opening-week contest against the team that is expected to be their strongest competition in the division.
To preview what to expect from Minnesota, we turned to our colleagues at The Daily Norseman, our sister SB Nation site covering the Vikings. Managing editor Christopher Gates provided us with answers to a host of questions about how the team in purple might look under O’Connell and company.
APC: What kind of offense should we expect to see from a Kevin O’Connell-led Vikings team? Is this simply another example of the Sean McVay coaching tree, or is there more to it than that?
DN: I think you’re going to see a significantly different offense from the Vikings this season, if for no other reason than the personnel that you’ll likely see. Last year, the Rams used “11” personnel more than any other team in the league, while the Vikings were towards the bottom of the league in that category. Utilizing more three-wide looks as opposed to the standard two tight end, heavier personnel that we saw in the Mike Zimmer era should give the Vikings’ offense a lot more flexibility than we’ve seen in previous years. I’m sure that it’s fairly similar to the Sean McVay offense, but I really think that the Vikings have the personnel to pull it off, particularly if K.J. Osborn can continue to establish himself as a legitimate third option. But it appears that the Vikings are done with the “three yards and a cloud of field turf” offense, even though Dalvin Cook will still get plenty of work.
APC: The Vikings sure loved bringing former Packers aboard the defense this offseason, both on the coaching staff and the roster. What changes can we expect to see from Mike Zimmer’s unit to the Ed Donatell/Mike Pettine scheme?
The big change, obviously, is that the “base” defense. . .for whatever that’s worth in today’s NFL. . .is a 3-4 rather than a 4-3. That means that you’re going to see a guy like Danielle Hunter, who has played with his hand in the dirt at DE since he was drafted in 2015, now moving to more of a stand-up outside linebacker role and players up front like Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips that are tasked more with occupying blockers than getting after the quarterback. Packer fans are familiar with Donatell from his time in Green Bay, and I think you can probably expect a lot of the things that he did in Green Bay to transfer to his new defense in Minnesota. I don’t think a lot has changed with Donatell over the course of his NFL career, to be honest. I think the defense is ultimately going to wind up being pretty solid, though there will obviously be some growing pains.
APC: Packers fans should be pretty familiar with most of the key players on this Vikings roster, but the defensive line might be an exception. How will new arrivals like Jonathan Bullard, Harrison Phillips, and Ross Blacklock fit in and what do you expect from them in 2022?
With the way the Vikings have gotten killed by the run over the past couple of years, that was clearly a focus for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah this offseason. You mentioned Harrison Phillips, who has been one of the best run stoppers in the NFL over the past few seasons, and they’re going to pair him with Dalvin Tomlinson up front in the hopes of keeping opposing run games bottled up. The Bullard/Blacklock combo platter on the other end of the line is a bit of a question mark as things stand right now. Bullard has been in the league for a while and has never really been that spectacular, while Blacklock is getting an opportunity to shine after not quite getting off the ground in Houston after being a second-round pick. I think that the Vikings are going to primarily task their defensive linemen with keeping blockers off of Jordan Hicks and Eric Kendricks to allow them to get after opposing running backs.
APC: After 1400 yards in year one and 1600 last season, what are the expectations around Justin Jefferson this season, and do you have a feeling for how he will be used in O’Connell’s offense?
There’s been a lot of talk about Jefferson finding himself in the “Cooper Kupp role” in this new Vikings’ offense. I mentioned K.J. Osborn earlier, and if he can continue to provide a legitimate third option on the outside, it will allow Jefferson to do more of his work out of the slot where he’s just about uncoverable. The expectations for Jefferson this season are incredibly high, and given the way that he’s performed over his first two seasons I don’t think they’re unrealistic. I don’t know if he’s going to get to 2,000 yards receiving, as he’s stated is one of his goals, or if he’s going to win the receiving Triple Crown like Kupp did last year, but Jefferson’s ability both as a receiver and as a blocker are going to be a big part of the Vikings’ new offense. He’s going to get every opportunity to put himself on top of the NFL’s wide receiving mountain in 2022.
APC: Which new player will turn out to be the single biggest most important acquisition that the Vikings made this last offseason (not including Za’Darius Smith, if he would have otherwise been your selection)?
I really think it’s going to be Harrison Phillips. Any time you sign a player and the reaction from his former team’s fan base is a universal, “Damn, that sucks,” you’ve probably gotten yourself a pretty good player. Phillips has been very good against the run over the past couple of seasons, and if you’re going to shift to a 3-4 defense you need that solid presence at the nose tackle spot. That’s where the Vikings are going to have Phillips playing this year, and he’s going to set the tempo on the interior for the Vikings’ new defense. He saw limited action in the preseason, but even in those few snaps he appeared to be everything that he’s been advertised as thus far. He’s had some injury concerns over the years, including a torn ACL that cut his second season short, but he appears to be all the way back from that and ready to be a leader for Ed Donatell’s crew.
Thanks to Chris for his insight and we look forward to a hopefully injury-free game on Sunday afternoon!