The Green Bay Packers were carried to victory on the shoulders of their defense Week 1 against the Chicago Bears, but the defensive story was less cut-and-dry during Sunday afternoon’s 21-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.
The defense kept the Vikings off the scoreboard early while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense scored touchdowns on each of their first three drives to run ahead 21-0, but they also allowed Dalvin Cook to break loose for a 75-yard touchdown run on just the second play of Minnesota’s third drive.
Meanwhile, injuries cropped up again for the Packers after they escaped Week 1 unscathed, seeing two playmaking defenders going down with injuries with one of them being ruled out for the remainder of the game.
At the end of the day, a win is a win and Packers fans should be happy to see the franchise begin Matt LaFleur’s tenure with back-to-back victories over NFC North rivals, but the defense’s performance is still worth evaluating — for good reasons and bad.
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The Good vs. Vikings: Takeaways
After Adrian Amos’ picked off Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone last week, the Packers came up with another interception in the end zone against the Vikings on a questionable corner throw that landed in the hands of Kevin King.
Preston Smith also picked off Kirk Cousins on Sunday after Darnell Savage Jr. deflected one of his second-quarter passes into his hands. The rookie Savage finished with six tackles as well to tie Za’Darius Smith for second-most on the day, with linebacker Blake Martinez leading the way with 10 solo tackles and 13 overall.
The turnovers didn’t stop there, either.
The Vikings fumbled the ball five times on the afternoon with the Packers recovering the ball twice; although, one recovery came on a Vikings reverse-lateral play out of desperation that saw Tramon Williams flop onto the ball with no time on the clock.
Preston Smith fell on the other one when several Packers pass rushers swarmed Cousins on the Vikings second drive, a momentum-gaining move that allowed the Packers to achieve their early lead on offense.
The Bad vs. Vikings: Stopping Dalvin Cook
Really, there was no stopping Cook on Sunday.
Excluding his 75-yard touchdown run, Cook still gained about 4.2 yards per carry on his other 19 rushes and finished with a whopping 154 rushing yards. Alexander Mattison (6.3) and Kirk Cousins (8.5) also averaged respectable distances on their limited carries to push the Minnesota defense to an effective 7.3 yards per carry on the afternoon — just two yards shy of the 200-yard mark.
Cook was an identified problem for the Packers coming into the week, and they endured his effectiveness with the victory, but it does leave concerns about the defense’s ability to stop more of the league’s top rushers throughout the season. The Packers will see Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey later on in 2019 — and maybe even Melvin Gordon if he gets a contract with the Chargers or another team on the schedule.
Remember also that Cook will get another crack at the Packers on his home turf in the penultimate game of the season, a time when Green Bay could be fighting to win the division and reach the playoffs after a two-year absence.
The Ugly vs. Vikings: Losing Inside Depth
The Packers managed to stabilize the middle of their defense and overcome a difficult preseason plagued with injuries. Inside linebacker Oren Burks losing significant time to a pec injury was made worse when rookie fill-in Curtis Bolton tore his ACL, ultimately resulting in him getting cut from the initial 53-man roster.
A trade for former New York Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson, though, added an experienced piece to the puzzle that made concerns forgettable in a Week 1 performance where the Packers allowed just three total points.
But Raven Greene leaving Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and not returning puts the inside core in question once again without someone who made a big impact against the Bears. Even with the severity of his injury is not yet clear, the Packers might need to go find help before they host the Denver Broncos in Week 3.
Some have speculated the Packers could be interested in Miami Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who a former first-rounder who the team granted permission to seek a trade late last week, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen. Mortensen also reported teams initially interested in Fitzpatrick have been resistant to the Dolphins’ demands, which include a first-round pick.