A year ago, the Packers opened the season with a one, two punch of NFC North Division games, escaping with a comeback win over the Bears before the agonizing overtime tie with the Vikings. Even at 1-0-1, the team felt it was in a good early position to challenge for the Black and Blue crown. As we know, things unraveled badly from there.
Here we are again, an emotional opening night win in Chicago for the Packers and the Vikings come to Lambeau Field off a strong showing over Atlanta in week one and the victor Sunday will grab an early seat atop the division standings.
So how can the Packers steer clear of their sister and avoid having to look up at their purple rivals with a stumble in the home opener?
The creative defensive package put together by coordinator Mike Pettine last week worked handsomely, even going light at linebacker. It's a 3-3-5 alignment that is box heavy with an extra safety. Despite being smaller, the Packers roared to the ball and never let the Chicago ground game get a foothold. That forced Mitch Trubisky to make plays in the air and he simply could not.
Will that formula bring results a second consecutive week? It's a dicey proposition because the Vikings are much more formidable on the ground and they have more playmakers on the perimeter than the Bears. Dalvin Cook had a big start to the season, rushing for 111 yards and two scores against the Falcons. The Vikings got up 14 points early and simply leaned on Cook and rookie Alexander Mattison to grind it out on the ground and shorten the game. Kirk Cousins dropped back only 11 times, completing 8 of 10 passes and he got sacked once.
Look for more B.J. Goodson on the field to work inside with Blake Martinez on early downs to get a handle of the Viking rushing attack. Goodson surprisingly suited up and played special teams after arriving in Green Bay from the New York Giants the day before the opener. A few more practices and a lot more meeting time should have him ready to contribute on a part time basis anyway.
The other effective part of Pettine's plan was the creativity displayed on pass rushing downs. Lining up Za'Darius and Preston Smith at different spots, bringing Martinez up the middle or Kevin King off the edge kept the Bears protection plan in chaos. That will be a key if Cousins is forced to make plays with his arm. Minnesota is not a good pass blocking unit and the Packers should win most of those matchups.
They'd better because the skill players, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph tortured the Green Bay defense last year. They combined to catch 51 passes for 596 yards and 5 touchdowns in just the two Packer games alone.
Stop the run and drop the quarterback. Simple instructions for Pettine's complicated defense.
As for the Green Bay offense....
Lane Taylor told me this week we got all of the really bad plays out of the way in Chicago, particularly in the running game. The Packers ran 57 plays at Soldier Field, a very low number thanks to converting just 2 of 12 third down plays. Many of them were third and long which could be another nightmare against the Minnesota defense.
Complicating matters up front is David Bakhtiari's back issues. He didn't pad up for practice on Thursday and if he can't go, Aaron Rodgers might get tired legs. They could plug in Alex Light at left tackle although he was a healthy scratch in Chicago. They could also kick Billy Turner outside and insert Lucas Patrick or Elgton Jenkins at guard but that would weaken two spots up front.
The Vikings generate enough pressure without blitzing, relying on Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Jospeh to collapse pockets. Erik Kendricks and Anthony Barr will come on occasion. Head Coach Mike Zimmer prefers to let the front four go to work alone knowing he has excellent cover men behind them. Xavier Rhoades will matchup with Davante Adams wherever he goes with Trae Waynes and Harrison Smith lurking elsewhere.
The Vikes' nickel back, Mackenzie Alexander has an elbow injury and his replacement might have a target on his back.
The Packers have to get Aaron Jones established, avoid negative plays and allow some rhythm for Matt LaFleur's play calling. He said he needed to call too many "get back on track" plays in his debut.
Finally, the Green Bay special teams were surprisingly solid, not just with J.K. Scott and Mason Crosby's kicking, but with finally formulated cover units. It played a big role in the Chicago victory.
There will be a lot of emotion in the old yard what with it being Kickoff Weekend, the alumni back in town and a celebration of legend Bart Starr's life.
I'm just not sure the offense is ready for prime time, even with a noon start. The Vikings have the more experienced Head Coach and personnel. The Packers should take advantage of the home field advantage but I have a feeling the Minnesotans will steal one, 23-20.