Home Sports 10 takeaways from Packers' season-opening win over Vikings

10 takeaways from Packers’ season-opening win over Vikings

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The Green Bay Packers marched into an empty U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday and left with an impressive Week 1 victory, using four touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers and a dominant offensive performance to beat the Minnesota Vikings in the season opener.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers mixed three of his most important attributes as a quarterback – decisiveness, accuracy and creativity – to create a devastatingly effective performance in the season opener. He completed 32 passes for 364 yards and four scores, a stat line indicative of how well he played against Mike Zimmer’s defense.

Rodgers threw on time, firing strikes to every part of the field. He talked all summer about how comfortable he felt with the timing and progressions of the passing game, and it showed up in a big way Sunday. The ball came out of his hands quickly. He attacked underneath, deep and in the intermediate areas. Everything looked smooth and in rhythm.

And everything came out of his hands with precision. He completed 72.7 percent of his passes (32-of-44) but was probably accurate on 85 to 90 percent of his total attempts. Twice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling dropped big gains. Davante Adams had at least two targets he should have caught. Most importantly, everything was thrown with terrific ball placement, allowing for easy catches and run-after-the-catch opportunities. The bucket throw was perfect on a deep, 45-yard score to Valdes-Scantling to end the first half.

Finally, Rodgers threw in some creativity, a trademark of his career. On his first touchdown pass, Rodgers bought time to his right and fired a throw to the back shoulder of Adams, who got open for a second during the scramble drill, spun back around and made the catch before going out of bounds in the end zone. It was vintage Rodgers. Later, he moved right and side-armed a ball to Allen Lazard, fitting the ball into a small window for another score.

Rodgers hasn’t been able to combine decisiveness, accuracy and creativity as consistently as he did Sunday in a long time. If he can do it consistently throughout the season, he’ll be an MVP candidate and the Packers will be very, very good.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers didn’t make an addition to the wide receiver group this offseason, a curious decision for a team that was so inconsistent in the passing game a year ago. On Sunday, the team’s top three receivers turned in a highly productive overall performance against an overmatched and inexperienced Vikings cornerback group.

Davante Adams feasted, catching 14 passes for 156 yards and two scores. But he didn’t do it alone in the passing game. Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught four passes for 96 yards and a score, and Allen Lazard chipped in four catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. Altogether, the Packers receivers caught 22 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers had a passer rating of almost 154.9 when targeting the trio Sunday.

Keep in mind, Adams dropped a potential touchdown, and Valdes-Scantling dropped two potential big plays. The receivers weren’t perfect, but they didn’t need to be.

There’s a pathway forward for these three to keep the Packers passing game humming, especially if Rodgers and Adams remain locked in, Valdes-Scantling continues threatening vertically and Lazard does all the thankless work. Sunday was a good day for the Packers’ plan at receiver.

Dan Powers/Appleton Post-Crescsent-USA TODAY NETWORK

Alexander gave up a late touchdown to Adam Thielen, but he also turned the game with a pair of huge plays in the first half. His improvised blitz resulted in a safety, and his well-timed interception set up a huge touchdown right before the half.

With the Vikings backed up on their 1-yard line, Alexander said he sensed a run and blitzed off the offense’s left side. He entered the backfield unblocked, and when Kirk Cousins kept the ball off a run fake, Alexander had an easy sack in the end zone, creating two points. The Packers took the resulting punt and drove the field, eventually settling for a field goal.

For as tough as it was to turn over the ball on downs at the 1-yard line, Alexander’s play helped erase most of the damage.

Late in the second quarter, Alexander picked off Cousins’ errant pass at the 41-yard line with 34 seconds left. Two plays later, Aaron Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 45-yard touchdown, extending the Packers’ lead to 22-7.

Two plays from Alexander help create 12 points for the Packers in the first half.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) checks on guard Lane Taylor (65) after he was injured against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Green Bay won 43-34.

Assistant coaches rarely get credit, but Packers offensive line coach Adam Stenavich deserves a lot of praise for the way his group – which was shuffled and then reshuffled – performed Sunday.

The Packers had to improvise along the offensive line to start Week 1, using left guard Elgton Jenkins at right tackle and Lucas Patrick at left guard with Billy Turner injured. When Patrick went down with a shoulder injury, Jenkins moved back to left guard and Rick Wagner entered the game at right tackle. Later, right guard Lane Taylor went down, and rookie Jon Runyan replaced him.

The Packers still didn’t allow a sack and rushed for 158 total yards.

Aaron Rodgers was only hit twice despite attempting 44 passes, and the Packers averaged over 5.0 yards per carry on the ground (not counting two kneel downs to end the game).

An offensive line with that many injuries and moving pieces could have crumbled. Stenavich’s group stuck together and played a terrific game Sunday. Jenkins, a second-year player who had to shuffle all over, was particularly impressive.

Green Bay Packers head coach Matt LaFleur works the sidelines against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

The Packers offense produced 43 points, 522 total yards and 31 first downs. Matt LaFleur’s team only punted once, and it came after a drop from a receiver on third down.

This was a dominant offensive performance, and LaFleur’s fingerprints were all over it.

The Packers play caller mixed up personnel. He mixed up formations. He used pre-snap motion and run action. He kept a run-pass balance. He dialed up plays to attack every part of the field. He made Mike Zimmer and the Vikings defend everything, and they couldn’t.

LaFleur has some versatile pieces, especially in Tyler Ervin and Josiah Deguara. They both played all over the field and gave the Vikings issues, both before the snap and after.

Aaron Rodgers played a terrific game, but he got a lot of help from his play caller on Sunday. In the battle between LaFleur and Zimmer, the Packers coach scored another decisive victory.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Empty stadiums and quiet atmospheres already rob teams of inherent home-field advantages in 2020. Aaron Rodgers will ensure the advantages of a silent stadium always go the Packers’ way.

Rodgers drew the Vikings offside three different times on Sunday. Twice, the five yards gave the Packers a first down. On the third, he hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a free play for 39 yards, setting up a touchdown.

Rodgers is going to be a problem for defenses in these environments. His cadence could be heard from the press box, and it’s no wonder it gives pass-rushers so many problems. He varies the count so well. Rushers have no chance to time it out right, and when they guess, it’s almost always wrong. When it’s wrong, and the officials let the play go, Rodgers goes into attack mode.

As long as stadiums are empty, Rodgers is going to get free plays. And probably a lot of free plays and a lot of big plays.

Mark Hoffman, USA TODAY NETWORK

No one expected Krys Barnes, who was released at final cutdowns, signed to the practice squad and then promoted to the 53-man roster on Saturday, to play much Sunday. Maybe a snap here or there. Maybe some special teams.

No, Barnes didn’t just play sporadically. He was Mike Pettine’s starter at inside linebacker, and he played most of the game.

Barnes had some rough snaps early but eventually settled in. The undrafted free agent linebacker helped short-circuit two drives in the first half, both with tackles for losses on Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. On the second, he diagnosed a screen play, raced to the spot and dropped Cook behind the line.

Will the Packers be able to count on Barnes to play a big role all season? Who knows. But the rookie got thrown into a big spot Sunday and survived, helping create two big stops in the first half. Barnes finished with seven tackles and a team-high two tackles for losses.

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Packers lost offensive linemen Lucas Patrick and Lane Taylor, both potentially to serious injuries. But the big injury concern coming out of Sunday has to be Kenny Clark, who departed with a groin injury in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle is a vital part of what Mike Pettine does, both against the run and rushing the quarterback. Losing him for a significant period would be tough. The fact that the Packers ruled him out to start the second half is a concerning sign. More should be known this week.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Vikings running back Dalvin Cook ran for only 50 yards, but the Packers dominated the football and this game got out of hand in the second and third quarters. Early on, it looked like the Packers might have more issues against the run, especially with the base defense on the field. The Vikings moved the ball without much resistance on their first drive. Overall, Cook and Alexander Mattison rushed for 100 yards and two scores on just 18 carries, and the duo probably would have done a lot more damage had the game flow been different. The run defense might still be a big concern, especially if Kenny Clark has to miss time.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) congratulates wide receiver Allen Lazard (13) after he scored a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings during their football game Sunday, September 13, 2020, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. Green Bay won 43-34.

The Packers won by nine points, but the difference between these two teams looked much greater than nine points. Matt LaFleur’s team held leads of 19 points in the third quarter and 18 points in the fourth quarter. More importantly, the Packers got a road win against a division rival, and many believe the Vikings could have a playoff-caliber team in 2020. It was a terrific start, especially for the offense. The Vikings were inexperienced at cornerback and lacking pass-rushers, so the Packers attacked mercilessly and efficiently, and Aaron Rodgers had a vintage performance. It’s one win, but it’s still an important one. And the Packers have to feel good about the way they controlled the game, even after some early hiccups in the red zone.

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