From their first meeting in December 2012, Vikings safety Harrison Smith and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers have had great respect for each other and the rivalry between their two teams.
In that first meeting, Smith grabbed an interception and recorded eight tackles, but Rodgers still threw for 286 yards and a score in a 23-14 victory.
Last year the Packers got a glimpse at life without Rodgers, and Smith destroyed them — combining for nine tackles, three interceptions and 1½ sacks in two victories over Green Bay in 2017.
As is mostly the case with the Packers, they go as Rodgers goes. In his 11 matchups with the Vikings since 2012, the Packers are 5-1 when Rodgers posts a QB rating over 100; when his rating is less than 100, the Packers are 2-3. Those numbers include last year, when he threw just four passes before being injured, and a 2012 Packers playoff win.
Smith, who was named NFC defensive player of the week for his performance vs. the 49ers, said he looks forward to playing in Green Bay every year.
“It has the tradition,” he said. “You can feel that when you go into that stadium and appreciate all of the guys in the NFL that have come before us and made it what it is today.”
Smith has learned over time that playing against Rodgers means extended coverage times and never feeling like a play is over.
“It’s tough. He can put the ball wherever he wants at any time,” he said. “You have to be aware that if you think you have your guy covered you have to keep covering him. He makes it tough on us.”
He added that if you dream of playing in the NFL, you want games like this. “You look forward to those big games and playing in rivalry games and division games, and this is one of those and we are excited for it,” he said. “Division games are big. They normally have a big impact when things start shaking out towards the end. We understand that.”
Diggs connects with Cousins
Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs has made his name with the Vikings by making huge plays, and that’s what helped land him a five-year, $72 million contract in the offseason.
But for Diggs, there was still a big challenge this season in making sure he had a good rhythm with newly signed quarterback Kirk Cousins. But it appears that Diggs will be someone Cousins looks for in the end zone throughout the season.
While he caught three passes for 43 yards in the season opener, Diggs’ 22-yard touchdown pass from Cousins came on a perfect throw on a perfect route. He also had a 1-yard TD reception in the preseason.
Diggs was asked how he feels about getting to know Cousins as a QB.
“It’s fun. For me, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s nothing but work, and I love work,” he said. “As far as getting it down, it’s all about repetition and being in games. Practice is a lot different when going against our DBs we see. Training camp days, OTAs, going against somebody else.”
Prep for Rodgers, Lambeau
Defensive end Danielle Hunter knows a thing or two about getting to Rodgers, as he sacked him 2½ times in 2016. Is he ready for him Sunday?
“Rodgers is definitely a guy who can make plays,” he said. “You have to go out there and execute a game plan towards him. He is a scrambler.
“We just have to stick to the game plan and make sure we do everything we need to do.”
Laquon Treadwell had one of his best games last season at home against the Packers when he caught all three passes thrown to him for 51 yards. But he is still waiting for his first catch at Green Bay.
“I look forward to playing in Lambeau Field. It’s a very traditional place, they have a great fan base and they have a great team,” Treadwell said. “They get pretty loud there. We got a win there last year — not to speak on last year, but we are used to going and playing in tough crowds.”
Could this be the year Gophers football surprises everybody and makes a big jump from last year’s 5-7 record?
The Gophers certainly put on a good show Saturday in beating Miami (Ohio) 26-3. Coach P.J. Fleck wasn’t exactly happy with the defense, but the offense was excellent.
The Gophers and Iowa are the only teams in the Big Ten West without a loss. Division favorite Wisconsin lost at home Saturday to Brigham Young, which was a 22½-point underdog. Maryland, which plays host to the Gophers next week, also lost at home, to previously winless Temple.
So if the Gophers can beat Maryland, their following game — at home vs. Iowa — will tell the story of the season.
Offensively, the Gophers had some real stars Saturday. The combination of quarterback Zack Annexstad and Tyler Johnson reminds me of the Adam Weber-Eric Decker combination that set so many passing records.
Annexstad completed 12 of 20 passes for 142 yards with Johnson catching nine passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson has caught 20 passes for 283 yards and five TDs in three games.
Annexstad’s big pass of the day might have come in the second quarter, when he hit running back Bryce Williams for a key first down on third-and-17. And what a day Williams had, rushing 33 times for 141 yards and catching that one big pass for 35 yards.
Lastly, let’s not forget the efforts of Emmit Carpenter, who kicked a 44-yard field goal and found the end zone on all of his kickoffs.
• The Vikings’ available salary cap is down to about $1 million, and it’s looking more likely that they’re going to have to pull off a miracle to be able to sign Anthony Barr to a long-term extension.
• The Vikings’ odds for winning the Super Bowl are 8-1, tied for second with the Rams. The Patriots are 6-1. The Vikings are the favorite to win the NFC at 9-2.
• Pro Football Focus has the Vikings third in its power rankings and ranked their offensive line 18th in the league after Week 1 — in the preseason they were 28th. PFF wrote: “Pat Elflein can’t get back soon enough. ... For a line that has issues elsewhere to begin with, they can’t afford center to be added to the list.” PFF ranked Linval Joseph third and Sheldon Richardson fourth when it came to interior defensive linemen in Week 1.
• Will Vikings rookie Mike Hughes play as much in the slot on Sunday against the Packers? He played 30 snaps at outside corner in Week 1 because Trae Waynes was injured early.
• Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on the Packers defense under new coordinator Mike Pettine: “They have a really good scheme, a difficult scheme. We’re going to have to do a great job of our communication and determining what personnel groupings are on the field.”
• Lindsay Whalen’s first home game as Gophers women’s basketball coach is close to a sellout. There are 12,427 tickets sold, and they need to reach 14,000. The Gophers are selling discount tickets at $1.
• Edina offensive lineman Quinn Carroll took an offer from Notre Dame over the Gophers. Now another local offensive lineman getting a lot of attention is Lakeville North standout Bryce Benhart, who is being recruited by the Gophers, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan and ranks No. 20 among tackles in the nation.