1. A deep ball on fourth down to … Sharpe?
The first drive with Gary Kubiak running the offense was perfect. Eight plays, six of them runs and two passes, both 32-yard completions, including a 25-yarder from Kirk Cousins to Adam Thielen. After that, well, let’s just say Gary’s offenses have seen better days. Going for it on fourth-and-3 from the Packers’ 39-yard line was a daring call that Kubiak talked Mike Zimmer into. Unfortunately, Cousins threw deep down the right sideline to backup Tajae Sharpe instead of going deep to No. 1 receiver Adam Thielen, who had one-on-one coverage. Sharpe was covered and never had a chance. The Packers followed with a 61-yard touchdown drive and a 29-10 lead. Cousins defended the decision, saying, “The safety was leaning over to Adam, and it was in the short field. … I don’t love throwing go-balls with the safety moving over the top.”
2. STOP jumping offsides, guys
Three times, the Vikings were coaxed into jumping offsides on third-and-short by Aaron Rodgers’ all-world hard counts. The first time, Ifeadi Odenigbo and Hercules Mata’afa both jumped offsides. The Packers cashed in with a field goal. The second time, Jalyn Holmes jumped. The Packers turned that into a touchdown drive. And the third time, Anthony Barr jumped. Rodgers used the free play to complete a 39-yard pass. Packers coach Matt LaFleur said the lack of fans allowed Rodgers to use cadence on the road, “which has never happened before.” Zimmer said, “That probably wouldn’t happen if we have fans in the stands, but that’s no excuse.” Safety Harrison Smith wasn’t so sure it wouldn’t have happened. “I’ve seen us jump offside plenty of times with a crowd,” he said. But, as Barr said, “[Rodgers’] hard count is very convincing.”
3. Changing of the guard had inconsistent results
A key to how Sunday’s game went was how the interior offensive line played with Pat Elflein moving from left to right guard and Dakota Dozier becoming the new starter at left guard. With the offense on the field for only 18 minutes, 44 seconds, we’ll need more to go before making any definitive statements about the offensive line. Even the opening touchdown drive wasn’t ideal execution up front. Not with Kenny Clark as a disruptive force at defensive tackle. The 25-yard completion to Thielen came after Cousins had to scramble from pressure up the middle. Things improved in the second half with Clark out because of a groin injury. Kubiak opened the third quarter with three straight runs up the middle. Cook had his longest run, 12 yards, on the first play of the second half.
4. Kendricks once again up to All-Pro form
Eric Kendricks earned his first All-Pro selection last year while leading the Vikings in tackles for the fifth time in his five seasons. Sunday, he had a team-high 10 tackles while doing his best to bring some excitement to a lifeless stadium. He was a big reason the Vikings at least had a fighting chance before the time of possession got out of hand. The Packers took the opening kickoff and strolled into the red zone. But Kendricks set the tone with a 1-yard tackle for loss on first-and-goal. Two plays later, the Packers settled for a field goal when Rodgers essentially threw the ball away with Kendricks blanketing running back Aaron Jones in the corner of the end zone. The Vikings had two more red-zone stops in the first half. Rodgers was 3-for-9 for 7 yards and a grounding penalty in the red zone in the first half.
5. Nice call by Packers’ D-coordinator Pettine
Give Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine credit for calling a corner blitz with the Vikings up 7-3 and facing second-and-7 from their 4-yard line. Give 23-year-old corner Jaire Alexander even more credit for how long he was able to disguise his look and still get to Cousins fast enough to make the tackle in the end zone for a safety. “We had them in a tough spot,” said Cousins, referring to the wide-open hole created when a defensive back blitzes. Unfortunately for the Vikings, making the Packers pay required the quarterback to see the blitz coming. Cousins admitted he didn’t see Alexander until it was “obviously” too late. Left tackle Riley Reiff had his hands full with a front-seven player and with no other protection to that side on that play, Cousins needed to make that read.