The aftershock was much greater than the initial incident that took place at Lambeau Field in Saturday’s 38-25 loss. And the Vikings’ confusion continued in the explanations given following Jordy Nelson’s nine-catch day for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
But whether cornerback Terence Newman, whom head coach Mike Zimmer said told him on the sideline “I can cover [Jordy Nelson], just let me have him,” pushed his will against Zimmer’s or the defensive backs simply misunderstood a “gray area” in his 48th game plan as head coach ultimately meant little on the field. That much is clear.
Two days later, all parties involved insisted it was a miscommunication. Though the Vikings’ defensive issues extend well beyond that after allowing at least 30 points in back-to-back games for the first time since Zimmer was hired.
“I think I guarded Jordy three times in the first half,” Newman said Monday. “[Rhodes] guarded him 18 times in the first half and they were matched up with some linebackers in the first half and some safeties. They did a good job of moving him around.”
Play of the Vikings safeties continued to be a problem even with the return of Pro Bowler Harrison Smith. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck exposed some of those issues the week prior.
Smith was still hobbled about three weeks after he’d last tried to play on a severely sprained ankle. He didn’t look fully healthy, lacking his familiar recklessness when Nelson bolted behind him and then juked Andrew Sendejo for a 21-yard touchdown. Smith starts toward Ty Montgomery out of the backfield, which appears to be Anthony Barr’s assignment, before Nelson’s catch.
Nelson spread his nine catches near three Vikings cornerbacks, two safeties and two linebackers. Nelson’s 2-yard touchdown grab targeted Barr, though Aaron Rodgers made the play by scrambling to buy time for Nelson.
Slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn tripped on Nelson’s biggest gain of the day, a 48-yard completion down the sideline. Munnerlyn recovered, but still wasn’t able to bring him down as he also looked limited. He had his right ankle taped again between series.
Only Nelson’s 15-yard catch against Newman came during the first series, during which Zimmer says their game plan issue was contained. Nelson later added a 14-yard catch on Xavier Rhodes, whom Zimmer wanted shadowing Nelson for much of the game.
The Packers scored touchdowns on each of the three drives featuring Nelson’s biggest gains, including the 33-yard deep crossing route across both Smith and Sendejo. It was another coverage bust in the second quarter, even as Rhodes flipped to the left side of the field to follow Nelson.
Both Rhodes and Smith appear to pass Nelson off to Sendejo, leaving them both without a receiver in the area and Sendejo scrambling to keep pace.