MINNEAPOLIS — Six months after hitting the reset button on the defense, the Minnesota Vikings‘ youth movement and new defensive starters failed their first test of the season in 43-34 opening loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The Vikings undoubtedly felt the absence of defensive end Danielle Hunter, who was placed on injured reserve last week, and it yielded a lackluster attempt at pressuring Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota’s pass rush looked anemic and Rodgers looked comfortable, even with only one truly consistent receiver, Davante Adams, whom the Vikings couldn’t figure out how to stop.
Describe the game in two words: Defensive obliteration. Minnesota allowed Adams to set a career high in receptions with 14 for 156 yards and two touchdowns. The Vikings’ defense was gassed going into halftime after being on the field for 22:45 in the first two quarters and couldn’t find the method needed to limit Rodgers up front in spite of utilizing a rotation among their defensive ends. Minnesota pressured Rodgers on just seven of 44 dropbacks, including 18 straight without registering a pressure, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Yannick Ngakoue, whom the Vikings got in a trade two weeks ago, failed to notch a single pressure in his debut. Rodgers had no issue humbling Minnesota’s crop of young cornerbacks with his ability to throw to Adams for a 24-yard touchdown and to Marques Valdes-Scantling for a 45-yard TD pass that gave Vikings rookie corner Cameron Dantzler his welcome-to-the-NFL moment. Rodgers threw four touchdown passes and the Vikings’ defense gave up 522 yards in their worst outing since giving up 556 yards of offense to the Los Angeles Rams in 2018.
QB breakdown: How did the Vikings’ offense look without Stefon Diggs? Kirk Cousins had five passing attempts in the first half, his lowest in any first half as a starting quarterback, and all four completions were to Adam Thielen. Cousins’ numbers (19-for-25 passing for 259 yards, two TDs, INT) were bolstered by a second-half comeback attempt when the Packers were ahead by multiple scores. Cousins looked comfortable only when throwing to Thielen (six catches, 110 yards, two TDs), showing how discombobulated the Vikings’ passing attack was on Sunday (can someone explain throwing a 35-yard attempt to Tajae Sharpe on fourth-and-three?) and how much work the offense has to do to replace Diggs, who was traded away this offseason.
Cousins did have a few moments where he was able to put his athleticism on display, something he talked about tapping into this offseason. That included a play in the first quarter when he bought time while keeping his eyes downfield before hitting Thielen for a 25-yard reception and a 14-yard scramble later in the game.
Troubling trend: A lack of rookie contributions. Before kickoff, the Vikings inactivated second-round pick Ezra Cleveland, who was drafted as a left tackle but played left guard throughout training camp, bringing into question his development. Receiver Justin Jefferson, whom Minnesota drafted 22nd overall, had two catches for 26 yards, including a 17-yard reception in the fourth quarter. But the Vikings’ infrequent use of three-receiver sets limited Jefferson’s action. Minnesota’s second first-round selection, cornerback Jeff Gladney, was limited to a special teams role on Sunday while Dantzler had the type of day one might expect a rookie corner to exhibit going against a future Hall of Fame quarterback. The Vikings kept nine of their 15 drafted rookies and had 10 called up on game day. These early struggles were expected for a rookie pool that didn’t have the benefit of a full offseason. But Minnesota needs stronger contributions from these younger players.