News & Analysis

NFL Week 1 PFF ReFocused: Green Bay Packers 43, Minnesota Vikings 34

The Green Bay Packers had one of the luckiest seasons of any NFL team a year ago, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has regularly been pegged as a player in the early stages of decline. So, the pressure really was on the team as they took to the field in Week 1. Then, late in the second quarter, Rodgers made sure to put all that talk to rest for the time being.

As for the Minnesota Vikings, all eyes were on the young cornerbacks manning the starting spots. However, it was the story of Kirk Cousins attempting fewer than five passes in the first half that stole the show.

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.

STORY OF THE GAME

Rodgers and the Packers lived and died by underneath route concepts and quick passes throughout the majority of the first half. On their first 15 plays of the game, Rodgers dropped back to pass 10 times, generating an average depth of target of 4.4 yards and an average time to throw of 1.75 seconds. For perspective, that was over half a second quicker than any other quarterback on Sunday on those “scripted” plays.

Then, in the final minute of the first half, we finally saw some fire from Rodgers. He threw an out-of-structure strike to Davante Adams for their first score before dropping a 40-plus-yard dime to Marquez Valdes-Scantling for another.

Even with a “down year” last season, Rodgers still produced a high rate of big-time throws and a low rate of turnover-worthy plays. He did, however, struggle to hit throws at the intermediate level, ranking 25th in the NFL in the percentage of accurate passes thrown on passes that were thrown 5 to 19 yards downfield.

Interestingly enough, Rodgers and Matt LaFleur seemingly avoided that area against the Vikings, even more so than he did in 2019. Just 34% of his passes were in that depth range last year (lowest in NFL), and only 27% of his passes against Minnesota were at the depth. Regardless, today we got the same Aaron Rodgers who hits those big throws deep downfield (completed five 20-plus-yard throws for 186 yards and two scores, while another was dropped) and doesn’t put the ball in harm’s way. 

Minnesota wanted to establish the run right out of the gate, calling a run play on six of their eight plays in the first quarter. It wasn’t until essentially garbage time in the fourth quarter that we actually saw Kirk Cousins do something for Minnesota’s passing attack. Through the first three quarters of action, Cousins took 16 dropbacks; he was sacked on two, scrambled on three and completed just two passes over 10 yards downfield.

The Vikings had the fourth-most-efficient passing attack (in terms of EPA per play) a year ago with Kevin Stefanski at the helm, and against Green Bay, that same unit — minus Stefanski and Stefon Diggs — looked anemic. In the first three quarters, Minnesota produced -0.61 EPA per pass play, by far the worst of the week thus far.

ROOKIE WATCH

Sep 13, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83) catches a pass for a touchdown in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings defensive back Cameron Dantzler (27) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

With Minnesota cutting Xavier Rhodes and letting Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander walk in free agency, they needed one of their rookie cornerbacks in Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler to step up right away. Gladney, whom Minnesota selected in Round 1, only played three coverage snaps all game long while Dantzler manned one outside spot for a majority of the game. Unfortunately for Dantzler, today was not a great debut. 

Dantzler was the talk of training camp, pegged as a guy set to surprise this year, but he got worked by Adams and Valdes-Scantling. On his 30 coverage snaps at outside corner — he played 82% of the team’s snaps altogether —  Dantzler was targeted six times and allowed all to be caught for 78 yards and a score. He did have three passing stops, though, so it could have been worse.

Rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson was on the field for 84% of Cousins’ dropbacks but was relatively ineffective. He produced 0.96 yards per route and dropped one of his three targets for the game. One of his two catches came on a screen. 

Remember that it is Week 1 and that these guys had a limited offseason program and no preseason action, so patience is key.

There was really only one notable rookie performance for the Green Bay Packers, and it was a bit of a surprising one. UDFA linebacker Krys Barnes played just 16 snaps on the day (eight run-defense and eight in coverage), but he managed to produce three total defensive stops with a tackle for loss against the run.

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