How Vikings keep winning; Aaron Rodgers wants simpler Packers O

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How Vikings keep winning; Aaron Rodgers wants simpler Packers O
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By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer

Minnesota continues to learn while winning 

Don’t look now, but Minnesota is finding ways to win. They now sit at 5-1 atop the NFC North after beating the Dolphins in Miami for the first time since December 11, 1976. Yes, really.

The sweltering day in the South Florida heat didn’t start well for the Vikings, after they went the entire first quarter without a first down. But while quarterback Kirk Cousins and the offense struggled to rip the ignition cord, the defense kept them in it, forcing three straight punts by the Dolphins and holding them to a field goal in the first half.

In fact, Miami outdueled Minnesota in every major offensive category. The Dolphins had 458 yards of total offense to the Vikings’ 234. The Vikings were just 2-for-12 on third down. Miami was 2-for-14 (still not good). An offense mostly led by Teddy Bridgewater passed for 385 yards as compared to Cousins’ 156 net yards.

But where the Vikings had the edge, and where they won the game, was in the turnover battle. It’s why, for as many yards as they gave up, the Minnesota defense was the difference in this game. They forced three turnovers while the Vikings themselves gave up none.

In all, Minnesota was able to scrounge 10 points off those turnovers, which was the difference in the game.

“It’s funny because I went into the game saying, ‘you want to take pride in, hey, we want to give our defense a rest down here in the heat in Miami,'” said Cousins. “Let’s stay on the field. Let’s convert third downs and have some long drives, let’s put our defense with the wind at their back — and we did the complete opposite. So that was disappointing but somehow, someway our defense just kept answering the bell […] We need to be a lot better and that’s what the next week, several weeks will be about.

“I’m really, really proud to be 5-1 right now,” said head coach Kevin O’Connell. “We talked last night about any way it would take, any means necessary to get to 5-1 going into this bye. We’ve learned a lot about our football team. We also have learned, coaches included, we’ve got a long way to go and a lot of room to improve, which I’m really excited about.”

Lessons are a lot more fun to learn during wins. And so while the offense continues to adjust to its new coaches, the defense has carried them. That was what was supposed to happen in Green Bay. Instead, it’s now Minnesota with the top spot in the NFC North. As they head into their bye week, they’re right where they want to be.

“They’ve earned the right to get some time off,” said O’Connell. “They’ve battled for us. They’ve done everything we asked. I love this team and cannot wait to get our next opportunity together.”

“How about the Vikings’ defense?”

Kenny Albert and Jonathan Vilma react to the Minnesota Vikings’ defense getting three takeaways in a victory against the Miami Dolphins.

Vikings make crucial in-game adjustments

No, the Vikings didn’t get their first first-down of the day until well into the second quarter, but it was thanks to a heads-up adjustment by their coaching staff in recognizing Miami’s gameplan.

The most prevalent personnel grouping in today’s NFL is easily 11, which entails one running back, one tight end and three wide receivers on the field for the offense. To combat this, defenses almost always elect to put more bodies in coverage, thereby making the nickel defense (five defensive backs) often more common than base alignments. It’s why the line between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses is blurrier than it’s ever been. But on Sunday, Miami did something different against Minnesota.

They ran base against 11 personnel. 

It meant a loaded box that allowed them to bring pressure on Cousins in myriad ways while stopping Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota offense from getting much of anything going on the ground. In fact, in that first quarter, the Vikings had exactly one yard rushing.

One.

Cousins was also under duress for most of the quarter and by the time it was over had completed just two of his five passing attempts for 11 yards and a 47.9 passer rating. It also meant Minnesota had a grand total of 12 yards of offense going into the second quarter.

Now, it took until their fifth drive of the game, but O’Connell and his staff recognized what Miami was doing and how they were being defended, so they switched it up, electing to put an extra player in the backfield and run more 21 personnel looks.

“They played base defense to 11, which is not something we should really have to be taken out of the way we want to play, but they also have some really good players up front,” said O’Connell. “So big, strong guys up front and taking you out of some of the core things you want to do. We tried to get big at times and had some success, worked in some play-pass hits there where we were able to get our first touchdown with some keepers and Justin [Jefferson] coming alive.”

To be able to deviate from your primary game plan and adjust to what the defense is doing should give Vikings fans all the faith in the world in O’Connell and his staff. And should indicate more adjustments to come, especially coming out of the bye week.

Rodgers wants simpler offense in Green Bay

“The simplest plays are the best plays.”

That was the sentiment of quarterback Aaron Rodgers after the Packers‘ loss to the New York Jets at home. After a game where the Green Bay offense struggled in multiple facets and couldn’t gain any sort of momentum or rhythm, Rodgers wants to rein things in a bit.

“I don’t want to get too specific,” he said. “And I’m not attacking anything, I just think that based on how we’ve played the last two weeks, I think it is going to be in our best interest to simplify things for everybody. For the line, for the backs, for the receivers, especially with [wide receiver Randall Cobb’s] injury, just simplify some things and maybe that will help us get back on track.”

Aaron Rodgers, Packers embarrassed at home vs. Jets

The New York Jets pulled off a huge 27-10 upset against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in Week 6. After the game, the QB called for Green Bay to “simplify some things.”

The Packers sit at 3-3 and in second place in the NFC North, which is decidedly not where they thought they’d be six weeks into the season. It’s probably not where anyone thought they’d be — and that’s across the board. They are averaging the ninth-fewest points per game with a 17.8 average. They rank 15th in total yards per game with 348.2 and 18th in average yards per play at 5.37. Despite having two premier backs in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, they are averaging just the 12th-most rushing yards per game at 122.3. In the passing game, things are stopping before they even start. Rodgers is getting sacked on an unprecedented 6.88% of dropbacks. That ranks 18th in the league. He took four sacks in Sunday’s loss to the Jets.

Head coach Matt LaFleur went so far as to call Sunday’s game the worst performance by the offensive line he’s seen in his tenure.

“Very inconsistent, and that is why I think we need to simplify things,” Rodgers went on after the game. “Because on the couple of drives we did move the ball, it was very simple things. Very simple plays, no motion. We need to look at everything and the guys that we’ve got and what we can accomplish with them and let’s be smart about moving forward.”

Rodgers also didn’t rule out the possibility that Green Bay could stand to add to their roster. The Packers added depth to their offensive line on Monday, adding offensive lineman Luke Tenuta off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts. It follows the benching of Royce Newman in favor of Jake Hanson, who then suffered a biceps injury on Sunday.

But that doesn’t answer this question: if the Packers take away the window dressing, take away the motions and the shifts, is their current crop of receiving talent — a room that is now missing Randall Cobb for the foreseeable future but could get Sammy Watkins back soon — good enough to win outright?

Bears defense provided lone bright spot Sunday

Thursday night’s game between the Chicago Bears and visiting Washington Commanders is not one anyone should be anxious to relive. Te respective struggles of both teams were on full display, and the 12-7 loss overshadowed the incremental progress the Bears did see on the defensive side of the ball.

Leading into the game, linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi was asked by FOX Sports where Chicago goes from here and what the emphasis would be leading into the primetime matchup.

“The biggest adjustment for us when we talk to the defense is our run defense,” he said. “That’s something that we take a lot of pride in and we don’t really like where we’re at right now but it’s a long season, so we’ll get better.”

And they got better right away.

Washington had just 44 yards rushing in the first half. They finished with 128 but 39 of those came on one drive as the third quarter transitioned to the fourth. Chicago also forced a lot of long third downs that Washington couldn’t convert because of the fact they made the Commanders one dimensional.

“Defense played really well,” head coach Matt Eberflus said after the game. “Really good on third down. They were 0-for-6, I think, in the first half and ended up being 2-of-11 for 18%, which is a positive there. So the defensive staff worked really hard at that this week, and we were certainly pleased with that. Thought the run defense was good up until that last drive. The drive before we gave up some runs, so thought we were solid there.”

Chicago still ranks 29th in rushing yards given up per game and 24th in rushing yards per play given up, but there was tangible improvement on Thursday night and in a season where the Bears are essentially starting from scratch in multiple phases of the ball, seeing improvement on a point of emphasis, no matter how small, has to be encouraging.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.


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