It comes down to pressure: How will the Vikings create it and how will the Packers protect against it?
The Minnesota Vikings have to make Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable on Sunday. And they might try everything they can, including asking about his Hollywood ex-girlfriend or his run-in with cancel culture. Even when Aaron Rodgers feels pressure in the physical sense, he may not feel it in the metaphoric sense, having played so many snaps in these moments. Mike Zimmer often put together beguiling plans for Rodgers to the point the Packers quarterback was asked why the offense stalled in the second half against the Vikings to which he responded, “Mike Zimmer.”
But Zimmer left a chem trail on the way out of Minnesota. Kevin O’Connell brings Ed Donatell over from Denver to play a very different style of defense, one not unlike Joe Barry brought with him from L.A. Given the question at offensive line for the Packers, Rodgers’ struggles with pressure last year, and the enormous loss of one of the best defensive minds in the game, Sunday’s game comes down to a fundamental question: How will the Vikings create pressure, and how can the Packers stop it?
Last year, the Vikings finished 29th in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate, underscoring the loss of Danielle Hunter who enters Week 1 the healthiest he’s been in two seasons. It was also without Za’Darius Smith who struggled with his own injury issues in Green Bay where his back required surgery that kept him out nearly the entire season.
Still, thanks to the prowess of Mike Zimmer the blitz caller and pressure package designer, the Vikings managed the ninth best adjusted sack rate and the sixth best pressure percentage. In other words: Zimmer did that and he did it without having to employ the crazy zero-blitz or always-blitz approach of teams like the Baltimore Ravens.
Minnesota blitzed at just the 12th-highest rate in the NFL last season under Zimmer. The Denver Broncos with Vic Fangio calling the shots placed right behind them at 14th, in part due to the loss of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb missing most of the season with an injury. It’s worth wondering if a familiar face like Mike Pettine, who is now the assistant head coach with the Vikings in a mostly ceremonial role, will offer input with some designer blitz packages, one of the facets of the game Pettine still threw his fastball with those last seasons in Green Bay (if anything, he could have called them more often!).