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Vikings to open vs. Packers with new weapon on offense, new look in secondary

Jim Owczarski   | Packers News
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First in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers are scheduled to face during the 2020 regular season.

GREEN BAY - The Minnesota Vikings advanced to the divisional round of the 2019 NFC playoffs, losing to eventual conference champion San Francisco 27-10. It was the third time in head coach Mike Zimmer’s first six seasons that the team reached the postseason, continuing an every-other-year trend under Zimmer.

Under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, Kirk Cousins went to the Pro Bowl while completing 69% of his throws for 3,603 yards and 26 touchdowns with six interceptions. Running back Dalvin Cook also went to the Pro Bowl with more than 1,600 yards of total offense, and fullback C.J. Ham also earned that postseason honor. The Vikings finished in the top 10 in scoring and helped Stefanski become the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

As a result, the Vikings locked up Cousins through the 2022 season with a $66 million extension. They traded away receiver Stefon Diggs and drafted LSU's Justin Jefferson in the first round. But the biggest change was to retool the defense from the top down. Defensive coordinator George Edwards is gone, as is secondary coach Jerry Gray (who now holds that position in Green Bay). Former Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is on board as a senior assistant and Zimmer has said he wants to change up his scheme to be more flexible.

On the field, the entire secondary has been revamped. Cornerbacks Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes and Mackensie Alexander all departed via free agency. Up front, Everson Griffen remains a free agent but it seems the two sides have decided to part ways as the team signed Michael Pierce. Needless to say, the Vikings could look a bit different on defense in 2020.

Here are three things to know about the Vikings:

Another new offensive coordinator

Since the start of the 2016 season, the Vikings have gone through Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur, John DeFilippo and Stefanski as offensive coordinators. In 2020 former Super Bowl-winning head coach Gary Kubiak assumes that role. Kubiak was an offensive advisor for the Vikings last season and helped transition the club to a more balanced offense that Zimmer prefers. Kubiak was last an offensive coordinator in Baltimore in 2014 and then guided the Denver Broncos to a championship in 2015. Despite the change in play caller, the Vikings' offense will likely again feature Dalvin Cook heavily, with many of the similar schemes the Packers like to employ under coach Matt LaFleur.

Dalvin Cook is unhappy

Fourth-year running back Cook skipped the end of the virtual offseason after he received a contract extension offer that he wasn't to his liking, setting up a potential holdout into training camp. Normally such things wouldn’t affect the regular season but with the scheduled start of the season already in some doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic, and given the precedent set by Le’Veon Bell of running backs sitting out games, it’s worth noting Cook’s dissatisfaction. Though he has yet to play a full season, Cook averages 4.6 yards per carry, is a dual-threat option out of the backfield and the true engine of the offense. Last year he rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 53 passes for 519 yards.

Leaning on a rookie

The Vikings took Jefferson at No. 22 overall, a selection they received from Buffalo in the Diggs trade. He ostensibly replaces Diggs, who posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019 for the Vikings but was traded to Buffalo. Jefferson is 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds and caught 111 passes for the Tigers in his last year in college – but with no rookie camp or offseason team workouts he’ll have some catching up to do quickly if training camp does indeed start on time. Adam Thielen remains to lead the receiving corps and tight end Irv Smith Jr. (36 catches) is expected to improve, but Jefferson no doubt will be relied upon to contribute immediately.

Packers schedule glimpse

Sept. 13 at Vikings, noon, FOX; Nov. 1 vs. Vikings, noon, FOX

Week before first meeting: Preseason finale at Kansas City, Sept. 3.

Week after: vs. Detroit, Sept. 20.

On the horizon: at New Orleans, Sept. 27.

Minnesota Vikings

Coach: Mike Zimmer (57-38-1 overall, seventh season with Vikings).

2019 record: 10-6, second in NFC North.

Scoring offense: 25.4 (8th in NFL).

Total offense: 353.5 (16th).

Scoring defense: 18.9 (5th).

Total defense: 341.6 (14th).

Series: Packers lead, 62-54-3.

Last meeting: The Packers headed to U.S. Bank Stadium on Dec. 23, 2019 for Monday Night Football and won 23-10 to clinch the NFC North crown in LaFleur’s first season as head coach. The Packers opened the game by turning the ball over on three of their first six possessions yet trailed only 10-9 at halftime. They took the lead for good late in the third quarter on an Aaron Jones 12-yard touchdown run and Aaron Rodgers to Geronimo Allison two-point conversion. Jones sealed the game with a 56-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Packers' defense sacked Kirk Cousins five times and intercepted him once as the Vikings – playing without the injured Cook – couldn’t muster anything on the ground. The receiving duo of Diggs and Thielen was held to just three combined catches (all by Diggs).

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