WEEK 2 STATISTICAL PREVIEW: VIKINGS @ PACKERS
By Ben Rolfe
Using the numbers from last week and 2018, what should we be looking out for in Sky Sports’ Week 2 Sunday 6pm offering.
Week 1 has been and gone and before we know it Week 2 is off and running. The first few weeks of the NFL season are always fascinating as teams figure out their identities. Teams that can get their performances in order early can steal an important march, and give themselves an immediate boost in playoff potential.
This season we here at the touchdown want to help you understand more about what you can expect or are seeing if you choose to watch the full game on Sky as opposed to Red Zone. You can check out the superb piece by Tyler Arthur about how to see what the QB is seeing from your couch here. Each week I will be taking a look at the stats from this season and last, and helping you understand what to expect on Sunday.
Using these numbers, we will try and get a feel for how the teams might attack each other. What elements will be crucial in deciding the outcome, and what might be a bluff? Additionally, each week we will look at those all-important third down and Red Zone numbers. Along with turnovers they are the most crucial statistics in the game of football. Prolong drives and score touchdowns when you get inside the 20 and you stand a good chance of winning. Settle for punting and kicking field goals and you are fighting an uphill battle.
Let’s take a look at our monster Week 2 6pm contest as the Minnesota Vikings head into Green Bay to take on the Packers.
Which Packers offense are we going to see?
Last season was certainly interesting for the Packers. After years of watching Rodgers light it up and throw the ball all over the field 2018 saw him throw for his lowest TD% outside of 2007 when he played just two games. In fact, the Packers ranked just 20th in the league in passing touchdowns (25), but also 21st in net passing yards per attempt.
Instead they leant more on their run game, finishing second in the league in rushing yards per attempt at 5.0. That was thanks in large part to Aaron Jones, who led the league with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. The offensive line playing a big part as he ranked second in the league in yards before contact with 3.5.
The LaFleur Effect?
As you are likely aware the Packers have a new head coach in Matt LaFleur this season, so let’s take a look at the Titans stats last year to get a feel for his tendencies. Interestingly, the Titans ranked ninth in the league in rushing attempt and 31st in passing attempts. However, with a quarterback upgrade from Marcus Mariota to Rodgers we may see that even out this season.
In Week 1 they struggled offensively, ranking 27th in net passing yards per attempt and averaged just 2.1 yards per attempt on the ground. However, they were facing of the best defenses in the league right now in the form of the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, this week they are facing another good defense. The Vikigns were ranked top-10 last season defensively in total points, total yards, net passing yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, rushing yards per attempt, average yards per drive and points per drive. Those numbers suggest it may be another tough week for the Packers offensively and we may still not see the best version of this offense.
Will the Vikings open it up more this week?
The Vikings were pretty much handed their win on a plate last week by sloppy Falcons football. A fumble and a red-zone interception for the Falcons meant the Vikings needed to do very little on offense. In fact Kirk Cousins threw the ball just 10 times last week, as Dalvin Cook (21 carries, 111 yards) and Alexander Mattison (9-for-49) combined for 160 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
However, the Vikings will not mind if they can win games without their offense having to do much, as it was their Achilles heel in 2018. They ranked 18th in net passing yards per attempt an 25th in rushing yards per attempt, as well as in the bottom-10 in average yards, points, plays and time per drive. In fact, they scored on just 32.4% of drives which ranked 23rd in the league.
However, facing Rodgers they are unlikely to be handed the game on the plate the way the Falcons did last week. If they have to open it up they have some interesting weapons. They have three very reliable sets of hands in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph, who had a drop% of 2, 2 and 1.1 respectively. They liked to use the short passing game with Cook last season. In fact, his average yards before the catch was -1.7 (joint lowest in the league), but he averaged 9.3 yards after the catch, which was sixth best. If the passing offense is required expect to see the Vikings look for Cook on screens and swing passes.
Mr. Risk-taker against Mr. Risk-adverse?
This matchup brings about a strange circumstance. On one hand we have a risk-taking quarterback in Rodgers, and a more risk-adverse quarterback in Cousins. Last season, Rodgers ranked eighth in the league in average depth of target (aDOT), but with that he also ranked seventh in the league in bad throw percentage with 17.8%. However, what makes that an interesting number is that he was picked off just two teams, a career-best and league-leading 0.3% interception rate.
In contrast, Cousins ranked 27th in aDOT, but ranked an impressive 32nd in bad throw percentage with 11.2%. Therefore, he was less aggressive, but in turn made less mistakes. Interestingly, Cousins actually ended up being picked off five times more often that Rodgers (10) and had an interception rate of 1.7%. Still good enough for ninth in the league, but no where near the standard Rodgers set. It will be interesting to see this season whether those numbers even out. Can Rodgers still take as many risks and succeed in not being picked off frequently? Can Cousins lead his team to victory playing risk-adverse football? With two defenses that looked strong in Week 1 on display in this one we may get a feel for the answer to both of those questions.
Third Down and Red Zone
So now to our recurring segment looking at how teams did in those crucial third down and red zone situations. Green Bay were pretty poor last year on third down, converting on just 36.8% of opportunities. LaFleur was slightly better at converting those opportunities with the Titans, as they ranked 15th in the league, compared to the Packers 23rd. After converting on just 16.7% of third downs last week, they have a tough challenge against the stingiest defense on third downs last season. The Vikings allowed a third down conversion rate of just 30.5% last season and will be hoping to add to the Packers struggles from last week.
The Vikings also struggled to convert on third downs last season, converting just 35.8% of attempts. The Packers were solid but not great defensively on third down last season, ranking 13th, but they allowed just three conversions on 15 attempts against the Bears in Week 1.
The Packers will be hoping they keep the Rodgers red zone conversion percentage and not the LaFleur Titans one. Last season the Packers scored touchdowns on 62% of red zone attempts, good enough to finish 13th in the league, 10 spots higher than the Titans. The Vikings will be hoping to continue their strong showing on defense from last season. They allowed touchdowns on just 45% of red zone possessions last season.
Offensively the Vikings will be hoping to take advantage of the Packers allowing 60% of red zone entries to end in a touchdown. The Vikings could only manage a 54%-mark last season, good enough for just 21st in the NFL. They will also be hoping to continue their 100% record from last week, going 3-for-3 inside the red zone.