The Vikings’ season opener is against the rival Green Bay Packers. It’s also the debut of head coach Kevin O’Connell, who didn’t play his starters in preseason games and ran a vanilla offense.
The Packers gave us plenty of backup quarterback Jordan Love during the preseason, so we don’t know who Aaron Rodgers will target as a replacement for the departed Davante Adams.
Since this is the season opener, neither team has fresh tape of the other. Green Bay can look at Rams film from last year to get an idea of what O’Connell might run, but they can’t be sure how much different KOC the head coach will be from KOC the assistant. The Vikings have no indicators of what an Adams-less Packers offense looks like.
“It goes both ways,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I’m watching tape and there aren’t a lot of their starters out there playing in the preseason.”
Because of these factors, the first half on Sunday could be absolutely nuts.
O’Connell could open up the playbook right away and see if he can get the Packers’ heads spinning while defending an array of formations. Meanwhile, Green Bay will test out the Vikings’ new 3-4 defense and see how it holds up against the run. The Packers have the running backs in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon to exploit a weak run defense.
The unfamiliarity on both sides — creating the potential for immediate madness at U.S Bank Stadium — will be one of a few fascinating story lines heading into this game. Here are a few more:
Who is healthy in the green and gold? Top offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins, both returning from torn ACLs, have been practicing, but it’s not known if they are ready to play Sunday. Wide receiver Allen Lazard might not play because of a sore ankle. Safety Darnell Savage is banged up. These are all important players for the Packers, and their unavailability puts Green Bay at a disadvantage, especially with the potential absences on offense.
Spotlight on O’Connell couldn’t be brighter: O’Connell joins a team expecting to win, with fans expecting to score a lot a points and with everyone looking to make a statement on Sunday.
“This isn’t just any other game,” he acknowledged. “It is my first game as a head coach, against a divisional rival. I’m well aware of the importance of this football game for our team. But I also think it’s important to know, we’re not getting in the playoffs by the outcome of Sunday.”
Still, this is the debut of a rookie head coach on a team with high expectations. All we know is that he comes from the defending Super Bowl champions. We are about to find out how he runs a team.
Is the defense fixed? All the Vikings need to do is stop the flood of points by opponents toward the end of the second and fourth quarters, and this defense will be vastly improved. Within that, the Vikings have had one of the worst run defenses over the last two seasons. Ed Donatell’s 3-4 scheme needs to address that.
The signing of nose tackle Harrison Phillips should help. Defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson looks ready to have a big season. Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks could thrive if the big fellas up front do their jobs. The Vikings have the makings of an effective front seven, but Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith must stay healthy. There’s no doubt that Rodgers will probe this defense for soft spots on Sunday.
The Twins will sweep the Royals in a midweek series before heading to Cleveland for five massive games.
Former Vikings defensive lineman Linval Joseph still lives in the Twin Cities and wants to play. Look for him to sign with a team by the end of the month as clubs deal with injuries and continue to evaluate their rosters.