GREEN BAY — Justin Jefferson had eight receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Adam Thielen had eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. The Green Bay Packers? They had a game tape to learn from for the next time.
When the Minnesota Vikings defeated the Packers 34-31 in their first of two games last season, it was with a potent offensive attack. The Packers won the second game in December, but that November loss is serving as a lesson 10 months later as Green Bay prepares to open its season against its divisional rival Sunday.
“We had a lot opportunities to win the game,” cornerback Rasul Douglas said Monday of the November 2021 game. “I had one on a comeback route, Sav (Darnell Savage) dropped two picks.”
Jefferson and Thielen both burned the Packers secondary in that game, due in large part to miscommunication, Douglas said.
“We didn’t, as a defense, we didn’t communicate,” he said. “There was a couple of plays where Justin Jefferson ran a route and both the safety and a corner went on Thielen and Justin Jefferson was wide open. They didn’t communicate and tell each other who was guarding who. It’s little stuff like that you can’t do it.
“Another one, Thielen scored. It was supposed to be a certain coverage where we were supposed to be outside in and Kev (Kevin King) got caught inside and (Thielen) ran it out and scored. So little stuff, we didn’t communicate well on our calls and how we gonna play stuff.
“We all watched (the tape), like, we can’t make these mistakes again.”
Some of those mistakes will work themselves out naturally, thanks to a corner unit that has time, experience and chemistry together.
“We all played with each other now,” Douglas said, “so we’re kinda starting to see things how we’re supposed to see it.”
Jefferson and Thielen are just two parts of a three-headed monster though. The front seven is tasked with shutting down a rushing unit led by Dalvin Cook. The defense was able to smother Cook in their rematch of the 2021 season, helped in part due to quarterback Kirk Cousins being out with COVID-19 and the Packers willingness to let the backup, Sean Mannion, attempt a passing attack.
But Cook had 22 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown and 115 total yards, serving as a reminder of the danger he can be to a defense that isn’t ready. So as the Packers begin their prep work for the Vikings this week, they will highlight the parts of Cook that can ruin a game plan.
“He’s a complete running back,” linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said. “Not many weaknesses in his game and that always makes it kind of hard, you know certain guys, you know their speed and power and whatnot. Like he has a whole toolbox of things he can do. So that just makes it harder on us as a defense to prepare for him, especially with his new offense.
“He has elite speed, elite power, change of direction. There’s not much he can’t do … It just comes down to who wants it more when you’re dealing with a player like that. He can do it all so you’ve just gotta read your keys and play ball.”
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The Packers will use Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to game plan for their familiar foe. With a divisional game to kick off the season, a new head coach (Kevin O’Connell) and a new offensive coordinator (Wes Phillips) in Minneapolis, the vaunted Green Bay defense will get an earlier test to their talent.
With the mistakes of November 2021 still on tape, one of only three losses in the regular season for the Packers, the plan for what to do right appears clear.
“They got some talented players, you know, even at the quarterback position,” Campbell said. “Kirk Cousins is a good quarterback and knows how to get the ball out his hands quick so it’s gonna be a tough challenge. Like I said, especially with the new offense, we don’t really know what to expect. So we just got to go out read our keys and just play ball.”
Said Douglas: “It’s definitely gonna be a good opener. Gonna be good on good.”