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Vikings quick hits: Thoughts, observations and analysis from an atrocious performance

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Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) catches a 24-yard touchdown pass over Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings played what had to be the strangest opener in their 60-year history on Sunday, facing arch-rival Green Bay in front of no fans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer likely did not recognize his team as the normally strong defense looked absolutely atrocious. Nobody expected this defense to be great from Day 1, considering all the changes it has undergone, but the Vikings were a mess on that side of the ball. Some thoughts and observations from the Vikings’ 43-34 loss to the Packers.

  • The 43 points against were the most a Zimmer-coached defense has given up since he took the job in 2014. The Packers had the previous high of 42 against the Vikings on Oct. 2, 2014 at Lambeau Field. That was Zimmer’s first season, this is his seventh and these were all of his guys.
  • The Vikings gave up 522 yards (364 passing, 158 rushing), the second-most by a Zimmer-coached defense in Minnesota behind the 556 yards (456 passing, 100 rushing) the Rams accumulated in a 38-31 victory on Sept. 27, 2018 in Los Angeles.
  • Jeff Gladney, the Vikings’ second first-round pick in April, was not part of the cornerback rotation that had Mike Hughes and Holton Hill starting and Cameron Dantzler outside, with Hughes going inside, in the nickel. Either Gladney really disappointed Zimmer in training camp or the Vikings still have concerns about the meniscus surgery he had in the spring.
  • That rotation of corners all got picked on by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at different times and looked awful. Rodgers looked like the Rodgers of old — in part because the Vikings defense looked like it did before Zimmer arrived — and completed 32 of 44 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Davante Adams had 14 receptions, on 17 targets, for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
  • It should come as no surprise that the Vikings had issues protecting quarterback Kirk Cousins and in the third quarter the veteran decided to do something about it. On back-to-back plays, he ran for 16 and 14 yard gains. Cousins talked about using his feet more often this season and on those two plays he did exactly that.
  • Cousins threw his first pick of the season late in the second quarter on a poorly thrown ball behind Adam Thielen that cornerback Jaire Alexander picked off at the Vikings 45-yard line. That led to this …
  • The Packers took a 22-7 lead with 21 seconds left in the quarter on a 45-yard TD  pass from Rodgers to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Dantzler was running stride-for-stride with Valdes-Scantling but Rodgers made a perfect throw to the front corner of the end zone and Dantzler is, well, a rookie.
  • Valdes-Scantling also caught a 39-yard pass from Rodgers on a third-quarter play in which Hughes was beaten. That put the ball at the 1-yard line and Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Adams to give Green Bay a 29-10 lead.
  • The key point in this game might have come in the second quarter when the Vikings defense stopped the Packers on fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 1. The Vikings led 7-3 and had a chance to grab any momentum that might have existed. But that didn’t last long as Cousins was sacked on a corner blitz by Alexander for a safety. The Packers got a 43-yard field goal from Mason Crosby on the ensuing drive to take a one-point lead.
  • The Vikings scored three meaningless touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Cousins found Thielen for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 29-18, Cook scored on a 3-yard run to make it 36-26 and Thielen caught another scoring pass, this one from 19 yards, to make it 43-34. All three Vikings touchdowns followed Packers scores.
  • Wide receiver Justin Jefferson, the Vikings’ first pick in the first round in April, caught his first NFL pass in the third quarter, gaining 9 yards on third-and-16. Jefferson finished with two catches for 26 yards.
  • The Vikings had an issue with missed tackles, beginning early with Dantzler and linebacker Eric Wilson both failing to wrap up Packers. You would expect an NFL player to be able to tackle, but even during an ordinary season tackling can be suspect early on. In this case, with no preseason games and limited practice time, the tackling was worse than usual. Zimmer won’t be happy but it couldn’t be considered a complete surprise.
  • It was a given the Vikings would lose a significant home-field advantage with no fans in U.S. Bank Stadium. The question was how much? It turned out to be huge. One of the NFL’s best rivalries had the feeling that it was a youth football game being played on a Saturday morning and at least those games have parents in attendance. The piped in noise was barely noticeable, and the Packers’ offense had zero issues operating.
  • The Packers suffered a significant loss late in the first half when nose tackle Kenny Clark left with a groin injury. He was quickly decleared out for the game.
  • The Packers have now won three consecutive games in this series and are 3-1-1 in the past five.