Sun, 29 Nov 2020

Aaron Rodgers says Packers will shift top WR around the formation while expecting Minnesota’s usual disguises Mike Spofford

GREEN BAY - The Packers expect changes. Obviously.

In the first meeting this season with Minnesota, Davante Adams caught 14 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Last week in Houston, Adams had 13 catches for 196 yards and two scores.

The Packers can't be exactly sure what the Vikings will do Sunday at Lambeau Field, but they can be relatively sure it won't be what they did the first time, nor what the Texans tried a week ago.

Whatever coverages they throw at the Packers, though, count on Green Bay's offense to still find ways to get its top receiver the ball.

"Obviously we'll have a plan," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. "But that plan can change and we're just going to have to adapt and adjust. I'm sure they're going to have something for him."

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers mentioned one countermeasure will be to move Adams around the formation, much like the Packers did with Jordy Nelson when defenses geared up to face him. According to Pro Football Focus, the ratio for Adams' snaps lining up wide versus in the slot is about 80-20 so far this season (174 snaps wide, 43 in the slot).

Those numbers don't distinguish bunch formations compared to more isolated alignments, so there's more variation available within those categories. Rodgers' comments suggest anything could be available to the three-time Pro Bowler.

"You can't just have him stuck on one side or one spot," Rodgers said. "It makes it a little easier to double and give (safety help) to.

"Davante is such a versatile guy. We can put him on either side, any position, in the slot like we've been doing. I think that's what makes it most difficult is to keep up with the various formations that we have."

That's what Rodgers called the "beauty" of the offense so far in 2020, the creativity he's seen from LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and the other offensive assistants in the personnel groupings and formations built into each game plan.

Then "the fun part" is seeing those plans transition from the electronic screen to the practice field and ultimately into the game, when the Packers have been highly productive in five of their six games this season - 2½ of them without Adams.

The biggest challenge for Rodgers and Adams facing coach Mike Zimmer's defense is figuring out exactly what coverages the Vikings are in. With veterans Eric Kendricks at linebacker and Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris at safety, Minnesota routinely disguises its defensive looks right up to the snap, hoping to keep the opponent off-balance.

Route adjustments against disguised coverages can be tricky, because if the disguise works, the receiver and QB might not be on the same page and/or the route ends up right in the strength of the coverage instead of where the defense might be vulnerable.

"Now (the receiver's) not in the place that he needs to be, and the quarterback's looking there and if they throw us off like that, it makes it tough," Adams said. "We've got to make sure pre- and post-snap we're reading the defense well."

Rodgers considers Smith, the five-time Pro Bowler who's exceptional as both a blitzer and cover man, one of the best in the league at disguising his intentions. Zimmer maximizes on that ability, as well as with whether Kendricks and/or Barr are rushing or dropping at the line of scrimmage.

"That's the sweet spot, especially on third down, where Mike has made a living for so many years, getting those guys to disguise their coverages and do all the different looks they can," Rodgers said.

For all the Vikings' struggles on defense this year (they're uncharacteristically 28th in yards allowed, 30th in points), they're still third in the league in third-down efficiency.

While the Packers won most of those battles in Week 1, converting six of 11 on their way to 43 points, Minnesota's young cornerbacks have more experience now. They had three rookies making their NFL debuts in the first meeting without any preseason games, though the Vikings' secondary is dealing with some uncertainty on the injury front as well. Cornerbacks Mike Hughes (neck) and Holton Hill (foot) missed Wednesday's practice and rookie corner Cameron Dantzler was placed on the Covid-reserve list as the Vikings came out of their bye week.

How the matchups unfold against Adams on Sunday will be a major storyline, and the Packers are confident they have others to turn to if the Vikings force their hand.

Receiver Malik Taylor and tight end Jace Sternberger caught their first career regular-season TD passes last week, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had his best game this season (four catches, 96 yards) back in Week 1. The running backs have been involved in the passing game all season, and receiver Allen Lazard also has returned to practice for Green Bay this week after missing the last three games, though it's not a given he'll be activated to play right away.

"Certainly, (Adams is) a focal point of our passing game and we're always trying to put him in position to be the guy, but there's things teams can do to take the guy away," LaFleur said. "So, we've got to be mindful of that, that not everything is just centered around '17.' We have a lot of other capable guys we can get the ball to in the pass game and it's going to have to come to fruition this Sunday."

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