One big question looms over the buildup for Sunday’s game in Green Bay between the Packers and Minnesota Vikings: Will Aaron Rodgers play?
No one has a definitive answer. Rodgers injured his left knee in Monday’s comeback win over the Chicago Bears. He finished that game after rallying the Packers to a 24-23 victory, but he did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, spending his time rehabbing his injury.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Thursday that he is not sure whether Rodgers will play.
“This is no layup,” McCarthy said. “That’s why it’s a day-to-day situation.”
McCarthy said Rodgers might be able to play even if he does not practice at all this week.
“You’ve got two types of environments to prepare you for games – you’ve got the classroom environment, and you have obviously the practice environment,” McCarthy said. “So with him in the rehab group, he’s full bore ahead in the classroom and all the different meetings. Today’s a very heavy situational day, so that’s where his involvement is.”
If Rodgers, a two-time league MVP, cannot play, the Packers will go with DeShone Kizer, who started 15 games for the Cleveland Browns last season and lost all 15.
If Rodgers does play, another storyline comes into play. It was against the Vikings in the sixth game of the 2107 season that Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone on a crushing hit by Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr. Rodgers missed all but one game the rest of the season.
The Vikings expect Rodgers to play.
“Well, you know he walks on water, so I’m sure he’s going to play,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said early in the week.
Green Bay’s quarterback, whoever it is, will be challenged by a Minnesota defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL last season and forced four San Francisco turnovers in the Vikings’ 24-16 victory over the 49ers last week.
The Vikings won both games against the Packers last season, and they shut Green Bay out 16-0 in the teams’ second meeting, when Brett Hundley was Green Bay’s quarterback.
With defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith, the Vikings have five Pro Bowl players on this side of the ball. In free agency, they added a former Pro Bowler in defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
“There’s no weaknesses on their defense,” Rodgers said. “You look at all three levels a lot of times when you’re playing a defense, when you think about the team, you can maybe name three or four guys off the top of your head that you know about or you’ve seen play or you’ve heard about. It’s different with this team. You know most of them because they’re big names. It’s a lot of big names on that team, a lot of guys who have gotten paid second contracts and made a lot of plays for a number of years.”
Obviously, the Packers stand a better chance if Rodgers is the one facing that defense.
Rodgers signed a four-year contract extension worth $134 million in base salary just before the regular season started, but he is not the only high-priced quarterback in this game.
The Vikings signed free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million deal in the offseason. The Vikings won the NFC North and reached the NFC Championship Game last year with Case Keenum at quarterback, but they believe they can do better with Cousins in control.
“Playing in this league, there’s going to be expectation and pressure, regardless of what your specific circumstances are,” Cousins said. “I remember being a rookie and a fourth-round draft pick and looking around at the roster and realizing that if I didn’t play well every day at practice and in preseason games, I wasn’t going to be there. That was pressure and I had expectations that I had to meet there.”
Cousins was 20 of 36 for 244 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the opener, but Sunday will be his first game on the road as a member of the Vikings.
Cousins does not have the star power of Rodgers, who left Monday’s game in a cart in the first half, only to return in the second half to lead the Packers back from a 20-0 deficit with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
“I want to play, obviously,” Rodgers said on Wednesday. “Just taking it one day at a time. See how it feels tomorrow and see how it feels Friday, Saturday and hopefully ready to go Sunday.”
The Vikings’ game plan is focusing on Rodgers.
“We know he’s playing,” Griffen said. “We’re just getting ready to play Aaron. I don’t know if he’s mobile. I don’t know if he can run. We don’t know anything. So, we’re just going to go with the game plan that he’s running and we’re going to go out and execute our assignments.”