Za’Darius Smith and Kenny Clark are key for the Packers in Week 1.
This duo repeatedly put the offensive line on the back foot and pressured Kirk Cousins. For the Packers to repeat their success against the Vikings in the season opener this weekend, they’ll need their two Pro Bowl defensive players to impact the game again.
In the two games against the Vikings last year, Smith had a combined 3.5 sacks and six QB hits, Clark two sacks and two QB hits. Clark was particularly dominant in the first meeting between the two teams. According to Pro Football Focus, he had five hurries on only 33 pass-rush attempts, as well as a forced fumble.
Even when they weren’t making the sack or QB hit, we regularly saw Smith, Clark, or Preston Smith in the Vikings’ backfield, forcing Cousins into a quick decision. It’s no surprise we regularly saw tweets like this throughout both contests.
On Sunday, the Packers begin their season back at U.S. Bank Stadium for a meeting with the Vikings. Once again, the Vikings offensive line will face a tough task to stop the Smith Bros. and Clark from taking over the game.
If we see similar dominance from the Packers’ star defensive players, the Vikings offense will struggle to find consistency as they did in Week 16 last year.
One cause for concern is the Vikings’ rushing attack. Minnesota didn’t have Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison active in the last meeting, but in Week 2, Cook rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Holding up against the run game is also important, but the Packers’ strength is defending the pass. In obvious passing situations, the Smith Bros. and Clark give the defense a major advantage.
If they find similar success in this game as they did last year, Green Bay will walk out of U.S. Bank Stadium with victory number one.