Ever since training camp, the Green Bay Packers’ two new defensive backs, Kevin King and Josh Jones, have taken turns sharing the spotlight. Against the Minnesota Vikings, it looks like it’s Jones’ turn to shine.
Here’s the setup. The Vikings will be without their starting quarterback, Sam Bradford, and their top receiver, Stephon Diggs. That means Case Keenum will spearhead the passing attack. It also puts the Vikings in a similar situation to that of the 2015 Packers, who were unable to adjust well when Jordy Nelson, their top receiver and field stretcher, went down.
Adam Thielen, who’s having a fine year, is Minnesota’s Davante Adams. After that, however, the quality of the receiving corps drops like a rock. They have no third receiver on the level of a Randall Cobb. There’s second-year slow-as-molasses Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright, a fourth-round choice in 2012 who has never broken out, and newcomer Michael Floyd, a castoff from the Patriots. Treadwell has five catches on the year, Wright has four, and Floyd has one.
Where else can Case Keenum look to? His tight end, Kyle Rudolph is big, dependable and in his seventh year with the team. He’s coming off his best year by far (840 receiving yards), but he’s only averaging 30.8 yards per game this season.
Keenum is going to be very short of weapons on Sunday. We already know he’s a dink-and-dunk type of ball control quarterback. Don’t be surprised if his primary receiver against Green Bay is a running back. It won’t be rookie Dalvin Cook, who’s out for the year with an ACL injury. It’ll probably be Jerick McKinnon, who has yet to start a game on the year, but has caught 14 passes for 91 yards. The only other option is Latavius Murray, who has just four catches out of the backfield on the year. Both of these backs have been strictly dump-off receivers so far this season.
In short, Keenum and the Vikings are in a world of hurt offensively.
Josh Jones Gets His Shot
Enter the second round pick out of North Carolina State. Josh Jones has been electrifying ever since he arrived at training camp. Since the season began, however, he’s been quieter than I would have thought.
He put on a show, however, in week 3, when he was instrumental in achieving the overtime win against the Bengals. Playing a hybrid role, Jones had 12 tackles, including two sacks. On the year, Jones has been on the field for 58 percent of the defensive snaps. He ought to be out there every play on Sunday.
Especially since Morgan Burnett is not playing, how Jones performs will be key to whether the Packers can emerge with a road victory against their detested rival.
Since Keenum is expected to pepper the field with screens and other short tosses, Jones, with youth, speed, physicality, and overall athleticism, should be an intimidating presence all over the field — making tackles, knocking down passes, and even putting pressure on Keenum. He should feast on a team that has lost its best receiver, and is relying on a stable of receivers who are less than ordinary.
If Jones plays like he did against Cincinnati, the Vikings’ offense, already wounded, will be on life support.
Stepping in for Burnett is asking a lot of the speedy rookie, but we’ve had glimpses of how much field this guy can cover, how hard he hits, and how he can be a dominant player. I look for Jones to rule the center of the field, from behind the line of scrimmage to 10 yards downfield, because that’s where Keenum will be directing most of his throws.
Here’s hoping that Jones helps the Packers’ nitro defensive formation live up to its name.