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GREEN BAY – Back in May, in the middle of the offseason program, he was an under-the-radar signing.

Down the stretch for the Packers in 2019, cornerback Chandon Sullivan is becoming a key piece to coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense.

A second-year pro out of Georgia State who played in five games with the Eagles last year as a rookie, Sullivan has seen a jump in his defensive snaps of late, and games like Sunday’s against the Bears show why he keeps earning more.

Sullivan was anywhere and everywhere, supporting the run, playing both hybrid linebacker and cover corner, dropping into zones like a safety, you name it – and highly involved in some of the game’s important defensive stops.

Here’s a sampling of the up-and-comer’s work.

Play No. 1: Second-and-9 from the Chicago 28, second quarter, 12:08 left

Result: 4-yard run by RB David Montgomery

This is pretty standard run support, but it’s Sullivan’s anticipation that makes the play and saves a potentially big run. Lined up across from WR Anthony Miller (17) in the slot, Sullivan is clearly expecting a run and starts to shift more toward the box right before the snap. The adjustment gives him a better angle to sidestep Miller’s block attempt and be right where he needs to be to drop Montgomery. If he gets blocked by Miller, Montgomery might be off to the races.

Play No. 2: Fourth-and-7 from the Green Bay 41, second quarter, 7:40 left

Result: Incomplete pass

There’s a lot going on here and Sullivan is in the middle of all of it. First, along with CB Jaire Alexander (23) and S Darnell Savage (26), the Packers effectively disguise their coverage. Sullivan seamlessly passes off WR Allen Robinson (12) on his upfield route and widens to the flat where Miller is headed. Once QB Mitch Trubisky starts to scramble and extend the play, it’s a “plaster” situation, and he’s taking Miller all the way. The key to staying with him is the quick turn of the head at about the 28-yard line. Sullivan glances over his left shoulder and sees Miller jetting up the sideline. He keeps himself in position to make it a very difficult catch for Miller, who comes down with the ball but is out of bounds.

Play No. 3: Third-and-4 from the Green Bay 32, third quarter, 10:23 left

Result: 2-yard sack by DL Kenny Clark

This goes as Clark’s second sack of the day, but give Sullivan his share of the credit. At the snap, he widens quickly to pick up Montgomery leaking out of the backfield. Then, as Trubisky starts to roll out, Sullivan effectively takes on Montgomery’s block, which combined with the pursuit of defenders from the inside, gives Trubisky no running lane or throwing opportunity to get the first down. Clark eventually runs him out of bounds for the loss, and the Bears turn the ball over on downs on the next snap.

Play No. 4: Second-and-10 from the Chicago 41, third quarter, 2:33 left

Result: 3-yard run by RB Tarik Cohen

Sullivan isn’t known for his speed, but he closes some ground fairly quickly here. At the moment Cohen (29) gets the handoff, he’s got a head start on Sullivan toward the boundary to turn the corner. As Sullivan tries to gain the angle on him, credit CB Kevin King (20) for getting off the block of TE Jesper Horsted (49) and getting a swipe at Cohen. Even though King misses, he alters Cohen’s path enough to give Sullivan the step he needs to square up and whack Cohen out of bounds for a minimal gain.

Play No. 5: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 28, fourth quarter, 11:02 left

Result: Incomplete pass

This play has Miller matched up in the slot against Savage – a safety not a corner – so it’s a natural spot for Trubisky to attack. Except there’s Sullivan again, getting enough depth on his drop to take away any throwing angle Trubisky has on Miller’s post route.

Play No. 6: Fourth-and-10 from the Green Bay 49, fourth quarter, 1:51 left

Result: Incomplete pass

This is great coverage all around by the Packers on the big fourth-down stop at midfield late in the game, but it’s worth watching Sullivan work the middle of the field. First, he recognizes Miller’s seam route and is perfectly in sync with S Adrian Amos (31) to take that away. Then, as Trubisky nears the sideline and tries to throw back over the middle for Robinson, Sullivan reacts well and almost ends his effective day with an interception.

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Redmond suffered a hamstring injury Monday against the Vikings and is questionable to return.

Redmond primarily plays on special teams, as he only has played in about 30 percent of the defensive snaps this season. Still, should Redmond not return the Packers will have to rely on Ibraheim Campbell as the only reserve safety remaining on the roster.

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GREEN BAY – Packers cornerback Josh Jackson had just come off the practice field on Friday when his brother called with the news no child ever wants to hear.

Their father, Paul, had passed away at 77 after a series of illnesses. While the news was somewhat expected – he recently suffered two strokes and had fallen ill with pneumonia – it still hit Jackson hard regardless.

Jackson considered flying home to Texas to be with his family, but with his father’s funeral scheduled for this Thursday, he chose to play Sunday against Washington. That turned out to be key for Green Bay’s secondary, with both Kevin King (shoulder) and Tony Brown (heel) ruled out after being listed as questionable.

In their stead, Jackson wound up playing 26 defensive snaps in the dime sub-package.

“Once I found out, it definitely broke my heart,” said Jackson on Monday. “It was definitely really tough because we were really close. We talked every day on the phone. He was a big part of my life. Just to lose him was definitely something that was pretty sad. I know he’ll be with me, watching over me. Just trying to play for him and stay strong for him. I know that’s what he wants me to do.”

Paul was diagnosed with cancer when Jackson was in college at Iowa, which he successfully beat. Despite what he was facing, Paul told his son to keep his focus on football.

On the field, Jackson’s patience has been tested this season. After starting 10 games as a rookie, Jackson has played mostly special teams this year after a foot injury landed him on the non-football injury list at the start of training camp.

Given an opportunity to play Sunday, Jackson held his own in the secondary. He was hoping Dwayne Haskins would throw one his way, but the Washington quarterback targeted his coverage only once (a 1-yard pass to Chris Thompson).

Jackson said he read the Bible before the game and said a long prayer before taking the field Sunday. He played in memory of his father, who played a role in getting Jackson started with football in fourth grade. Jackson said his dad was involved with all his sports, helping him work out and setting up drills.

“He’d always tell me – don’t worry about me. Just make sure you’re finishing your season strong and focus on that,” Jackson said. “I know he was strong. I know he wanted me to play. So I just tried to go out there and give it my best.”

Speaking with reporters Monday, Head Coach Matt LaFleur praised Jackson’s performance, adding the former second-round pick has “been coming along well” in a deep secondary and has had a positive impact on special teams.

Jackson will fly home to Texas on Wednesday for the funeral before returning to the team in preparation for Sunday’s game against Chicago. As emotional as Sunday was, Jackson said he tried to stay positive and focus “on the good things in life.”

“It was pretty emotional. I just tried to hold it all in,” Jackson said. “I was really just trying to be thankful for every play I was out there, every snap that I got. More just of gratitude. There’s a lot to be thankful for. That’s kind of how I felt.”

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Follow the action from today’s game between the Green Bay Packers (11-3) and Minnesota Vikings (10-4), with the latest updates at the bottom, and join the conversation.
PREGAME
Inactives

Minnesota will be without both of its top running backs. Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook was ruled out on Saturday and Alexander Mattison is among the Vikings’ inactives. Mike Boone, who has fewer rushing yards in 22 career games than Cook had against Green Bay in Week 2, will be the featured back.

For the Packers, defensive tackle Dean Lowry, who was the only player listed as questionable, is active. Who’s out? Receiver Ryan Grant, running back Dexter Williams, cornerbacks Tony Brown and Ka’dar Hollman, offensive linemen Alex Light and John Leglue, and tight end Jace Sternberger. Without Light and Leglue, who was claimed off waivers from the Saints on Saturday, veteran Jared Veldheer will be active for the first time in his brief Packers career.
What’s at stake

With a victory, the Packers will win the NFC North Division title and remain in control of at least a first-round bye. San Francisco and New Orleans are 12-3, and the Packers would improve to 12-3 with a victory. San Francisco and Green Bay each have two conference losses compared to three for New Orleans, so the Niners would be No. 1, the Packers would be No. 2 and the Saints would be No. 3. The Packers could earn home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs if they win tonight and at Detroit on Sunday and if San Francisco loses at Seattle on Sunday night.
The Full World’s Best Preview

Two-minute drill: Health and home cooking

Offensive decline was years in making

Inside the Vikings: Who will replace Cook?

Rodgers vs. Zimmer, Round 13
Game time
First Quarter

Packers 0, Vikings 0 (14:00 remaining)

The Packers got crushed at San Francisco after Aaron Rodgers was stripped on the opening series to gift-wrap an opening touchdown for the 49ers. On third-and-5, a quick pass to the left to Aaron Jones resulted in a fumble. Anthony Barr’s strip and Eric Kendricks’ recovery and return set up the Vikings at the 10.

Vikings 3, Packers 0 (13:11 remaining)

The score: Dan Bailey kicked a 23-yard field goal.

Key play: On second-and-goal at the 5, Za’Darius Smith tossed aside left tackle Riley Reiff to force a throwaway by Kirk Cousins. On third down, Cousins threw too high and too hard to fullback C.J. Ham for an incompletion. So, while the Vikings took an early lead, at least the Packers avoided a disastrous start.

Vikings 3, Packers 0 (8:37 remaining)

The Packers were on the move, highlighted by an 18-yard reception by Davante Adams. On third-and-7 from the outskirts of field-goal range, Aaron Rodgers took a chance on a deep ball to Allen Lazard against cornerback Mackensie Alexander. It was a one-on-one to a receiver with a 7-inch height advantage. Lazard, however, apparently didn’t see the ball and it fell harmlessly incomplete.

Vikings 3, Packers 3 (2:00 remaining)

The score: Mason Crosby booted a 42-yard field goal.

Key plays: It’s not the plays the Packers made but the ones they missed. On third-and-3, Aaron Rodgers just missed fullback Danny Vitale, who had a step on linebacker Eric Kendricks. At worst, it would have been first-and-goal inside the 5. Rodgers wanted a hold on Kendricks but didn’t get it. On third down, Rodgers flipped a pass in the flat to Jones but Jones bobbled the off-target ball and couldn’t make the play. Missed opportunities have been the difference for the offense for most of the season – the opening pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and missed deep passes to Jimmy Graham and Aaron Jones vs. Washington as recent examples – and cost the Packers a touchdown on this series.
Second Quarter

Vikings 10, Packers 3 (13:33 remaining)

The score: Kirk Cousins, 0-8 for his career on “Monday Night Football,” threw a perfect deep ball to Stefon Diggs for a 21-yard touchdown against cornerback Jaire Alexander. Alexander’s coverage was good; Cousins’ throw was perfect.

Key play: On the first play of the second quarter, Aaron Rodgers’ streak of 277 consecutive passes without an interception came to an end as Vikings safety Anthony Harris ran underneath a route to Davante Adams and made a leaping interception. It was his sixth pick of the season and gave the Vikings the ball at Green Bay’ 26.

Vikings 10, Packers 6 (7:00 remaining).

The score: Mason Crosby made a 33-yard field goal.

Key plays: The Packers nickeled and dimed their way down the field. The biggest play was a third-and-1 completion to Davante Adams that gained 11. It was a quick pass in the flat, with Geronimo Allison making the key block on Xavier Rhodes to allow Adams to gain 12 after the catch. In the red zone, Rodgers had to throw it away on second down and his throw into traffic on third down was batted down by cornerback Mackensie Alexander.

Vikings 10, Packers 6 (4:52 remaining)

This week, David Bakhtiari called Za’Darius Smith the team’s best player. He’s been the best player in the first half. On first down, Mike Boone had a big hole off the left side but Smith got off the block and stopped Boone in his tracks to limit the play to 4 yards. On second down, he thrashed left tackle Riley Reiff for the sack.

Vikings 10, Packers 6 (4:07 remaining)

If Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams are the best players on offense and the team’s only hope of moving the ball consistently, how on Earth are they supposed to win a big game when they each have a turnover? This time, Rodgers fired a laser to Adams, who didn’t catch it cleanly but finally pulled it in but got it stripped by Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings took possession at the Packers’ 48 – their third drive starting on Green Bay’s side of the field.

Vikings 10, Packers 6 (2:37 remaining)

On third-and-4 from the 42, Minnesota turned to some trickery in hopes of taking a commanding lead before halftime. It almost worked. Receiver Stefon Diggs got the ball on a reverse and flipped a pass to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was wide open up the right side of the field but the ball was overthrown. On fourth down, Cousins’ deep pass to Adam Thielen was overthrown. Green Bay’s defense, for the second time, escaped a disaster.

Vikings 10, Packers 9 (0:00 remaining)

The score: Mason Crosby made a 19-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

Key plays: Again, it’s the plays the Packers didn’t make more than the plays they made. On second-and-10 from their 45, Aaron Rodgers hit wide-open tight end Jimmy Graham for a gain of 18 but Graham appeared to give up on the play before running out of bounds and cornerback Mike Hughes punched the ball loose. Receiver Geronimo Allison recovered but it cost the Packers a timeout. A screen to Jamaal Williams gained 11 but burned a lot of clock, a quick out to Davante Adams picked up 13 and short completions to Adams (6 yards) and Williams (8 yards) set up first-and-goal from just inside the 2-yard line with 7 seconds remaining. With one timeout, the Packers could have run the ball. Instead, Rodgers had to burn a timeout rather than take a delay of game. Coming out of that second wasted timeout, Rodgers’ pass to Adams was too far inside. Adams dropped it. So, it was a bad pass, a bad drop and a hard-to-swallow field goal.
Halftime

The Packers had overwhelming advantages of 221-68 in yards and 13-2 in first downs but trailed 10-9 thanks to three turnovers and a couple missed red-zone opportunities. Aaron Rodgers was 18-of-30 passing for 156 yards with one interception and a 59.9 rating. Counterpart Kirk Cousins was 4-of-12 passing for 39 yards with one touchdown and a 71.2 rating. Za’Darius Smith was a force with one sack and three tackles for losses.
Third quarter

The Packers forced a three-and-out to start the second half. Meanwhile, Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks has been ruled out. He leads all NFL linebackers with 12 passes defensed.

Packers 17, Vikings 10 (2:03 remaining)

The score: Aaron Jones put the Packers in front with a 12-yard touchdown run. Receiver Allen Lazard’s block on cornerback Xavier Rhodes was the key to make it happen. Green Bay went for two, with Aaron Rodgers connecting with a sliding Geronimo Allison.

Key plays: With Minnesota moving the ball for the first time the entire game, Kirk Cousins went deep to receiver Stefon Diggs against cornerback Jaire Alexander. Fellow corner Kevin King bolted to the middle and made the interception – his fifth of the season – and returned the ball 39 yards to the 47. On third-and-2 with the Packers in position for a long field goal, Rodgers connected with Davante Adams for 6 yards and a first down.
Fourth quarter

With the Packers back on the field, Jamaal Williams (shoulder) is questionable.

Packers 17, Vikings 10 (7:40 remaining)

Green Bay’s defense delivered again. On first down, Kevin King dropped tight end for minus-1. On second down, Jaire Alexander limited a pass to Ameer Abdullah to 3 yards. On third-and-8, defensive tackle Kenny Clark sacked Kirk Cousins to force a punt.

Packers 23, Vikings 10 (5:51 remaining)

The score: Aaron Jones scored on a 56-yard touchdown run to potentially send the Packers to the NFC North championship. The left side of the Packers’ line created a big hole, Jones ran through two arm-tackle attempts and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling delivered a block on the perimeter. Jones jogged the final 20-or-so yards.

Key play: It was rushing touchdown No. 16 – most in the NFL and second-most in franchise history. Jim Taylor rushed for 19 touchdowns in 1962. Ahman Green (2003) and Taylor (1961) had 15 rushing touchdowns.

Packers 23, Vikings 10 (3:34 remaining)

The Vikings had a long touchdown called back as left tackle Riley Reiff, who is having a miserable game, all but tackled outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell. On fourth-and-25, Mike Zimmer brought out the punt team to a chorus of boos from a record crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium.
FINAL: PACKERS 23, VIKINGS 10

Behind an absolutely dominating defensive performance and a heavy dose of Aaron Jones and Davante Adams, the Green Bay Packers rallied past the Minnesota Vikings 23-10 to win the NFC North.

Za’Darius Smith had 3.5 sacks and five tackles for losses to help limit the Vikings to 139 yards and seven first downs.

Meanwhile, Aaron Jones overcame a first-possession fumble to 154 yards and two touchdowns. Adams caught one short pass after another, turning 13 receptions into 116 yards.

Green Bay dominated statistically, other than three first-half giveaways. It played much better in the second half, though, to earn its first victory in four trips to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins fell to 0-9 on “Monday Night Football.” The more he struggled, the more he was booed; the longer the Vikings struggled, the louder the “Go Pack Go” chants rang through the stadium.

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GREEN BAY – The Packers added guard/tackle Billy Turner to the injury report on Saturday with an illness. Turner is questionable to play in Sunday’s game against Washington.

On Friday, the Packers listed Kevin King and Tony Brown as questionable, though both cornerbacks were listed as full participants in practice Friday.

King (shoulder) was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday before being upgraded to full on Friday. Brown, who popped up on the injury report last week with a heel injury, has been a full participant all week.

The Packers removed 10 others from the injury report who are expected to be available: tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), running back Jamaal Williams (knee), receivers Davante Adams (toe) and Ryan Grant (illness), tight ends Jimmy Graham (calf/waist) and Marcedes Lewis (veteran rest), linebacker Blake Martinez (hand), defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster (neck/knee), cornerback Tramon Williams (veteran rest), and safety Will Redmond (foot).

Washington has ruled out receivers Paul Richardson Jr. (hamstring) and Trey Quinn (concussion), and safety Deshazor Everett (shoulder). Running back Adrian Peterson (toe), who didn’t practice Thursday, returned to full participation on Friday and is expected to play.
Green Bay Packers
Table inside Article
Player, Pos. INJURY WED THUR FRI STATUS
Davante Adams, WR Toe FP FP FP –
Tony Brown, CB Heel FP FP FP Questionable
Bryan Bulaga, T Knee LP LP FP –
Jimmy Graham, TE Calf / Wrist DNP LP LP –
Ryan Grant, WR Illness DNP FP FP –
Kevin King, CB Shoulder LP LP FP Questionable
Tyler Lancaster, DL Neck / Knee FP FP FP –
Marcedes Lewis, TE NIR (veteran rest) LP LP LP –
Blake Martinez, LB Hand FP FP FP –
Will Redmond, S Foot FP FP FP –
Billy Turner, G/T Illness – – – Questionable
Jamaal Williams, RB Knee – LP LP –
Tramon Williams, CB NIR (veteran rest) DNP LP FP –
Washington Redskins
Table inside Article
Player, Pos. INJURY WED THUR FRI STATUS
Ryan Anderson, LB Shoulder LP LP FP –
Deshazor Everett, S Shoulder – DNP DNP Out
Cole Holcomb, LB Thumb FP FP FP –
Ryan Kerrigan, LB Concussion FP FP FP –
Morgan Moses, T Back LP LP FP –
Montae Nicholson, S Ankle FP FP FP –
Adrian Peterson, RB Toe FP DNP FP –
Trey Quinn, WR Concussion DNP DNP DNP Out
Paul Richardson Jr., WR Hamstring DNP DNP DNP
Brandon Scherff, G Shoulder LP LP FP –
Montez Sweat, LB Quadricep LP LP FP –
Chris Thompson, RB Toe FP FP FP –

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GREEN BAY – Two are making noise with all the headlines, and the other two are very quietly doing what the Packers hoped they would, too.

Back in March, when General Manager Brian Gutekunst signed four unrestricted free agents practically before the opening bell quieted down, it was natural for Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to turn heads.

They play the glamor position of outside linebacker, they get after quarterbacks, and they rack up sacks, to the tune of 21½ combined through 14 games.

The less-heralded free agents, guard Billy Turner and safety Adrian Amos, weren’t likely to compete for that kind of attention. But that’s perfectly fine.

In discussing these “other” two with position coaches and teammates, it’s fair to say they actually have more in common than their dissimilar positions and disparate personalities would suggest. Namely, they’re cerebral players whose brains bring as much to the table as their fellow free agents’ stats.

“His football IQ, in my mind playing next to him, that’s the biggest thing that stands out people may not see,” center Corey Linsley said of Turner.

Added cornerback Tramon Williams about Amos: “He’s very smart, and he’s always in the right place. He’s a person you can count on at the end of the day, you know what I’m saying?”

Intelligence and reliability. That’s precisely what the Packers have in Turner and Amos, and they couldn’t be happier about it.

Turner quickly stood out upon arriving in Green Bay for everything from his unusual haircut to his off-beat interests to a peculiar sense of humor. With everything in measured tones, he fit in as the new veteran on the Packers’ offensive line rather easily.

Starting every game at right guard this season, he’s been steady with a couple of standout performances against premier defensive tackles – Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox and Chicago’s Akiem Hicks in the rematch with the Bears this past week.

“He does a good job for us as a tone-setter,” offensive line coach Adam Stenavich said. “He’s a guy you can lean on to go against big matchups.”

It’s his mind that supplements those physical, athletic traits, though. With Green Bay already Turner’s third team in a six-year career, upon arrival in the spring he was accustomed to absorbing a new playbook in the normal course of an offseason.

Linsley, tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, and guard Lane Taylor, on the other hand, had only known one offensive system their entire NFL lives. It didn’t take long for Turner’s smarts to get noticed.

“When we got here,” Stenavich said of the Packers’ new coaching staff, “Billy had been in, I think, four different offenses in four years, or something like that, and I had bounced around as a coach.

“You come here and these guys had only done one thing for so long. With me installing new things, Billy was picking it up, like ‘OK, that’s what this is. And this is that.’ For the other guys it was harder. They hadn’t had that newness.”

Communication with his linemates has been smooth from the get-go, too.

“He’s easy to talk to. We’re on the same page a lot,” Linsley said. “There’s very few times when we’re not, but it’s very easy to fix stuff with him. If we’re coming off (the field) and had a little issue … ‘I thought you were going to do this,’ … OK, we’ll just fix it, like that.

“I could tell (early on) he was a very calm football player, very intelligent, had a feel for the defense and everything.”

Communication with a calming presence is Amos’ forte as well. The former Bears safety’s responsibilities are more wide-ranging in that respect due to his position, and he stepped into that role right away as a new veteran starter in coordinator Mike Pettine’s defense.

Defensive backs coach Jason Simmons, who played some safety himself during a 10-year NFL career, said it’s obvious his teammates respect Amos for his experience and knowledge. That’s important when directing traffic for a rookie safety starting alongside him and for a cornerback group that has only one player, Williams, with more than three full seasons in the pros.

“Whenever you play safety in this league, the No. 1 thing we talk about before we talk about physicality or anything else, you have to be a good communicator,” Simmons said. “We are the coverage quarterbacks. We are the guy that everybody looks to. Anybody moves, everybody now looks to the safeties to know what they’re calling, to confirm any check or to change any check.”

Amos is very soft-spoken and understated, not the rah-rah type. But there’s no mistaking his tone when he’s making a call for his teammates to follow. He communicates with confidence and conviction, and it has helped the defensive backs look much more in sync in recent weeks passing routes off to one another in certain coverages.

“His call command is one of the best things that he does for this defense,” Simmons said. “Guys know when he says it, there’s no hesitancy, there’s no apprehension, or not sure, no uncertainty. The whole thing with him is he says it, and if it’s wrong, play what I call, and that’s OK. Play what I call and we’ll get through the next down and get it coached up on the sideline.”

Put another way, “He’s seen a lot of football at this point,” Williams said. “He brings a state of stability.”

He also ranks second on the team with 81 tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and fourth with eight passes defensed. Amos even has a sack, just the third in his five-year career.

Billy Turner’s 14 starts are a career high for a single season and he’s not done yet. He’s also played every snap this year but two, when he exited for a kneel-down sequence.

But that turns the conversation back to stats, and that’s not what these “other” two free agents are about. The Smiths bring more than the numbers as well, but if it’s harder to see what makes Turner and Amos so valuable, that’s OK.

The Packers got exactly what they were looking for with them, too.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jason Simmons would take a repeat performance by Jaire Alexander and Kevin King.

The Green Bay Packers’ secondary coach might not admit that directly but as he leaned against a wall outside the Lambeau Field locker room and contemplated what his starting cornerbacks did more than three months ago against the Minnesota Vikings, a look of satisfaction crossed his face.

“The one thing they did was they realized the threat that both of those guys present,” Simmons said. “That’s probably the best tandem in the league.”

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In that, he was referring to Vikings receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.

But it was after that Week 2 game — a 21-16 Packers win in which Diggs caught just one pass (a 45-yard touchdown on a ball that Alexander said he lost in the sun) and Thielen had a modest five catches for 75 yards — when Alexander boasted: “Me and [King], shoot, the best tandem in the league.”

Both proclamations — the one from Simmons about the Diggs-Thielen combination and Alexander’s — can be poked full of holes after Thielen missed most of the past two months with a hamstring injury before he returned last Sunday against the Chargers and after the Packers’ defense has been burned by explosive plays.

But come Monday’s rematch in Minneapolis (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), there’s a good chance that whichever tandem has the better night also will come out on the winning side.
Jaire Alexander, left, and Kevin King might not be “the best tandem in the league” but they were effective against the Vikings in Week 2. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

“Honestly it’s going to come down to player versus player,” said Simmons, a 10-year NFL defensive back himself. “We see these guys, they know us, we know them. The deal is a lot of times not to get in the way of good players at his point and make sure they’re able to go play fast.”

Diggs and Thielen were Packers killers last season. In the two games against Green Bay, a Vikings’ win and a tie, they combined for 37 catches, 461 yards and five touchdowns.

On Monday, they would need 31 catches for 337 yards and four touchdowns to match last season’s two-game numbers against the Packers.

What’s more, they did little damage against Alexander and King in Week 2. According to Pro Football Focus, Thielen caught only two passes for 36 yards on four targets against Alexander, while Alexander was targeted twice when he was on Diggs and did not allow a completion. King was in coverage on Diggs’ deep-ball touchdown and Alexander came over to help late. King came back to make one of the game-saving plays – a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone on a ball thrown for Diggs.

“Jaire and Kevin played great games, and it was a battle for sure,” said Packers nose tackle Kenny Clark, who had a strip sack in the first quarter against the Vikings in Week 2. “We’re going to need another performance like that from all of our top players against all of theirs.”
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Alexander, voted a Pro Bowl alternate this week, ranks sixth in the NFL in pass breakups (18), while King is tied for seventh in interceptions (four). Like Thielen, King has battled injuries. The Packers rested him in Week 14 against the Redskins to help his ailing shoulder heal for the stretch run. He returned last week and played all 84 defensive snaps against the Bears. Thielen also returned last week from a nagging hamstring injury and caught three passes for 27 yards.

In the first meeting against the Vikings, Simmons and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine charged Alexander and King with playing plenty of one-on-one coverage while they committed a safety to the box in an effort to slow down running back Dalvin Cook. If Cook can’t play this week because of his shoulder injury, it could allow them to help Alexander and King a little more.

In that game, Kirk Cousins posted his second-worst Total QBR as a starter (7.8), but he’s turned it around of late in large part due to play-action with Cook. The Vikings have the second-highest play-action rate in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and Cousins has 13 touchdowns without an interception on such plays.

“We were in a lot of single-high and they challenged us,” Simmons said. “They actually caught some passes, so I have to give them credit as well. They had some 50-50 balls — Diggs’ touchdown was a big one. But the big thing was we took the challenge. We know that they present a really good run threat to us, so we know we’re going to some single-high, and the guys have to take the challenge.”

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Jeff from Athens, WI

That makes eight. AR12 said in the beginning of the year, “We have a defense,” and the season has shown that we do. In eight games (so far), the Packers’ defense has held the opponent to fewer than 20 points. That is a good way to win football games. Oh, and if you love defense – that is winning pretty.

And the best part is the Packers don’t just have a defense – they have a team. And that team is pretty darn good at finding ways to win football games. Merry Christmas!

Justin from Raleigh, NC

Za’Darius Smith in an emotional postgame interview said all he wanted for Christmas was a shirt and a hat. I’d say he earned them. I’ve never felt so confident about our chances to win in a game we were down 10-3, but if we didn’t spot the Vikings 50-plus yards, it really felt like they weren’t going to be able to move the ball on us. Was that what a complete game looks like, minus the turnovers?

First off, Za’Darius Smith needs to be in the conversation for NFL defensive player of the year. I couldn’t care less about the Pro Bowl at this point. He’s an All-Pro worthy of such consideration. He does it all, both on the field and in the locker room. You’re right. Give that man his hat. He earned it. That was the most complete defensive performance the Packers have had since the opener against Chicago and Za’Darius is a big reason for that.

Justin from Los Angeles, CA

Reggie White and Charles Woodson are the eternal gold standard for free-agent signings in GB, but Za’Darius is quickly moving up the list. What players do you think are above him that he’d have to unseat to move into that three spot?

I can’t think of any other free agents not named Reggie White who came to Green Bay and knocked the doors off the building faster than the Smiths. Even Woodson needed a few seasons to realize an All-Pro season in Green Bay. One Smith, if not both, could wind up doing it in his first year with the Packers.

Edward from Portland, ME

Is the Vikings’ OL that bad or were they just confused with Packers’ defensive schemes? I can’t remember ever seeing such a total mismatch.

I actually think Minnesota’s offensive line is better than it’s been the past few years. The Packers just took it to them from start to finish. That snowball just kept rolling.

Ronald from Panabo, Philippines

Insiders, I love that the Packers came in as underdogs, turned over the ball early (just like San Francisco), overcame that and dominated on defense. This is the signature win of the season, isn’t it?

I said over and over last week how the Packers needed to go into U.S. Bank Stadium and hand it to the Vikings. Sure, it might have been ugly early but the Packers persevered and got the statement win they were looking for. There’s one more piece of business to tend to this regular season. Beat Detroit and rest up.

Howie from Saint Ignace, MI

How do the coaches guard against a letdown versus the Lions after the euphoria of winning the NFC North and beating the second-best team in the division?

Glance down at their shirts: “The North is not enough.” On to the next battle.
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Wes from South Saint Paul, MN

Losing the turnover battle was totally offset by the dominant defense – just look at the time of possession! The Packers had the ball a full quarter more than the Vikings – that’s how you negate the load of turnovers.

In this game, the only thing more powerful than turnovers is points.

Justin from Black River Falls, WI

Offense identity! Am I the only one that sees the short passing game combined with the run game as being the best way to move downfield? Whenever the Packers tried deep they had trouble connecting.

I’m going to use this Allen Lazard quote from my Monday story on the Packers’ first-year receiver to answer this. I feel like fans and media “have had the answers to the test this whole time and they chose to ignore them.” Aaron Jones and Davante Adams. When they produce, the Packers win. Period.

Stephen from Menomonee Falls, WI

So the Pack is 3-0 in games this year when A-Rod has not thrown a TD pass. Who’da thought?

Craziness. It’s almost like you need more than just one player to win games in this league.

Tom from Iron River, WI

People criticize the Packers for having one receiver in Adams, however, every game Lazard or Kumerow has key receptions and provides consistent run blocking. When are they going to get a little love?

Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were willing blockers but I can’t recall a receiving corps that’s this proficient in blocking during my time on the beat. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a terrific block on Jones’ 56-yard touchdown, as well. As Jones told me after the game, those blocks aren’t just important because they spring him for big gains – they also keep hits off him. That keeps tread on the tire.

Craig from Milwaukee, WI

How far do you think this team can really go?

To infinity and beyond.

Steve from Land O Lakes, FL

I didn’t notice it until I watched the replay today how many of the offensive linemen were in the end zone to congratulate Aaron Jones on his TD run. That’s a long run especially at the end of a hard game. It’s great to see the offense so tightly bonded.

There’s a lot of mutual respect between Jones and the offensive line.

Mike from Chaska, MN

ML – Coach of the year…by a long shot. EJ – Rookie offensive player of the year. AJ – All-Pro (should be in the Pro Bowl). ZS – Defensive player of the year (should be in the Pro Bowl). MC – Best kicker of the year award. Undrafted rookies/players of the year award…AL and JK. BG – GM of the year…Smiths, Amos, starting guard, starting rookies, hiring ML! Scary thing…This is still a very young team on both sides of the ball with great leadership!

I mentioned on “Unscripted” Tuesday that Gutekunst needs to be in the running for NFL executive of the year. He made a big investment in those four free agents last March and all four have earned those contracts. Gutekunst also drafted Elgton Jenkins and unearthed a few gems in Allen Lazard, Chandon Sullivan, Tyler Ervin and more.

Chris from Cedar Rapids, IA

The Packers Monday night, and perhaps through the whole season, reminded me of the Patriots of the past few years – it never looked amazing but there was an inevitability about them. They just kept moving the ball and didn’t seem to doubt that they would win the game.

You better jump on this team early, because if it’s a one-score game, the Packers are tough to beat in the fourth quarter.

Eric from Stramproy, Netherlands

Wes, Kyler Fackrell drawing a penalty neutralizing the touchdown throw to Johnson with four minutes left does not appear on anyone’s radar. I thought that was big. Don’t know what the Packers defense was doing there, though. Thoughts?

Massive play. Blake Martinez was giving Fackrell praise for it in the postgame locker room. And Fackrell earned every bit of that penalty, too. If he doesn’t get held, Fackrell sacks Cousins. He’s played well this season behind the Smiths.

Uriah from South Vienna, OH

I was thinking the same thing about Minnesota’s choice next week. Do you take a “bye” or try to win? I think I would take the week to rest. Which one would you do, and why?

I’d sit the running backs and Eric Kendricks but everyone else is playing if I’m Mike Zimmer. If the Vikings are going to do anything in the postseason, I’d argue Cousins needs a tune-up fight to get some confidence back after that performance Monday night.

Kristopher from Fulton, WI

What are your thoughts on the five (potentially six) Packer finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020?

As Spoff knows all too well, I’m a massive fan of Cecil Isbell. He undoubtedly would’ve been a Hall of Famer had he not stepped away from the game following the 1942 season. He had the NFL’s first 2,000-yard passing year, while his 24 touchdown passes that season were the franchise’s single-season record for 40 years. I was thrilled to see him included. If I had any gripe, it’s that there are three contributors getting inducted and only two coaches. That should’ve been flipped. It’s much more difficult for coaches to make the Hall.

Barry from Wausau, WI

I liked the way the Monday night game was officiated. No ticky-tack calls and you barely noticed the refs. I was worried that Rodgers might have suffered a concussion on that last sack as his helmet bounced off the turf and saw his reaction when he got back up. Glad to see he was OK. Happy holidays!

Bill Vinovich’s crew is the best in the game, in my opinion. Always clear, concise and generally lets the players play. If you don’t focus on ticky-tack penalties, you’re more likely to catch the real ones.

Jake from Farmington, MN

Did you guys see/hear that the Vikings showed the play where Rodgers got hurt on the big screens before the game? I hope a thousand years of losing curses them for such low-class behavior. May they never win another game.

I’m a big karma guy. I’m not saying others need to be. I can also appreciate the “pro wrestling” aspect of rivalries. But once I saw that clip, I immediately thought to myself, “Oh boy, I wouldn’t have done that.”
Locker Room Pass: Packers at Vikings

Look inside the locker room as Packers players celebrated winning the NFC-North division title.

Lowell from Tuscola, IL

That horn was pretty quiet in the fourth quarter. Packer fans weren’t though.

Horns in the first quarter. Tail lights in the fourth.

Brad from Clemmons, NC

The “Go Pack Go” chant sounded great on TV. How loud were the Packers fans in person?

Pretty darn loud. The reaction to Jones’ 12-yard touchdown run was one of the loudest of the entire evening.

Nathan from Lino Lakes, MN

5-0 in the division? Did not expect that. Do you know the last time the Packers went 6-0 (or undefeated) against division opponents?

Man, y’all really did black out memories of the 2011 season, huh? That’s like the 12th time I’ve gotten that question this year and the third time I’ve answered it.

Gordy from Plymouth, WI

Great team win. Smith Bros. showed they are great cough eliminators, with outstanding support from everyone else. I also want to commend you on the article about Lazard, shows him as a classy receiver.

Lazard has come a long way…and he’s not done yet. He’s going to be an important piece to this playoff puzzle.

Corinne from Madison, WI

Merry Christmas, Wes! I understand that the Pack can get the No. 1 seed if Green Bay beats Detroit and Seattle beats San Francisco. Are there other (reasonably possible) scenarios where Green Bay gets the first seed in the NFC?

The Packers can’t get the top seed with a loss. They can still get a bye with a loss if Carolina turns back New Orleans.

William from Rosedale, IN

Greetings, what a great game. The defense was powerful and had more energy than I have noticed in previous games this year. With the regular season about to end, I would like your opinion of the deal the Bears made to acquire Khalil Mack. Although their defense is amazing, the Bears haven’t achieved much in the postseason. Was giving up all the draft choices a good deal, looking back?

They had no choice. GM Ryan Pace and the Bears needed a playmaker to put that defense over the top. The real issue has been the offense not being able to catch up quickly enough to capitalize on Mack’s arrival.

Brad from Crystal Falls, MI

No question today just a comment. Last night I sat on my recliner, 7-day-old daughter in my arms, dog between my feet, and watched the team I’ve loved my whole life win its division for the first time after a brief drought. I found myself for the first time truly understanding what is meant by “it’s the memories that make us rich.” Thank you Insiders for always keeping the tradition, memories, and family, as they say after every game, of this team and this game in perspective.

Cheers!

Jeff from Tucson, AZ

Merry Christmas to all.

And to all a good night…and a quick shout-out to Cheryl from Strawberry Point, IA, for the wonderful Insider Inbox frames. Spoff and I loved them. “Insider Inbox: A quest for the answers to the questions that won’t go away.”

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Custom Dean Lowry Jersey Large

Lowry (ankle) is officially active for Monday night’s game against Minnesota.

Lowry has yet to miss a game this season, and was a late addition to the injury report Saturday ahead of the game. Now that he’s officially active, he’s expected to assume his usual starting role across the Packers’ defensive line.

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Custom Tyler Lancaster Jersey Large

Lancaster (neck/knee) was a full practice participant Wednesday.

Lancaster sustained neck and knee injuries during Sunday’s win over the Giants, but his full participation Wednesday indicates he’s clear of the injuries. The 25-year-old has started eight games this season but mostly sees rotational snaps on the defensive line.