The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season. The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota. Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.
The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears. Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track. At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.
Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.
Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line
In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week. As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.
Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now. Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.
My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.
On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section. Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way. True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position. But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush. Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.
It all boils down to pressure. If Rodgers can escape this game taking less than two sacks, the Packers have an excellent chance of winning and even winning big.
Vikings Tight End Kyle Rudolph vs. Packers Secondary
With Percy Harvin having missed the last two games and likely to miss a third this week, Rudolph becomes Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder’s favorite target.
Rudolph suffered a concussion last week but has been cleared to play this week. He is also dealing with a shoulder injury and while listed as “questionable” for Sunday, he has indicated that he expects to play versus Green Bay.
Rudolph is a big specimen (6’6”, 258 lbs) who is usually found clutching a football when the Vikings get near the goal line. He has seven touchdown catches and is a huge (no pun intended) target in short yardage near the end zone.
The Packers struggled last week against the Giants bigger receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. They have a history of problems with larger pass catchers. On the one hand, they are tasking their young defensive backs with the difficult job of taking Rudolph away as an option. On the other hand and with Harvin out, Green Bay should be able to put some help over Rudolph to keep him contained.
The other thing the Packers need to do is wrap this guy up. They can’t take a glancing blow and expect Rudolph to fall to the turf. He’s athletic and sound fundamentals are required to bring him down.
If defensive coordinator Dom Capers decides to play the soft zone on Sunday, expect Rudolph to rule the middle of the field. Every offensive coordinator knows this when the Packers get into that “prevent-a-stop” scheme. It’s a drag route over the middle for eight yards every time. That will tire out your defense and get you beat really fast. With an average quarterback like Ponder, the best thing the Green Bay defensive backs can do is get physical at the line and throw off the timing of the route.
Vikings RB Adrian Peterson vs. Any Packer Near Him
Peterson did appear on Minnesota’s injury report as probable with a shoulder injury, but that one seems more like the Vikings being cautious with the NFL’s injury reporting guidelines than anything.
There’s not much that I can say that isn’t already known to every man. Peterson is just as much, if not more the beast that he was prior to his ACL injury last season. He has over 1,200 rushing yards and seven touchdowns this season. Sound like a guy coming off major knee surgery less than a year ago?
In his last five games, Peterson has had over 100 yards on the ground. In three of those games, he had over 150 yards. Granted that was against the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions who have all struggled to stop the run. But 150 yards by a single individual is a chore, plain and simple.
Green Bay was gashed by the Giants for 130 yards rushing last week. Overall, The Packers rank 11th in run defense and are giving up just over 100 yards/game. They will be tested this week as Minnesota will likely be force-feeding Peterson if Harvin is unable to play.
This game is one where the Packers’ front seven can and really has to make a statement by containing AP. They need the confidence boost heading down the stretch. It will be a tougher task without the solid run-stopping abilities of linebacker Clay Matthews. Ryan Pickett has been solid against the run this season and they may need to get some support from the secondary as well. Safeties Morgan Burnett and Jerron McMillian have been steady in that area.
Vikings Quarterback Christian Ponder vs Packers Secondary
Ponder started off playing well and has since dropped off and become very ordinary. I would even hesitate to put him in the “good quarterback” category. For this reason, the Packers should not be getting lit up by this passer.
Ponder has thrown an interception in six of his last seven games. He threw two in a game three weeks in a row earlier this season. Even in a game when he posted his highest quarterback rating of 114.6, the Vikings lost. If Green Bay can have some success getting to Ponder (he has been sacked 27 times this season), they will set themselves up nicely for a big win.
The interception eluded the Packer defense last week and recall the interception that should have been two weeks ago when safety Morgan Burnett let a ball slip through his hands that was caught for a touchdown. They’re defensive backs and not receivers, I know. But they simply have to hang onto the ball when it hits their hands! They should have an opportunity or two this week.
Packers Quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs Vikings secondary
The Vikings are benefiting from a resurging Antoine Winfield at cornerback and good production from first-round safety Harrison Smith. Smith was officially cleared this week after suffering a concussion last week and is expected to play Sunday.
Rodgers gets one of his favorite targets back in Greg Jennings, who has been out since week four. Jennings’ return comes at a very good time, as it will likely free up Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb a bit. Minnesota can’t cover them all at once. Rodgers just has to find the guy standing most by himself.
Rodgers has had another season of taking good care of the football but has thrown an interception in his last three games. He has seven on the season, which is one more than his season total in all of 2011. Rodgers has only four games this season in which he has thrown zero interceptions. Now seven interception to 28 touchdowns and with as many pass attempts as he has (379) isn’t bad. But with the defense struggling a bit, Green Bay cannot afford to give the Vikings any free passes with the football. Many of this year’s interceptions have been a case of Rodgers not seeing the defender. Are defenses starting to figure out Rodgers and the Packers offense?
Early word is that Green Bay plans to use more quick drops and short passes this week. I’m sure the Vikings get the local news and have heard the same. While Rodgers is a great quarterback and the Packer receivers are a better overall group than the Vikings defensive backfield, both he and his pass catchers need to be sharp and on the same page.
If Rodgers does his job and delivers a good ball, it needs to stay in the receivers’ hands. The slogan for the remainder of the year in the passing game should be: the drop has to stop!
The deep ball has been elusive. Will Rodgers get enough protection and time to hit on a few this week? Chances are, he will need to. Green Bay needs to take some shots downfield and keep the Minnesota secondary on their heels.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy vs. His Intuition/Playbook
How much longer can we listen to Mike McCarthy, the week after a loss, second guessing his approach to that game? Last week, he admitted he got away from the running game and wished he had stuck with it. In that equation, he waited too long to get Packers running back James Starks involved. Too often we have seen a failure of the Packers to adjust in-game and it has cost the team wins.
It’s no secret that in order for a team to maintain success in the NFL, it has to alter the gameplan based on what their opponent is doing well and not so well. I have to wonder if a good part of the reason why the Packers have barely eeked by some inferior opponents was because the game plan and play calling was a bit too “one-track minded”. It’s time to stop talking about it and be about it, coach.
This is a divisional game and both teams know each other well. Despite some of the personnel changes, each team knows what the other wants to do. It comes down to execution. Put the best players in the best position to do just that: execute. There is no shortage of talent on this Packers roster, as is evidenced by the five consecutive wins without several of the starters. Time to put that talent to good use!
What does this mean? Players like Casey Hayward need to be on the field because they make plays. Sure Davon House is a bigger cornerback and seemingly matched up well, but did he really?
Think back to the week three game against the Seahawks. Where was Randall Cobb? Minus the eight sacks in one half that limited Rodgers’ ability to throw, how many points were scored?
Last week versus the Giants, no Erik Walden when Clay Matthews is out? You’re facing Eli Manning who showed you what he can do to your team when he’s not rushed. Walden is the next most productive pass rusher next to CM3. There’s enough evidence to stop second guessing and start putting your playmakers on the field!
Packers Kicker Mason Crosby vs. The Goal Posts
Really simply stated: Crosby has to hit on his tries Sunday. Whatever Zen master or therapy technique he is using needs to pay dividends starting this week. I’m calling a close game that will be decided by four points, maybe three. That’s exactly how many points a team gets for a field goal. Enough said.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: