The 6-5 Minnesota Vikings come into Green Bay to take on the 7-4* Packers on Sunday. This is another NFC North game between two opponents who are very familiar with on another. They say records are meaningless in games like this one. When these two teams meet up I tend to agree.
The Vikings lost their game at the Bears last Sunday after not being able to keep up with Chicago’s pace or intensity.
The Vikings are equipped with a young but improving quarterback, a stout defensive line, and what many consider to be the best running back in the league.
The Packers come into this game after having been pounded by the Giants in every phase of the game last Sunday.
On the Packers roster are legitimate All-Pro-caliber players at multiple positions, a young and improving defensive secondary, and what many consider to the best quarterback in the league.
The Vikings injury report lists only one issue of potential consequence – WR Percy Harvin has a bad ankle and may not make it onto the field.
The Packers get WR Greg Jennings back after recovering from his abdominal surgery. This year it seems for every player making it back to the field on Sunday two more go down.
This week LBs Clay Matthews and Terrell Manning, RB Johnny White, DBs Charles Woodson and Sam Shields, DL C.J. Wilson, and TE Andrew Quarless are all out.
Hurting but able to play are DL Ryan Pickett, LT Marshall Newhouse, and Safety M.D. Jennings.
Over the last few days the Packers were forced to add OT Derek Sherrod and RB Cedric Benson to season-ending IR. Green Bay had hoped to be able to use them during the stretch run to the playoffs. Not gonna happen.
The stats tell us that the Vikings and Packers are close enough in most offensive categories that it’s hard to find a clear advantage for either team.
The Packers rank 13th in points scored, 18th in total yards, 14th in pass yards, and 23rd in rush yards per game. The Vikings are 15th in points scored, 22nd in total yards, 30th in pass yards, and 3rd in rushing yards per game. Close enough except pass yards, where the Packers hold the edge, and rush yards, where the Vikings hold a potentially decisive edge.
Could this game really be as simple as the Packers needing to shut down the Vikings rush and the Vikings needing to shut down the Packers passing game? It usually is, but needing to do something and actually doing it are two entirely different things.
Defensively the Vikings rank 17th in points allowed, 11th in yards allowed, 13th in pass yards allowed, and 15th in rushing yards allowed per game. The Packers rank 14th in points allowed, 17th in yards allowed, 22nd in pass yards allowed, and 11th in rush yards allowed per game.
The numbers tell us that the Packers appear better suited to shut down the Vikings run game than the Vikings are to shutting down the Packers passing game. Either way it will take a solid effort from both defenses to keep their teams in this game.
Here are some of the things I’ll be watching closely during the game:
• The Packers offensive line was not up to the task against the Giants last Sunday. Aaron Rodgers was running for his life and the run game was ineffective as well. The O-line has been keeping to themselves this week. That usually indicates a couple of things. One is that they were embarrassed by their performance against the Giants. They should have been. The other is that they seem focused on redeeming themselves against the Vikings. I think they are. I’ll be watching to see just how forcefully they assert themselves on Sunday.
• The Vikings D-line, especially DE Jared Allen, are a tough group to consistently contain. Allen will be a tough individual matchup for LT Marshall Newhouse, who will have his work cut out for him. Keep an eye on that matchup. Will the Packers use a TE or RB to help with Allen? What would you do?
• The Packers receiving corps gets Greg Jennings back for this game. I’ll be looking to see what kind of shape he’s in and how well he catches the ball. If nothing else his presence will prevent the Vikings from doubling up on Nelson and Cobb and Jones as consistently as they might otherwise. Jennings will be an important part of the four receiver spread formations the Packers like to use.
• Packers RBs will need to make the most of their opportunities and protect the ball. I’ll be watching to see whether it’s Alex Green or James Starks who has the most impact in the run game. I also expect to see more of FB John Kuhn in pass protection. The Packers cannot continue to risk Aaron Rodgers’ life by exposing him to hits and sacks the way they have so far this season. Will Kuhn be part of the solution going forward?
• The Pack run defense scheme for this one is simple: limit Adrian Peterson. It will take all 11 men on the field to do that. Stopping Peterson is not a realistic goal. No team has shown an ability to consistently stop him. If they do an effective job of limiting Peterson then the Vikings will be forced to pass the ball. Ponder is improving, but it’s unlikely he can carry the team at this point. I’ll be watching the Pack D to see how they do against Peterson.
• The Packers defensive secondary went the same way as the O-line last week. They simply did not perform. I’ll be watching to see if they are assignment-sure and above all when they have opportunities for takeaways they finish. I’ll also be watching to see if there are any breakdowns in coverage and if they’re tackling. Against Peterson their tackling will have to be consistently excellent.
• On special teams, I’ll be watching to see what K Mason Crosby is made of. Weather should not be a factor. He’ll be kicking at home and if he’s the kind of competitor the coaches and players think he is he’s got to be ready to go out and have a solid performance. What the Packers need him to do is put his latest slump behind him and get back on track.
• The Packers O-line will have a much improved performance in this game. Banged up, pieced together or not, the line will come through in this game.
• Rodgers will throw for more than 350 yards and put up four TDs against the Vikings – because the O-line will play like they’re angry. He’ll run for another 30 yards, but he’ll scare the green and gold out of me every time he takes off upfield.
• Allen will get a sack but not be the consistently disruptive force he usually is.
• WR Greg Jennings will have his opportunities and he’ll take some of the defensive pressure off the rest of the receivers. He’ll have one TD and two drops in fewer plays than normal because he’s not yet back in “football” shape.
• Green Bay will rush for more than 150 combined yards in the game. Cobb, Green, Starks, and Kuhn will all get carries and pass receptions.
• Green Bay will hold Peterson to less than 100 yards. Somehow.
• The Packers defensive secondary will intercept two balls in this game. Hayward will have one of them.
• The Packers will sack Ponder four times. Two by Walden, one by Moses, and one by a DL or safety on a blitz.
• Special teams? Cobb. Is. Due.
• Crosby will not miss a kick in this game.
We’ll be watching the game with friends who also happen to be Packers fans at Tailgators on FM1488 in Magnolia this week. The Texans will be playing at the same time so we’ll have some of their fans in attendance. At least there won’t be any Cowboys or Bears fans around! Well not unless they show up just to root against the Packers or Texans. But we’ll be making plenty of noise and tweeting updates and observations during the game. Follow me at @PackersTX and look for the game wrap-up Sunday night on www.LombardiAve.com.
Bring it Vikings! Go Pack GO!