Green Bay Packers: Why they’ll win, lose vs. Minnesota Vikings in Week 16

Jan 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Minnesota won 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 3, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) throws a pass during the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. Minnesota won 20-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers will look to continue their tour-de-force playoff run through the remainder of their schedule by welcoming in a battered and beaten Vikings squad that had the look of an impenetrable defensive powerhouse early on, but have since fallen on hard times due in large part to numerous injuries suffered on both lines, at running back and in the secondary.

A reeling Minnesota team that is only 2-7 in their last nine contests after a rip-roaring 5-0 start out of the gates would conceivably make them ripe for the picking in the eyes of several observers, but the hometown boys from Packers News USA could ill afford to overlook any division rival, especially in light of the hard fight put up by the 3-10 Bears that supposedly had nothing to play for.

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ANALYSIS: Scouting the Vikings ahead of Christmas Eve showdown

Unlike their neighbors from the Midway, though, the Vikings—incredibly—remain mathematically in contention for a playoff spot and can keep those infinitesimal hopes alive by neutralizing the Packers at Lambeau Field.

In order for that to happen, the Purple and Gold will have to hope for their defense to rise up and stifle a resurgent—and suddenly balanced—Green Bay attack just as they did in Week 2 that saw a flustered Aaron Rodgers complete only 55-percent of his passes and uncharacteristically turnover the ball twice.

Conversely, if the Vikings find themselves in a game where they’ll need to play catch-up, they will almost certainly get blown out of the water given their issues in pass protection.

The one certainty you can bank on in this Christmas-Eve matchup is the fact that the Vikings won’t come out flat as they did in last week’s home loss to the Colts.

Mike Zimmer has publicly called out his players for their poor effort and they are well aware of what’s at stake both for them and the Packers.

Let’s zero in on the realm of possibilities for tomorrow’s showdown in Packertown.

Why the Packers will win

1. Making a Bee Line through the D Line: An 18th-ranked middle-of-the-road Minnesota run defense will have its hands full in trying to put the brakes on Green Bay’s electrifying chess piece Ty Montgomery fresh off a 16-carry, 162-yard performance against the Chicago Bears.

What has become clearly evident about the receiver-turned-running back in recent weeks is his physicality to go along with his speed and natural instincts with the ball in his hands.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) credited Montgomery with a league-high 7 broken tackles among skill-position players in Week 15. What’s more, 156 of his 162 yards reportedly came after first contact.

The Vikings front line, on the other hand, will be without defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who not only came up big in the first game between the feuding antagonists, but also had one of his team’s two hits on quarterback Andrew Luck against Indianapolis.

Both Johnson and Shariff Floyd are, in fact, out for the season, which not only makes Zimmer’s troops thin in the trenches, but also deprives them of two athletes that can create penetration and not just eat space.

Minnesota was dominated for much of the game by the Colts’ offensive line that featured three rookies in the starting lineup.

Frank Gore had his second 100-yard rushing day of the year, but he was just one of several running backs that have posted healthy stat lines against the Purple People Eaters since Week 8, including Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Robert Kelley and Jordan Howard.

All have registered 85 yards or more with four of the five posting at least 97 yards on the ground.

Green Bay’s offensive line has the upper hand in this battle, as their starting corps is intact and with first-year starter Taylor Lane coming into his own as a run blocker.

Lane provided key blocks in both of Montgomery’s touchdown runs last Sunday along with serving as the lead blocker on several of his other scampers.

Look for another strong game by Montgomery with small doses of Christine Michael mixed in considering that the Packers boast a superior running at home, as evidenced by their average of 109.85 yards at Lambeau versus 85.5 yards as the visitor excluding their Week-15 226-yard explosion at Soldier Field.

2. Back-end Blues: The presence of Harrison Smith can have a significant impact on the outcome of this game. The fifth-year pro was inactive last Sunday while nursing a groin injury, but was seen practicing yesterday for the first time this month.

Also known as Harry “The Hitman,” the 6-foot-2, 218-pound free safety will be needed against a Green Bay passing offense that has made strides in their downfield passing production over the past month. Aaron Rodgers’ completion percentage on throws of 20-plus yards, moreover, has increased from 26.8 percent in the first 10 games to 40.9 percent in the last four weeks.

Smith excels at making timely reads and isn’t prone to getting sucked in by fakes, which could go a long way in keeping Rodgers honest by inducing him to throw more underneath passes.

Furthermore, PFF’s 9th-ranked safety is a force in run support, as his ability to decipher the action on the other side of the ball will often find him jumping into traffic and making a play on the ball carrier.

Without Smith on the back end, the Vikings will be forced to go with former undrafted free agent Anthony Harris, who was caught out of position multiple times in his last game.

3. Wham Sam thank you mam: Sam Bradford’s league-leading 71.6-percent completion percentage is an outstanding total…until, that is, you factor in his abysmal 6.9 yards-per-attempt average, which puts him behind quarterback luminaries, such as Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley and Brian Hoyer.

The fact is: Bradford doesn’t have the luxury of hanging in the pocket and going through his downfield progressions behind an offensive line made out of Play-Doh and chicken wire.

Currently, the journeyman signal caller is the 7th-most sacked player at his position (33), but that number would be far worse if he were in an offense (see the Atlanta Falcons) that places a higher premium on attacking defenses deep.

If a team’s offensive line is just as good as the quality of their offensive tackles, then Minnesota’s front five is in a world of trouble considering left tackle T.J. Clemmingsclumsy footwork and right tackle Jeremiah Sirlesbalance and strength deficiencies.

Look for Dom Capers to run several stunts featuring Mike Daniels and Julius Peppers given the fact that the right side of the Vikings’ line struggles mightily when it comes to lateral movement.

Taking away Bradord’s short routes will also be key since the one-time first-round pick isn’t one to typically stand tall in the pocket with bodies around him.

Why the Packers will lose

1. The Resurrection of Purple Jesus: Adrian Peterson was far from scintillating in his return to action by carrying the ball 6 times for 22 yards and a fumble to boot on only 12 snaps.

But before throwing him under the tracks, let’s recognize that the 31-year-old plow horse hadn’t gone up against live competition in three months and some signs of rust were to be expected.

According to reports, however, Peterson has yet to practice this week and remains questionable for the Sunday-afternoon tilt.

Is No. 28’s knee legitimately preventing him from taking practice reps or is coach Zimmer simply playing mind games with the opposing coaching staff?

We will soon find out, but there’s no getting around the fact that Peterson is the offense’s best defense against a Packers’ pass rush that looks primed to run rings around what remains of Minnesota’s offensive line.

Even if the future Hall-of-Famer isn’t at full speed, he remains a presence that the defense will need to account for with an extra man in the box, which can only help open things up in the passing game.

2. Sun Devil gets burned: Damarious Randall was quite simply atrocious last week, as he has been for much of the year. A rare positive performance versus Seattle in Week 14 might have given the second-year cornerback a false sense of confidence in defending Bears’ receivers in that he was often out of position.

It’s hard to diagnose what exactly is going on with the Arizona State product. Is he picking things up in the film room? Is he even working hard enough to improve his coverage technique or his tackling for that matter?

The last time Randall faced the Vikings, he was torched by Stefan Diggs on completions of 25, 44 and 46 yards.

Who does Capers put on Diggs this time? Micah Hyde is the more astute defender that could limit the damage, but ultimately lacks the athletic ability and recovery skills to contain the dynamic slot receiver.

Quentin Rollins is another option, but not necessarily a viable one taking into account his mental errors in terms of route recognition.

Of course, the shoddy tackling of Green Bay’s corners may be just what Cordarrelle Patterson needs to turn a 2-yard screen into a 60-yard score.

Capers must be aggressive—and creative— with his stunting and blitzing to prevent Bradford from getting into a rhythm that will allow him to dink and dunk his way down the field against error-prone and technically inept cornerbacks.

3. Detroit State of Mind: The Packers can simply lose this game by looking ahead to next week and not taking a team that was trounced 34-6 on their home field very seriously.

We see it every week and as much as we would like to think that athletes don’t get affected by public sentiment—they do. They’re humans with emotions that often fluctuate with a great deal of volatility.

Plus, the Vikings—as previously mentioned—can still earn a playoff spot, but even if they couldn’t, they would love nothing more than to knock off an arch nemesis in their own division.

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Football is a game of passion and momentum swings. Mike McCarthy and company cannot succumb to any holiday lulls.