By Joseph Gunther
The Minnesota Vikings take on their biggest rival Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers currently sit right in between the division-leading Chicago Bears and Vikings. Both teams have three games remaining against the other two teams.
The Packers are second in the NFC North division with a 7-4 record. The team is one game behind the Bears and one ahead of the Vikings. The Packers are 4-1 at Lambeau Field this season. Their only home loss came against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. Of their four home wins, only the Bears have a winning record. The team plays three of their final five games at home, including Sunday’s contest with the Vikings and next week’s game against the Detroit Lions.
Packers on Offense
The Packers are known for their timing-based passing offense. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks, but has had problems with receivers staying healthy and catching the ball.
The best matchup is Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield vs. any of the Packers receivers. Winfield has been the best Vikings cornerback for a few years. He has developed a reputation as being a tough run stopping corner. This season, he has shown an ability to be a good cover corner as well. He has been beaten up by bigger receivers of late (Calvin Johnson of the Lions and Brandon Marshall of the Bears). The Packers do not have big physical corners like those two players.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of its defensive line vs. the Packers’ offensive line. The Packers have allowed the second most sacks in the NFL. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse is the best lineman the Packers have. He will be lined up opposite Jared Allen. In eight games since joining the Vikings, Allen has 12.5 sacks against the Packers, including 7.5 in two 2009 games. The Vikings rely on getting pressure from the front four. It should be able to get it from Allen, Brian Robison and Kevin Williams.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its linebackers vs. Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. The long athletic tight end can be a matchup problem for any defense. However, this season Finley has had a problem with drops. The Vikings’ linebackers are better in run support than they are in coverage. If Finley can get confidence early, he could have a big game – just like his first game against the Vikings (six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown).
Packers on Defense
The Packers are the only 3-4 scheme in the division, but not the first such scheme the Vikings have played this season. Offensively, the Vikings performed well against both the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins.
The best matchup is Vikings center John Sullivan vs. B.J. Raji. The best matchups are in doubt because of injuries. Percy Harvin against Casey Hayward, Clay Matthews against Matt Kalil and Kyle Rudolph against the safeties would be great to watch. Sullivan vs. Raji is the best healthy matchup. Raji is big and athletic enough. Sullivan is not a power guy and will struggle to just push Raji back, but using angles and quickness will even it up.
The matchup the Vikings need to exploit is running back Adrian Peterson vs. the Packers pass rushing linebacker. Peterson is on a tear this season and stand-up pass rushing linebackers tend to struggle against good running backs. Those linebackers are usually lined up on the defense’s right side. Whether or not Matthews is healthy, the Vikings should be able to run behind Kalil and left guard Charlie Johnson with success.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is right guard Brandon Fusco vs. Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett. Fusco has struggled in recent weeks and played less snaps than Geoff Schwartz last week, but the second-year guard remains the starter. He has especially struggled against power rushers and Pickett is as big and powerful as he is going to face this season.
Packers Players to Watch
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers: The reigning MVP is probably not going to win the award again this season, but he still drives a very potent offense. He is less than 200 yards from reaching 3,000 passing yards for the season. He has a passer rating of 105.6 this season, which is the highest mark in the NFL.
Cornerback Casey Hayward: The rookie second round draft pick is one of the less heralded defensive draft picks in the 2012 draft, but Hayward has been one of the best. He is tied for second in the league with five interceptions. More impressively is that he has allowed just 44.8 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed. Also, quarterbacks who throw his way have just a 28 rating.
The Vikings need a win to keep pace with the Bears (who host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday) and the Packers. The Packers are heavy favorites coming into a home game after getting thumped on the road the previous week. The Vikings have struggled on the road, especially on grass (0-2 with losses at the Redskins and Bears).
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Joseph Gunther is an avid fan of Minnesota sports, including football, hockey and baseball. He covered a wide variety of sports while attending Hastings College in Hastings, Neb. While at Hastings College, he was a part of the first collegiate media group to broadcast a national tournament via television, radio, internet and newspaper at the 2004 NAIA Division II Women’s Basketball Tournament. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing three years of varsity football in high school. His work can be found on Examiner.com.