Minnesota Vikings Put Playoffs On The Line Against Division Rival Green Bay Packers
By Joseph Gunther
Adrian Peterson gets another crack at the Green Bay Packers’ defense Sunday at Mall of America Field. He already ran for 210 yards against the Pack this season. He needs 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. The Packers have improved since that Week 13 Viking loss at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay clinched the NFC North division title with a Week 15 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. They have won four straight games, which began with the 23-14 win over the Vikings in Week 13. The Packers are undefeated in five division games this season, but have a 4-3 record in its seven previous road games.
Packers on Offense
Green Bay is still a dominant passing offense that uses the run to keep defenses honest.
The best matchup is Vikings cornerback Chris Cook vs. Packers wide receiver James Jones. Cook is working his way back into game shape. He played a big part in the Vikings dominant defensive effort over the Houston Texans in Week 16. Jones is emerging as a star. He is coming off two of the best games of his career.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of is its defensive line vs. Packers offensive line. The biggest weakness of the Packers team is its offensive line. The Vikings have one of the most complete defensive lines in the league. Defensive ends Jared Allen, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison (if healthy) and defensive tackles Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion and Fred Evans need to take over the game.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is its back seven vs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers has passed for 290.5 yards and 2.25 touchdowns per game in four games at Mall of America Field in his career.
Packers on Defense
The Packers are a 3-4 scheme by name, but use multiple formations and styles throughout every game.
The best matchup is Vikings center John Sullivan vs. Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji. Raji has played well in recent weeks and Sullivan is developing into one of the best centers in the league. Sullivan has something to prove after being snubbed from the Pro Bowl. Raji has a big size advantage, but Sullivan has found a way to use his undersized stature to his advantage.
The matchup the Vikings need to take advantage of is its run blockers vs. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ run support ability. Matthews is a very aggressive pass rusher. He is good at it, but opposing offenses can use that against him. Matt Kalil, another Pro Bowl snub, and Phil Loadholt can take Matthews out of plays.
The worst matchup for the Vikings is offensive tackle Phil Loadholt vs. Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews’ pass rushing ability. Matthews is very quick around the edge and Loadholt struggles against quick edge rushers. The Vikings need to have somebody help Loadholt in some way on passing plays.
Packers Players to Watch
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers: The star quarterback makes the Packers’ offense go. When he is on, there may not be a better signal caller in the league. He can make plays with his legs or arm. According to Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus, Rodgers has the second highest percentage of catchable passes, when adjusting for dropped passes.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews: He is one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. He missed the last meeting between the Packers and Vikings with an injury. He has returned without missing a beat. He has three sacks, two quarterback knockdowns and a batted pass in the last two games. With him, the Packers defense has a pass rushing presence. Without him, there is no one to scare opposing offenses.
The Vikings want to make the playoffs. The Packers want to get a first round bye and would love nothing more than to knock its rival to the west out of the playoffs. Both are playing for something very important. The Vikings have played very well at home (6-1 record) and the Packers have struggled on the road (4-3). With a win, the Vikings would most likely be heading to Green Bay next week in the first round of the playoffs. A loss would most likely end its season.
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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.