The best team in the NFC North will take on the worst team in the NFC North tomorrow night, as the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings are set to square off on Sunday Night Football at 8:30 p.m. ET in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Josh Freeman will not playing due to a concussion, so the Vikings will go back to Christian Ponder. It’s been a rough year for the Vikings, and they are having some major issues stopping opponent’s passing attacks. With Harrison Smith stuck on the short-term I.R., things aren’t getting better for the Vikings secondary, and they could get worse against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. James Jones will still be out another week, but Jarrett Boykin has shown that he is a more than capable option. Below are some matchups to watch.
Based on the way the Green Bay Packers align Jordy Nelson and the side of the field that Josh Robinson covers, I expect this to be the primary matchup for Aaron Rodgers to work with. In terms of QB Rating, Rodgers-Nelson has been the most potent QB-WR combo in the NFL, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Rodgers is throwing the most accurate deep ball this season, and Nelson has done an impeccable job of making those plays downfield. The Vikings will have to watch extremely closely for back-shoulder throws to Jordy Nelson, because those big plays can really break the game open.
I am constantly concerned by the lack of a legitimate starter in the Vikings secondary right now, and they were quite poor even before Harrison Smith went down for the season. The Vikings are going to have an extremely tough task tomorrow night in stopping a high-powered Packers passing attack, especially without a legitimate No. 1 corner. They will have to double-team Nelson, and they should be glad that the Packers are dealing with several key injuries among the pass-catchers. Otherwise, it would have been a lot more difficult to focus in quite a bit on one player. Still, Robinson (or whichever struggling corner goes up against Nelson, be it Chris Cook or even physical, Florida State rookie Xavier Rhodes) will have to be at his best on Nelson at all times; one lapse can spell disaster.
Don Barclay looked good to start the season, but the Packers starting right tackle has been a liability in the last few games. I thought he was absolutely awful against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6, and he was beaten up badly by Elvis Dumervil. Although Dumervil has dominated even All-Pro tackles, it was still disconcerting to watch Rodgers get slammed to the turf due to some poor play from Barclay. He wasn’t much better last week against the Cleveland Browns either, and he will be going up against the Vikings best DE.
Yes, Brian Robison is the Vikings best defensive end- not Jared Allen. While Allen is the bigger name and has more sacks than Robison, it is Robison who puts more consistent pressure on the QB and also makes a big impact in run defense. I’m more concerned about Barclay’s pass protection than anything else, and it is crucial for both Packers starting tackles to avoid giving quick pressure. Rodgers is a quarterback who does an excellent job of dealing with pressure, but it is impossible for any quarterback to succeed if their offensive tackles get beat quickly. Neither Robison or Allen are elite players (at least, Allen isn’t elite anymore), but they make up a very good starting DE duo.
I’ve been highly critical of A.J. Hawk in the space before, but he has played well these past two weeks. He was extremely active against the run in Week 6, and he did a nice job of covering and putting pressure on the QB last week. Hawk has struggled more against the run than against the pass this season, and he still has some games where has lapses and misses tackles (he has six missed tackles this season, which leads the team).
It feels like Adrian Peterson is a sleeping giant right now, because the Vikings underutilized him in the past two weeks. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry in Week 6 against the Carolina Panthers, but he only received ten carries. Why? Well, the Vikings pass defense was so bad that they fell behind early (they gave Cam Newton way too many easy throws and allowed the Panthers WRs to blast the game open by generating far too many yards after the catch) and were forced to throw. Peterson received three more carries last week (13 total) but only generated 28 yards against the New York Giants.
The Packers run defense has been among the best in the league this season with 3.4 yards per carry allowed, so it’s not going to be easy for Peterson to bounce back. But there’s always a chance of a big game with a player as good as AP, since he has 511 rushing yards and five TDs this season.