We typically dedicate the first blog entry every Wednesday morning to a general introduction of the Vikings upcoming opponent. This Sunday, the Vikings return to the friendly confines of Mall of America Field and they’ll play a team that needs little introduction: the Green Bay Packers.
They’re the defending Super Bowl champions, they’re undefeated and they’re widely considered the best team in the NFL. Sunday will present the Vikings with a stiff challenge.
We all know how the Packers make their money – an explosive passing offense and a playmaking defense. There aren’t many QBs playing better than Aaron Rodgers right now and there aren’t many LBs making more plays than Clay Matthews right now.
Rodgers is the NFL’s highest rated passer (122.5) largely because he leads the NFL in TD passes (17) and completion percentage (69.9%). No, that’s not a typo. Rodgers is completing a ridiculous 69.9% of his passes. The Packers have the 3rd-ranked passing offense, they’re averaging a League-best 9.7 yards per passing attempt and they have more touchdown passes of 20+ yards (8) than any other team.
The WR corps is one of the NFL’s best and deepest, with Greg Jennings leading the way. Jennings has 35 receptions on the season, which is 12 more than the next guy, TE Jermichael Finley. Jordy Nelson (20) and James Jones (15) are next in receptions, with James Starks (15) and Donald Driver (12) also contributors. It’s not so much that any one of these receivers are game-changers, it’s more about Rodgers’ ability to get the right guy the ball at the right time. This is a dangerous, deep group.
As good as Green Bay is at passing the ball, they surprisingly aren’t prone to neglecting the run. They have the NFL’s 14th ranked rushing attack and they have the 12th most rushing attempts. No, those numbers aren’t great, but they’re good enough to keep defenses honest. Green Bay features a two-headed attack at RB, with Ryan Grant and James Starks sharing the load. Grant is the steady veteran, and Starks is the guy who tends to be more explosive.
Green Bay’s offensive line is not loaded with All-Pros or Pro Bowlers, but they’re gritty enough to get the job done. The Vikings defense had its way with the Packers offensive line in 2008 and 2009, sacking Rodgers a total of 18 times in 8 games, including an incredible 14 times in two ‘09 contests. It’s a different story now, though. This group has been bothered by injuries constantly, yet they tough it out and protect Rodgers enough to allow him to shred opposing secondaries. Chad Clifton is the usual starting LT, but he has a hamstring injury and won’t play. Derek Sherrod will take his place, and will join LG T.J. Lang, C Scott Wells, RG Josh Sitton and RT Bryan Bulaga in the starting lineup. [UPDATE: As a reader has pointed out, it was Marshall Newhouse who replaced Clifton last week at LT, not Sherrod. But on their website, the Packers have Sherrod listed as the backup at LT, with Newhouse listed as the backup at RG and RT.] The three interior linemen are experienced, so the spotlight in this week’s contest will be on Sherrod and Bulaga, who will go against the NFL’s most productive DE tandem in Jared Allen and Brian Robison (14.0 sacks between them). The Packers chose these two OTs in back-to-back seasons, and right now they’re finding out if they were worth the investment.
If there’s a vulnerability on Green Bay’s team it might be defensively, where they rank 23rd overall (allowing 383.7 yards per game) and 31st against the pass (299.7). The problem is, Green Bay is pretty good against the run (rank 5th and allow just 84.0 yards per game), which makes it hard to maintain possession. And even when you can maintain possession against them, eventually they’re going to force a mistake. The Packers are +7 in turnover margin and are tied for the 2nd most takeaways with 14 and the 2nd most INTs with 11.
From a personnel standpoint, Matthews is the brightest star. He plays outside LB in Green Bay’s 3-4 scheme, lining up primarily on offense’s right side and rushing the passer on most snaps. Other prominent playmakers on this defense are DT B.J. Raji, who plays over the nose, and ball-hawking CBs Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson, who are enemy No. 1 and No. 2 for opposing QBs. Also, don’t sleep on active left DE Ryan Pickett and inside LB Desmond Bishop, who is tied for 3rd in NFL with 57 tackles and has 3.0 sacks. One remarkable aspect of the Packers defense is that they rank 10th with 15 sacks, but no one player has more than Bishop’s 3.0.
The Vikings offense vs. the Packers defense will be a strength vs. strength matchup, as the Vikings rank 3rd in rushing yards per game (142.2) and Green Bay ranks 6th in rushing defense. And while Green Bay’s defense struggles against the pass when they’re not taking the ball away, the Vikings offense struggles to move the ball through the air.
A couple of final stats that could be important in this Sunday’s game:
— The Vikings offense has struggled on 3rd downs this season, but this week is a good week to get it going on 3rd down because the Packers rank 20th in 3rd down defense and are allowing a 40.5% conversion rate.
— Green Bay has the NFL’s 7th ranked scoring defense, allowing 19.0 points per game.
— Green Bay’s defense ranks 10th with an opposing passer rating of 81.8.
— The Packers are tied for 4th in red zone defense.
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