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Fast Starts A Strength For Both Vikings Offense, Packers Defense

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 28, 2012 – 11:39 am

One objective every team has for every game in every sport is to “start fast.” But of course it’s one thing to say you want to do it, and it’s an entirely different thing to actually go out and do it.

The Vikings offense has been one of the NFL’s best at registering an early score. They rank 3rd in the NFL with 48 points scored on opening drives and 3rd in TDs scored with 6. Of late, the Vikings have been especially sharp on opening drives, scoring TDs on the first offensive series in each of the last 3 games – all wins.

“It’s been impressive,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said. “It’s exactly what we’ve needed. We talked all along about being able to start fast on offense and defense and we’ve gotten that done as of late. We’re going to need it again against a high powered offense and a very good defense. We’ve always put the time in trying to come up with what we think would be a good way to start games, it just so happens we’ve been clicking of late. We’re going to need it again this Sunday.”

The trouble this week, though, is that the Green Bay Packers defense has been one of the NFL’s best at preventing opposing offenses from registering an early score. Green Bay ranks 4th in points allowed on an opponent’s first offensive possession, and they rank 1st in opponent’s punts on the first possession. Also, Green Bay is one of just 4 teams to not even allow a FG attempt on an opening possession this season.

It’s a strength vs. strength scenario in this regard on Sunday when the Vikings and Packers conclude their regular seasons with another Border Battle. The team that can execute better in this phase will have an early advantage at Mall of America Field.

 


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Will Cobb’s Availability Impact Vikings Approach?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on December 28, 2012 – 7:28 am

The Packers have 13 players listed on this week’s injury report, many of them key players. Many of those key players are making progress and should be available for Sunday’s season finale against the Vikings.

K Mason Crosby (illness) and G Josh Sitton (concussion) went from not practicing on Wednesday to being limited on Thursday, and C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee) and DEs CJ Wilson (knee) and Jerel Worthy (hamstring) went from limited on Wednesday to full participants on Thursday. On top of that, WR Jordy Nelson looks to be on track to play after missing the past 3 games with a hamstring injury.

Another important name to watch with regard to availability on Sunday is Randall Cobb. He injured his ankle on a 3rd quarter punt return during last week’s win over Tennessee, forcing him out of the game. Listed on the injury report with a knee and ankle injury, Cobb practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday. Earlier in the week, Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the team would test Cobb’s knee on Friday to gauge his availability for Sunday.

“I think it’s a possibility,” Cobb told Packers.com on Thursday after he observed practice. “We’re going to take it day by day and see where we are on Sunday.”

If Cobb is on the sidelines rather than on the field Sunday, it will help the Vikings. Cobb averages 25.4 yards per kickoff return and 9.4 yards per punt return, both solid numbers. In fact, Cobb is the caliber of returner that the Vikings could alter their approach on kickoffs based on Cobb’s status. If Cobb plays, the Vikings may elect to have K Blair Walsh attempt to blast his kickoffs out of the end zone for touchbacks. If Cobb doesn’t play, perhaps the Vikings will elect to have Walsh put hang time under his kicks, land them just inside the goal line, and then rely on the coverage team to make a play – something they’ve done frequently this season, as illustrated by the fact that no one has returned a kickoff past the 25-yardline against the Vikings since October 7.

How the Vikings approach kickoffs this week, whether Cobb plays or not, remains to be seen. And Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer did not tip his hand on Thursday.

“Randall Cobb is a great returner,” Priefer said. “I know he’s a little banged up right now, but I expect him to play. I would expect him to be back there because this game is big for them as well. I think touchbacks are fine with a returner like that, but we’re going to kick it high and deep and we’re going to cover them and when he brings them out we have to be there to make the play.”

Also keep in mind, this season has been Cobb’s best on offense. He ranks 1st on Green Bay in receptions (80), targets (104), receiving yards (954) and 20-yard receptions (17).

Expect some news to develop on Friday afternoon regarding Cobb’s availability. But it won’t be a surprise if the Packers wait until 90 minutes prior to kickoff before making public their decision on whether Cobb will play or not.


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