It’s deceptively simple, beating the Vikings.
Really, you want to do one thing—stop Adrian Peterson.
When you stop Peterson, you force quarterback Christian Ponder to throw the ball, which often this season has led to mistakes and turnovers by the Vikings’ offense.
There have been two Christian Ponders this season.
"Good Ponder" is careful with the ball, moves the chains effectively and throws to open receivers.
"Bad Ponder" is wildly inaccurate, skittish, bails on the pocket far too swiftly, throws behind his receivers and generally makes horrific decisions with the ball.
The Packers will try to make sure they see more of the latter and less of the former.
On paper, if you do this, you win.
Of course, as the saying goes, you don’t win games on paper.
Last week the Houston Texans decided to stop Peterson (as much as you can) and yet the Vikings beat them and did it handily.
So the Packers need to do more than just beat Peterson.
Actually stopping Peterson isn’t all that simple for the Packers to begin with. Last time out, Peterson ran all over Green Bay for 210 yards and a touchdown. The Vikings lost that game 23-14, but that was mostly because of a defensive collapse on their part as well.
Still, two critical red-zone interceptions by Ponder hurt the Vikings, badly.
So the Packers will need to do a better job bottling Peterson up. With the exception of last week, the Vikings haven't made Ponder throw unless he absolutely has to. Green Bay has to make that happen.
The Vikings will be set on coming out hard to get Peterson the yards he needs to beat Eric Dickerson’s record and have been blocking exceedingly well for run plays.
So, the Packers have their work cut out for them on that front. Luckily they have Clay Matthews back, which should help with their run defense.
Matthews will also be key in stopping Ponder. Last week against Houston, Ponder didn’t blow the secondary up but was able to move the chains and put the team in position to score points.
More importantly, the Vikings’ quarterback didn’t turn the ball over. He did this despite a lot of pressure from J.J. Watt, arguably the best defender in the league right now.
Matthews is going to have to get in on Ponder early, from the first snap, so they can force the Minnesota offense to go to the air.
The problem is, last week the Vikings flipped the script on the opening drive and went to immediately to the air. The Texans didn’t adjust and it went downhill from there.
So if Minnesota does the same this weekend, the Packers will have to change their approach more swiftly.
Now that Matthews is back, he will draw attention away from the rest of the pass rushers, allowing them to get after Ponder as well. They should be able to flush the second-year quarterback out of the pocket and when Ponder leaves the pocket, bad things often happen.
The secondary will once again be without Charles Woodson, but Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and the rest of the group has stepped up in his absence, so it shouldn’t be a huge issue.
Overall, the Packers more than match up with the Vikings' offense. They just need to execute.
Offensively, the Packers will need to move the ball through the air.
They should be able to move the ball on the ground as well, and yes, they should mix it up.
But their strength is passing, which lines up nicely with the shaky Vikings’ secondary.
Minnesota has some physical players, but nobody is great in coverage. If Randall Cobb isn't ready to go (it appears he will be a game-time decision), Greg Jennings and James Jones should still be more than a match for them.
Of course, it looks as though Jordy Nelson will be back for Green Bay, which makes this pass attack even tougher to contain.
What the Packers will have to be most careful about offensively is the Minnesota pass rush.
While the Vikings don't boast a group of players as potent as many of the other teams Green Bay has played, they are still very good.
The Vikings did a good job of getting in the backfield last week and will do their utmost to attack a patched up Packers offensive line.
So the Packers should be ready to have extra blockers—tight ends, running backs, fullbacks—to protect Aaron Rodgers. They should also mix in some more of the slant patterns which have been so successful the last few weeks, especially to Cobb.
If Cobb plays, anytime they can get the ball into his hands, they should.
The Vikings are likely to come into the game at the Metrodome extremely fired up and ready to play for Peterson’s record and their playoff lives.
Of course, with the first-round bye on the line, the Packers have a lot to play for as well. They won’t take the Vikings lightly.
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