Morgan Burnett (left) and Adrian Peterson.
The NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers just played a playoff game, didn’t they? A Week 17 matchup between the squads was anything but meaningless, as Green Bay was playing for a bye week and Minnesota was fighting to get into the postseason.
Given that the regular season is over and Minnesota is still relevant in playoff discussions, we know how that worked out—but the Vikings aren’t guaranteed to sweep the back-to-back. For starters, the Saturday night playoff contest will take place in Wisconsin rather than Minnesota, which obviously favors the Packers.
There’s also the matter of a man named Aaron Rodgers, who tends to wear green and yellow on Sundays. It’s a virtual lock that Rodgers (70 completion percentage, 365 passing yards, four TDs and zero INTs in Week 17) will outplay “his matchup”—if the QB had a particular individual to outperform on the other side of the ball.
Minnesota’s defense, however, has all of one superstar: defensive end Jared Allen. Marshall Newhouse is the guy who will be tasked with keeping him off of his quarterback on Saturday night, highlighting five matchups that should decide the outcome of the game.
Jared Allen is a top-10 NFL sack artist in his ninth year in the league. He brought down opposing QBs 12 times during the 2012 regular season. Against the Green Bay Packers in Week 17, his only tackle was a sack of Aaron Rodgers.
In Green Bay, Allen totaled six tackles (five solo) and accumulated two sacks. The Minnesota Vikings will likely need all they can get from Allen on Saturday, and Marshall Newhouse will have to ensure that whatever disruption Allen provides isn’t enough to derail the offense.
Randall Cobb missed the Green Bay Packers’ Week 17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Green Bay put up 34 points in his absence, but there’s no arguing that he could have made things easier for the Packers offense. Green Bay is going to get him the ball on offense, but it also utilizes him in the return game.
The first time Green Bay and Minnesota met this year, Cobb—the only returner that Green Bay used that game—returned three punts for 11 yards and three kickoffs for 68 yards. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe punted five times for an average of 47.0 yards apiece.
Punters are people, too.
Stopping Adrian Peterson is going to be a team effort for any defense. Guys will stack the box against him all day, but he has still run for over 400 yards against the Green Bay Packers this season. Peterson will inevitably burst through the second level and be one-on-one with a DB.
The player on the other side of that unfortunate position is likely to be a safety: M.D. Jennings or Morgan Burnett. Burnett totaled 14 tackles, two interceptions and three passes defended against the Minnesota Vikings in two meetings. Peterson totaled 409 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 55 carries (7.4 yards per carry) against Green Bay.
If a play comes down to Peterson vs. Burnett (or Jennings) too often, the play is likely already going in favor of the Vikings—but if Peterson wins that one-on-one battle, Minnesota is likely a second or two away from putting six points on the board.
Clay Matthews missed the Green Bay Packers’ win in Week 13, but played in their Week 17 loss. Does that mean he’s detrimental to Green Bay’s chance to win?
Matthews registered one of his 13 sacks (over 12 games) on the Minnesota Vikings’ Christian Ponder. Green Bay will line him up in multiple positions, so Matt Kalil won’t be the only guy to keep No. 52 off of his quarterback—but he is the guy who’ll be protecting Ponder’s blindside.
John Sullivan’s job as the Minnesota Vikings starting center is just as important as Matt Kalil’s. Even if he’s not staring down Clay Matthews before the snap, he will line up across from B.J. Raji—who is more than capable of bringing pressure up the middle.
If Raji is allowed to collapse the pocket, there will be major problems for Christian Ponder and the Minnesota offense. Sullivan will be responsible for ensuring that Ponder doesn’t see pressure in his face while, like Kalil, paving the way for Adrian Peterson to do damage from the backfield.
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