Vikings vs. Packers: 5 Players That Will Be Critical to a Green Bay Victory

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - December 9: Mike McCarthy head coach of the Green Bay Packers takes the field as snow falls before the start of the Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers game at Lambeau Field on December 9, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Lynn /Getty Images)
Tom Lynn/Getty Images

The Packers didn't expect to be in the position of having to play the Vikings two weeks in a row, but that's what they now face.

It'll actually be the third time in six weeks that these two teams have faced each other this season. The Pioneer Press reported on Twitter that in previous occasions where teams met and played three times in a season, the team which won the first game also won the third.

That would be the Packers in this particular scenario.

Of course those same Packers haven't been exactly been dominant at home, having gone just 2-4 in the last six home playoff games. On the other hand, as's Zach Kruse wrote on Tuesday, it hasn't been pretty for the Vikings outdoors this year, either.

The plan is pretty straightforward for the Packers—stop Adrian Peterson and beat on Christian Ponder.

So instead of re-writing last week's gameplan, here are five players from whom a big game will be vital for a Packers victory.

Clay Matthews

Matthews got the lone sack for the Packers last weekend and if Green Bay is going to flip the outcome this week, "Claymaker" has to live up to his moniker.

You can be sure that the Vikings will do everything they can to negate Matthews' impact by adding extra linemen, throwing quick, short slants and running Adrian Peterson away from him.

Of course, Matthews is about more than just sacks and stats—if nothing else, the very fact that all those things will be done to try and even slow Matthews down shows you his impact.

Even by negating his impact, he's still having an impact.

Matthews has to make it impossible for the Vikings to stop him though. With the injuries on the defensive front, Matthews has to improve upon his Week 17 game, in which he played pretty well.

If Matthews can get to Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder, he'll force some bad decisions. Ponder played very well last week, even under pressure, but he wasn't taken down often.

Ponder is a young quarterback who has been avoiding bad decisions and interceptions during the last month of play, and the Packers (and Matthews) need to find a way to get him to regress.

There is a lot of talent in the Packers front seven—but Matthews is the pivot point for it.

Aaron Rodgers

Of course Rodgers is going to have to play well—he always has to.

However, for a few games in the middle of the season, there was an actual running game for Green Bay and it added a whole different dimension to the offense.

Lately, that dimension comes and goes though, and ultimately, this game—like every other one—will come down to Rodgers.

It appears as though he will have all of his receivers back, which bodes well for yet another good game from Rodgers.

The Packers will want to get out ahead early and try to put the Vikings in a position of having to throw. Yes, the Vikings threw last week, but it was because they wanted to. They dictated the terms.

Rodgers getting the offense going early means that they can put the Vikings on their heels and force them to throw, which puts the Green Bay defense in a position of advantage and potentially slows down Adrian Peterson.

He is also going to be under some pressure by the Vikings' front seven. In those cases, while it's tempting for Rodgers to hang onto the ball as long as he can, he needs to be careful not to hold onto it too long and limit the amount of times that he forces the ball into tight windows.

The Vikings secondary will be aggressive and try to generate turnovers on Saturday, so Rodgers should be extra careful with the ball.

I'd like to see him throw a lot more slants and short outs than he normally does, though I expect a small amount of those because, well, it's the Packers and that's just how they roll.

Still, Rodgers will have to do what he does best—rise to the occasion—to keep his team moving forward in the playoffs.

Randall Cobb

Cobb has been the most productive receiver for the Packers this year and should get the ball as often as the Packers can get it to him this weekend. Yes, some of his numbers are due to being one of only two receivers that have been able to stay healthy all year, but it's also because he's simply that good.

I expect him to have a huge game this weekend. Minnesota will worry about Greg Jennings (who gutted them last weekend) and Jordy Nelson (who normally guts them).

That is not to say that they will ignore Cobb, but he's currently third on the list. This is what having four very good receivers allows you to do—you will always have one free.

Cobb has been a monster this season—and it's only the beginning.

I expect him to be one of the two biggest factors in the receiving corps Saturday night.

Greg Jennings

Here's the other one. Jennings has everything riding on this game. He had a ridiculous game last week, but the impending free agent needs to keep it up for as long as Green bay is in the playoffs if he wants someone to "show him the money" in free agency this coming offseason.

Jennings' season has been pretty bad—mostly due to injury—so as much as last week was impressive, it's not going to totally firm up his value.

It helps, but a second great outing would help more.

We saw that he can still get vertical, and we saw he still has the speed and the moves to lose defensive backs.

Still, we need to see him do it consistently.

As mentioned above, we know the Packers have other weapons—Cobb, Nelson and James Jones—and will have them all at his disposal this weekend.

Jennings may get lost in the crowd, but with so much on the line, I really believe that he will have a second great game this weekend and be a huge part of a Packers victory.

Tramon Williams

Williams has not had his best season. It started off well, but he's been up and down throughout the rest of the year.

Now, normally I wouldn't worry much about Williams—or the secondary—not being able to play well against Ponder and a largely uninspiring group of receivers.

However, last week, he was terrible. If you don't believe my eyeballs (or your own) here are some stats from Pro Football Focus's game re-focus:

Williams only had three passes completed against him, but all three went for first downs—one of which by the fullback Jerome Felton.

They graded him out as a -3.8 against the run, and an overall -6.4 for the game as a whole.

Now, even keeping in mind that PFF doesn't know the calls and the ins-and-outs of each play, that's bad.

Williams has to pick it up this week because the Packers were beaten as much by Ponder and the pass as they were by Peterson and the run.

In fact, the Packers secondary gave up more touchdowns to Ponder in a game than anyone has allowed all season long.

I would never in a million years guess that the Packers would lose a shootout to Ponder—but they did.

If they don't want that to happen again, then the secondary needs to play better, and if that's going to happen, then Williams needs to get his act together.

In fact, I'd say next to Clay Matthews and the front seven, Williams and the corners will be the biggest factors in a Green Bay victory.


I've had the Packers in this game since just about immediately after the loss last week. I had the Vikings winning that one, but I'm not flipping because I'm capricious.

I'm picking the Packers because, along with all the talent, they've got the experience. They have veterans who have been here before in all the key positions, whereas the Vikings have young players manning many of their key spots.

Does that mean that this will be a walk in the park or a game they can't lose?

Not at all. It just means that in the end, I expect experience to overcome youthful exuberance.

Still, with Lovie Smith out in Chicago and with Detroit imploding this year, Green Bay might want to get used to seeing the Vikings in important games—they could be dancing this tune for a long time to come.

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Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.


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