It’s safe to say that the Green Bay Packers more than made up for their mistakes in Week 17.
A week ago, Adrian Peterson made a mockery of the Packers as he ran for 199 yards in the Minnesota Vikings’ 37-34 victory over Green Bay to set up a wild-card rematch at Lambeau Field six days later. In the two regular-season meetings between the clubs, Peterson ran for a combined total of 409 yards. That makes up 19.5 percent of Peterson’s season total of 2,097.
The Packers could not tackle at all that Sunday at Mall of America Field, and Peterson ran all over the Green Bay defense. It was such a disheartening performance that many feared the Vikings would have their way against the Packers at Lambeau Field and beat Green Bay for a second week in a row.
It was gut-check time for the Packers, and linebacker Clay Matthews said Peterson would not get 200 yards on Saturday in the playoff game.
Two hundred yards? Peterson didn’t even make the 100-yard mark in the Packers’ 24-10 wild-card victory. It was a remarkable turnaround for a defense that clearly had heard enough about the great Peterson and how he would run all over the Packers again.
How did Green Bay do it? It’s simple, really. The Packers did what they couldn’t do the Sunday before—they didn’t let Peterson get outside the tackles, and they wrapped him up and brought him down. Throw in a bad performance by Vikings backup quarterback Joe Webb and a fast start by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense, and it’s clear how the Packers won this game.
It all starts up front on the Green Bay defensive line. BJ Raji has had a wonderful 2012 following his disappointing season last year. Raji has become a disruptive force at nose tackle, and that allows Matthews and linebackers to move inside without having to worry about facing heavy resistance. Raji has been able to get just enough penetration to get Peterson to shift, and at that point, a linebacker is usually waiting.
The Packers also moved Charles Woodson around in his first game back. In the first quarter with the Vikings at the Packers' 15-yard line, Woodson lined up at the line of scrimmage opposite Matthews. Once the ball was snapped, Woodson went right to Peterson unblocked, and he was stopped for a loss of two yards.
Morgan Burnett, also a safety, got in on the action as well. Again in the first quarter, Burnett was lined up at his regular safety position but keyed right in on Peterson and wrapped him up for a minimal gain. Again, sticking to fundamentals and wrapping up Peterson as soon as he makes his cut seems to be the best way to stop him.
Erik Walden had a monster game and was able to stuff Peterson for a loss in the third quarter. Walden did this by simply holding his containment and then just keep pushing until Peterson was on the ground. He did not let Peterson get outside the tackles and that’s big to limiting his big-play ability.
There is saying that sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and that certainly rings true in the NFL. The best way to stop one of the game’s best players is to keep him on the sideline, and that’s exactly what the Packers did for the most part on Saturday. They won the time of possession battle 32:58 to 22:02 and had enough long and sustained drives to keep Peterson off the field.
Jumping out to a 24-3 lead also helped as it forced the inexperienced Webb to throw the ball, and it was evident early that he is not ready for prime time as an NFL quarterback.
Now that the Packers have vanquished Peterson and the Vikings, what does this mean for their upcoming game against the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round? Well, the good news is that 49ers running back Frank Gore is no Peterson. He’s a talented back, but he isn’t the force of nature that Peterson is when running the ball.
How much success will the Packers have against Kaepernick and Gore on Saturday?
The bad news is that the 49ers have a better offensive line than the Vikings and a quarterback in Colin Kaepernick that can effectively run the read-option offense. Their conquest of Peterson on Saturday should give the Packers plenty of confidence heading into their grudge match with the 49ers, but they need to be aware. This is not the same 49ers offense that they faced in their 2012 season opener.
Kaepernick is not Webb. He has the ability to get down the field with his arm as well as his legs. The Packers are going to have to do the same thing they did with Peterson in holding their containment and wrapping up the runner and not get turned around.
Walden will need to have another big game to be a nice bookend to Matthews and moving Woodson around again should help the linebackers. The Packers really discovered the formula for stopping the 49ers rushing game against the Vikings. It’s just up to them to execute it.
If they can duplicate that performance, then the Packers stand a very good chance of making their second trip to the NFC Championship Game in three years.