Packers vs. Vikings: Breaking Down Minnesota's Game Plan

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Packers vs. Vikings: Breaking Down Minnesota's Game Plan
(Photo by Andy Clayton King/Getty Images)
Christian Ponder will get a chance to prove he should be the starter when the Vikings host the Packers Sunday night.

After the Minnesota Vikings' pathetic loss on national television last Monday night, they get a chance to redeem themselves in another nationally televised game against the Green Bay Packers. This time they will be embarrassed at home, no doubt with a large contingent of Packers' fans invading the Metrodome.

These teams are moving in different directions. After opening the season 1-2, the Packers have won three straight to take over the lead of the NFC North.

The Vikings opened the season 0-3 over the same stretch the Packers struggled. The difference is the Vikings have continued to struggle, losing two of their last three games, putting them three games behind the Packers.

About the only hope the Vikings have is if the Packers continue to suffer significant injuries to their roster as we get closer to kickoff Sunday night.

Of course, as long as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is able to make the start, the Vikings will be in trouble.   

For the last two weeks, the Packers have lost two of their top three receivers. Against the Ravens, Randall Cobb suffered a broken fibula. Last week against the Browns, tight end Jermichael Finley suffered a neck injury that kept him in the hospital for several days.  

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The injuries are not limited to the offense for the Packers. Three weeks ago, they lost linebacker Clay Matthews for at least a month after breaking his thumb against the Lions in Week 4.   

The Vikings have their own injuries woes, losing former Packer linebacker Desmond Bishop for the season with a torn ACL. They will also be without safety Harrison Smith, their best defensive back, for at least another seven games with turf toe. 

Harrison Smith has been placed on injured reserve/designated to return.

It also doesn't bode well for the Vikings that the Packers are the only team in the division they have a losing record against. Including the playoff game in January this year, the Packers have won six of the last seven games since 2010.

Minnesota Vikings' Record Against the NFC North
Team Wins Losses Ties Pct.
Detroit Lions 68 34 2 0.654
Chicago Bears 53 49 2 0.510
Green Bay Packers 48 54 1 0.466

Pro Football Reference

While stranger things have happened, the Minnesota Golden Gophers have a better chance of defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers this weekend than the Vikings have of beating the Packers.

Still, like a gruesome accident on the interstate, we just can't look away, and plenty of Vikings fans will be watching the game Sunday night. Let's take a look at their game plan.

 

When the Vikings have the ball

Considering how well Adrian Peterson played against the Packers last season, the easy decision would be to give Peterson the ball as often as possible.

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Last season, 19.5 percent of Peterson's rushing yards in the regular season came against the Packers. He combined to rush for 409 yards in two games against the Packers.

But this is not 2012, Peterson is not nearly as effective, and the Packers' defense is doing a much better job of stopping the run. 

The Vikings will need to have a balanced attack against the Packers and should take advantage of their pass defense that has yielded 267 yards per game. With Christian Ponder getting the start, per the Vikings' website, the Vikings' offensive game plan should be wide open.

The Vikings should play like a team with nothing to lose. Go ahead and open up the offense and start Cordarrelle Patterson along with Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings at wide receiver. Include Kyle Rudolph coming off the line at tight end, and Ponder has four weapons to look for.

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Cordarrelle Patterson had his best game of the season against the Giants—he caught three passes.

This will only work if the offensive line can provide enough protection and Ponder can make his reads fast enough. He can always use Peterson as a safety valve out of the backfield. By getting the ball to Peterson in open space, he can take advantage of his speed and power to beat a single defender.

If Peterson continues to struggle running the ball, then use him more in the passing game. 

Last week against the Giants, Peterson had the longest reception of the game for the Vikings when he caught a 22-yard pass from Josh Freeman.  

Here the Vikings line up with three wide receivers and Peterson standing next to Freeman in the backfield. 

This formation forces the Giants to take a defender out of the box. This provides an option to run out of this formation as well.

On the snap, each of the receivers occupy the attention of a defensive back. On this particular play, the middle linebacker comes on a delayed blitz and leaves the middle of the field wide open.

As Peterson catches the ball just over the line of scrimmage, he has more than 15 yards of open field in front of him. It's an easy 22-yard gain for the Vikings. 

The key for the Vikings will be to grind out some long drives, converting some third downs and giving their defense a chance to rest on the sidelines. 

 

When the Packers have the ball

Surprisingly, the Packers have the sixth-ranked rushing offense behind the running of James Starks and rookie Eddie Lacy. They are averaging 30 yards more per game this season over 2012.

The improvement of their running game has helped their passing game. Last season, the Packers averaged 252.6 passing yards per game. This season, Aaron Rodgers is averaging 300 yards per game. All week he must have been dreaming about the number of passes he would complete against the Vikings and their 29th-ranked pass defense. 

In his career, Rodgers has had some very good numbers against the Vikings.

The Vikings defense will have to find a way to get to Rodgers and get him off his rhythm—not an easy thing for one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. He has a way of making receivers better. As noted above, the Packers will be without two of their top receivers—not a problem for Rodgers. 

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The Vikings will need a big game from Jared Allen against the Packers.

The Packers insert Jarrett Boykin, who made his first start of the season last week against the Browns. Rodgers connected with him eight times to lead the Packers in receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown.

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Jarrett Boykin has nine receptions this season, eight of them came against the Browns.

The Vikings need to find a way to put a lot of pressure on Rodgers and keep him from picking apart the Vikings defense.

In order to do so, they may have to blitz a lot.

If they can't, Rodgers will easily pick apart cornerbacks Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, Xavier Rhodes and Marcus Sherels.

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Cornerback Chris Cook gave up another touchdown against the Giants.

As poorly as the Vikings defense has played, the only way the Vikings will beat the Packers is if they can outscore them. 

If that's the case, then with this defense, the only option remaining is to pray.

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