The 5-5 Green Bay Packers must have the mindset that the game against the 2-8 Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field this Sunday is very similar to a playoff game. The team can't afford to lose any more games.
Rodgers has not played since then, and his return is still sketchy. However, the loss of the 2011 NFL MVP is not the only reason the Packers have lost three-straight games. It's actually been a combination of things.
The biggest area of concern has been the defense. In the losses to the Bears and then the Eagles, the defense gave up too many big pass plays, and the overall tackling was atrocious. That situation was better in the loss to the Giants last week, but three turnovers by the offense made winning the game almost impossible.
That sets up the game on Sunday between the two rivals from the NFC North. The two teams have played 106 times (including the postseason) since 1961, with the Packers holding a 56-49-1 edge in the series.
The first time the two teams met this year was in Week 8. The Packers ended up winning 44-31, as Rodgers threw for 285 yards, plus two touchdown passes, while rookie running back Eddie Lacy added 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Green Bay defense held 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson to just 60 yards rushing and one touchdown.
In the game this Sunday, head coach Mike McCarthy once again named Scott Tolzien as the starting quarterback in the absence of Rodgers. Meanwhile, Peterson has not practiced all week due to a groin injury.
We will know more later on Friday about whether or not Peterson has a chance to play versus the Packers on Sunday. Likewise, we should know more about the injury status of Rodgers as well.
Like most games, this one will probably come down to turnovers. Both the Packers and Vikings are in the negative when it comes to that particular category.
The Packers are -6 in turnovers, while the Vikings are -8. What that means is that both teams have thrown more interceptions and had more fumbles recovered by the opposition, than vice versa.
A lot of that is due to the play of the quarterbacks by both teams, although it was not an issue when Rodgers was under center. Before his injury, Rodgers had thrown 15 touchdown passes to just four interceptions.
Since Tolzien has taken over as quarterback, the former Wisconsin Badger has thrown just one touchdown pass compared to five picks.
The situation in Minnesota is even worse. Between Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman, the three have thrown 10 touchdown passes, compared to 13 interceptions. The overall quarterback rating between the three is just 72.5.
Tolzien has put up great stats in terms of yardage the past two games, as he has thrown for 619 yards. But even with that, he has also thrown some very costly interceptions.
To win on Sunday, the team whose quarterback plays better and makes the least amount of mistakes will most likely win.
That's why an efficient running game is important. The Packers had that the first time they met the Vikings, when Lacy had a nice game, while James Starks added 57 yards and a touchdown as well.
The Packers need more of the same on Sunday.
Another player who came up big in the first meeting was wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Nelson had seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns in that game. In the three games since Rodgers was injured, Nelson has still been effective, as he has had 18 receptions for 240 yards. But he has not scored a touchdown since then. That needs to change on Sunday.
Yet another key player for the Packers in this game is outside linebacker Clay Matthews. He did not play in the first meeting between the two teams because of a broken thumb. In his career against the Vikings, Matthews has had six sacks and caused all sorts of mayhem.
Special teams play will also be huge. Both teams had a return for a touchdown in the first meeting.
Both the offense and the defense of the Packers have been beset by injuries to key players, but at this point of the season you can't worry about that.
You just have to do it with the players you have. A next-man-up mentality. That has to be the approach the Packers take.
Bottom line, you just have to get the job done. And get a win, too.
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