Vikings vs. Packers: 5 Things to Watch for Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers look to remain unbeaten at 9-0 as they host the 2-6 Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football. With their perfect record on the line, the Packers hope to sweep the Vikings for the second straight year and improve their current win streak over their rival to four.
The NFC North showdown features the two teams at the top and the bottom of the division standings. While the Packers seek to remain focused on another long playoff run behind Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings want to know if they finally found their quarterback of the future in Christian Ponder.
At a cold Lambeau Field, the Vikings are aiming to get revenge against the Packers after their comeback attempt failed in Week 7 and the Packers won the 33-27. Three weeks later, the Vikings are well rested coming off their bye week. The Packers are coming off a tough battle in San Diego as they held on to beat the Chargers 45-38.
Here are some things to look for as you watch the game.
Communication in the Secondary
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Throughout much of the first half of the season and highlighted in the Chargers game, the Packers have struggled in the secondary, giving up big plays. Many of these plays have been categorized as communication errors.
Even after coming away with a win in San Diego, many members of the defensive backfield were quite unhappy with their showing against the Chargers. They have identified the problem, and now the question becomes, "What can they do about it?"
The poor performance in San Diego left many speculating that the Packers can be beat because of this weakness. Against the Vikings on Monday Night Football, the Packers have a big opportunity to turn the page on their communication issues and play to their ability as a unit.
Stopping the Run
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In the Week 7 matchup in Minnesota, Adrian Peterson presented a huge problem for the Packers defense, as he rushed for 175 yards on 24 carries and found the end zone on a touchdown run. He barreled through defenders as he picked up extra yardage after initial contact.
The Packers need to limit Peterson's productivity in order to make things harder on rookie Christian Ponder. Of the many starting rookie quarterbacks, Ponder has the biggest luxury behind him in one of the league's top backs.
If Peterson is successful rushing the football, it will force the Packers secondary forward and free up space for Ponder downfield. The Packers must stop the run and put the ball into Ponder's hands as frequently as possible. They need to force the rookie quarterback to make mistakes and capitalize on them.
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This season, the Packers have sometimes struggled out of the gates. They fell behind early against the Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and these Minnesota Vikings. While the Packers have had no issue coming right back, this is not a characteristic that you want to carry into the playoffs.
Against the Vikings, the Packers need fly out of the tunnel and hit this game with intensity as soon as the game begins. A quick start would take the Vikings out of their game plan, which should be to feed Peterson early and often in order to keep Rodgers off the field.
As good as the Packers have been this season, they haven't played a full 60 minutes on both sides of the play during the same game. There would be no better time than on Monday Night Football with the nation watching.
Freeing Up Clay Matthews
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Much has been had of Clay Matthews' 2011 campaign. Some have praised his work, a resumed filled with sacks, while others have criticized him. No matter where you have Matthews graded so far, there is no debate that the Packers need to do a better job opposite Matthews.
A solid pass-rushing threat on the other side of the formation would force help to free up Matthews and allow him to make plays. Frank Zombo has been ruled out after a hamstring injury against the Chargers, so duties at outside linebacker will stay with Erik Walden.
If the Packers can get more pressure—not just opposite Matthews, but up front as well—they become that much more dangerous. This would help take pressure off the secondary and help to prevent as many big plays. Look for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to get creative in order to get to Ponder as much as they can.
Can Rodgers Keep It Up?
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Through eight games, Aaron Rodgers is on pace for one of the greatest single seasons from the quarterback position that the NFL has ever witnessed. On pace to break all types of records, the question turns to whether or not Rodgers can keep up his magnificent level of play over the next eight games.
Rodgers was brilliant against the Vikings in Week 7, as he went 24-of-30 for 335 yards and three touchdowns. He should be able to put up similar numbers against the same defense just three weeks later.
It would be safe to assume the Vikings will look to keep Rodgers off the field by sustaining long drives. Rodgers will need to take advantage of the opportunities he is given and be efficient with the football. With another strong performance, Rodgers will creep closer and closer towards the record books.