3TFO: Packers @ Vikings, Week 17

This should be one of few Week 17 games where both teams operate at full capacity. Bryan Hall highlights three keys to victory for Green Bay and Minnesota.

| 4 years ago

This should be one of few Week 17 games where both teams operate at full capacity. Bryan Hall highlights three keys to victory for Green Bay and Minnesota.

3TFO: Packers @ Vikings, Week 17

It’s pretty much ‘win or go home’ for the Vikings. A victory earns one of the more unlikely playoff berths of the season. Without it, they’ll need a trifecta of losses from the Giants, Cowboys, and Bears to back their way in. The Packers can ‘win and play at home’ — sewing up the No. 2 seed in the NFC and topping off a clean sweep of the NFC North for the second straight season.

Expect an ‘all-hands on deck’ approach for two teams trying to put the final pieces in place for a run to the Super Bowl.

Jerome Felton vs. A.J. Hawk

In their 2011 meetings, the Packers bottled up Adrian Peterson and did so predominantly with a nickel or dime defense (69% of their defensive snaps). In their Week 13 matchup this season, Green Bay reversed strategy, sticking to their base 3-4 formations, and only adding extra DBs in obvious passing situations. You’d think putting more beef into the front seven would be the right call for countering the Vikings’ run-first mentality, but the results were staggering — Peterson averaged 10 yards per carry, forced four missed tackles, and gained 186 of his 210 yards after contact.

Yes, it was one of the great individual running back performances of the year, but it helped having teammates that were winning their individual battles as well. Minnesota does the majority (41%) of their running out of a two-back, one-tight end set. The second back has usually been fullback Jerome Felton, who currently ranks fifth among FBs in run blocking (his less-used teammate Rhett Ellison ranks second). Felton had one of his best performances of the season against the Packers and mostly at the expense of inside linebacker A.J. Hawk. The pair appeared to have similar assignments that game — meeting in the hole time-after-time in some violent collisions. Felton gave up no ground and even pancaked Hawk to spring a 9-yard run early in the second quarter.

That hasn’t been a typical day for Hawk, who’s shown big improvement in his run defense this year. In 2011, he graded out 47th among ILBs against the run (-10.7), but fast forward to 2012 and you’ll find he’s worked his way up to 17th (+4.2). While Hawk still doesn’t deliver the big play (only two sacks, no interceptions, and no forced fumbles), he’s managed to at least cut back on giving them up. He’s missing only one tackle for every 22 attempts, effectively doubling his Tackling Efficiency from last year. The Packers are also getting more impact out of those tackles. Last year Hawk delivered a stop on only 5.7% of his run snaps — Run Stop Percentage that was at the bottom of the league for ILBs. This year he’s up to 11.8%, good for sixth in the league.

Christian Ponder vs. Dom Capers

The Vikings are looking for QB Christian Ponder to cut down on the poor throws and decisions that haven’t always allowed the Vikings to ride Peterson’s exploits to victory. Ponder currently ranks 37th out of 39 QBs in passing, with only two positive grades on the year. Pressure appears to be his biggest enemy. Give him some time and a clean pocket, and you get a 70% completion rate that rivals some of the league’s top QBs — but when defenses start getting in his face, his percentage plummets to 40, one of the biggest differentials in the league.

Perhaps Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers knows this, and that’s why has brought the heat the past three games against Ponder (65% blitz rate). That’s more than double the NFL average, and well above the Packers’ own average. Capers’ aggressiveness has paid off, as Ponder hasn’t played particularly well in any of those games (five interceptions to three touchdowns) and has only a 37% completion rate when blitzed.

If the Packers continue their blitz-happy strategy again this week, expect their defensive backs to get into the mix. In last year’s games, Charles Woodson and Jarrett Bush were used heavily as blitzers (about 20% of passing snaps) and mostly from the slot corner position. With Woodson on the sideline much of the year, Capers has been slowly opening up blitzing opportunities for rookie Casey Hayward who had a season-high 13 pass rushes last week against the Titans.

Packers Tight Ends vs. Antoine Winfield and Chad Greenway

The Packers look to bolster their receiving corps with the possible return of wide receiver Jordy Nelson this week. During his absence, the Packers’ tight ends have helped pick up the slack. Jermichael Finley’s snaps, targets, and overall production have been on the rise since Nelson’s Week 13 departure. He’s also been more likely to run routes from outside the formation (53% of the time vs. 40%).

Second-year man D.J. Williams has quietly established himself as the Packers’ best blocking tight end during limited reps this season.  He gets the majority of his action on running plays and will often motion into the backfield as a FB. His run blocking grade (+3.9) is well above-average for tight ends. He also has been a stellar in pass protection — yet to yield a single pressure in 24 pass blocking snaps.

Four weeks ago, it was CB Antoine Winfield and OLB Chad Greenway getting most of the coverage duty on Packers tight ends. Greenway seems to have recovered some from a midseason swoon, but is still much more likely to contain a receiver than to shut them down (80.2% completion rate allowed and only three passes defensed).

Winfield is nursing a broken hand, but expects to play on Sunday. While he is our top-graded CB primarily on the strength of an unmatched prowess in run defense, he’s also among the elite in coverage. Like Greenway, Winfield isn’t one to necessarily challenge receivers on the reception (68% completion rate allowed and only three PDs), but punishes after the catch with physical tackling and a yards per catch average that’s among the best in the league (9.7 average).


Follow Bryan on Twitter: @PFF_BryanHall


  • http://twitter.com/PFF_BryanHall Bryan Hall

    Looking for even more stats for this game?  Got plenty that didn’t make the final edit.  Feel free to post a question.

  • Cphillips999

    Love the site!   How are the coverage and run grades for the Packers young safeties? Does it look like we will we be able to move on from Charles Woodson for good after the year?

    • http://twitter.com/PFF_BryanHall Bryan Hall

      Of course it’s not as simple as good grades as an indicator to move on.  Hayward’s exceptional play at slot CB is probably a better reason to feel comfortable about their future after Woodson.  That said,  MD Jennings and Jerron McMillian are both grading out pretty well at safety.  

      McMillian ranks 21st out of the Top 60 safeties. Also 21st for coverage only and 28th for run defense.With a few more snaps Jennings would make those rankings as well.  And would be about 28th overall, 22nd coverage and 42nd run.

      The pair could improve on their tackling.  Looking at our Tackling Efficiency Stat, McMillian’s near the bottom of the league with 1 missed tackle for every 6 attempts. Jennings is middle of the pack at 1 in 9 attempts.  

      Could be scheme but these guys aren’t getting many opportunities to tackle (only 51 tackles and 10 defensive stops combined.)  Burnett seems to be eating those up – 85 tackles and 33 stops. 

      Packers evidently see McMillian more as a strong safety and Jennings more as the free safety.  On running plays, McMillian lines up “in the box” 48% of the time – Jennings only 17%.  Burnett is in between at 38%.

      McMillian has gotten the most pass rushing opportunities of the two and has generated 4 hurries on 28 blitzes.  A decent rate that was close to Woodson’s before he got injured.  

      • Kevin Byrd

        Thanks for the breakdown. I have all the premium stats but it is always nice to be able to have it written out for you. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing a safety drafted high in this coming draft. Even if they feel Jennings, McMillian and even Richardson have potential a top talent to put on the back end beside Burnett could be huge. Evident by the loss of Collins and the big downfall the Packers saw. Rarely are the top Safeties unobtainable for a playoff team.

         McMillian was huge to start the year so the potential is there and has fairly good size and is fast. One of the better safeties at the combine last year. Jennings is probably better in coverage but IMO is a bit small at Safety. Sometimes it is obvious based on his lack of physical play. Richardson is the wildcard at safety in the Packers future. He was raw coming out of college but is something like 6’3 220 lbs and runs a 4.4 40. The guy was an absolute beast at the combine and actually had one of the best workouts of any position last year. Can Darren Perry and the rest of the Packers coaching staff develop him is the question. The physical tools are all there.

  • Kevin

    Very good stuff. One thing I’d like to mention though was that the Pack didn’t exactly bottle up AD in both of their 2011 meetings. In the second meeting they absolutely did, but in the first one, AD ran for 175 yards.

    • Thechainsawninja

      Are you hinting at a correlation this year?

      • Kevin

        Nope, just pointing out the fact that he was only shut down once, not twice last year by the Packers. I don’t think correlating that to saying he will get shut down this Sunday makes much sense. After all, the Packers shut him down in Lambeau last year, Sunday’s game is at the Metrodome (home crowd and turf surface on AD’s side). Also, the Vikings are a much better team than last year, he mostly got shut down in that second match up because they got far behind very quickly and had to ditch the running game early on. Not saying that can’t happen this Sunday, but it’s much less likely than it was in the second meeting last year.

    • http://twitter.com/PFF_BryanHall Bryan Hall

      Kevin,  thanks for the catch.  You are correct.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KHGOCDYPHWVR5OMYWLIPVGYCNQ Packfan

    I think it’s really interesting that Peterson has had such huge games in losses to the Pack. Do you think it’s due to poor Vikings QB play, the Packer offense, or something else?

  • SC

    Viking Fan Pre-Game Thoughts

    1. The key to the game seems to be the perfomance of the Vikings Pass-Rush.  Green Bay’s Two Worst Offensive Games (Seattle and the NY Giants) came on the road when they’re usually pretty decent pass blocking line got owned.  The Vikings Pass Rush has showed sings of life as late in games against Chicago and Houston.  If this match-up is close to even (The Vikings Lose Plain and Simple)

    2. I don’t expect AP to get anywhere near 208.  I’m thinking he could have 120 (Since he’ll get enough carries (25-30) to ensue 2000.  Thankfully-Christian Ponder seems to be playing better.  Can he keep it up? It’s an intresting question since the Packers don’t have a Great Pass-Rush yet Excellent Coverage where as the Vikings have a good line with middling receivers.    If Ponder plays like in the First Green Bay Game (We lose).  If Ponder plays like he did at Home against Detroit or last week versus Houston.  We could be celebrating.

    3. Special Teams is the Vikings clear area of strength over the Green and Gold.  If Aaron Rodgers throws for 375 (This is a moot point) but this explains why the Vikings have a better record then their true talent level on both sides of the ball.

    As an objective fan (I’m not expecting a Vikings Win).  Yet the Vikings are much better at home with enough strengths to possibly pull an upset.

  • Ted Thompson

    The Pack run def is night and day with Clay in the game. In the 1st meeting he was out. No way AP gets 208. The Pack dbs are good enough to man up and stack the box with 8 men. Minn could win but AP wont have over 100 yards