3TFO: Vikings @ Packers, Week 12
Breaking down a rivalry recently dominated by the Packers, Matt Claassen identifes both teams' rushing attacks as keys to victory.
3TFO: Vikings @ Packers, Week 12
The last encounter between these NFC North rivals saw Minnesota create opportunities, but fall short of victory. The Vikings were able to score 31 points, but unfortunately, it was not enough because the defense could not stop the Packers’ offense. The Vikings were able to force the Packers into third-down situations, but could not make a stop when they needed it the most. The Vikings failed to force a single punt or turnover and the Packers converted on 13 of their 18 third downs. On their five fourth-down situations, the Packers were able to pick up two first downs and make three field goals. The Packers’ ability to sustain long drives left the Vikings little opportunity to mount a comeback.
It has been a rough few weeks for the Packers since the Week 8 matchup. They have lost Aaron Rodgers to injury, three straight games, and their NFC North lead. Meanwhile, the Vikings picked up their second win of the season and look to derail their rival’s playoff hopes. Will the Vikings be able to take advantage of Rodgers’ absence or can the Packers overcome their injuries to put an end to their losing streak? Let’s take a look at three key areas of this week’s matchup.
Lacy vs Vikings Run Defense
Eddie Lacy averaged 109 rushing yards per game in Weeks 5 through 9, but his production has since declined with the absence of Rodgers. Lacy has averaged 50 yards per game and a paltry 2.6 yards per attempt (YPA) in the last two weeks. The rookie runner is not the only one to blame though. The passing offense has posed less of a threat without Rodgers, which has allowed defenses to consistently put more defenders in the box. That, along with below-average blocking, has caused Lacy to be hit at, or behind the line of scrimmage on 19 of his 38 carries against the Eagles and the Giants. Of his 100 rushing yards, 86 have come after contact.
Lacy and company will face an inconsistent Vikings’ run defense. The defense allowed 151 rushing yards to Lacy and James Starks in the first matchup, and another 123 yards to Alfred Morris two weeks ago. Nevertheless, they were able to hold Marshawn Lynch to 61 yards last week. Defensive tackle Fred Evans has easily been the Vikings’ best run defender on the defensive line despite his limited playing time. The Vikings will also need good performances from Kevin Williams and Erin Henderson again. Their biggest weakness against the run has, surprisingly, been Chad Greenway. His run defense grade ranks last among outside linebackers and his 7.0 Tackle Efficiency against the run ranks in the bottom third.
Ponder vs. Tolzien
Although Christian Ponder and Scott Tolzien will not face each other directly, the outcome of the game could very well come down to which quarterback can make more plays and limit mistakes. Ponder will get another chance as he continues to hold on to the starting job in Minnesota. He played his best game of the season against the Redskins before having to leave the game due to injury. Unfortunately, he was unable to continue the improved performance against a difficult Seahawks’ secondary. Ponder’s -4.7 overall grade last week was his worst of the season. Since regaining the starting job, however, the one area he has excelled in is play-action passes. After little success in his first three games, he has completed 79.5% of his play-action attempts and has a 130.2 QB Rating over his last four games. While Ponder could luck out with a couple Packers’ defensive backs potentially not playing Sunday, it will still be a difficult challenge having to face Clay Matthews this time around.
As expected, the Packers’ offense has suffered without Rodgers, averaging half as many points per game in his absence. After also losing Seneca Wallace, Tolzien will be making his second career start this week. With five interceptions in two games, he has certainly made some mistakes. Unsurprising for a young quarterback, most of his struggles have come when blitzed, completing 52.6% of his passes and throwing four interceptions. However, he has played aggressively and made some impressive throws considering the little time he has had to build a rapport with his receivers. Tolzien has completed six of seven attempts targeted 20-plus yards downfield for 217 yards. If he can limit the mistakes and finish drives, the Packers have a great opportunity to win the game. If he cannot, the Packers may be in trouble.
Adrian Peterson and the Offensive Line
The Packers held the lead and controlled the clock for most of the first meeting, causing the Vikings to hand the ball to Adrian Peterson just 13 times. He is clearly their best player and needs to have a greater impact on the game. The Vikings also need better blocking out of the left side of their offensive line. Peterson is averaging 3.3 YPA to the left of center, in comparison to 5.2 YPA to the right. Matt Kalil has regressed from last year, while Charlie Johnson continues to be the weak link along the line. Peterson clearly was not at full health last week and it remains to be seen how effective he can be this week. Toby Gerhart, who outrushed Peterson last week despite having one-third as many carries, could see an increase in touches.
The Packers were one of the top run defense teams through Week 8, holding opponents to 83.6 rushing yards per game. Since then, they have looked like a very different team. Over their past three games they have allowed 453 rushing yards. There is no main culprit as the majority of the front seven has played poorly at one point or another. The Packers have missed some tackles, but the bigger issue is their inability to shed blocks. In the fourth quarter against the Eagles, the Packers repeatedly gave up first downs when they expected the run. They couldn’t force a stop in the last 9 minutes and never got the ball back as the Eagles ran out the clock. The Packers need to regain their early-season form to slow Peterson, who has run for 568 yards in their last four matchups.
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