3TFO: Packers @ Vikings, Week 8
You don’t get much more drama in a football game than the last time the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings met in the Metrodome. In a season finale for the ages, Adrian Peterson fell just eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, but still earned a hefty consolation prize by clinching the MVP award and locking up the NFC’s final wild card berth for Minnesota. The Packers didn’t have to wait long to exact revenge, whipping the Vikings on Lambeau Field a week later to dismiss them from the postseason.
However, each season is a new novel, and this one has been a horror story for Minnesota. A merry-go-round of quarterbacks has them at 1-5 and staring straight at a full-scale rebuilding project. Meanwhile, the Packers are looking for their third straight win to further establish themselves as the frontrunners in the NFC North. Will this game be as lopsided as it appears at first glance? Or will the Vikings manage to hand the Packers a disastrous division setback? Let’s dive into the game’s critical matchups.
Bakhtiari vs. Allen
The Packers were one of the first teams to be bit hard by the injury bug this season, losing left tackle Bryan Bulaga in the second week of training camp to a torn ACL. While trade speculation mounted, general manager Ted Thompson stayed the course, as he so often does, and handed the starting job to the next man up, rookie David Bakhtiari. So far the decision hasn’t paid off, as the fourth-round draft pick has earned a negative grade in five of his six starts. On 4th-and-5 late at Cincinnati in Week 3, Bakhtiari whiffed on a cut block and allowed Michael Johnson to bat down Aaron Rodgers’ pass and seal the victory for the Bengals. Last week, with 2:08 left in the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns, Bakhtiari’s holding penalty on a bullrushing Desmond Bryant negated a 21-yard pass play and put Green Bay into a drive-killing 3rd-and-16 hole.
The challenge won’t get any easier for the rookie this week as he’ll meet the Packers’ old nemesis, Jared Allen. The veteran defensive end has shown signs of slipping, as two of the worst single-game grades we’ve ever given him have come in the last four weeks. But he still has his speed, earning 45.8% of his pressure on outside rushes. And he still has his strength, evident when he sacked Eli Manning through Giants left tackle Will Beatty late in the first half Monday night. Allen had a whopping 20 quarterback pressures in three games against the Packers last season, including four sacks and five QB hits. Rodgers’ mobility makes him somewhat immune to pressure, but if the Vikings pull the improbable upset, it’ll likely be because Allen disrupts the Green Bay offense from the blind side.
Nelson and Boykin vs. Vikings Cornerbacks
The Packers have long boasted the league’s deepest wide receiving corps, and they’ve certainly needed it this season. Randall Cobb was leading the league in receiving yards from the slot when he suffered a fractured fibula in Week 6. Jermichael Finley was averaging a stellar 1.96 Yards Per Route Run before he was lost as well last week. Together, they accounted for 82% of the Packers’ slot production this season, and now Green Bay’s only “experienced” inside receiver is undrafted rookie Myles White. That puts the onus on the Packers’ outside receivers to move the chains via the air. Jordy Nelson has our fourth-highest wide receiver grade this season, thanks to a 137.8 WR Rating and a reel of breathtaking sideline catches. While James Jones also couldn’t suit up last week, Jarrett Boykin caught eight of his 10 targets for 103 yards in his stead. Injuries have stolen a dimension from the high-flying Green Bay offense, but it’s still far from grounded.
If the Packers were playing with a full deck, the Vikings’ secondary would have little hope of stopping them. Yet even this depleted Green Bay receiving corps is a tall order for Minnesota’s beleaguered cornerbacks. No player in the league has surrendered as many yards in coverage this season as Vikings corner Josh Robinson. Three Hakeem Nicks drops saved first round pick Xavier Rhodes from primetime embarrassment, but not from his worse coverage grade of the season. And the four touchdowns Chris Cook has allowed in coverage already match his total surrendered all of last season. Rodgers earned a combined +11.1 grade in his three meetings against the Vikings last season, and Minnesota’s cornerbacks will need to put forth a heroic effort to break that trend Sunday night.
Peterson vs. Packers Run Defense
The priority for the Packers’ defense, as it is for every defense that faces the Vikings, will be stopping Adrian Peterson. Green Bay did a poor job of this last season, allowing the MVP to gain 508 rushing yards in their three meetings with 399 of them coming after contact. Peterson again is leading the league in both yards after contact and yards after contact per carry, but he has yet to hit that otherworldly gear that we saw from him last season. Many opponents are stacking the box like the Giants did Monday night, but Peterson faced the third-highest rate of eight-man fronts last season as well. The big difference for the reigning MVP seems to be the men in front of him, as his blockers are buying him just 1.1 yards before contact after a 2.0 mark last season. Right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan haven’t been their usually dominant selves, and the Vikings fullbacks have been in flux after continually paving roads for Peterson last year.
To make sure that this isn’t the game that Peterson breaks out, the Packers defense will need a team effort similar to what they had in last season’s wild card victory. In that game, defensive end Ryan Pickett led the charge up front by standing strong at the point of attack, while safety Morgan Burnett rebounded nicely after a miserable effort at the second level in Week 17. This season Mike Daniels has been the Packers’ best run defender, while Burnett has the fourth-highest run defense grade of any safety in the NFL. If Green Bay can bottle up Peterson, the Vikings offense will find it nearly impossible to move the ball on Sunday night.
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