Early Bird Breakdown Week 11: Green Bay Packers & Minnesota Vikings
Hello and welcome back to Early Bird Breakdown! While most fans may want to move past last week, we still will have to start with last week’s recap.
Last week the Green Bay Packers suffered arguably their most humiliating loss since Aaron Rodgers became the quarterback. While the Packers had been playing bad recently, the Lions had been playing worse all season, leading to a 1-7 record entering the game. They couldn’t stop anyone on defense and the couldn’t score on offense. While the Packers defense looked fine (which was expected with such a weak adversary), the offense looked just as lost as ever. Despite the final score being only a one-point loss, 18-17 was the final, they were favored to win by 12 points. They chocked and this team officially is not good despite the fact it still should be among the most talented. The Packers third-straight loss has them now in second place in the division behind Minnesota, which leads us to this weeks game.
Packers’ offense vs Minnesota’s defense:
If the Packers had trouble scoring on Detroit, traveling up to Minnesota is going to be near impossible. The Vikings have the 9th best defense in total yards (336.6 yards per game) and the second best scoring defense, giving up only 17.1 points per game. Even if all the bad juju that has been plaguing this offense went away, this still would be an incredibly difficult task. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has built an incredibly strong defense and has very strong disguised blitzes, which was what the Lions used to keep Rodgers off balance last week.
While the Packers receivers are getting a lot of attention for the sheer inability to get open (and rightly so, more on them in a minute) the offensive lines massive regression is what will need fixing the most if the Packers want to right the ship. Minnesota’s only small chink has been against the run, where they are right in the middle of the league. If the offensive line can go back to where it was when the year began, it will help clear holes for the Packers to control the tempo of the game. Also, it will enable Rodgers the time to run around and see if someone can get open down field, though that has been a massive challenge as of late.
What has really taken the wind out of the Packers’ sails has been the inability for the receivers to get open downfield. The reason why it has drastically fallen off is all due to the Denver game. Prior to the Denver game (where they had an extra week of film study due to their bye), no defense really keyed on the fact that the Packers are not only attempting to throw the ball down the field but also do not seem to be able. While Jordy Nelson was not a speedster, what he could do was a double move to fake out a corner better than any other receiver in the league. Doing this allowed him to get deep, and would force the defenses to play back and respect the deep option. Even when healthy the Packers do not have a true deep threat, relying on guile, play calling, and technique rather than physical gifts to get vertical separation.
What Denver changed, and all defenses playing the Packers have now adapted is that you no longer need to fear anything deep. Randall Cobb is the only Packer with a sub-4.5 40 yard dash at wide receiver. The Packers receivers are also only 6’0″ or 6’1″, none are tall enough to make up for the lack of speed downfield by being able to jump up and over the defender. By building their receiver corps with everyone being of similar size and speed (not tall or fast, but acceptable at both), the Packers have effectively limited their offensive potential by taking specific routes and plays out of their playbook. Another example of this for another team was last season New England, with a similar receiving corps to the Packers currently with Julian Edelman as their Randall Cobb, were without Rob Gronkowski for the beginning of the season and they looked atrocious. People were calling for the end of Brady, but once they got a 6’5″ physical mismatch, it opened up everything else up. The long term downside for the Packers is that Jordy Nelson may not be the same receiver after his knee surgery, and the Packers should take a page from Pittsburgh on the types of wide receivers to draft in later rounds to avoid this happening again in the coming years.
While Green Bay could put new wrinkles in the playbook to catch Minnesota off guard, I expect the Vikings to be out in full effort against their rival, especially with the Packers showing blood in the water. Minnesota will not take this one off, and even if the offense was not struggling against teams like the Lions, this match up would prove very difficult.
Packers defense vs Vikings Offense:
The Packers defense will have to step up big to give Green Bay the chance at victory. Fortunately for the Packers, the Vikings are incredibly one dimensional right now which will help focus the game plan on stopping the Vikings’ only strength. Unfortunately for the Packers, the Vikings’ strength is also the defense’s weakness, running the ball.
As many Packer fans probably remember, Adrian Peterson has a pretty good history against the Packers, averaging nearly 5.5 yards a carry and 117 yards per game. This season he has been incredibly steady and has been getting better the last few weeks. The Packers will have to overload the box and dare second year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to beat them, because if they don’t stop Peterson they are already as good as beaten.
On the positive end for the defense is Minnesota is asking for that very game plan because they haven’t been able to throw the ball all season, ranking second to last in the league in passing yards. The Packers’ secondary is too talented to not be able to stop these receivers one-on-one, so Capers should be all in on the stopping Peterson plan. If they can limit Peterson and get a turn over, that might be the spark the Packers need to fix their season.
The weather is actually relevant for multiple reasons. First, Minnesota is playing out doors this season instead of a dome as they build their new stadium, so that in and of itself is a change. Two, it is cold (35 degrees), cloudy, and a bit windy (15mph) but 0% chance of snow or icy rain during the game.
The Packers can win this game. Talent wise, they have one of the three or four best rosters top to bottom when they are playing to their potential. Defensively the Packers can play one-on-one coverage and bring both safeties Morgan Burnett and HaHa Clinton-Dix down into the box on early downs to assist with stopping the run. They can make the stops on third down as well as get the turnover from the young Viking QB Bridgewater. Offensively for the Packers when playing to potential they do not have any mismatches but Rodgers can make enough plays to score and win this game. The only problem is the Packers have not been close offensively to playing to potential. If the Packers could not stop their free fall last week against the worst team in football, why would it be in Minnesota against the team in first as opposed to last week at home against the team in last? Nothing in the recent film shows anything that would point to the upset, but that is at this point an obvious statement since recently the film shows the Packers might not be able to beat anyone. The Packers will turn their season around and find ways to score…eventually. However, even if they suddenly did find life on offense, Minnesota is still a playoff caliber team that is not going to roll over at home. I believe Rodgers will not allow the offense to embarrass themselves as bad as they did against Detroit, but they still come up short in Minnesota, with the Vikings winning 24-17.As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University