Early Bird Breakdown Week 17 – Minnesota Vikings @ Green Bay Packers
Welcome to the last regular season Early Bird Breakdown! The Packers have a guaranteed playoff game next week regardless of the result this week, so there still will be at least one more game and at least one more Early Bird Breakdown. Before we get to the recap, we will have to recap last weeks debacle.
The Packers last week were beaten, bloodied, and embarrassed last week against a very good Arizona Cardinals team. The Packers are most certainly a playoff contender but did not show any signs of being a Super Bowl contender against one of the best teams in the NFL missing their best defensive player. Rodgers was sacked 8 times and as a team they only generated 178 total yards. Every offensive deficiency that has plagued Green Bay this season was on display. Defensively the Packers were outmatched but against the league’s number one rated offense they more or less held their own considering how often the Packer offense could not stay on the field. The Cardinals routed the Packers 38-8 in a game that was not even that close.
Packers’ Offense vs Vikings’ Defense:
The entire key to this game will be whether or not the Vikings defensive line does or does not jump offsides during Rodgers’ hard count. They will be amped up to dethrone the Packers, get revenge, and win the North which may aid the Packers in getting them to jump off sides. On the flip side, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer probably drilled in them not to jump offsides since that was the only way last time the Packers were able to do anything downfield in the passing game.
Last time these two teams squared off Rodgers only had 212 yards passing. The bulk of the offense ran through Eddie Lacy, who ran for 100 yards. Lacy and James Starks will have to both have good games on the ground to keep drives alive since the ariel attack is flat right now. Historically, Lacy has done well against Minnesota and should be the focal point of the offense if they wish to succeed.
The two major reasons for the lack of offensive production for the Packers have been the offensive line and the receivers. The line has been decimated by injury and it looks like left tackle David Bakhtiari is 50/50 to play. While expected to play, the rest of the Packers offensive line have been dealing with injuries as well. The Vikings have had a solid pass rush this season and judging by the last few games Rodgers will have another rough week this week.
The receivers are the bigger of the issues, both short and long term because injuries to the Packers line will heal with time. Outside of injured wideout Jordy Nelson, the group cannot point to injuries as to why they are playing so poorly. The reason the Packers receivers are not working out is because Denver exposed the Packers’ receivers as having marginal physical gifts and they can be locked up in man-to-man coverage. Randall Cobb and Jeff Janis are the only Packers with a sub 4.5 forty (none are sub 4.4) and no Packers receiver is over 6’3″ (incidentally, Jordy Nelson was neither of those things in his prime and now is over 30 recovering from knee surgery). The Vikings will be able to matchup physically with the Packers’ receivers except for these two, but most likely will keep safety help on Cobb and Janis is not a polished route runner nor has consistent enough hands to warrant double coverage. Instead, James Jones will have to have one of his best games to take pressure off of Rodgers and give him a consistent target.
Packers’ Defense vs Vikings’ Offense:
The Packers defense again will have to carry the load if they want to win this game. They will need to not only contain Adrian Peterson but also most likely will need to generate a turnover or two. Last time they faced the Vikings they did just that, holding Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards and forcing a fumble. However, Peterson is the NFL’s leading rusher and the Packers’ run defense is just 21st overall, so that will take considerable effort to repeat that performance.
Green Bay has more talent in their secondary than Minnesota does at wide receiver, even with Sam Shields questionable. Minnesota has one exceptional wide receiver in rookie Stefon Diggs. Diggs is a bit undersized and does not posses blazing speed but has excellent hands and has natural form going up and getting ball. The Packers can keep him contained with Heyward, Randall, or Rollins physically assuming he does not get into space. The fact the Packers are so deep at corner will allow them to play both safeties close if they so choose and that may be the key to stopping Adrian Peterson.
Historically, Peterson has dominated in these match ups for the most part. Clay Matthews and the Packers will have to bring their A-Game this week, especially with star defensive lineman Mike Daniels and nose tackle BJ Raji both questionable with injuries. If one or both are out, this could be a very tough game for Green Bay as Peterson might be able to find some open lanes to run through without them.
The Packers will host the Vikings for a cold one, with an expected temperature around 25 degrees at kickoff.
Will Green Bay win their first game at home against an NFC North opponent this season? The last time the Packers lost to the Vikings, Lions, and Bears all at home was 1991 when they went 4-12 on the season. Minnesota is healthier and playing better football right now, having outscored their last two opponents 87-34 and playing a tight game against the Cardinals the week before that. While Eddie Lacy has run for 100 yards or more four out of five times against Minnesota, Vikings back Adrian Peterson has run for 140+ yards in three of the last five games against the Packers. Both teams offensive lines have issues right now, the Vikings due to talent and the Packers due to health. If Mike Daniels plays that will go a long way in helping Green Bay slow Peterson and sack Teddy Bridgewater.
Weirdly enough, it may actually be better for the Packers to lose this game. Losing this week means next week they would play the Redskins because the seeding order would be Minnesota the three seed, Redskins the four seed, and the Packers would be fifth seed since they have the direct tie-breaker with Seattle (and if Seattle loses a better record outright). That would mean a road game for Green Bay but against a much weaker Redskins team. If Seattle loses their game to Arizona and Green Bay wins the Packers would play host to Seattle which is the worst-case scenario. If Seattle loses and Green Bay wins, then we get a rematch of this very game in Green Bay. Similar to the 2012 season finale where Green Bay lost to Minnesota but won the playoff game, I think McCarthy will try to win but will be more concerned with keeping Rodgers safe for a playoff game. Minnesota will not make as many mistakes as last time defensively giving the Packers easy yards and the way the Packers’ offense has been playing that’s the only way they will move the ball against Minnesota. I think the Vikings take this one 23-17.
As always, go Pack go! Stu Weis -Journalism graduate 2012, Carroll University