Much was made last year of the monster games Jared Allen had going up against the Green Bay Packers. The defensive end pretty much kept his name in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year by raking up eight and a half sacks against Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang.
Sunday night will be quite a different animal when Allen faces off against Chad Clifton. Clifton has more than held his own against Allen throughout his career, especially in games played on grass. The last time the two went head-to-head in the Metrodome in 2008, Allen gave Clifton all sorts of trouble. The deafening noise and the Packers continually finding themselves in 2nd and 3rd and long gave Allen all the advantage he needed to make life miserable for the Packers' left tackle. While Clifton definitely struggled the first few weeks of this season, he has certainly righted the ship the past three weeks. Add in the fact that Allen has put up a whopping one sack so far this season and I think Clifton will more than hold up his end of the bargain on Sunday night.
Where the concern lies is down on the other end of the line at right tackle. Mark Tauscher was very limited in practice yesterday, going through only the lightest of drills. This would seem to suggest that the Packers first round pick Bryan Bulaga would be in line to get his third start in a row. While the rookie out of Iowa has more than held his own at a position he had never played until three weeks ago, going up against Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards will be, by far, the toughest challenge he's faced up to this point.
I made a mistake when I placed Bulaga in the "Bad" category after the Dolphins game. Going back and watching the game again, he actually played quite well. Where he got in trouble with Cameron Wake was getting up and out ahead of his pads when pass blocking, rather than keeping his weight back and anchored. It didn't help that Wake kept setting him up and knocking him down, alternating his speed and bull rushes. Poor Bulaga was just guessing by the end.
The key on Sunday will come in two areas, one which Bulaga can control and one in which he has none. What he can control is staying focused on his fundamentals and his game, and not letting Edwards draw him into any of the nonsense he likes to engage in before the snap. (Bulaga addressed the Vikings tendency to talk between snaps very briefly yesterday.) The thing Bulaga can not control is the amount of help he is given by Mike McCarthy. For whatever reason, McCarthy is loathe to use his backs and tight ends to "chip" or help his tackles out. He will on the very rare occasion, but more often than not, he leaves his tackles to their own fate. It can be maddening when its plain for everyone to see that a guy is struggling in a particular area, as Bulaga was against Wake, yet McCarthy steadfastly refuses to give him much if any help.
Sunday night will be another step in Bulaga's NFL journey. The rookie's play could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.
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