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Packers vs. Vikings: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 12

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Packers vs. Vikings: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 12

It's rather easy to picture the 2013 Green Bay Packers as the grizzled heavyweight, a pro's pro in the ring who has always taken numerous body blows but now lacks his go-to countermove. He is bruised and beaten, with a stumble in every step, and one more swift punch could easily put him on the canvas.

The rounds in this fight are dwindling. And the right hand is still unavailable.

If ever the Packers (5-5) needed to launch one more counter offensive, it would probably be Sunday, when the 2-8 Minnesota Vikings come to Green Bay to face a team that has lost three straight games without Aaron Rodgers—the undeniable eraser of this team's fighting deficiencies.

Rodgers will watch another game from the sidelines. Once again, Scott Tolzien and a suddenly average-looking supporting cast are tasked with keeping Green Bay's season alive just long enough for Rodgers to save.

The Packers, down just one game in the division standings, are still standing. But there's a back-and-forth wobble to this season, and a home loss to the unraveled Vikings Sunday could be the kind of glancing blow that forces the referee to call it a match.

Here's five questions the Packers need to answer in Week 12 to avoid the knockout blow:

1. Will the Run Defense Make Another Stand Against Adrian Peterson?

Despite a nagging groin injury that both he and his coach admitted bothered him last week, Peterson sounded confident he'll play Sunday when I asked him earlier this week if he'd consider sitting out a game to let the injury heal. "If I can roll, I'm rolling," Peterson responded, while also shaking off any idea that he'd sit because the Vikings are 2-8. He believes the Vikings can still qualify for the postseason. He'll need to power any chance of Minnesota staying alive at Lambeau Field. Peterson is coming off back-to-back games in which he's received 20 or more carries but failed to crack 80 rushing yards. And in the first meeting of these two teams, Peterson ran for just 60 yards on 13 carries. The Packers sealed up some leaks in the run game against the Giants, but recent failures against the Bears (171 rushing yards allowed) and Eagles (204) provide frank reminders of how this defense can still be gashed on the ground. The Vikings are still scrambling at quarterback, which makes containing Peterson all the more important. Minnesota probably can't score enough points to win on the road without Peterson playing a major role.

2. Is a Struggling Secondary Prepared to Take on an Underachieving Passing Game?

Let's not confuse Minnesota's trio of Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Cordarrrelle Patterson for the one the Packers just faced in New York. Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle are a tough matchup for any secondary, and especially for one playing as poorly as Green Bay's. That said, the Packers are still in desperate need of "cleaning up their own house," as Mike McCarthy put it Thursday. This idea applies directly to the secondary, which is still out of place and lacking the communication necessary of a good unit. The last thing the Packers want to see Sunday is Jennings finding his way into the end zone because of a mixup in the back end. And in all reality, Green Bay should feel that its defense against Christian Ponder is a big advantage for the Packers. He'll throw one or two passes a game that shouldn't be thrown. Can the Packers capitalize? Getting back Sam Shields would certainly be a big boost, as would an improved pass rush featuring a healing Clay Matthews. It's time for the back seven to take a major step forward.

3. How Will the Packers Run Against Stacked Fronts?

It's a question the Packers need to find an answer to, and fast. In back-to-back weeks, the Eagles and Giants loaded the box to stop the run, and the result has been just 154 total rushing yards for the Packers, their lowest two-game total of this season. There's no easy solution to beating seven, eight or even nine man fronts. It's simple math. Blocking more defenders than the offense has to counter with just doesn't add up. At some point, the Packers will need to make enough plays in the passing game to force defensive coordinators to reconsider the stacked fronts. But with Tolzien under center, that scenario doesn't look very likely. The Packers are still easier to defend when the running game is stalled and a young quarterback has to make difficult conversions on third down. The Vikings aren't a good defense by any stretch of the imagination, but teams are only averaging 3.9 yards per rush against them this season. Eddie Lacy and James Starks could be in for another long, tough day at the office.

4. Will the Defense or Special Teams Finally Provide a Hand to the Offense?

It was no secret that when Rodgers went out three short weeks ago, the rest of the Packers roster needed to elevate around the new quarterback. Both the defense and special teams needed to increase its impact on games for Green Bay to survive. So far, neither have consistently pulled its weight. The defense finally showed a pulse against the Giants, but Tolzien and the offense were still swimming up current against long fields on seemingly every drive. At this point, any kind of contribution—a turnover in Minnesota's end or a long kick or punt return—would be more than welcomed. Making stops is obviously a win for the defense, and the special teams hasn't made any glaring mistakes. But instead of not losing games, these units need to be the reason for a win.

5. Can Scott Tolzien Limit the Turnovers?

Likely no other question listed above will have as much say in whether the Packers win or lose Sunday than Tolzien's ability (or inability) to avoid turnovers. Without much doubt, Tolzien has played above and beyond anyone's most optimistic projections. Remember, this is a third string quarterback who wasn't drafted and has spent more NFL time on practice squads than active rosters. Still, Tolzien has shown enough—especially attacking downfield—to think that there's a real NFL quarterback in the Wisconsin alum. Now, he needs to clean up the mistakes and keep the football in the right people's hands, which was something McCarthy continually emphasized this week. If Tolzien throws one or fewer picks against the Vikings Sunday, the Packers have a very good chance at keeping their season alive. If he throws two or more, the winning percentage will swing heavily in Minnesota's direction. The one area to watch in this area? How Tolzien handles the blitz, which has played a factor in four of his five giveaways. The Vikings should be expected to bring extra rushers against Tolzien Sunday. It's on the young quarterback to better handle those situations.

Prediction: Green Bay 20, Minnesota 17 (7-3)

Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at zachkruse2@gmail.com.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (30) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Idiot Fan's picture

I vote that they just kick the ball to some random guy standing on the 10-yard line and let him bring it to the 20 or 25 instead of playing with fire again.

RC Packer Fan's picture

I vote that we don't return any kicks out of the endzone as well... Seems that every time we do, we have a penalty and get to start at the 10...

murphy's picture

How quickly we forget Dan Connolly.

I'd rather just see the ball kicked out of the back of the end zone with no chance to return.

Idiot Fan's picture

I had the part of my brain that held the Connolly replay in it surgically removed. If they could consistently kick it out of the back of the endzone, then yes, but I'm not sure they can.

RC Packer Fan's picture

To me, the Packers have to win the turnover battle.

Tolzien has to take care of the ball better. I don't count the last Interception because it had no impact on the game. But he did have 2 critical interceptions in the game. Both were great plays by the defenders, but at the end of the day, they were interceptions.

Next they have to be more efficient in the redzone. They have to come away scoring TD's and can't have turnovers there...

And I think where the game will be one is in the running game. Packers have to run the ball and have to stop the run.

Bearmeat's picture

Once again, it's the defense that really scares me. IMO the O will provide 20-25 points as Tolzein will continue to improve.

But that D... eurgh.

Cow42's picture

Doesn't look too dire...

When you take a look at those questions, you realize that the only areas of concern are...

Run defense
Pass defense
Offensive running game
Offensive passing game
Special teams

...other than those areas - things look good.

RC Packer Fan's picture

glad to see you coming around to the positive side Cow.

murphy's picture

Oh, I don't know, Cow, the Vikings have a pretty good run game, and their return game is decent. I will agree that their passing game on both sides of the ball needs work, though.

Albert Lingerfeld's picture

I'm pondering that Ponder will have a decent day. His short game to the tight ends and his screen passes to stay out of trouble will work on Sunday since the Packers have no speed to cover a screen or any linebacker who can cover a tight end so it should be a field day.

If Tolzien can run left and right and pass like Wilson we may have a chance, otherwise the Vike D will have him on his arse all day.

Cow42's picture

C. Patterson will have a 50+ yd TD.

Point Packer's picture

Ponder's short game doesn't scare me at all. Its the rare shots he takes downfield that have hurt us in the past. Depending on AP's health/success - we may end of stacking the box. We have been getting next to zero pass rush as of late. Ponder will get his chances down-field.

I can see Patterson getting a long one.

Stroh's picture

Peterson will play, but his injury is really bothering him. Pulled groind I think... He doesn't have the burst he had last year and early this. He won't break any big runs cuz he doesn't have the explosiveness right now. He'll get his yards in the 75 - 100 range but it'll be on 20+ carries. Ponder's only game is short. He doesn't have a long game and isn't good throwing deep even if he has deep threats.

This will be a tough closely contested game the Packers desperately need. I think they'll get a couple turnovers and as long as Tolzien doesn't have any the Packers will win a tough one.

24-20 Pack

Point Packer's picture

When I said "long one" i should have actually said "over the top". Less concerned about this deep ball and more about our safeties getting burnt over the top.

Stroh's picture

How can you be concerned about our Safeties getting burned over the top if their QB can't get the ball deep? Makes no sense...

bomdad's picture

4 of your 5 are really about confidence. That's my question, are the Packers going to man up and get this shit done. I don't know if they pity party is over yet, this would be a good game to get it straight.

Your 5th, Tolzien's INTs is about making mistakes that take confidence to commit. At least he is on board.

If they don't win, I am confident the fanbase will fill the web with draft talk next week!

Buster's picture

The only way the Vikes can win at Lambeau on Sunday is if Tolzien gets sloppy with the ball. Unfortunately, the temps for the game will be around 20 degrees. If AP can run the ball & Lacy can't, then Tolzien will have to step up his game. I'm not sure he's got enough experience to pull it off. The play calling by MM needs to be at its best. (no brain freeze on a cold day)

billy's picture

Its time for McCarthy to show he can win a game without Rodgers....Can he????

billy's picture

I mean, what is his record without Favre or Rodgers??? I think it may be one win...

Stroh's picture

WHat is any coaches record w/o a franchise QB? Every coach is looking for one. When you have one, everything is built around that franchise QB and if he goes down more often than not the entire team feels it. Given time to adjust they will pull it together but a letdown was inevitable when Rodgers went down. They're in the process of figuring things out w/ a much less adept and inexperienced QB.

RunAndHyde's picture

DEFENSE ....MAKE A DAMN PLAY!!!

Thegreatreynoldo's picture

"suddenly average-looking supporting cast"
GB has lots of offensive talent- next year.

QB: Rodgers, Tolzien, Flynn; A-
RB: Lacy, Starks, Harris, Franklin: B

OL: Bakh, Sitton, EDS (if re-signed), Lang, Bulaga. Sherrod challenging for Tackle position. Barclay & Tretter the interior backups. B if EDS is re-signed and Sherrod is at least a good back up. In week 3 I called for GB to extend EDS, whose price is only going up.

WR: Nelson, Cobb, Boykin, (White, Dorsey, Harper, Draft pick?): B
TE: Bunch of guys. D-

I don't have the heart to look at the defense and there are too many UFAs. I overestimated either the talent, the scheme, or this group's ability to understand and execute the scheme.

The TKstinator's picture

Good players transcend scheme. I really can't imagine any team having large advantages due to scheme. It's a copy cat league. It's about talent and dare I say health. Yes, I dare. Health. Any team that loses enough key players is dead.

Stroh's picture

Great players transcend scheme. Good player need scheme to help them make plays.

The TKstinator's picture

If by that you mean players are put in position to utilize their talents, I agree. Don't ask Mike Neal to cover halfbacks man to man, don't ask Kuhn to run a stretch play, and on and on. But if players are too one dimensional then the scheme becomes too predictable....I think this is why we love the sport of football, yes?

Stroh's picture

It means simply what it says. Great players don't need scheme to make plays. They make plays regardless of the scheme or the design of the play. Good players need to be put in position to succeed. They are somewhat scheme dependent when it comes to making plays.

You said earlier that good players transcend scheme, I don't agree w/ that.

The TKstinator's picture

I think we're just discussing "good" vs "great".

Stroh's picture

Clearly. I thought I made that clear from the beginning.

Stroh's picture

Jolly officially ruled out. This places an onus on Pickett and Raji, but we already knew that. The other player who gets a huge onus put on him is Datone Jones! He is more than likely going to be the other starting DL and he needs to show us all why he was a 1st round pick. He needs to do a great job against the run and help contain Peterson. Time to step up and prove your worth, Datone! Lets see what you got...

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