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Packers vs. Vikings: Five Questions to Ponder Ahead of Week 8

The NBC schedule makers certainly didn't this coming.

Before the 2013 season, it would have been reasonable enough to peg the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings—two playoff teams from last year—as an attractive matchup for a Week 8 primetime game.

Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson and Clay Matthews provided the star power. Two seemingly well-built rosters would provide the competition. The last game between the two rivals in the Metrodome and a first meeting between Greg Jennings and his old team had the storylines.

Many of those factors still remain, but NBC can't be thrilled about pitting two teams going in completely different directions for a showcase game Sunday night. The Packers (4-2) have won three straight games and now hold sole possession of first place in the NFC North. The Vikings, after consecutive embarrassing losses, are now 1-5 and in the division cellar.

The win-loss trends say Packers in a blowout. Yet this rivalry rarely produces snoozers, especially inside the noisy, uncomfortable Metrodome. NBC may still get the entertainment value it was craving when it put this game on the schedule back in April.

Here are five questions the Packers need to answer Sunday night:

1. Can the Packers Contain Adrian Peterson?

There haven't been many times since Peterson entered the league that the Packers could feel somewhat confident going into a matchup with the league's most talented running back. Sunday night may be one, as Green Bay is currently the third best run defense (79.0 yards per game, 3.4 per carry) in football and Peterson hasn't been the same MVP back he was in 2012. He's also dealing with tightness in his hamstring that has been bothering him for several weeks. Peterson is still capable of turning any gap mistake or over pursuit into six points, and the Packers need only look back to last season to see how much damage he can singlehandedly do (508 rushing yards in three games, including single outputs of 210 and 199). But Green Bay is stout up front and Minnesota has struggled to open up the same lanes for Peterson in 2013. Keeping him under wraps now, with the Vikings spinning a quarterback merry-go-round, is as important as ever.

2. How Will the Packers Manufacture Openings in the Passing Game?

Unless James Jones (sprained MCL) somehow makes a miracle recovery between now and Sunday, the Packers will be without three of their top four pass catchers against the Vikings. Losing players of the quality of Jones, Randall Cobb (broken fibula) and Jermichael Finley (spinal contusion) would cripple most passing offenses, but the Packers found ways to stay productive throwing the football against the Browns. How? Mostly using the short-to-intermediate passing game (Aaron Rodgers threw just nine passes over 10 yards in the air), and exploiting matchups when the defense brought an extra man or two into the box. Jarrett Boykin also took full advantage of his opportunity, which is something the Packers tight ends will now need to embrace. On the other side, the Vikings possess a lethal combination for attempting to play pass defense: The front four has struggled to create a pass rush and the secondary features one of the NFL's worst combination of starting cornerbacks and safeties. That said, you get a feeling Jared Allen and Brian Robison will step up to the plate and create pressure Sunday night. Can a patchwork set of Packers receivers provide enough sting where the Vikings are hurting the worst?

3. Will the Packers Force Christian Ponder into Mistakes?

The last time Christian Ponder took the field in Minnesota, he was showered with boos and chants for backup Matt Cassel. That's seems like years ago now, as Cassel went on to flame out during his starting chance and Josh Freeman was concussed during a 33-incompletion night in New York. The quarterback wheel has spun back to Ponder, who will start Sunday night. The Packers certainly can't overlook a quarterback that threw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a Week 17 win at the Metrodome last season. But there should be an internal pressure on Ponder, who will be getting his last chance to prove he's starting quality before Freeman ultimately shakes off his concussion and returns to his 11-game audition. Green Bay needs to make Ponder what he's always been: an inconsistent, mistake-waiting-to-happen game manager. The Packers haven't been great at causing turnovers (just seven takeaways in six games, including five games with one or fewer), but Ponder has 30 interceptions and 15 fumbles in just 30 career games. Over his first three starts of 2013, he gave the football away seven times, which was the third most in football at the time. The opportunities will likely come. This Packers defense now needs to prove it is capable of taking advantage.

4. Can the Packers Hold Up on Special Teams?

If this game is close, special teams could play a huge factor. And if Minnesota is looking for an obvious mismatch, it might be returning punts and kicks. Cordarrelle Patterson, who leads the NFL with a 36.5-yard average returning kicks, has already established himself as one of the games most dangerous returners. Marcus Sherels also returned a punt for Minnesota's only points against the Giants. Thanks to a rash of injuries—especially to the linebacker position—the Packers have struggled in back-to-back weeks covering kicks and punts. In Baltimore, Jacoby Jones returned a kick 35 yards and Tandon Doss had a 38-yard punt return. The Browns then averaged 47.8 yards over four kick returns last Sunday. Allowing momentum shifts on special teams is one way to go on the road and get beat by an inferior opponent. The Packers must play a cleaner game in Minnesota on each coverage unit.

5. How Will the Packers Operate on Offense Indoors?

For years under Mike Holmgren, domes of all shapes and sizes typically terrorized Brett Favre and the Packers. It's been mostly the opposite for Mike McCarthy, whose offenses have used the fast track to take over games. In fact, the Packers have won 18 of 26 games indoors while averaging over 30 points and 380 yards a game under McCarthy. On Sunday night, it will interesting to see how the Packers operate on offense. A team missing Jones, Cobb and Finley is likely to be a more balanced offense that leans on rookie running back Eddie Lacy. A plethora of weapons is no longer available to Aaron Rodgers, who carries the best ever passer rating indoors (117.4). Green Bay has also been efficient running the football in 2013. The last thing the Packers want Sunday night is for the crowd to gain steam and a depleted passing offense to face tough situations. With the noise always playing a factor, Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen can pin their ears back and get after a pair of young tackles if the Packers play behind the sticks. A conservative game plan modeled around last week's victory against Cleveland could be a winning game plan Sunday.

Prediction: Green Bay 27, Minnesota 20 (5-1)

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.

bomdad's picture

ESPN has the Monday night games, which have been clinkers this season. NBC had maybe the best matchup last week on Sunday night, Broncos v. Colts.

Zach Kruse's picture

Duh. Thanks for the assist. Fixed now.

Idiot Fan's picture

#6: Which starters will the Packers lose to injury this week?

Longshanks's picture

Yep, that is a legit question. You know we'll lose at least one for sure. I say we'll lose two to a season ending injury this game. As long as Rodgers stays healthy we'll always have a shot. Even with Matthews gone the defense is doing fine. Take Rodgers away and we are totally screwed.

Steven's picture

Remind me to smack you two. Dpnt jinx it. Even if your joking. Who would of thought our two most important players would be rodgers, and..,.. lacy. Thats right i said it. The guy has been the best we jave had in years. Hes the second best in tje nfc north imho

Idiot Fan's picture

Actually, I'm trying to reverse jinx the situation. I think we've lost at least one starter in every game, except maybe week one, which doesn't count because we started the game missing Hayward and Burnett. So by assuming that it's going to happen now, maybe it will stop happening...? Maybe?

Steven's picture

I hope your theory plays out. Sorry about the voilent reasoning lol. Just getting tired of injuries. I believe we have a great shot at a sb

Bob's picture

No more GB injuries! GB by 17!

Chad Toporski's picture

"Packers vs. Vikings: Five Questions to Ponder"... I see what you did there...

Zach Kruse's picture

Ha! I'd say I did it on purpose, but it's been my preview title all year...

Mark in the montain's picture

Setting-up a great double entendre => waiting patiently in the weeds. So subtle and yet so cerebral. Great job Zach.

My guess is this is totally lost on Josh Freeman. Ponder that one.

Go Pack. Cut the lutifisk with the axe.

hayward4president's picture

Id like to see Aaron go deep to Boykin n blow the game wide open. No Harrison...no problem :)

Longshanks's picture

I'd like to see Boykin simply catch the ball and continue to build off of last week. We'll need him big time the rest of the season. To me if anyone is going deep this week it's Miles White. He has the speed, Boykin is a bigger slower guy.

Mark in the montain's picture

I think there is this guy named Nelson who excells at the deep route thing. We need some good coordination between Rodgers and JB and MW, not to mention Quarrels rounding into form.

Stroh's picture

Jones gets deep easy enough and he and Boykin have the same kinda speed. Its not just speed that gets you open deep. Route running does that more times than not. A lot of people have speed including most CB's.

Steven's picture

What happened to Harrison. Guy may be the best safety in the league

KC Big DOG's picture

Out with a severe Turf Toe - that may require surgery

PackerBacker's picture

REally hoping that GB can get out to an early lead again. It sure was nice being up 21 to start the game last week.

RC Packer Fan's picture

Good article. I agree mostly with all 5.

But to me the game will be determined by questions 2 and 4.

'2. How Will the Packers Manufacture Openings in the Passing Game?'
This to me is the biggest question. I think the loss of Finley is going to be bigger then most think. Without Finley I don't see teams focusing on TE's at all, and will double cover the WR's.
To me the key to the passing game will be if Quarless or Bostick can have some success, and maybe they will start using Lacy and Franklin more in the passing game.

'4. Can the Packers Hold Up on Special Teams?'
With all the injury's the Special teams have suffered. The Vikings have a pair of dangerous returners. This is the 1 area I think the Vikings could exploit the Packers.

Idiot Fan's picture

I mentioned this in previous comments, but I think it would be wise for the Packers to just make their punts and kicks un-returnable. Big special teams plays are one major way for the Vikes to hang in the game. I say don't even give them the chance, even if it does possibly give them a few extra yards on each kick.

RC Packer Fan's picture

As much as people like to rip on him. Jarrett Bush is a key member of special teams. Having him back will help.

Evan's picture

Hyde and House seemed to hold down the ST fort just fine in his absence.

Steven's picture

Keys to the game. Lacy....rodgers.....lacy oh and rodgers

Fish and crane's picture

Since there is no general comment board on this site...Favre's memory loss announcement means all bets are off..all is forgiven before all is forgotten.

Retire his number, get his name in the bowl and do it this year..ASAP..no sense on waiting until he can't remember he ever played the game- not to mention who he played for...

Seriously...that's our quarterback and he may be slipping away. Time to stop being small.

Can I get an AMEN?

Irish_Cheesehead's picture

I think you forgot what this post is about.

MarkinMadison's picture

I'd give you an AMEN, but I think the block has been from him, not from the Packers. He is the one who has to pull the trigger. I believe the money quote was that the Packers would retire Farve's number, "when it is meaningful to him."

Bob Tundra's picture

You can throw out the season records for this game. The vikings will show up ready to play and will give the Packers all they can handle. It usually happens that way. We had better be ready to protect Aaron Rodgers because the vikings defense will be gunning for him. I think we will shut down Peterson. It's TE Rudolph in underneath routes and the vikings returns team we have to watch for. Jennings will want to make some sort of statement, as well. I think a 1-5 record is statement enough for Craig Jennings. No mercy, Packers, No mercy!

Irish_Cheesehead's picture

The real question is can anyone contain Greg Jenning's mouth?

MarkinMadison's picture

Yes, and someone already has; his name is Greg Jennings. I think the real question is, "can anyone control his sister's tweets?"

Lucky953's picture

1) yes 2) Short routes, pounding Lacy/Starks, play-action 3) yes, Hayward, Hawk!, Perry, rust 4) so-so 5) Pretty fast
Packers 33 Vikes 20

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