When The Packers Have The Ball:
Everything starts with Aaron Rodgers - or more importantly, keeping Rodgers upright.
The biggest storyline coming into this game, at least from an offensive standpoint, is how Mike McCarthy and company plan on handling Vikings defensive ends Jared Allen and Brian Robison.
McCarthy has actually done a pretty good job early on in games utilizing the screen game when facing Allen and his line mates in the Metrodome to slow down their relentless pass rush. Look for that trend to continue, and not just with traditional running back screens but with middle screens to the tight ends and slip screens to the weakside where the Packers allow Allen to fly up field and then take advantage of his aggressiveness by slipping out a back into the space vacated by Allen.
(Of course, McCrathy tried this very thing last year on the opening series in Lambeau only to see it intercepted by Allen...but that was mostly due to bad timing between Rodgers and Dimitri Nance)
One thing that always helps keep pass rushers at bay is keeping ahead of the sticks. The Packers struggled to the run the ball last week, especially in the second half, but it will be necessary to keep the Vikings honest throughout Sunday's game.
One interesting trend I noticed from the Rams game - after calling "shot" plays from power formations near mid-field the last month, McCarthy actually called a running play out of one of those sets and was quite successful:
The Packers have actually done a good job getting Ryan Grant going in the Metrodome since McCarthy took over the playcalling. Look for some more compacted formations, be it extra tight ends online or a bunch of receivers, for Grant and James Starks to try and get to the edge on the Vikings defense, which is much better at home than they are on the road.
When the Packers do pass the ball, if Allen and Robison are kept under control, this could very well be a repeat of last years fireworks display from Rodgers and the Packers offense. The one Vikings DB who has given Rodgers and his receivers problems, the perennially underrated Antonie Winfield, is listed as doubtful and most likely won't play on Sunday due to a neck injury. The secondary that remains, Chris Cook, Cedric Griffin, and Asher Allen are all competitive and fly around but none of them are going to be able to slow down Jennings, Finley and company.
When The Vikings Have The Ball:
Obviously, the big story here is Christian Ponder making his first NFL start. Almost as obviously, expect a big dose of Adrian Peterson to try and protect Ponder as much as possible.
Actually, this won't be that big a change for the Vikings offense. They've been hiding veteran Donavan McNabb all year, just for different reasons.
Ponder certainly looked ready in his brief mop-up duty against the Bears last week. He seems to be able to make all the throws asked of him in Bill Musgrave's pop-gun offense and has very good pocket awareness. (And with Phil Loadholt manning the right tackle position - he'll need it.)
The Vikings have been running a very basic NFL offense all year. This week shouldn't be any different. They will simply give the ball to Peterson and look to get Percy Harvin in space anyway they can, be that by throwing the ball, getting it to him on a reverse, whatever. The whole idea will be to stay ahead on down and distance and to put their rookie quarterback in as few positions as possible where he might make mistakes.
Enough Already, Who Wins?:
The Vikings one chance is to force a turnover or two early, get Peterson going and get ahead. Obviously the Vikings have struggled holding leads this year, but if the Packers are forced into a throw-only mode and Allen and Robison are allowed to tee-off on Rodgers...
Yes. I'm reaching. All I'm saying is the Vikings have a chance. Not a big one - but a chance.
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