Game Preview: Packers at Vikings, Week 12

What to watch when the Packers travel to their first outdoors game in Minnesota since 1981.

A.J. Hawk and Nick Perry tackle Christian Ponder by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports. Graphic design by Brian Carriveau—CheeseheadTV.com.

A.J. Hawk and Nick Perry tackle Christian Ponder by Jeff Hanisch—USA TODAY Sports. Graphic design by Brian Carriveau—CheeseheadTV.com.

The Green Bay Packers (7-3) visit the Minnesota Vikings (4-6) at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 23 at noon CT for a game televised on Fox.

 

The Big Picture: What's at Stake?

After scoring 50-plus points in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history and becoming one of only two teams in NFL history to score at least 53 in consecutive games, the Packers asserted themselves as one of the hottest teams in the NFL during a 53-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

The Vikings can play the role of spoiler as they host the Packers for the first time in an outdoor game in Minnesota since 1981.

 

What to Watch When the Packers Have the Ball

A) Aaron Rodgers Avoiding Harrison Smith: Rodgers is nearly unstoppable at the moment, becoming the front-runner for the NFL's MVP Award as he comes off a three-touchdown, no-interception performance against the Eagles.

Rodgers set two NFL records last week, throwing 29 touchdowns and 322 pass attempts without an interception, the longest home streaks in league history. If there's any player, however, that has the ability force Rodgers into a rare mistake, it's the Vikings safety.

Smith is better equipped than other NFL safeties to reach the the sidelines, where Jordy Nelson has killed opponents this year. He also had an interception against the Packers in the first meeting this season, even though it came against Matt Flynn, not Rodgers.

B) Eddie Lacy Duplicating Success: Lacy hasn't put up the same type of numbers as last season when he ran for over 1,100 yards and was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

In his sophomore season in the NFL, Lacy may have only rushed for at least 100 yards one game, but that performance came in Week 5 against the Vikings. In two games against Minnesota last season, Lacy rushed for 94 and 110 yards.

The Vikings run defense currently ranks 21st in the NFL, allowing an average of 115.3 yards per game, perhaps opening the door for another big game from Lacy and the rest of the Packers running backs.

C) Josh Sitton Getting Back to Normal: Credit Sitton for fighting through a torn ligament in his big toe in each of the past two games. Other players might miss time or have surgery, but Sitton is battling through it.

Sitton, however, hasn't played at the same level since the injury suffered against the New Orleans Saints. After having grading out positively in seven out of the first eight games of the season by ProFootballFocus.com, the Packers starting left guard has graded out negatively in each of the past two weeks.

Just like the week prior, Sitton didn't practice on Wednesday but took part in a limited basis later in the week, which could become a trend for the rest of the season as Sitton continues to heal.

 

What to Watch When the Vikings Have the Ball

A) Outside Linebacker Situation: After suffering a shoulder injury coming out of the Eagles game, Nick Perry didn't practice the first two days of the week is listed as "questionable" for Sunday.

If Perry can't play, it complicates matters for the Packers, who have been a much better defense with Perry in the starting lineup in each of the past two games. Mike Neal would figure to see more playing time in his place.

The Packers might also want to move Clay Matthews back at his old outside linebacker spot, but again, the defense has been highly effective since switching Matthews inside. Jayrone Elliott may have been in line for more playing time, but he's dealing with his own injury and is also listed as "questionable."

B) Stopping Whoever the Vikings Running Back Is: Even in the longshot event Adrian Peterson wins his appeal, the odds of him coming back in time to face the Packers on Sunday are beyond miniscule.

The Vikings have done a surprisingly solid job of replacing Peterson between Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, who's been one of the best rookie running backs in the league this season. Both Asiata (concussion) and McKinnon (back), however, are dealing with injuries heading into Sunday's game.

Desperate for help, the Vikings picked up Ben Tate on waivers after he was released by the Cleveland Browns earlier this week, but will he be able to pick up the Vikings offense in time for Sunday's game? And even if he does, will he be any more effective than he was with the Browns?

C) The Micah Hyde/Casey Hayward Timeshare: Since Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has taken over as nearly a full-time player at safety, the Packers moved Hyde to a slot cornerback position in a timeshare with Hayward.

Whatever the Packers have done has seemed to work, with impact plays by both Hyde and Hayward despite sharing time. Hayward has scored touchdowns in each of the past two weeks, one by interception and one via fumble, while Hyde has an interception and a punt return for a touchdown.

In addition to the rest of the secondary, one challenge they'll face is shutting down former Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings, who they limited to just two receptions for 31 yards in the first meeting this season.

 

What to Watch on Special Teams

Protection Units: If it weren't for the punt return for a touchdown by Hyde, the effort from the Packers special teams might have been considered a disaster. Between a blocked extra point, a botched snap, a blocked punt and a missed field goal, the unit was laughably embarrassing. They also allowed a blocked field goal and a punt earlier in the season.

The Packers' protection units, in particular, need to have a better showing. On the extra point block last week, continuity appears to have played a factor as the Packers have made an effort to get Sitton and T.J. Lang off the field. The defender appeared to split Josh Boyd and Garth Gerhart.

On punts, the entire unit has to play better from punter Tim Masthay getting off the kick faster to long snapper Brett Goode with the dual responsibilities of snap and protection to those around him.

 

Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor at Cheesehead TV and its "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email [email protected].

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8BitEra's picture

November 23, 2014 at 10:50 am

Matt Asiata and Sharif Floyd out for Minny. Nick Perry out for GB.

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