Scouting Report: Three keys to Vikings' chances against Packers
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Six days after the Minnesota Vikings split the regular-season series, their rubber match against the Green Bay Packers comes in an NFC wild-card game on Saturday night at Lambeau Field. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down tape of every NFL game, takes an inside look at three keys to the Vikings' chances for pulling another upset:
Running away from Matthews
The Vikings are well aware of the threat posed by OLB Clay Matthews. He is the one player they need to identify and key on when they are on offense, and they came up with a creative way of minimizing his effect on the run game last week in the Metrodome.
HB Adrian Peterson rushed 34 times in that game and there was no real discernible direction to his point of attack. He rushed across the line in relatively equal measure with the one exception of running off right end 10 times. The reason for that? Matthews lined up on the opposite side on 59 of his 66 snaps in the game. Essentially, the Vikings' tactic was to identify where Matthews was and run away from him as much as they could within the framework of their offense.
How successful were those runs away from Matthews? Peterson took those 10 carries for 122 of his 199 yards on the day -- 93 more yards than he gained from any other point of attack. Matthews is by far the most dominant of the Packers' outside linebackers, and the Vikings will fancy their chances running away from him if they can, banking on their ability to block the players on the opposite side of the ball and open holes.
Protecting Don Barclay
After reshuffling their offensive line for their final regular-season encounter, the Packers found an issue at right tackle in the form of Don Barclay. In that game, Barclay pass protected for 48 snaps, and for once the sack, statistics did do a fair job of telling the story. He surrendered three sacks, but added a knockdown and hurry as well as being flagged twice in the game. All that came with the Vikings LE Brian Robison easing back into action after an shoulder injury had kept him out of the lineup.
Green Bay could shuffle its line again, reinserting Jeff Saturday at center, moving Evan Dietrich-Smith to guard and kicking T.J. Lang back out to tackle. What is more likely is the Packers will test Barclay early in the game before deciding if they are going to need to give him help with running backs or tight ends chipping on their way to release into a pass pattern.
If he holds up well early, they will allow him to fend for himself, because the Packers' offense relies on timing more than most, so that chipping action by receivers disrupts the timing. If he can't hold up and they have to resort to additional help, look for the Vikings to get more aggressive with their rush as Rodgers has to hold the ball a little longer waiting for receivers.
The first few series with Robison and Everson Griffen challenging Barclay will be big in determining how Green Bay wants to use its protection schemes.
Last week showed just how dangerous WR Greg Jennings can be for the Packers. He was targeted 11 times and caught eight of those balls for 120 yards despite a pair of drops. That means that on just one occasion was the coverage good enough to actually prevent him catching the ball.
The key for the Vikings will be who draws the assignment of trying to limit him. CB Antoine Winfield is unquestionably the team's best corner, but he was forced from the game with his hand injury, playing just 19 snaps before being relieved and giving the bulk of the work to Marcus Sherels, who was picked on relentlessly from that point on.
When Winfield was forced from the lineup, it caused some interesting issues for the Vikings. A.J. Jefferson, Chris Cook and Josh Robinson are all seen as perimeter corners by the coaching staff, leaving Sherels inside as their slot defender.
Despite playing just 34 snaps, Sherels was thrown at 10 times, more than any other Viking, and he allowed nine catches for 162 yards. If Winfield can't go this weekend, then Sherels figures to get a significant amount of game time, even if the team adjusts how they play in nickel formations. Either way, they are going to have to find a better way of defending Greg Jennings if they want to stop the Packers moving the ball.
• Last week, Vikings QB Christian Ponder's average depth of target was 8.9 yards downfield. Rodgers' was just 7.8 yards.
• Ponder gets rid of the ball this season more quickly than QB Aaron Rodgers by more than a tenth of a second, with an average release time of 2.52 seconds to Rodgers' 2.63 -- enough of a margin to separate them by nine quarterbacks in league rankings.
• Peterson has rushed for 275 fewer yards after contact this season than the entire Green Bay Packers have rushed for total.
• Throwing to Packers WR Jordy Nelson has yielded a passer rating of 130.3 for Aaron Rodgers this year.
• Winfield has 26 stops (tackles for an offensive failure) in the run game -- 10 more than any other corner and 11 more than the entire Green Bay stable of corners.