Scouting report: Vikings lack ammo to compete with deep Packers
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Top meets bottom in the NFC North as the 6-0 Green Bay Packers travel to the Metrodome to take on the 1-5 Minnesota Vikings, who plan to give rookie quarterback Christian Ponder his first NFL start. Green Bay is flying high and making a serious attempt at repeating as Super Bowl Champions, while the Vikings are just trying to find an identity. Sam Monson of ProFootballFocus.com, which breaks down film from every NFL game, takes an inside look at the Packers:
The Packers stick to any one scheme rigidly on the O-line. They alternate between zone- and man-blocking schemes depending on the play and what they're trying to achieve, and they have linemen who can do both well. They spread the ball around as much as any team in the NFL and will line up in formations featuring three or more receivers regularly. They already have four wide receivers that have more than 170 snaps this season, with a fifth, rookie WR Randall Cobb (5-10, 191 pounds), at 81.
They may be a 3-4 defense by name or label, but the Packers rarely use their base 3-4 front, preferring to rotate between a variety of nickel and dime packages and keep just a pair of defensive linemen on the field. The Vikings don't often threaten teams with multiple receivers, so it will be interesting to see if the Packers stick to a more conventional defensive front in this game. CB Charles Woodson (6-1, 202) remains their wild-card player, lining up in the slot and at various safety positions far more than he does as a conventional cornerback out wide.
Where do you begin with the Packers on offense? Let's start by pointing out the obvious: QB Aaron Rodgers (6-2, 220) has joined the Tom Brady conversation as far as elite quarterbacks are concerned.
Rodgers has been nearly flawless this season and is by some distance the most accurate passer in the league through Week 6. Discounting drops, passes thrown away and spikes (i.e. passes not intended for completion or ones that failed because of an error other than the passer's), Rodgers is completing 79.2% of his passes this season, which is 3.3% better than anybody else. The real problem in dealing with Rodgers is that he is even better against the blitz. When blitzed this season his QB rating is 148.6. His performance does drop significantly when pressured, but you have to find a way of getting to him without exposing yourself to being picked apart on the back end.
Somehow, WR Greg Jennings (5-11, 198) seems to slip under the radar a bit when people talk about elite receivers. Maybe it's because he doesn't go up above three defenders to bring in a jump ball for a score the way others do, but that's because he doesn't need to. Jennings is an extremely slick route-runner and has the speed and ability to break the game open. Only once this season has Rodgers thrown at him fewer than seven occasions, and Jennings caught all four of those passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. When you do manage to limit him, it just means that Rodgers has been forced to pick his moments, but the play is coming. The Vikings will have their hands full just slowing Jennings down, let alone the rest of the Packers' receivers.
As good as OLB Clay Matthews (6-3, 255) is, the Packers have the same issues on the other side as they did last season. Green Bay has been through three linebackers on the far side of Matthews and none of them has been able to hold up his end of the bargain. OLB Erik Walden (6-2, 245) has been the starter and earned the lion's share of the snaps, but he has struggled across the board and is a clear weak spot on the defense.
Strengths and weaknesses
Green Bay may have the best interior line in football. RG Josh Sitton (6-3, 318), C Scott Wells (6'2, 295) and LG T.J. Lang (6-4, 318) have been bossing defensive lines all season, and the prospect of a contest between that trio and the Williams Wall would have been something to behold. But we're down to a single Williams in the middle of the line, and as impressive as the edge presence as been for the Vikings, they are going to have a real job on their hands to deal with the Green Bay interior.
The Packers offense isn't limited to just Rodgers and Jennings -- they have weapons everywhere. TE Jermichael Finley (6-5, 247) is a matchup nightmare the Vikings have lived through in the past, and Green Bay can easily put five wideouts on the field, all of them viable targets for Rodgers. Between that and their impressive O-line, the only real route to disrupting the Packers' attack is instant pressure around the perimeter, which is much easier said than done.
The weakness of the Packers is on defense, and in the secondary especially. Woodson may have had a storied career and be only a couple of seasons from a truly great year, but he hasn't shown much if any of that form in 2011. His coverage has been OK, but his role in the defense calls for him to be involved in the run game and in blitzing far more than he has deserved this season. On 39 pass rushes, he has recorded just one sack and a single additional pressure and he has four missed tackles in six games.
Elsewhere in the secondary, nickel CB Sam Shields (5-11, 184) hasn't shown the same form that made him a fixture for the Packers down the stretch last season, and he is coming off a concussion, which is unlikely to help matters. The Packers can be attacked in the passing game, but it's not clear whether the Vikings are capable of that.
It's hard to find much to hang your hat on as a Vikings fan looking at this game, other than the fact that every loss puts you one step closer to a high draft pick. The Packers are rolling and the Vikings don't have the ammunition to compete in this arms race.