Bryant McKinnie (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
Protecting Brett Favre will be priority one for a Vikings offense looking for a spark. With the expected return of LB Clay Matthews to the field, it means Minnesota will be facing the league’s sack leader, but how much did Green Bay apply the pressure last year? Plus, get several of the important matchups to watch.
The Vikings have totaled 51 yards and 60 yards, respectively, in the first halves of their past two games. That must change.
An offense that has Brett Favre at quarterback, Adrian Peterson at running back and Percy Harvin and Randy Moss at wide receiver should not look this feeble for 30 minutes.
The Vikings figure to have an excellent chance to throw the ball against a Packers defense that has injury issues in the secondary. The key will be if Minnesota can protect Favre.
He was blasted last Sunday on a regular basis by Dallas' 3-4 defense, and Green Bay figures to try to do the same with a 3-4 unit that should have NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews back at linebacker after a one-game absence because of injury.
The Vikings did not get a sack against Tony Romo and the Cowboys, but they applied consistent pressure and will attempt to do the same against Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers is holding onto the ball too long again so Minnesota should have ample opportunity to fluster him and try to force mistakes. It also helps that Green Bay doesn't have a top-notch run game.
What the Vikings really need to do is create more turnovers, something they have struggled to do at times. Linebacker E.J. Henderson had two interceptions against the Cowboys, tying the Vikings' season total for picks from their first four games.
Favre has Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers' number and then some. Favre with two wins against his old team last season improved to 8-0 against teams for which Capers was head coach or defensive coordinator. Capers' out-of-character reluctance to blitz Favre like crazy, more so in the first meeting than the second, proved disastrous as he shredded the Packers for seven touchdowns with nary an interception or a sack — in fact, Favre was hit only five times.
Capers can't allow his banged-up defense to sit back again Sunday and must go with a heavy dose of pressure to unnerve Favre, who has been mistake-prone in both handling the football (five fumbles) as well as throwing it (seven interceptions) this season.
Of course, Green Bay can't forget about running back Adrian Peterson. The Packers held Peterson below 100 yards in both games last year, effectively pinching him in to limit his bounce-out opportunities for big gains. Green Bay hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 19 straight games, the longest current streak in the league. Offensively, the Packers can't be expected to make any inroads running the football with the pedestrian likes of Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn against Minnesota's formidable front.
So, it will be up to Aaron Rodgers to throw like crazy and get the passing game out of its recent funk against a short-handed Vikings secondary, where cornerback Asher Allen and nickel back Lito Sheppard are ripe to be picked on on the perimeter with Greg Jennings and maybe James Jones or Jordy Nelson. The Packers have to be careful how they kick off to the electric Percy Harvin, who had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to spark Minnesota's win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and burned Green Bay in the game at Lambeau Field last season for runbacks of 77 and 48 yards.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Vikings DRE Jared Allen, who had 7.5 sacks in two games against Green Bay last season, vs. Packers LT Chad Clifton, who missed both those games. Allen has only one sack this season, although he did play well last Sunday against the Cowboys and finished with three quarterback hits on Tony Romo. Could this be the game that Allen breaks out of his sack slump? Don't count on it. Clifton has traditionally played well against Allen. Allen had only one sack vs. the Packers in two games in 2008, and he's sure to have a rougher time matched up with the established Clifton compared to the backups he faced a season ago.
Packers ROLB Clay Matthews, who leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, vs. Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie, who will be seeing a 3-4 defense for the third consecutive week. Matthews did not play last Sunday because of a hamstring issue but is expected to return and likely will cause McKinnie and his teammates plenty of headaches. McKinnie is going to have to be on his toes as Matthews comes off the right side. At times, it's likely left guard Steve Hutchinson will have to pick up Matthews and then there is the potential for tight ends that could provide chip help. If Matthews is healthy, he promises to provide plenty of challenges. This is a game in which McKinnie will have to be completely engaged.
Packers CBs Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields or Al Harris vs. Vikings WRs Randy Moss, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian. Given the importance of the prime-time game between two NFC North title aspirants who are underachieving six weeks in, the timing may be right for veteran Harris to make his season debut after being on the PUP list. If so, the rust of not playing for nearly a year notwithstanding, Harris would give the Packers more of a fighting chance to counter Minnesota's playmaking trio than if they had to rely on undrafted rookie Shields in the nickel role. Chances are Williams will line up across Moss most of the night since the Vikings have been predominantly flanking the All-Pro out to the left side since his return to the team two games ago. That would leave the aging Woodson to man the slot against the explosive Harvin, where Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre surely could exploit a mismatch, unless the Packers take their chances with Shields by putting speed on speed.