The obvious key matchup in Sunday’s game is Vikings running back Adrian Peterson against the Green Bay defense, but is this really the matchup that will determine the outcome of the game?
If Peterson “gets his” does it mean the Packers are going to lose? Believe it or not, probably not!
In 14 career regular season games against Green Bay, Peterson has averaged 117 rushing yards per game. The Packers have won 10 of those 14 games, the Vikings have won four and one ended in a tie.
In a playoff game at Lambeau Field following the 2013 regular season, Peterson rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries and the Packers won that game, too.
In those 14 regular season games, Peterson has rushed for 100-plus yards eight times and the Packers have won five of those eight games, the Vikings two with one ending in a tie.
In the six games Peterson has failed to rush for 100 yards or more against the Packers, the record is 4-2 in favor of Green Bay.
The two Minnesota wins came in 2009 with Brett Favre at the helm of the Vikings offense having the best statistical year of his career.
In fact even when Peterson has gotten his yards, the Packers more often than not have won the game. So is this really the matchup of the game?
Yes it is, because of where the Vikings are as an offense and defense.
Minnesota is quarterbacked by second year pro Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings traded back into the first round of the 2014 draft to select Bridgewater with the 32nd pick.
He is poised beyond his years or experience, is more “game-manager” than “game-winner” and quite frankly, the Vikings don’t put the game in his hands very often. They don’t have to because of Peterson’s presence and the prowess of their outstanding defense.
In the post Favre era, the Vikings have not been able to count on much at all from the quarterback position, but they also did not have much of a defense to fall back on. This year they do!
The Vikings are 2nd in points allowed (17.1), 9th in yardage and 15th against the run. After getting gashed in the opener at San Francisco for 230 rushing yards, they rank 5th in the NFL since giving up 93.3 yards in their last eight games. The Vikings are 8th in passing yardage and third in the NFL in third down defense.
This is a well-coordinated, rock solid defense on all three levels and that is something the Vikings haven’t had since their run to the 2009 NFC Title Game.
So yes, in this game, containing Peterson is a key for Green Bay and the Packers will match All-Pro on All-Pro with Clay Matthews at inside linebacker.
Peterson, even at 30 years old, still has the best combination of power, speed and elusiveness in the league. He leads the NFL in rushing this season by a whopping 227 yards over Chris Johnson of Arizona.
As Matthews told me this week, it is hard to guess where AP is going to go. He is capable of beating a defense to the corner or running right through the heart of the defense, then breaking away to the outside.
Most of the successful runs of late for Peterson begin between the tackles; then he takes it from there.
This running game is more the vision of this great back rather than a slick design by the coaching staff. They just man up their blockers on the defensive front and let Peterson read and react.
By playing Matthews at inside linebacker, the Packers are putting their best defensive player on the Vikings best offensive player. This should be fun to watch.
For the Packers defense, in addition to Peterson, Green Bay must keep an eye on Stefon Diggs who broke-out against Kansas City earlier this season with seven catches for 129 yards ,but of late has been quiet with just 5 receptions for 44 yards in the last two games.
Diggs is quick, a good route runner and is very good after the catch.
Mike Wallace (4.31 speed) is now the speed receiver in this corps, but does not yet have a single reception of 25 yards or more this season. The former Pittsburgh Steeler was a disappointment as a major free agency signing by Miami two years ago and the Vikings traded for him this past off-season.
The slot receiver, Jarius Wright, also has good speed, and although he lost his starting spot to Diggs earlier this season, Charles Johnson (the former Green Bay 7th round draft pick is a big receiver) who hit the Packers for three catches 52 yards and a touchdown in this game last year.
The best receiver in this corps is Kyle Rudolph, the All-Pro tight end. The Packers coaches had him in the Pro Bowl following the 2013 season.
Rudolph is a big target down field at 6’-6”, runs great routes and will be a load for the safeties to handle if that’s how defensive coordinator Dom Capers chooses to cover him.