Rare is it I mention special teams in these matchup analyses, but in fact, Minnesota under coordinator Mike Preifer is one of the league’s most lethal special teams units. The Packers have been an improved coverage unit this season, but this week the Vikings will test them in both kick and punt return coverage.
Former first round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson may be a bust as a wide receiver, but he is one of the top kickoff returners in the business. Big and powerful with great speed, he broke a 98-yard return to the house against Oakland last week and in 2013 took the opening kickoff 109 yards for a TD against the Packers in the Metrodome.
Currently, Patterson ranks 3rd in the NFL averaging 28.4 yards per kickoff return.
Green Bay opponents average the 22.5 yard line following a kickoff; that ranks 27th in the league. Last week Ameer Abdullah took back the opening kickoff of the second half 104 yards to the Green Bay one, setting up Detroit’s first touchdown.
On punt returns, Marcus Sherels is 7th in the league averaging just less than 11 yards per return. The Packers have been one of the best punt coverage units in the league giving up just 5.4 yards per return, ranking 5th in the NFL.
In a close game on a windy day at TCF Bank Stadium, special teams could possibly determine the outcome of the 110th renewal of Packers-Vikings.
A couple of other things to watch in this game: Offensively, the Packers need to get #97 Everson Griffen blocked. He is the Viking' top pass rusher from his right defensive end position. David Bakhtiari, playing through a sore knee, will get this assignment.
On the other side, Aaron Rodgers point out to me that Brian Robison is a very active talented defensive end as his 15 quarterback hits this season will attest. Bryan Bulaga, who has been playing through injuries of his own, will be tested at right tackle.
Rodgers has been sacked 11 times during this three game losing streak and been hit 28 times (unofficially). As coach Mike McCarthy said, “Rodgers has been hit too much recently and is banged up.”
That’s not all on the offensive line; sometimes it’s the back missing a block in pass protection, and other times its Aaron extending plays in the pocket trying to get someone open down field.
The other factor is the number of passes they have been attempting in the last three games: 43.6 per game (47.3 pass plays called per game if you count the sacks).
Inside of the Minnesota defensive line, Linval Joseph - a former New York Giant - is finally playing up to his potential and having an All-Pro season at the nose tackle.
In the linebacking corps, you know about veteran All-Pro outside linebacker Chad Greenway, but the two young guys on this level are going to be stars someday.
Anthony Barr, a first round draft choice in 2014, and Eric Kendricks, this year’s second round pick, are outstanding linebacker prospects. Kendricks is a bit undersized at 6’-0” 232 pounds, so look for the Packers run right at him in this game.
On the third level, the Vikings have three good corners. Xavier Rhodes is the shut down corner, veteran Terence Newman is the current NFL defensive player of the week off a two interception, five pass breakup performance at Oakland, and Captain Munnerlyn is a very capable third corner. Munnerlyn most likely will face Randall Cobb.
On the outside the Packers need to get James Jones going (3 catches the last three weeks) against Newman and then we expect a Rhodes-Davante Adams matchup on the other side.
The Vikings-Packers rivalry is on once again! Minnesota GM Rick Speilman has built a good young squad that plays like a black and blue contender in the NFC North should play; they run the football and defend.
Teddy Bridgewater (average arm strength) will be better when they move back indoors at the new stadium next year, but for now, with its rugged defense and strong ground game, the Vikings are a throwback to the clubs that used to play at the Met in Bloomington.
This Minnesota club is going to be good for years to come.
The Packers simply need to get back on track offensively. This will be a tough defense to do that against, but that is what they are charged to do.
Running the football effectively will help, and I suspect although James Starks will start, this is also the time to get Eddie Lacy “lathered up” for the stretch run.
One figures the Packers aren’t going anywhere “Super” this season without the burly back from Alabama being a factor.