Here we go again. It’s another division game, another important road game, and another team with everything to play for and nothing to lose. The last time we saw that was a game in Chicago and the division was up for grabs…it was also the last chance for the Bears to control their own fate. Before that it was the Lions at a turning point in their season. In both of those game the Packers won, and won convincingly. This game though is going to be different because…..uhh…..because Viking fans really, really want it to be?
Seriously though, the Minnesota Vikings are an interesting test for the Packers. The Vikings are a bizarro version of the Chicago Bears. The offense is a one trick pony and the defense is uneven but potentially dangerous. The difference is that the Bears defense is too old and the Vikings defense is a bit young, and the Vikings’ offense has a fantastic running back for its one trick rather than a fantastic receiver like the Bears’ Brandon Marshall. The key matchups of the week reflect this dynamic focusing either on the strengths of the Vikings on defense or ways their offense tries to break out of their fairly predictable mold.
The first matchup is probably the most important though, and it’s the only one that will be a repeat from last time. Despite it being a repeat of a match up, the circumstances around the matchup have changed dramatically causing this matchup to take on a much different feel. The matchup I’m talking about is Evan Dietrich-Smith vs. Kevin Williams.
The reason this matchup has changed so much since the last meeting is the different position EDS is playing. Last time EDS was in the LG spot while T.J. Lang held down the RT position. Now EDS is playing center instead of veteran Jeff Saturday. The problem with the EDS at guard and Lang at tackle was a weakening all along the line due to the fact that EDS is not as good a guard as Lang and Lang is not as good a tackle as current starter Don Barclay. While in this flawed alignment it was essential for EDS to hold up and a be a pillar in the interior pass protection so more help could be given to Lang. Unfortunately EDS could not deliver and the entire line, and offense, struggled.
As stated above, now EDS has moved one spot over and is manning the center position now instead of Jeff Saturday. It would be an understatement to say that Saturday has been a bit of a disappointment this year. Saturday has been okay in pass protection, but has just been unable to be effective in run blocking. If there is one good thing that most Packer fans have bought into so far this year is that EDS is one of the better run blocker the Packers have left on the roster. While EDS has been in the line up the Packers have been a much more effective running team. This has most recently been seen during the game against the Titans, but it was also present during games against the Lions and the Vikings. It is the hope that having EDS anchor the line will help continue to get that push from the center of the line and help the line continue to turn in the solid all around performance the Packers have enjoyed the last couple weeks.
The biggest question facing EDS is if he can handle an upper end interior pass rusher like Kevin Williams. Williams is still one of the better DT’s in the game, especially in providing a pass rush. He can push the pocket and use his quickness and strength to shoot the gaps. Williams is not what he once was, but still is a very good test for EDS and Co. up front. If they are able to contain the interior pass rush then the Packers’ offense should be in good shape. However, if the Packers need to use an extra blocker to help the interior pass rush then expect some troubles….the Packers can reasonably send only so much help around and the Vikings’ edge rusher will demand some extra attention as well.
In the end Packer fans need to stop listening to the trash talk from across the Mississippi and lazy takes from the national media. From both of these sources you are going to hear about how EDS and the line are not good enough and how the Vikings’ defensive line is going to dominate. I don’t buy it. The line is stronger than it was weeks ago when meeting up with the Vikings….by the way that flawed and struggling line dominated this same Vikings’ defensive line late in the game the last time around. Home noise shouldn’t be too big a deal because the Packers have played well in domes and on the road as of late, handling silent snap counts very well and staying disciplined (this isn’t like the Brett Favre years where the offense would struggle in MN). The biggest question of the line is if EDS can hold up. He’s not a fresh faced rookie. He’s dealt with worse and come out the better for it. If he can succeed this week expect a Packers win and a final goodbye to the 2012 Minnesota Vikings.
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