In many ways when drawing up keys to victory for the Minnesota Vikings feels similar to drawing up the keys to victory for the Chicago Bears or Detroit Lions….yet there are a few significant differences. It’s a bit like listening to a new artist cover your favorite song of old. It’s the same melody with a different beat and slightly different harmonies. Much like the Bears and Lions there is one skill player that the offense totally relies upon, but unlike these two division foes it isn't a wide receiver but a running back. Much like the Bears and Lions, pressure on the quarterback is key, but unlike them the Vikings quarterback is merely a game manager who struggles to throw the ball down field –meaning blitzing doesn't have the same risk of the deep play. The Vikings’ defense is even the same Tampa-2 style of the Bears, but unlike the Bears they are not nearly as aggressive or opportunistic. Rather, relying on their defensive line to keep pressure on and force the offense to earn every last yard.
The moral of the story is that the Packers can easily win provided they stay disciplined and patient. However, if the Packers come out slow or sloppy it could be a difficult game very quickly. Here are five keys to making this game as easy as possible for the Packers….
1. Set the tempo early and control it throughout the game. The Packers want a fast start and slow finish to the game…meaning they want early points and putting the Vikings in a hole. This will cause two things to happen, 1) it will get the Vikings away from their running game, and 2) it will bring out the boo birds. One of the interesting threads from Viking media as of late has been the need to exert home field advantage by being loud. It makes sense, but the Viking crowds have been as fast to boo as to cheer their team this year with their up and down season. A fast start for the Packers would take the crowd away and then it’s just a fast track for the high flying Packers offense.
2. Stop Adrian Peterson. Easier said than done, but the Packers have a bit more help this time around in stopping the running game than back in Week 13. Not only were the Packers missing Clay Matthews, but they were also missing C.J. Wilson…a key run stuffer along the defensive line. With these two players back in the fold the Packers should be able to run more base lineups and give a better set up for stopping the running attack of the Vikings. If the Peterson can be limited to 100 yards or so then the Vikings’ offense is in serious trouble.
3. Make Christian Ponder uncomfortable. Ponder may be the worst QB in the league against the blitz. If he feels pressure he crumbles and forces bad throws. Worse yet for the Vikings is that there is no real deep threat to the passing game because Ponder can’t throw the deep ball and Vikings have no real deep threat. This means that Dom Capers can blitz with virtual impunity from the big play. The Vikings should counter with screens and roll outs, but if the Packers can give Ponder a case of happy feet then it’s going to be a long day for the Purple.
4. Take advantage of an aggressive defensive line. The Vikings are going to be smelling blood this week and really want to get after Aaron Rodgers. This is understandable given the still raw starters in Don Barclay and Evan Dietrich-Smith up front and the potentially loud crowd early on in the game. This can be taken advantage of though with the running game and quick passes. If the Packers can catch the defense off guard then it will go a long way to establishing the tempo and tiring out the Viking defense.
5. Tackle. Viking fans will tell you how Week 13 was a close game and winnable for the Vikings. It was sure enough, this was not because of the talent of the Vikings or any questionable calls by the refs. No, the reason the game was close was because the Packers were banged up and played sloppy. More specifically they struggled making tackles all day. It was one of the worst games by the inside linebackers, and the game where they missed Clay Matthews the most….and yes I’m including the Giants game in that as well. If the Packers tackle as well this week as they have just about any other week in the season they will win the game and Peterson will not come close to breaking the record. If they struggle bringing players to the ground again then the game can get away quickly.
The Packers have a golden opportunity to secure a first round bye and a much needed rest this weekend. The Vikings may be a hot team at the moment, but they are nowhere near as hot as the Packers. The Packers are healthier than they have been all year and have been tested in many close games. This game will not be easy, but it is very winnable as long as the Packers can put the game in the hands of Christian Ponder and control the tempo of the game.
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