At No. 2 on the countdown we have another incredibly difficult matchup for the Green Bay Packers. On two occasions, young and unproven left tackle Marshall Newhouse will be facing one of the most dominant pass rushers in the game in Jared Allen, a man who had an astounding 22 sacks a year ago. Allen led the league in that category and tied Mark Gastineau for second all-time in single season sacks. He trails only Michael Strahan's 22.5 sack performance in 2001.
Needless to say, the Packers have become all too familiar with Allen during his four years as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Since 2008, he has averaged 15.5 sacks per season and has accumulated 12.5 sacks in eight games against the Packers. The majority of those came in 2009 when Allen took down Aaron Rodgers 7.5 times, beat Green Bay twice and arguably served as the difference between the 12-4 Vikings winning the division and the 11-5 Packers winning the division.
That year, the Packers were on the brink of greatness, but weakness on the offensive line played a huge role in holding them back. Rodgers was sacked a total of 50 times, which was tied for a league high with Ben Roethlisberger. The Packers were even eliminated from the playoffs on a sack that led to a fumble and a defensive touchdown.
On October 12, 2009, seven days after Rodgers had been sacked eight times by the Vikings in a 30-23 loss at the Metrodome, Greg Jennings had some things to say that would prove to be prophetic.
"It's frustrating because we know the potential of our quarterback...I mean he's second to none," Jennings said. "He's been hit more than any quarterback in the league and he has one pick...If he has room to play ball, sky's the limit. Sky's the limit for him, as well as this team."
A Super Bowl MVP and a league MVP later, I think we know Jennings was right about A-Rod. And he was also right about the team as a whole. The offensive line has protected Rodgers better over the past two years and the team has achieved greatness, winning the Super Bowl one year and going 15-1 the other.
Meanwhile, the Vikings have gone in the complete opposite direction since 2009. They have gone from competing in the NFC championship game to last place in the division and last year Allen was really their only bright spot.
The Vikes likely aren't going to cause much of a disturbance to the Pack this year; they are ranked 30th in SB Nation's latest power rankings. However, if there's one matchup Green Bay has to watch out for it's Newhouse on Allen. Don't forget that last year the eventual 3-13 Vikings led the then undefeated Packers 17-13 at halftime during a week seven game and only lost by six. Allen had two sacks in the first half of that contest, one that forced a punt and another that helped hold the Green Bay to a field goal. Even when Minnesota's not good, he can still be a thorn in the Packers' side.
Marshall Newhouse does not want to be the reason the team slips up and drops a game to the lowly Vikings, or the reason the offensive line has a relapse back to the way it was in 2009. Therefore, he'll need to come prepared to face the 30-year-old Allen who's coming off the best season of his career and a No. 13 ranking on NFL Network's top 100 NFL players of 2012.
Newhouse had some pretty ugly stats last year in terms of letting people get to Rodgers, but he did a good job while facing former pro bowlers Kyle Vanden Bosch and Julius Peppers. Plus, Aaron Rodgers seems to think he can succeed, as does Mike McCarthy. He's not a big name first round pick, like Derek Sherrod or Bryan Bulaga, but he may be able to suffice at left tackle for the Packers. His biggest challenge will undoubtedly be Jared Allen, who can at any moment make the Packers' lives very miserable.
A huge responsibility lies on Newhouse's shoulders. The Packers can't show the world what they got without solid quarterback protection. We saw that in 2009 when Marshall wasn't around and we saw it in the preseason opener against the Chargers when Herb Taylor was in for a concussed Newhouse. If Green Bay wants to get back to chasing a dynasty, Newhouse stepping up is going to be crucial.
Greg Jennings vs. Charles Tillman | A.J. Hawk vs. Matthew Stafford | T.J. Lang vs. Ndomukong Suh |Sam Shields vs. Devin Hester | Marshall Newhouse vs. Julius Peppers | Charles Woodson vs. Brandon Marshall | Tramon Williams vs. Calvin Johnson
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