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Vikings vs Packers Wildcard Edition: Defensive Review

It took three tries, but the Packers finally found a way to shut down Adrian Peterson on Saturday. Once Peterson was bottled up the defense controlled the game.

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

After the first meeting with the Vikings we all reveled in the sudden appearance of Don Barclay. Despite that nice feeling of finally having found a replacement for Bryan Bulaga there was a dangerous undercurrent that came with that game….the Vikings flat out failed to adjust to his presence and did not really test him. This week I have a similar feeling about the Packers’ defense. They did a great job of containing Adrian Peterson. The corners did a great job of shutting down Minnesota’s depleted receiving corp. Best of all though Erik Walden finally, FINALLY figured out how to play contain….and so did Dezman Moses too. Throw in some improved tackling and it’s clear why the Vikings were totally shutdown on Saturday. All of this is great and all, but there is one last thing that should be noted…..for some God unknown reason, the Vikings went away from their best play, the read option, as soon as it appeared to be working.

The fact that the Vikings essentially gave up on a strategy that appeared to work shouldn’t surprise me too much. For a few years now the Vikings have had coaching staffs that have failed to make in game adjustments or exploit weaknesses that the other team presents (for example not testing Don Barclay with stunts in the first matchup between the two teams this year, another example would be any game where Brad Childress was the coach). As a result it’s a bit murky to make too firm a judgment around what the Packers do against them. Is this the work a defense starting to come together, or just the fact that the Packers out coached a division rival once again?

I don’t have a good answer for you on this one. I do know though that the 49ers are going to run that read option with Collin Kaepernick. They aren’t going to go away from it when it appears to be working and they are going to test how disciplined the Packers defense can be. The good news is though that the Packers now have a week to prepare for this rather than having it sprung on them at the last minute.

Pass Defense Review

Key Performances

Joe Webb – 11/30 180 YDS 6.0 AVG 1 TD 1 INT 54.9 RTG

Mike Jenkins – 3 REC 96 YDS 32.0 AVG 1 TD 50 LG 5 TGTS

Clay Matthews – 4 TOT 3 Solo 2 Sacks 1 TFL 3 QB Hits

Erik Walden – 3 TOT 2 Solo 1 Sack 2 TFL 2 QB Hits

Sam Shields – 7 TOT 5 Solo 2 PD 1 INT

Tramon Williams – 4 TOT 4 Solo 3 PD

I could go on and on about how bad Joe Webb and the offensive playcalling for the Vikings was, but I think that misses the point. Yes, the Packers faced below average competition on Saturday, but you know what? They still stuffed that competition like nobody’s business. Clay Matthews still had a heck of a game and harassed Webb all night long. The Vikings’ receivers are second rate, but Shields and Williams still took them away for the second game out of the three played between these teams. No matter how you slice it the Packers played well on Sunday and the defense controlled this game from the second drive of the Vikings till the final gun….and since the Vikings threw one pass that first drive there is nothing to fault the defense here about that drive either.

That said there is an elephant in the room….namely Charles Woodson. Woodson was great to have back for the run defense but did look a bit out of place more than once on Saturday. Often he would make a wrong read and give up his deep cover responsibilities allowing a Viking receiver to get past him. Most of the time this mean that Joe Webb would overthrow the receiver by 10-20 yards, but one touchdown was surrendered this way. The Packers got away with this against Minnesota but won’t for the rest of the playoffs.

Before I move on to the real show of this particular post, the run defense review, I do have to make one note. Erik Walden needs to buy every one of the defensive lineman a nice dinner this week. If you look at Erik Walden’s stats it looks like he was one of the best defenders in the game on Saturday. During the game it would be easy to think that he was just playing lights out. He wasn’t….on either score. Don’t get me wrong, Walden was okay, a big improvement from what he normally is, but nearly every play that he made was the result of him doing his job rather than actually making something happen. Most of the time Walden got a QB hit or sack B.J. Raji or Mike Neal would crash through the line, barely miss Webb and then flush Webb right towards Walden who would finish the play. The same would be true of the QB pressures that Walden put in. This isn’t to say that Walden was not valuable. He was. It’s just that the real playmaker in those times was not Walden, it was Raji or Neal. It’s the way the defense is designed, but Walden seriously needs to at least send these guys a fruit basket or nice Editable Arrangements bouquet (I recommend the dozen chocolate dipped strawberries Mr. Walden) to thank them for making him look much better than he actually was on Saturday.

Run Defense Review

Key Performances

Adrian Peterson – 22 CAR 99 YDS 4.5 AVG 18 LG

C.J. Wilson – 6 TOT 4 Solo

Charles Woodson – 6 TOT 4 Solo

Brad Jones – 5 TOT 2 Solo

So I have figured out the secret as to why the Packers were able to shutdown Adrian Peterson. See his nickname is "All Day" and the day was well over by the time kickoff happened. It was a night game.

Seriously though, there are many, many great articles out there right now as to how and why the Packers stopped AD on Saturday. Since I’m a PFF guy in my heart of hearts I’m going to let those guys do most of the heavy lifting for you. First the big picture look is the breakdown that Neil Hornsby gives Peter King in this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback. Second is a more matchup based look in PFF’s three things to focus on for the game. I highly, highly recommend you read these two pieces to get a good sense of how and why the Packers were able to do it. Here’s my nutshell though….

There are two parts to the Packers success. First, the Packers were able to keep containment on the outside, especially the right side of the line. The Vikings weren’t dumb in their gameplan. They attacked what I think is the weakest part of the defense, the OLB spot opposite Clay Matthews. They did this with probably their best run blocker, Phil Loadholt. In the previous matchups Walden, and Dezman Moses, outright failed to keep contain. So often on the big runs AD would break a couple tackles at the line, bounce outside and then find no one there save a poor DB five to ten yards up the field. This time though Walden and Moses stayed disciplined in their assignment and funneled Peterson back towards the middle where Raji, Wilson, and Ryan Pickett were waiting for him.

The second part involves the defensive line, especially Raji, Wilson, and Pickett. In their one on one matchups this week these three dominated the interior line of the Vikings, especially Viking guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco. As I stated in the passing game review, Raji and Neal owned these too and Walden benefited, here Raji, Pickett, and Wilson were able to push them around as well in order to bottle up Peterson most of the night. Or another way of putting this is if you are a run first team and your 3-4 defensive opponent has a DE be one of the leaders in tackles then your guards had better sit in the locker room and cry because they had a piss poor day.

The one real exception to this is the read option plays of the first drive. The Packers struggled a bit with this and when the Vikings stuck to the read option it produced the most offense for them by far. It was this sort of play that caught Walden and Moses giving up contain and allowed Webb or Peterson to run around for big chunks of yards. Why the Vikings stopped this is beyond me and smacks of negligence…but that’s another fan base’s problem.

Special Teams Review – The Punting Game

Tim Masthay – 8 Punts 302 YDS 37.8 AVG 3 Inside 20 46 LG

Honestly not a great night for the Ginger Wolverine and I nearly mixed him in with the Duds. He had a few stinkers early on in the game, but eventually was able to turn it around. Normally it’s not a great sign for the night when you can talk about a punter warming up and settling into a ball game….but this time it did not matter much considering the way the Vikings struggled on offense.

Special Teams Review – The Coverage units

Marcus Sherels – 2 KR 60 YDS 30.0 AVG 37 LG 3 PR 25 YDS 8.3 AVG 17 LG

Not much to say here. The Packers were able to capitalize on a muffed punt return from Sherels. Good job to Dezman Moses for fighting for that ball. Otherwise the only possible down spot for the coverage units was a 37 yard kick return. Not great, but not the end of the world to allow one return of just under 40 yards, especially with a potential homerun threat like Sherels.