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The Takeaway: Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers

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The Packers thoroughly dominate the Vikings on both sides of the ball.

John Konstantaras

What a difference two weeks make.

In the immediate aftermath of the Packers 19-7 loss to the Lions in Week 3, it was fair to wonder whether the team possessed enough talent or even the proper approach to win enough football games to qualify for the playoffs. Now, with the offense getting some balance back and the defense creating turnovers at an unprecedented rate, Green Bay looks like the dynamo many expected entering 2014.

The ground game overtook a respectable run defense

After three troubling games that saw running back Eddie Lacy struggle behind a leaky offensive line, Week 4 against the Chicago Bears -- owners of a Bottom 10 run defense -- appeared prime for a breakout performance. While that held true for Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, the ground game remained stuck in neutral. If Eddie Lacy and his 2.21 yards after contact (9th best in the league after Week 4 among qualifying players according to Pro Football Focus) were unable to punish the Bears, it seems unlikely that things would get significantly better versus a competent run defense like Minnesota's.

Yet that's exactly what happened. The Vikings, who entered the game 13th in fewest yards allowed per attempt, gave way for Lacy to the tune of 105 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries. Unlike in previous contests where the running back had to shirk defenders two or more yards behind the line of scrimmage, Lacy had holes to run through. In particular, guard Josh Sitton and tackle David Bakhtiari carved out several massive openings that kept defenders off him for three or more yards. Just as important, Lacy ran decisively, making fast cuts up the field and squaring his shoulders against tacklers and carrying them for extra yardage.

Lacy_1_medium

Better still, the offensive line and the running backs get a miniature bye week for having played on Thursday. As Sitton noted this week, Thursday games are particularly hard on the bodies of linemen due to the constant contact from playing in the trenches. The Packers don't play again for 10 days, at which point Sitton and his crew should be well rested and prepared to attempt a repeat performance.

Julius Peppers moves like no 34-year-old linebacker/defensive end should

While Green Bay never trailed or even seemed to be in danger of losing control of the game, the "dagger" wasn't plunged into the hearts of the Vikings until Julius Peppers' biggest play yet as a member of the Packers.

Lined up as the right outside linebacker, Peppers was dropped back into coverage when Christian Ponder inexplicably tossed a pass to no receiver in particular. The 13-year vet, positioned perfectly for the interception, snatched the ball from the air and immediately turned upfield with a convoy of Packers. 49 yards later, Peppers registered his first pick-6 since 2009:

Peppers_pick-six

While the interception itself wasn't terribly noteworthy given Ponder's terrible pass and the lack of receivers fighting to knock it down, the play showcased Peppers' astonishing wheels and playmaking ability. Despite turning 34 in January, the Packers believed that the future Hall of Famer still possessed the athleticism to tilt the field on defense. He flashed that ability versus the Lions on a strip sack and a handful of other plays, but his interception return is closer to the impact that Ted Thompson envisioned when he signed Peppers this offseason.

As Peppers continues to settle into his new role in Dom Capers' defense, opponents will be forced to spend additional resources to keep him at bay. When that happens, even more opportunities will open up for Clay Matthews and other Packers defenders.

In less than two weeks, the Packers look like favorites to win the NFC North again

When the Packers dropped a dud at Detroit in Week 3, there was some reason to believe that their hold on the NFC North might be in jeopardy. Certainly, the now 3-1 Lions are in position to challenge Green Bay as their defense looks vastly improved in the secondary while the offense has more weapons than ever for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

However, after two straight wins over divisional opponents, the Packers' record stands at 3-2 with only one road game left in the division. Detroit, meanwhile, has all of its road NFC North games still ahead, including back-to-back trips to Chicago and Green Bay the final two weeks of the season. While much can and will happen between now and that time, the Packers appear to have the easier road to a division championship.

Jason B. Hirschhorn covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He also serves as an SB Nation Newsdesk Contributor and writes for Sports on Earth.