Game Preview: Deja vu all over again
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's not just wild-card weekend in Minnesota and Green Bay.
It's Groundhog Day.
Six days after facing off in the regular-season finale, and five weeks after their first meeting of the season, the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers are at it again Saturday night. This is no yawner of a sequel, though, not when the stakes are win or winter vacation.
More Vikings vs Packers News
"Like I tell the team, it doesn't matter who comes out of that tunnel, I don't care what colour they have on," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's about fundamentals, matchups, and that's what we're focused on. We're playing at home, it's going to be a great environment. ... The Vikings obviously have done a great job to get into the tournament, and we respect that, but this is a different deal.
Minnesota (10-6) and Green Bay (11-5) split their first two meetings, with the Vikings' victory last Sunday in Minneapolis giving them the last wild-card spot. It also dropped the Packers from the No. 2 to the No. 3 seed, and forced the NFC North champs to work a weekend they were hoping to have off.
At least neither team had to scramble to dig up film or scouting reports.
As division rivals, the Packers and Vikings already know plenty about each other. After playing twice in December, they know each other so well they could probably call each other's plays. There won't be any big surprises, no new wrinkles to the offence or defence that the other hasn't already seen.
"So much familiarity with the team that we are playing because of the number of times we have played them in the last month and a half," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "So not a whole lot that needs to be discussed as far as getting motivated to play this game."
The Vikings game plan will be simple: Give the ball to Adrian Peterson and get out of the way.
|Dec. 30, 2012
||GB 34 @ MIN 37
|Dec. 2, 2012
||MIN 14 @ GB 23
|Nov. 14, 2011
||MIN 7 @ GB 45
That's the plan pretty much every week, but particularly against Green Bay. He's rushed for 409 yards in their two games, more than some running backs manage in 16, and is averaging a whopping 7.4 yards per carry. He had the longest run of his career, 82 yards for a touchdown, in the Dec. 2 game, and a career-high 34 carries on Sunday.
Peterson has gained more yards against Green Bay (1,442 in 12 games) than any other team, and he chews up the Lambeau Field grass as easily as the Metrodome turf.
"It's just the rivalry," he said. "There's more emphasis on that game because we know that's a team that we have to beat in order to accomplish our goals we've set forth."
Now, having the Vikings come to Lambeau for the playoffs would seem an advantage for the Packers. Minnesota hasn't won in Green Bay since 2009, the last year the Vikings made the playoffs, and the Packers have won 20 of their last 22 games at home.
But the Packers have lost their last two home playoff games, including last year to the Giants when they were the NFC's No. 1 seed.
"It's not something we've thought about or really talked about since probably April," Aaron Rodgers said. "We want to be playing the right way obviously. We had a good stretch there. We won nine out of 11 games and played a lot of really good opponents, tough opponents, tough games on the road.
"I like the way we're playing," he added. "I think we have the right mindset, a good group of leaders in this locker room and a lot of guys who've won a lot of regular season, a lot of post-season games. We're excited about our team and excited about our opportunity in front of us."
Especially since Green Bay's high-powered offence is finally at full strength.
The Packers' top four receivers -- Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb -- have played less than three full games together this season, with Jennings (torn groin muscle), Nelson (hamstring) and Cobb (ankle) missing a total of 13 games. But all are healthy now, and the Vikings got an idea of how tough it will be to contain them last week, when the Packers piled up 405 yards of offence and scored 34 points.
Expect this week to bring more of the same.
"It's the same type of game. Just different location."
The Vikings win if...
The Vikings made the playoffs on the back of Adrian Peterson and if they are going to upset the Packers for a second straight week, they will need their star tailback to lead the way once again. In the midst of chasing the single season rushing record, Peterson laid into Green Bay's defence for 199 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries in Week 17.
|2012 Team Stats
|Pass Yds Allowed
|Rush Yds Allowed
On the road, the Vikings will use Peterson to control the pace of the game and take the pressure off of quarterback Christian Ponder in his first playoff start.
Not only do the Vikings have to travel this week, but they will be forced to deal with the elements as the game takes place at Lambeau Field. This could turn out to be a boon for Minnesota, if the forecast calls for any sort of winter storm type weather. High winds would make passing much more difficult, causing offensive coordinators to rely on their rushing attacks, where the Vikings have a distinct advantage.
Minnesota's defence has played well in recent weeks and they will need another inspired performance from defensive coordinator Alan Williams' crew. The Vikings weren't able to slow down Aaron Rodgers last week, as he threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns, but they did get five sacks in the game.
The Vikings will be without the help of their home crowd, which makes their task even more challenging. If Minnesota's defence can find a way to disrupt the Packers' passing game, the Vikings will be able to stay within striking distance, which will allow them to stick with their run-first approach.
The Packers win if...
It will be very tough for the Vikings to beat the division rival Packers in back-to-back weeks. The first order of business for Green Bay will be preventing the Vikings from getting out to an early lead.
Last week, Minnesota went up 10-0 in the first quarter and put pressure on Green Bay's offensive line as well as their run defence. If the Packers are able to flip the script and open up a double-digit lead of their own, Minnesota will have to abandon the run and it will minimize the effectiveness of Adrian Peterson.
The lack of a consistent running game has been a problem for the Packers and with injuries to their stable of running backs, the onus now falls on DuJuan Harris, Alex Green, John Kuhn and veteran Ryan Grant. Harris led the team with 14 carries for 70 yards last week, but Green is back to full health, likely leading to a hot-hand approach.
Regardless of who is carrying the ball, the Packers will need to grind out yards on the ground and keep pass rushers honest.
The Packers went into Week 17 knowing that Adrian Peterson would be getting the ball early and often, as he attempted to break Eric Dickerson's record. With this information in hand, the Packers still let Peterson rush for big chunks of yardage, ultimately losing them the game. Stopping Peterson appears nearly impossible this season, but Clay Matthews and company will have to do a better job if they hope to get through wildcard weekend.