If the Packers’ offensive line holds up, Aaron Rodgers and his (finally) healthy wide receivers should be able to score at least 30 points against the Vikings on Saturday night.
If the Packers put up 30, do we really think the Vikings – with Christian Ponder at quarterback – can once again score more than 30 and beat the Packers in a shootout for the second consecutive week? This time on the road, outside, on grass, in freezing temperatures?
I doubt it. Even if Adrian Peterson goes off again, it’s still going to take another strong game from Ponder for the Vikings to top 30 points.
But back to the Packers’ offensive line. We didn’t hear Marshall Newhouse’s or Jared Allen’s name called often during Sunday’s game. That’s because Newhouse was quietly doing a good job blocking Allen.
Newhouse has had his bad moments this season, but for the most part, he’s been decent. If what he did on Sunday against Allen is any indication of how he will perform in the playoffs, the outlook for the Packers’ offense is bright.
Don Barclay has boosted the Packers’ running game since taking over at right tackle. Pass protection has been a different story, especially on Sunday when Everson Griffen and Brian Robinson got around Barclay for sacks.
With three sacks, a hit, and a hurry allowed (to go along with two penalites) Pro Football Focus gave Barclay a -3.1 grade, the lone Packers’ lineman to grade out negatively. Barclay also had a -3.1 grade in week 13 against Minnesota.
If Newhouse holds up on the left side, and the pass protection can be shifted to focus on helping Barclay, that should go a long way in keeping Rodgers upright and giving him time to play pitch-and-catch with his healthy receivers against an outmanned Vikings’ secondary.
But if the Vikings’ front four gets to Rodgers and gets to him early, we could see a repeat of what happened against the Giants in last season’s divisional round: an outmanned Giants’ secondary bolstered by a pass rush that overwhelmed the Packers’ offensive line and rattled Rodgers.
To me, it all hinges on Newhouse. Newhouse is no longer the inexperienced guy on the line who is trying to find his way and doing his best to survive. That guy is now Barclay (and Evan Dietrich-Smith, I suppose).