30

December

Packers at Vikings: Keys To The Game

Aaron Rodgers vs. Minnesota Vikings

Rodgers in a baseball cap and waving a celebratory towel would be a welcome sight on Sunday. Green Bay can clinch a playoff bye with a win

Here we are in week 17 and another season is nearly in the books.  The Green Bay Packers end their regular season schedule with a trip to Minnesota to face the Vikings.  A few years back, the NFL changed its schedule making such that the last week of the season would be a divisional game for all teams.  This was in the hopes that the games would be meaningful and teams wouldn’t rest slews of their starters in preparation for the postseason.

The NFL has gotten its wish this year and with this game.  Each team has something on the line.  The Vikings need to win to secure a playoff spot.  The Packers can clinch the second seed in the NFC with a win.  Should the Vikings win, the Packers can still gain the #2 seed with a San Francisco and a Seattle loss.

Last week’s format was a success so I’m going stick with a “Keys to the Game” theme.  Let’s see what will likely determine the outcome of tomorrow’s contest.

Vikings Running Back Adrian Peterson

I feel like a broken record with the thoughts I share about Peterson but given the season he is having, they bear some repeating.  According to ESPN, Peterson has 1,898 yards in 15 games.  102 yards shy of 2,000 yards, an accomplishment only six other running backs can claim.  Peterson is also 208 yards shy of the 28 year-old and all-time single-season rushing record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.

Peterson is surely going to win a major award after this season.  Whether it’s the Comeback Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player award or Offensive MVP, Peterson deserves at least one of those.  I watched some of the tape of Peterson’s first game at Green Bay this season.   He is running as quickly and as hard as ever.  Many of the yards he picked up on long runs in that game came after contact.  Nowadays, we see more and more backs running out of bounds or diving to the ground before the big hit.  Peterson is a throwback and reminds me a lot of Walter Payton.

7

December

Packers Playbook (aka Hobbjective Analysis): Week 13 vs. Minnesota Vikings

We all knew it was going to happen; with Randall Cobb the Packers got a swiss army knife, he returns kicks, he catches passes, he runs the ball, he slices, dices and even juliennes!  At some point, you knew that “Wild Cobb” was going to show up somewhere and the Packers were going to get him to lob the ball (I know they did this last year, but that was more of an option pass).  Well apparently the Vikings were the team to get the first shot at some Cobb trickeration and the results were pretty comical at best, but what exactly happened and what went wrong?

The Situation: It’s the 3rd quarter with 6:19 left on the clock and the Vikings are desperately holding onto a 1 point lead.  It’s second and five after a five yard Alex Green run and the Packers need to get a touchdown or get into field goal range (though who knows what qualifies for field goal range for Mason Crosby at the moment) in order to keep the game the game close.

The Formation: The Packers come out in a 2-2-1 formation (2WR-2TE-1RB) with WR Greg Jennings (85) split right and WR James Jones (89) in the left slot, TE Tom Crabtree (83) and TE DJ Williams (84) are also aligned in the left slot forming a trips bunch look with WR Jones.  On the offensive line, with TJ Lang out, undrafted rookie Don Barclay (67) is out at right tackle, followed by RG Josh Sitton (71), C Jeff Saturday (63), LG Evan Dietrich-Smith (62) and LT Marshall Newhouse (74).

Pre-Snap: TE Williams motions from the trips bunch into the backfield and becomes the fullback, making it an offset I formation, in essence making it look like a run play.

Snap: QB Aaron Rodgers (12) pitches it to RB Cobb, who initially appears to be running a sweep behind TE Williams.

The Lateral: RB Cobb throws a lateral back to QB Rodgers, who catches the ball, but already has DE Everson Griffin bearing down on him.  Luckily RT Barclay manages to get enough of Griffin that it gives QB Rodgers time to shuffle to his right before throwing a bomb to WR Jennings.

7

December

Around the NFC North in Week 14

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 14

For the first time this season, there are two divisional matchups in the NFC North.  The Chicago Bears travel to Minnesota to round out their season series against the Vikings.  Both of those teams are coming off of tough losses last week and cannot afford another in this game.

The Detroit Lions come to Lambeau Field where they haven’t logged a victory in over 20 years to take on the Green Bay Packers in the Sunday night football matchup.  Detroit suffered a gut-wrenching and last-second defeat at the hands of Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.  The Packers were the only victorious team in the North this past week.  The win helped them reclaim sole possession of first place in the divsion.

Here’s a sneak peak at each matchup and some storylines heading into the games.

Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)

The Bears are starting to feel the effects of their hard-fought season.  They learned that they will be without long-time veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher for at least the next three weeks due to a hamstring injury.  While Urlacher has been hampered by some bumps and bruises this season, there is no question the Bears defense is better with him on the field.

Chicago’s starting cornerback Tim Jennings was also injured in last week’s game vs. the Seattle Seahawks when he collided with another player and hurt his shoulder.  As of Tuesday, it was still not known how serious the injury was and more tests were expected later in the week to determine if there is any structural damage.  Any such news would mean Jennings will miss some time which would be a huge blow to the Bears’ secondary.  Jennings has been the team’s top defender this season and leads the team with eight interceptions.

The Vikings are also awaiting some news on the health of one of their star players, wide receiver Percy Harvin.  Harvin has missed the team’s last four games with an ankle injury and has battled health issues since coming into the league as a rookie in 2009.

Minnesota and Chicago are both in need of a win to make a strong run at the postseason.  The Bears and Packers have the same record at 8-4 but Green Bay holds the tie-breaker, having beaten Chicago head-to-head earlier this season.  The Vikings dropped to .500 and are trying to stay alive in the Wild Card race with an outside chance at a division win.

1

December

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson scores against the Minnesota Vikings

The Packers are hoping to see this familiar scene on Sunday versus the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season.  The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota.  Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.

The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears.  Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track.  At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line

In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week.  As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.

Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now.  Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.

My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.

On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.  You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section.  Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way.  True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position.  But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush.  Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.

26

April

Green Bay Packers Draft Matchup: CB Janoris Jenkins vs. S Harrison Smith

Janoris Jenkins

North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins

I highly doubt CB Janoris Jenkins will still be avaliable when the Packers pick late in the first round of the NFL draft, but if he is, Ted Thompson has an interesting decision to make.

On paper, Jenkins vs. Harrison Smith is a complete mismatch. Jenkins is by far the more talented and superior player. But when you factor in concerns about Jenkins off the field and the Packers need for a safety after releasing Nick Collins, the matchup becomes closer.

Jenkins is a cocky, in-your-face, man-to-man, physical cover corner. You can put him on an island against any WR and he’s not going to back down. He’ll take on whomever he’s asked to cover, not ask for any help, and have a good chance of winning the battle.

Smith is one of the better safeties in a weak safety class and almost plays like an extra linebacker. I don’t see him as a guy who can cover the field against deep passing attacks, but I do think he’ll be good in the box against the run and as a blitzer. Think of him sort of as a lite version of Charles Woodson.

If Jenkins and Smith are still out there when the Packers pick (I’m 99 percent sure Smith will be), I think the Packers should take Jenkins. I know Jenkins’ off-field issues don’t make him “Packer People,” but he’s too talented to pass up, especially as QBs, WRs and TEs continue to get better in the NFC North. Yes, Jenkins has character issues, but Mike McCarthy, Charles Woodson and others in the Packers organization should be able to help Jenkins in that area as long as he shows a willingness to work hard on the field and make a few changes off of it.

(Side note: People who know a lot more about this sort of stuff than I do seem to think that Jenkins will be around late in the first, maybe even into the second round.)

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Adam Czech is a freelance reporter and a Packers fan living in the Twin Cities. Follow Adam on Twitter. Read more of Adam's writing on the Packers here.

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23

March

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Antonio Allen, S South Carolina

Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina

Green Bay Packers draft prospect profile: Antonio Allen

Player information:

Antonio Allen, S South Carolina
6’1″, 210 lbs
Played the “spur” position for the Gamecocks, a hybrid SS/LB role. Can you say “Return of Big Oakie?”

NFL Combine:

4.67 40-yard dash
4.25 20-yard shuttle
7.02 3-cone drill
9.83′ long jump
34″ vertical jump
17 bench press reps

News & Notes:

Allen started of 2011 with a bang, recording 16 tackles in South Carolina’s opening game. Allen was named second team ALL-SEC for the 2011 season, finishing with 88 tackles , 3 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, 9.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Played on every special teams unit except field goals.

What they’re saying about him:

Wes Bunting (National Football Post): A tall, top heavy safety prospect… Plays a lot inside the box and when he sees the football showcases an average initial burst, drops his pad level, wraps and creates an explosive pop into contact…   Doesn’t consistently take proper angles toward the ball carrier and lacks the initial closing gear to make up for it. Plays like a 4.6 guy and doesn’t routinely make a ton of plays in pursuit. Struggles to breakdown as well into contact and has a tendency to outrun the football.

Dane Brugler (CBS Sports): Doesn’t shy from contact and exhibits a nasty attitude with a competitive attitude and motor. Versatile with experience as an in-the-box safety and in man coverage, lining up over inside receivers. Also played on special teams coverage…   Has suspect instincts in coverage and needs to show better pre-snap recognition. Will slip off tackles and needs to finish more consistently. Has durability concerns after various injuries forced him out of action in college, including a hamstring injury in 2010 and a neck issue last season. Lacks a natural position and might be viewed as a linebacker/safety tweener by several teams.

NFL Combine: Allen is an experienced SEC defensive back who has played the rover position for South Carolina and is a versatile defender. He is very active and plays the run extremely well. Some will question his value as a safety because he didn’t play the true safety position in college…
Video:

Video Analysis:

  •  Definitely does his best work in straight-ahead “attack” mode
  • Delivers a good hit in those instances
18

March

NFL Draft Prospect Profile: Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame

Harrison Smith

Notre Dame S Harrison Smith

Green Bay Packers draft prospect profile: Harrison Smith

Player information:

  • Harrison Smith, S, Notre Dame
  • 6-foot-2, 213lbs
  • Of the strong and free safeties given a top 125 grade by NFLDraftScout.com prior to the Combine, only Smith (4.57) recorded a time under 4.66.

NFL Combine:

  • 4.57 40yd dash
  • 4.12 20 yard shuttle
  • 6.63 3-cone drill
  • 10.02′ long jump
  • 34″ vertical jump
  • 19 bench press reps

News & Notes:

One of the highest rated safeties in a draft considered extremely weak at the position. …. Intercepted seven passes as a junior, zero as a senior. … Appears suited to play the run well, but struggle in pass coverage. Not a good sign in a league where tight ends are only getting better. … Only player in Notre Dame history to register more than 200 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and 15 pass breakups.

What they’re saying about him:

Dane Brugler (CBS Sports)  ”Plays stiff. Needs to be a more technically-sound tackler, often going for the knockout hit or forced fumble instead of wrapping up. Hits too high and loses leverage, allowing ballcarriers to pick up extra yards.”

National Football Post:   “Isn’t a guy you want to trust to run with receivers down the field. However, because of his solid natural range and instincts, I can see him getting over the top and making plays in a center field type role as an NFL strong safety.”

NFL DraftSeason.com (Will Lomas): “As far as the safety class goes this one is relatively weak, but (Smith) provides good value on day two and can fill a need on a team that has good corners but needs to upgrade their run D.”

Video:

Video Analysis:

  • Can definitely close. When he comes at you, look out
  • Looks comfortable blitzing, which should make Dom Capers happy
  • Tough to judge his pass coverage on this video since he’s off the screen on most pass plays, but I did notice a few instances where he didn’t get deep enough in zone coverage
  • Does show a nose for the ball, though, if he winds up near the ball
  • I could see his playmaking ability meshing well with the Packers defense. Worth a shot in round three, perhaps.