Updated: December 23rd, 2016 10:00am
By: Daniel House
By: Daniel House
The Vikings will travel to Green Bay for a holiday showdown with the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. After a 34-6 throttling at the hands of the Colts last week, Minnesota drastically decreased their playoff chances to a mathematical percentage of 2%. There’s still a chance, but it would take some drastic help from the Buccaneers and Redskins. Nothing would be surprising with the way this season has went.
Even if they can’t get help, the Vikings could play spoiler with the Packers still in the hunt for a playoff spot. Green Bay controls their own destiny and could still clinch the NFC North title with wins in each of the next two weeks. It’s going to take an excellent performance for the Vikings to come out with a Christmas Eve victory at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings performed very poorly on defense last week and their offense couldn’t sustain drives. Indianapolis established the run and it allowed them to pick the Vikings apart with short passing. They also exploited the Vikings’ linebackers when the team was placed within the 4-3 base package. Across enemy lines, Green Bay has won four consecutive games and put themselves back in the playoff hunt with an improved offensive attack and a +3.3 turnover margin over the last three weeks. The Packers have tallied a whopping 9 takeaways over their last two games and their defense has suddenly become opportunistic.
A huge difference in this game will be which team commits the least amount of mistakes. The Packers haven’t been making mistakes on offense and their defense has created turnovers. If the Vikings want to win this game, they have to create turnovers and limit the total errors they make. This includes turnovers, penalties, and mental mistakes. Those type of errors have plagued the Vikings during their recent slide. The Packers are the type of team that will take advantage of those mistakes.
Rodgers can extend plays
Not many people are talking about it, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers is quietly having a fantastic season as of late. He is making the elite throws into tight windows and has been playing through a hamstring/calf injury. His mobility still appears to be limited and the Vikings’ pass rush needs to take advantage. Keeping Rodgers limited to the pocket doesn’t allow him to extend plays for a long period of time. When he can buy time, step outside the pocket, and set his feet, he is a lethal quarterback. Mike Zimmer needs to send a frequent amount of pressure to cause headaches up front. Zimmer has schemed Aaron Rodgers very well over the last two matchups and the strategy should be the same. Even with less mobility, Rodgers is still making plays with his legs to find his receivers up the field. If the pass rush can’t get home, it forces the defensive backs to cover for a long period of time. Harrison Smith may be out in the backend of the defense and Green Bay is going to take plenty of deep shots to exploit this weakness in the Vikings defense. According to Matt Harmon of NFL.com, when the Vikings had Harrison Smith, opponents scored just one touchdown and the Vikings tallied five interceptions on deep passes. The quarterback rating with Smith was 24.7. Conversely, with Smith out over the last two games, opposing teams have notched two touchdowns, the Vikings have added zero interceptions, and the opposing quarterback rating was 130.8. Anthony Harris has not performed well over the top and this is where Rodgers will try to attack the Vikings if he is given time to throw. Smith might be back this week, but if he isn’t, this is a big area to monitor in this game.
Sustaining drives and keeping the D fresh
Last week, the offense was so anemic and it kept the defense on the field for a significant amount of time. The Colts dominated the time of possession and held the ball for 37:02. On the other hand, the Vikings maintained possession for just 22:58. It was the difference in the game because the defense was out of on the field frequently early in the game and it wore them down. The offense was turning the ball over, committing drive stalling penalties, or not converting on third down. The Vikings were just 3-for-9 on third down and barely had any first downs in the first half. Minnesota isn’t built to play in third-and-long situations, and when they can’t run the ball, they are placed in those situations on a frequent basis. In addition, poor protection limits the shots the Vikings can take up the field on offense. Sam Bradford was sacked five times and T.J. Clemmings had another poor game at tackle. If the Vikings want to start sustaining drives, they need to limit penalties and pick up positive yards in early down situations. If they can’t do that, the Green Bay defense can tee-off against the pass and annihilate the Vikings up front. The Packers’ front-seven is underrated and has almost three sacks per game over the last four weeks. This is further evidence to illustrate the importance of pass protection and the need to limit the amount of long down situations the offense is placed within during this game.
Making a play on defense or special teams
The status of this offense sadly requires the defense or special teams to carry some of the scoring weight. Minnesota’s defense hasn’t made any big plays and were gouged last week for over 400 yards by the Indianapolis offense. The Vikings have just two takeaways over their last four games and haven’t been able to make plays to pick up the slack for the offense. In addition, the special teams units have been committing penalties and the punt unit hasn’t been consistently shifting the field. The Vikings haven’t recently put together a game where they executed complementary football in all three phases. If their defense can create a few takeaways and the special teams can make a few key plays, it will drastically help the team overcome an offense that lacks firepower.
Stopping the run
The Packers have rushed for over 100 yards in two of their last three games and it has really allowed their offense to take another step. They tallied a whopping 226 yards on the ground last week and the two-headed monster of converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery and recently acquired running back Christine Michael has provided a spark to the Green Bay offense. Montgomery had 162 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns last week against the Bears. He isn’t the most fluid running back, but has good vision to utilize his blocks. The Vikings struggled last week because they allowed the Colts to establish the run with Frank Gore. Gore rushed for 101 yards and it allowed Indianapolis to get into a rhythm and carve the Vikings’ defense up. Minnesota needs to stop the run and get after Aaron Rodgers to disrupt the flow of Green Bay’s offense. Recently, the difference for the Packers on offense has been their revitalized running game. The Vikings need to take away the running game and force the Packers into frequent third-and-long situations.