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Green Bay Packers Week 16 Preview: Minnesota Vikings

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Green Bay, Minnesota Square off on Christmas Eve With Season on the Line

The Green Bay Packers (8-6) are no stranger to playing must-win games in the month of December, and Saturday’s match-up with the Minnesota Vikings (7-7) will be their most important of 2016.

Minnesota won the first match-up in week 2 by the score of 17-14, mostly thanks to their extraordinary defense, but in the 14 weeks since the fortunes of the two teams have switched.

After starting 5-0, the Vikings have lost seven of their last nine and their offense has fallen into a hole of mediocrity, and even that’s being generous. In contrast, the Packers have rebounded from a 4-6 start to win four consecutive games and regain the ability to control their own destiny in the NFC North.

Moreover, Green Bay is coming off a momentum building late-game victory over Chicago at Soldier Field, while Minnesota limps in after being crushed 34-6 at home by the Indianapolis Colts.

It seems like it should be another win in the Packers journey to “run the table”, but within this rivalry nothing is easy. Especially against the Vikings defense.

Packers Hoping to Duplicate Colts Game-plan Against Minnesota Defense

Coming off their worst performance of the year, Minnesota’s talented defense will undoubtedly be out for blood against Aaron Rodgers and company.

Their poor outing against the Colts was probably nothing more than an anomaly, but the pressure of carrying their offense and lingering injuries to players like star safety Harrison Smith and corner Trae Waynes seem to be wearing them down.

For most of the season, Minnesota has relied on their great pass rush to force opposing team’s quarterbacks into uncomfortable positions and bad throws. That’s where they fell short against Indianapolis, recording no sacks and only three QB hits in the entire game.

That’s a recipe for disaster against almost any quarterback in the league,  but especially versus guys like Rodgers and Andrew Luck. No secondary can succeed, especially a beat up one, if they are stuck on an island all game with no help up-front, ask the Green Bay corners.

The Colts were able to neutralize the pass rush with the use of a quick, efficient pass attack coupled with a consistent run game. In doing so they perfectly formed a possible blueprint for the Packers against the Vikings.

Luck passed for only 250 yards, but found the endzone twice while only having seven incomplete passes. He didn’t take unnecessary risks, and went vertical only when it was set up by the run. There lies the key to overcoming the Minnesota defense.

Coming off an explosive week of running the football against the Bears, 226 yards on 23 carries (9.8 yards/game), the Packers have a good chance to follow in Indianapolis’ foot steps.

Specifically, Ty Montgomery looks to build on a career day in which he rushed for 161 yards and two scores.

Much like Frank Gore of the Colts, Montgomery is a versatile and patient back that can frustrate a defense by breaking tackles and refusing to go down easy. His momentum has continued to grow every week, and his ability to keep the chains moving will be crucial to Green Bay winning the time of possession battle.

Even with injuries building in the secondary and so-so outings over the past few weeks, the Minnesota defense has remained stingy in the pass game statistically, making it that much more crucial to take some of the weight off Rodgers shoulders and open up passing lanes with the run.

Through 14 games, the Vikings secondary led by Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith ranks 3rd in passing yards allowed (2,879 – 205.6/game), 6th in passing touchdowns given up (17), and have surrendered only 4 passing plays of 40 or more yards.

That’s why it’s important to attack the Vikings one Achilles heel, their rush defense, as they currently rank 17th in the league giving up over 105 yards per game.

Once Minnesota overcompensates to stop the run it will leave Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams in one-on-one situations all across the field. And after Adams struggled last week with two touchdown drops, he will be that much more motivated at Lambeau Field on Saturday.

As long as the offense line is able to keep edge rushers Everson Griffen (8 sacks), Danielle Hunter (10.5 sacks), and Brian Robison (7 sacks) out of the backfield as the game wears on, it should be just another day at the office for Mr. Rodgers.

Packers Must Contain Diggs, Pressure Bradford

With the Vikings offense ranking dead last in the NFL with just 70.6 yards per game on the ground, and without Adrian Peterson this week, Minnesota will be relying on slot receiver Stefon Diggs to torch the Packers defense for a second time this year.

In week 2, Diggs had his best game of the season catching nine balls for 182 yards and a touchdown versus Green Bay.

Like the Vikings number two wide-out Adam Thielen, he’s been dealing with an injury, but both are expected to be active. His ability to make plays out of the slot is a problem for the Packers defense, as Micah Hyde and others have struggled to stay with faster more agile wide-outs over the middle of the field. Diggs has caught 80 passes for 874 yards and two touchdowns in 2016, all well playing through obvious pain.

For the most part, the only thing that seems to be able to stop him are his injuries and his quarterback Sam Bradford.

Despite Bradford being on track to break Drew Brees‘ completion percentage record of 71.2%, currently sitting at 71.6%, he’s been nothing short of mediocre this year. His 14 touchdowns rank tied for last with Brock Osweiler and Carson Wentz among starting quarterbacks with 450 attempts, and the Vikings dink-and-dunk offense has protected him having to make downfield decisions.

However, Bradford can’t take all the blame for his lack of big-plays, as his offensive line has been horrendous this year and afforded him little or no time to look deep.

Minnesota has cycled through lineman more than almost any team in the league, and will be without three starters that played the last time these teams met in September. Against Indianapolis they surrendered 5 sacks, and with Clay Matthews returning to full health it could be a big day for the Packers pass rush.

Especially for whomever gets the duty of rushing off the right side of the line on right tackle Jeremiah Sirles, who has proved to be well below average in both pass and run blocking. There won’t be much resistance from the Minnesota line, but it will be up the Packers front-7 to finish plays and force the sometimes easily frightened Bradford into bad spots.

It will be extremely important for the Green Bay defense to be aggressive with a variety of blitzes and disguised packages against the sub-par and inexperienced line. They can’t allow Bradford to sit in the pocket and locate receivers in open spots like Matt Barkley did last week. Even though it’s Dom Capers favorite scheme, the Packers have to avoid falling into the “Prevent Defense” trap for a second straight week.

Minnesota is not a good offensive team, but their defense has the capability of keeping them afloat, it will just be up the Packers defense to force their head underwater at their most vulnerable and not let them back up.

Final Thoughts

With only two games remaining on the schedule, Green Bay is hot at just the right time. They go into Christmas Eve as confident as they’ve ever been, and historically speaking they have every right to be.

In his career, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is 8-2-1 at home versus Minnesota, and 14-6-1 overall. With Aaron Rodgers under center he is 11-6, winner of 10 of the last 13. And it would take going back to 2009 to find the last time the Vikings swept Green Bay in a single season, Rodgers second season as a starter.

Everything points to the Packers beating their divisional rival and moving a step closer to the playoffs, but as we saw last night in Philadelphia, that doesn’t always mean anything.

When the season dwindles down to these must-win games, every inch and every detail counts. But Green Bay has been here many times, and if anyone knows how to win these pressure filled games it’s Rodgers and McCarthy, because you don’t make seven straight playoff appearances by accident.