In every NFL matchup, there are a seemingly endless amount of angles to analyze. It’s hard to get to them all during the week of practice, and I’m sure there were some that slipped through the cracks despite all of the Vikings vs. Packers preview content we provided on vikings.com this week.
As we sit here just hours before today’s game, I thought I’d try to cover a few more bases and provide a few final thoughts on the Vikings game against the Packers today.
-- I’m not breaking any news here by stating that getting an early lead in the ballgame will help the Vikings author an upset of the Packers at Lambeau today, but I think it would be particularly beneficial for the Purple today. On one hand, who are we to question another team’s passing offense when we have given up the most passing touchdowns in the NFL. But on the other hand, I would like to see our defense in a position where they are defending Green Bay quarterback Scott Tolzien and his talented cast of receivers when they know the pass is coming. Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is smooth enough to get by with Tolzien throwing the rock within the game plan, but it’s fair to wonder if Tolzien can strike through the air in obvious passing situations. Again, I’m not calling out Tolzien and Co. and I realize our passing defense needs to improve, but I think today is a great opportunity for the Vikings defense to take a step in the right direction in terms of defending the pass and they’ll do it if the offense can stake them to an early lead and Green Bay becomes one-dimensional.
-- Don’t be surprised if the Vikings kickoff team to take a strategic approach today that is unlike what we normally see from them. Kicker Blair Walsh is typically a touchback machine, but with the cold weather today and with Green Bay’s kickoff return group ranking 32nd in the NFL, I won’t be surprised to see the Vikings pop up some kicks with high hang time to try and pin Green Bay deep in their own territory rather than having them start at the 20 following a touchback. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see the opposition start at the 20 on every drive, but sometimes it makes sense to try and force them to return it against your coverage team. Today is one of those days where it makes sense. Green Bay averages 17.4 yards per return, and I expect the Vikings to try to exploit this mismatch.
-- Leading tackler Erin Henderson did not make the trip and will not play in the game today. Ordinarily against the Packers, missing one of your three starting linebackers isn’t a huge deal because you’re going to be in nickel (two linebackers, five defensive backs) most of the game anyway. But this is no ordinary game against the Packers with Aaron Rodgers not playing and Tolzien starting in his stead. While I’ve seen Green Bay remain aggressive through the air even with Rodgers not playing, I also know there was an emphasis placed on the running game this offseason in Green Bay and they’d like to get physical on the ground with the Vikings today. Also, Packers running back Eddie Lacy had 29 carries in the first game between these two teams and he hasn’t had more than 24 carries in a game since. You can be sure Green Bay would like Lacy’s attempts to be near 30 again today.
-- It will be interesting to see how Audie Cole plays today in his first career regular season start (in place of Henderson). Keep in mind he’s had all week to prepare because Henderson didn’t practice at all, so that is good. It will also be interesting to see if the Vikings rotate rookie Michael Mauti in at all on defense. He’s been a standout performer on special teams for the Vikings and may get some run on defense today.
-- The Vikings will get a helping hand back this week in trying to defend Green Bay’s rushing attack. Starting defensive tackle Letroy Guion should make his return from injury today and that will do two key things: 1) It gives the Vikings more depth at defensive tackle because now key reserves go back to their normal non-starting roles and will keep starters fresh throughout the game by coming in for a few snaps here and there; 2) It moves Kevin Williams back to his primary position – three technique. I liked Williams playing nose tackle and hope to see more of it, but there’s nothing bad about getting a starter back (Guion) and enhancing the depth along the defensive line in a game where the opposition may try to run the ball extensively.
-- In yesterday’s hotel interview, Marcus Sherels told us he’ll get some more playing time in the Vikings nickel package with Josh Robinson out because of injury. A couple things to note here. First, I believe Sherels is as instinctive a defensive back as the Vikings have on the roster, so I love the idea of him playing more. Secondly, Sherels is the Vikings punt returner, remember, so the Vikings coaching staff will have to monitor Sherels while he’s on defense to make sure he’s right to field punts.