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NOTEBOOK: Collective Rush Plan Part of Solving Rodgers Riddle

Posted Oct 11, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings are more than familiar with the problem.

The question is if Minnesota will be able to solve the first of two scheduled Aaron Rodgers riddles on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Rodgers is a challenge because of his strategy and talent, as well as mobility that helps him avoid trouble and extend plays. He’s also adept at using a hard count to earn free plays by drawing offsides penalites. When that happens, however, he doesn’t settle for a five-yard reward. Instead, he takes deep shots.

“Everything starts with 12, everything starts with Aaron … his play action to his quick passes,” Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said Wednesday. “In my opinion, he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league right now, if not the best quarterback in the league. His reaction time, his ability to scramble, that just gives them another dimension. He’s like a running back, and you have to treat him like one, kind of, because he likes to get out of the pocket and run.”

The Vikings and Packers have split the past four meetings. The road teams won each meeting of the 2015 season and lost each game last season.

Here’s a look at what Rodgers has done in the four most-recent games of the Border Battle series:

Nov. 22, 2015: 16-of-34 passing, 212 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks, passer rating of 86.9 in a 30-13 Green Bay win at Minnesota

Jan. 3, 2016: 28-of-44 passing, 291 yards, one touchdown, one interception, five sacks, passer rating of 80.8 and one fumble lost in a 20-13 Minnesota win at Green Bay

Sept. 18, 2016: 20-of-36 passing, 213 yards, one touchdown, one interception, five sacks, passer rating of 70.7 and three fumbles (one lost) in a 17-14 Minnesota home win

Dec. 24, 2016: 28-of-38 passing, 347 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, four sacks, passer rating of 136.6 in a 38-25 Green Bay home win

After sacking Rodgers a total of five times in their first three meetings with him under Head Coach Mike Zimmer, Minnesota has totaled 14 in the past three outings.

Griffen, who leads Minnesota with 6.0 sacks (tied for third in the NFL) this season, said the Vikings have improved their rush plan for Rodgers.

“You have to rush him the right way, you have to rush him early, you have to hit him, you have to make him rattled,” Griffen said. “But he doesn’t get rattled too often; he’s very composed.

“We have the best coaching staff in the NFL, and they teach us how to rush him. But Aaron, he gets paid big money, so he’s going to make plays. He’s a great quarterback, but it’s up to us to execute our assignments and be very locked in. We have to eliminate the penalties, score on offense, score on special teams, we have to run, hustle, execute … this is going to be a big game.”

Griffen’s five-game streak with at least one sack is tied for the eighth-longest in Vikings history. He also had a five-game sacks streak in 2014 that started against the Packers.

As for this year’s run, Griffen credited hard work and mindset.

“I get with my D-line coach, Andre Patterson, each and every week. Just talking to him and really getting dialed in. I’ve worked on my mental (aspect),” Griffen said. “This game is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical, and that’s really the whole thing. The guys who do it great, like Aaron Rodgers, he can lock in for a whole game, and his complete focus is on the game. That’s what I’m trying to do, just keep on locking in and keep on focusing.”

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Griffen has “evolved into one of the best defensive ends in the league.”

“We have great respect for Everson,” McCarthy said. “The thing I see this year is his play time has really gone up, so he can do it in all phases of a defense and is a great fit for this scheme. He’s an exceptional football player.”

Rodgers remembered Griffen’s earlier years as a gunner on the Vikings special teams unit and how Griffen nearly caught up to Jordy Nelson on a touchdown at the Metrodome. Rodgers told Twin Cities media members that Griffen “has all the moves” at defensive end.

“He’s extremely strong, he has a great spin move, he can stab, he can speed-to-power, he can power-to-rip, he can walk a guy back into your lap,” Rodgers said. “He can do it all. He’s a fantastic player, and obviously you like to see guys like that get rewarded. I know he got a contract, and he deserves that. He’s been a fantastic player in the division and the league for a long time now.”

A hat instead of a helmet

Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph isn’t going to line up for a defensive snap, but does have an idea how the offense can help Minnesota’s defense: by sustaining drives and reducing the amount of plays for Green Bay’s offense.

“Obviously, they’ve got a future Hall of Famer at quarterback,” Rudolph said. “We’ll have to play a lot like we did in Week 1 in keeping Drew [Brees] off the field. As long as we can keep Aaron sitting over there with the hat on, that’s good for us.”

The Vikings possessed the ball for 31:16 of their Week 1 matchup against New Orleans, including 18:28 of the second half. 

Growing wings

Rudolph’s use of “Duck, Duck, Goose” aka “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” as a touchdown celebration on Monday in Chicago has really taken flight. Rudolph called out “Goose” for the record.

“I’ve had a lot of friends, family, my sister’s college volleyball team (Transylvania) now does ‘Duck, Duck, Goose’ as their ace celebration, so it’s been well-received. Apparently, kids love it.”

Rudolph said he was glad that the celebration was able to involve Vikings offensive linemen and even more grateful to become the “ducker” by catching the touchdown.

“I told the guys if we score here, whoever scores gets to be the ducker, and everyone else sits down,” Rudolph said. “Sure enough, I was the one who scored, thankfully, because I don’t sit crisscross applesauce very well.”

The semantics debate continued Wednesday, with most Minnesotans holding firm on the game being called “Duck, Duck Gray Duck” as opposed to “Duck, Duck, Goose,” a more common terminology around the rest of the United States.

Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked about the celebration on Wednesday and also had a laugh.

Asked to settle the dispute, Zimmer said, “I am in Minnesota, so I’ll go with gray duck. I never heard of that before, but I am a Minnesotan.”

Zimmer said he didn’t quite know what was going on when the players began sitting in a circle.

“I saw them sitting on their butts over there and I just asked, ‘What the heck they are doing?’ I didn’t know what was going on,” Zimmer said. “I know I hadn’t seen them practice it. If we score a lot of touchdowns, I’ll jump in with them.”

Injury reports

For the Vikings: Stefon Diggs (groin), Andrew Sendejo (groin), Nick Easton (calf), Tom Johnson (knee) and Sam Bradford (knee) did not participate. Eric Kendricks (shoulder), Pat Elflein (toe) and Rashod Hill (knee) were limited. Shamar Stephen (back) and Jayron Kearse (groin) fully participated.

For the Packers: Ahmad Brooks (back), Morgan Burnett (hamstring), Kevin King (concussion) and Joe Thomas (ankle) did not participate. David Bakhtiari (hamstring), Bryan Bulaga (ankle) and Davon House (quadriceps) were limited. Ty Montgomery (ribs), Jordy Nelson (back) and Nick Perry (hand) fully participated.