They say to be the best you have to beat the best. But nowhere in there does it say you have to beat the best at their own game. Therein lies the intrigue of this weekend's Vikings-Packers contest. The Vikings can win on Sunday, and it's fair to wonder if their best chance to do so is to move the ball primarily on the ground behind run-heavy personnel groupings – the antithesis of how the Packers have chosen to get the job done in winning the NFC North title each of the past four seasons.
In winning their first six games this season, Green Bay unleashed a nasty aerial assault that is triggered by QB Aaron Rodgers. In that six-game winning streak, Rodgers completed 68.1% of his passes for 1,491 yards with 15 TDs and only 2 INTs for a passer rating of 115.9. Green Bay was the 5th-highest scoring team in the NFL at 27.3 points per game and 15 of the 19 TDs they scored were through the air.
Of late, though, it's been the Vikings who've surged. The Vikings are winners of five straight and they've ascended into 1st place in the division with Green Bay faltering in each of the past three weeks. The Vikings surge has been a different one, though. The team has played great on defense and special teams, and the offensive attack has come primarily on the ground.
As a team, the Vikings have rushed for 779 yards and 3 TDs on 163 carries in the past five games, with Adrian Peterson leading the way. He has 589 rushing yards in the last five games, including two 100-yard games and one 200-yard game, and for the season he is the League's leading rusher with 961 yards.
Perhaps the most encouraging part of the Vikings ability to run the ball is that the opposition knows it's coming and they still can't stop it. According to our unofficial count, the Vikings have run the ball with 13 (1 RB, 3 TEs), 22 and jumbo personnel 77 times for 407 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 8 TDs on the season. Those numbers account for 28% of the attempts, 30.7% of the yards and 88.9% of the TDs on the ground for the Vikings this season. The Vikings have gone this route even more frequently the past two weeks, running out of those personnel groupings 16 times for 55 yards and 1 TD against St. Louis and 13 times for 130 yards and 1 TD last week in Oakland (numbers are unofficial).
Can this tactic work against Green Bay? It's hard to tell. The Packers haven't faced many runs from those personnel groupings. Just 30, in fact. And on those 30 attempts, opponents are averaging only 2.7 yards per carry and they have only 1 run of 12+ yards. Also, it's worth noting that Green Bay has faced an average of only 25.3 runs per game in their six wins but 32.0 per game in their three losses.
It will be interesting to see if the Vikings continue operating on offense in this matter. On one hand, why fix what isn't broken? On the other, Norv Turner can dial up the passing game this week just when the opponent continues to gear up for the run.
No matter how you slice it, the Vikings ground game against this Packers defense is one of the more intriguing matchups to watch on Sunday.