Behind Enemy Lines: Matchups

We conclude our three-part Packers-Vikings preview with a breakdown of the battles that will decide the outcome of Sunday night's game at Lambeau Field. Leading off: Clay Matthews is back. Can either of the Vikings' offensive tackles stop him?


OLB Clay Matthews vs. OTs Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt

Matthews, who leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, is expected to play after being held out of last week's game against Miami with a hamstring strain. Matthews is listed as the starter at right outside linebacker but also plays on the left side and frequently blitzes from the middle, too. Matthews, who didn't get a sack in either game last year, is a relentless rusher who can win with speed and power. He frequently dips his shoulder to get under a taller blocker. That's key, since both of the Vikings' tackles stand 6-foot-8 and have long arms that they use to try to steer pass rushers around the quarterback. McKinnie, the longtime starter at left tackle, has allowed two sacks this season after yielding nine last season. Loadholt, the second-year right tackle, has allowed 2.5 sacks. They're facing a 3-4 defense for the third consecutive week, which will help.

CBs Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams and Sam Shields or Al Harris vs. WRs Randy Moss, Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian

Given the importance of the game between two NFC North title aspirants who are underachieving, the timing may be right for veteran Harris to make his season debut after being on the PUP list. If so, the rust of not playing for nearly a year notwithstanding, Harris would give the Packers more of a fighting chance to counter Minnesota's playmaking trio than if they had to rely on undrafted rookie Shields when the Vikings spread the field with three wide receivers. Chances are Williams will line up across from Moss most of the night since the Vikings have been predominantly flanking the All-Pro out to the left side since his return to the team two games ago. Moss would enjoy a 5-inch advantage on Williams, but Williams has been playing at a high level and has improved his deep-ball skills since last year. That would leave Woodson in his customary position in the slot and lined up against the explosive Harvin.


OTs Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga vs. DEs Jared Allen and Ray Edwards

Allen had a great season in just two games against Rodgers.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
With the crafty Clifton out of both games between the teams last season because of injuries, Allen went to town from right end by blowing past replacements Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang for 7.5 of the Vikings' 14 sacks of Aaron Rodgers. Clifton will play in this one, so Allen's impact in the pass rush could be diminished considering Allen was held to one sack in his two meetings with Clifton in 2008. Allen has just one sack this season, though he did have three hits on Dallas' Tony Romo last week. Edwards perhaps has the better matchup, likely facing rookie Bulaga at right tackle since veteran Mark Tauscher continues to be hampered by a shoulder injury. Bulaga struggled in his second start Sunday, getting beat by an assortment of speed and power moves by Miami Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake, who had three sacks in the game (though only one was charged to Bulaga). Edwards whipped an inexperienced Allen Barbre for four quarterback hits and two sacks in the Vikings' win at Lambeau Field last season. He is one of the more underrated players in the league.

WR Donald Driver vs. CB Antoine Winfield

The venerable Driver has had some of his best games against the Vikings, with his career highs in catches and yards both coming against Minnesota. A lot of that production has come when he's been lined up in the slot, which is his customary spot when the Packers go with three receivers. That likely would put him up against the tough-as-nails as Winfield, who offensive coordinator Joe Philbin raves about before every Packers-Vikings matchup as a guy who just knows how to play football. Driver is a tremendous open-field runner while Winfield is one of the finest tacklers at his position. Driver, who was held out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday and limited on Friday by an injured quad, has been the Packers' most consistent receiver. He is catching 71 percent of the passes thrown his way, a figure that ranks fourth in the NFC among wide receivers.


Rodgers reacts after his 86-yard touchdown pass to Jennings last week.
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
They start fast (like usual) and finish strong (for a change). The Packers have enjoyed a 44-10 edge in first-quarter scoring. The Vikings, meanwhile, have been outscored 31-14 in the opening period. However, the Packers are 3-3 instead of 6-0 or 5-1 because they've been outscored 55-24 in the fourth quarter and overtime. It's an ugly trend that must be reversed.


Their special teams fail again. The Vikings have an enormous edge in the kicking units, whether it's the consistent punting of Chris Kluwe, the clutch kicking of Ryan Longwell or the legal kickoff return ability of Harvin. The Packers' special teams don't have to win the game. They just can't lose it.


They can protect Favre adequately like they did last year. They don't have to hit on a lot of explosive plays to Moss because Favre and Harvin are coming alive as well, but giving Favre enough time to make smart decisions is key.


They don't at least pressure Rodgers. The pass defense seems to have improved, but you'd expect the Packers to go to a 3-to-1 pass-to-run ratio. Without Cedric Griffin and with Chris Cook at less than 100 percent, the secondary will need some help up front.


At some point, you figure the Packers are going to get out of their funk. All three losses have been by a field goal, so it's not like they're that far away from turning those losses into wins. But, six games is a good sample of where a team stands. Until Mike McCarthy and Rodgers can beat a good team in a close game, then I can't pick them. Vikings 20, Packers 17.

Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

Packer Report Top Stories