Behind Enemy Lines: Matchups

We examine the six key matchups that will determine Sunday's Packers-Vikings game. We lead off with Marshall Newhouse vs. Jared Allen, and also focus on Greg Jennings vs. Cedric Griffin and the Packers' matchups against Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin.

Packers LT Marshall Newhouse vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen

With veteran Chad Clifton out a second straight game because of a hamstring injury, the odds swing greater in Allen's favor that he will add to his league-leading sacks total of 9 1/2. Allen has 10 career sacks against the Packers, and 7 1/2 came in Minnesota's two-game sweep of Green Bay in the 2009 season, when Clifton missed both contests because of injury. The replacement combination of Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang on the left side and Allen Barbre on the right side (for an injured Mark Tauscher) was overmatched that year by Allen, who recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks in the first 2009 meeting at the Metrodome. Allen had all of two sacks when Clifton played in the teams' other four games since Aaron Rodgers took over as Green Bay's starting quarterback in 2008. Improving second-year player Newhouse, making just his fourth pro start and second at left tackle, will have his toughest test yet. "I'm really proud of the way he's played," Rodgers said. "I'm not worried about him. Jared is a great player; he's one of the premier pass rushers in this league. (But) tackles are expected to block ends, so we expect him to be prepared and play well."

Packers WR Greg Jennings vs. Vikings CB Cedric Griffin

Jennings has a team-high 35 catches for 530 yards (15.1) and four touchdowns. Griffin, on the other hand, has struggled coming back from two torn ACLs over the past two seasons. Griffin, a second-round pick in 2006, has given up far too many big plays this season. He's been torched in the team's past two losses. He fell in coverage while allowing the Chiefs' Dwayne Bowe to make an easy 52-yard touchdown catch three weeks ago. And last week, on Chicago's third offensive play, receiver Devin Hester blew by Griffin for a 48-yard touchdown catch. Jennings is one of the more dangerous receivers in the league downfield. Griffin is going to need safety help, though the Vikings are banged up there, too, with starter Jamarca Sanford likely out with a concussion.

Packers LOLB Clay Matthews vs. Vikings RT Phil Loadholt or Pat Brown

Minnesota is counting on Loadholt to play Sunday after he left last Sunday night's lopsided loss at Chicago with a knee bruise. Neither Loadholt nor Brown played well against an active Chicago pass rush, which produced five sacks. The 6-foot-8, 343-pound Loadholt, a second-round draft pick in 2009, is a load but gives up a lot against a speed rusher such as Matthews, who is practically 100 pounds lighter and also is 5 inches shorter to be able to dip underneath the block. Matthews has only one sack in two games at the Metrodome but could be primed for a breakout performance after registering his second sack of this season last time out. Even with his reduced sack output, Matthews has 26 quarterback hits.

Packers defensive line and linebackers vs. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson

Run defense isn't about getting 11 defensive players to the ball. It's about all 11 players being in the right spot. If a player is out of position, either by getting beaten by a blocker or by trying to play outside the scheme, Peterson will see that crease and be off to the races. In eight games against the Packers, Peterson averages 101 rushing yards and 4.9 yards per carry. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers wasn't thrilled with his run defense against a similar runner, Steven Jackson, last week. Jackson averaged 5.3 yards on his 18 carries. That's not good, but Capers was pleased that Jackson's long run was just 13 yards. The Packers can live with Peterson rushing 20 times for 100 yards, as long as he doesn't rip off any back-breaking runs. That the Vikings are ailing up front — center John Sullivan, who might be their top lineman, is likely out with a concussion — obviously works in the Packers' favor.

Packers CB Charles Woodson vs. Vikings WR Percy Harvin

Along with Peterson, the Vikings' other game-breaking weapon on offense is Harvin. Harvin, who finished fifth in the NFL last season with 1,908 total yards, is their leading receiver with 25 catches for 261 yards. Plus, he's their second-leading runner with 14 carries for 158 yards. He's quick and tough, and the Vikings love to get him the ball in space on end-arounds and swing passes. Woodson, who practiced all three days this week, will need every ounce of veteran savvy to keep up on the artificial surface.

Packers coverage units vs. Vikings kick returners

Speedy 5-foot-11 receiver Percy Harvin has a league-leading four kickoff returns for touchdowns since 2009, including one in this year's season opener at San Diego that covered 103 yards. Harvin is averaging 32.1 yards on runbacks this season, but the Vikings' primary kickoff returner has been 5-foot-10 running back Lorenzo Booker, who has a 26.6 average with a long of 68. First-year cornerback Marcus Sherels, who also stands 5-10, has been productive on punt returns with an average of 13.9 yards with a long of 53. Green Bay continues to be prone to giving up a sizable return, which could be just the spark a woebegone Vikings team would need to stay in the game and threaten the Packers' unblemished record. Playing indoors should allow strong-legged Mason Crosby to make Harvin and/or Booker nonfactors by booting his kickoffs out of the end zone. Tim Masthay has struggled on punts at the outset of this season, with only Carolina's Jason Baker having a worse net average than Masthay's 30.4, but his directional expertise could neutralize Sherels.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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