Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

World’s Best Packers Preview: Best vs. Best as Green Bay Faces Peterson

A huge game deserves a huge preview. At 5,700 words, we deliver. It leads off with Adrian Peterson's remarkable — if inconsistent — production against a Green Bay defense that smothered the run last week. Plus, there's no place like home, a rivalry but not revenge, the "traumatic" loss of Teddy Bridgewater, special teams and plenty of stats, notes and quotes that we guarantee you won't find anywhere else.

In 2008, Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,760 yards. That was the 24th-highest figure in NFL history.

In 16 career games against the Green Bay Packers — the equivalent of a full season — Peterson has rushed for 1,760 yards on a gaudy 5.3-yard average. Those numbers put some perspective into how he’s run roughshod over Green Bay’s defense throughout his remarkable career.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The Packers have won their share of the battles. Peterson topped 100 yards in half of those games — oddly, the Vikings went just 2-5-1. Three of his top eight and four of his top 11 rushing totals have come against the Packers. On the flip side, the Packers held him to less than 70 six times — including both meetings last year, when he averaged just 3.5 per carry.

“He’ll take the ball anywhere. It might be designed to the right side, but with his speed and his ability to jump cut and his size, we’ve seen the best of him at times,” Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Thursday. “You have to play with great leverage against him. You have to set the edge outside because he’ll take the ball anywhere. Hopefully, we can take the running seams away because he’s a big guy and explosive guy and, when he can get running north and south, even after the first hit, he’ll be falling forward for extra yards. So, you have to try to have great pursuit, leverage and everybody’s got to finish and you’ve got to do a great job tackling. He’s strong, he breaks a lot of tackles and very explosive.”

That sets the stage for Sunday night, when the best running back of this generation — and possibly the best running back since the immortal Jim Brown — runs into what emerged from Week 1 as the best run defense in the NFL.

Playing with a depleted defensive line and an inexperienced linebacker tandem under withering heat, the Packers held the Jaguars to 48 rushing yards and 1.85 yards per carry. Both figures top the league charts. It’s incredibly early the season but, if nothing else, it’s an encouraging start headed into a key early-season clash.

“I felt like we were real disruptive up front,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I felt like our front seven did a great job of kind of mixing it up, just playing with a disruptive attitude as opposed to just fitting and doing our job. That’s why you saw a number of times guys in the backfield who, if they didn’t make the play, they were setting it up for somebody else. So, I think that’s the most important thing you saw. Hopefully, we can keep that going, putting our bigs on the edge, forcing some mismatches against tight ends and tackles.”

Take note of what Capers and Matthews said about setting the edge. With Datone Jones’ position change and Nick Perry’s re-signing, the Packers have tremendous size and strength at outside linebacker. Those two, along with the relentless Matthews, did a great job against the Jaguars of forcing the running game back inside. That’s why the Packers gave up almost a half-yard less per carry than any other team in the league last week and why they had six tackles for losses on running plays alone. They averaged about 2.5 last year, when they ranked 29th with 4.54 yards allowed per carry.

“You cannot go wrong with bigger, faster guys in the National Football League,” linebackers coach Winston Moss said. “If you go back to the end of last year, there was a little bit of that going on, as well. They started to find their little niche back then and so now all of a sudden they’re continuing to evolve with what we’re asking them to do.”

Peterson, meanwhile, is coming off one of the worst games of his career with 19 carries for 31 yards in a win at Tennessee. In 121 career games, Peterson has gained less than 31 yards just eight times, and he never gained so few yards in a game with at least 15 carries. His 1.63-yard average was the fourth-worst of his career.

The Titans couldn’t have cared less about Shaun Hill and the Vikings’ passing game, so they flooded the box to take away Peterson. If Minnesota turns to Sam Bradford at quarterback, he’ll at least provide a downfield passing threat. Regardless, Peterson will be the focal point of Green Bay’s game plan — and every other team’s game plan.

“Last year, it was pretty much the same. Guys loaded the box. And the start of this year, it's been that way, as well,” Peterson said in a conference call. “It's something I'm used to. What really made me realize was when (Brett) Favre was here that year and I still saw nine-man fronts. I'm kind of just like, it is what it is. I know that I'll still be able to have breakout games, but as long as we get the 'W' and we're being efficient and balanced as a team, I'm just going to contribute and do my job. Sometimes that calls for a breakout game and sometimes that calls for 30 yards and 240 passing with a 'W.' Yeah, defenses are definitely playing it the same. There's been a decade of it.”

NO PLACE LIKE DOME

In case you hadn’t heard, the Vikings will christen U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night. At a cost of $1.1 billion, it will seat about 66,200. And it puts the Vikings back indoors after two years at the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium.

The Vikings spent 32 seasons inside the Metrodome. Including playoffs, they went 168-92 in the dome.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of the new digs. “Like I’ve said all along, the only thing I really care about is playing good in it. I know the fans love it and it’s got great sight lines and things like that, but if we don’t play good in it, then it doesn’t matter to me.”

Getting off to a winning start will be no small task against the Packers. They might play on a Frozen Tundra but they’ve made themselves feel perfectly at home in the great indoors.

Since coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006, the Packers are 19-11 in regular-season games in domed stadiums. According to STATS, that .633 winning percentage is the fourth-best in the league during that span, trailing only the Patriots (9-3; .750), Jets (8-3; .727) and the Colts (52-23; .693).

A key reason for that success is the play of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but it runs deeper. Not that other teams don’t prepare for loud environments but McCarthy seems to have found a winning formula. At Thursday’s practice, for instance, while the defense worked on Clarke Hinkle Field, the offense practiced inside the Don Hutson Center with music blaring through the speakers. Or, there is the opposite approach.

“You can practice without crowd noise. You just don’t talk,” receiver Jordy Nelson said.

On the offensive line, center J.C. Tretter will spend most of the game with his head peering between his legs to get the snap count from Rodgers. In home games, Tretter plays a big role in handling the communication. In loud road games, more of those duties fall on the guards. The biggest challenge falls on the offensive tackles, who have to look toward the ball to see it get snapped, then whip their head around to find who they’re blocking. David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, the Packers’ two veteran tackles, know the drill.

“It presents an issue but we have a good game plan for the tackles in our away games,” Bakhtiari said. “The more I’ve played, the more comfortable I’ve gotten. I’ve been in so many loud stadiums over the years. All the game experience I’ve had, you get used to it.”

As for Rodgers, he is 11-8 indoors with a 111.6 passer rating, 39 touchdowns against nine interceptions, and 68.8 percent accuracy. Among quarterbacks who threw at least 25 passes in the Metrodome, Rodgers ranked third with a passer rating of 125.0 in six games. He threw a sizzling 15 touchdown passes vs. one interception and averaged just more than 300 passing yards in those games.

For years, Rodgers credited his choice of footwear for his indoor success. If that’s really true, maybe big things will be in store for the team’s treks to Minnesota this week, Atlanta in Week 8 and Detroit in Week 17.

“I got some new shoes this year for the indoor from Adidas,” Rodgers said. “Worked with them in the offseason, I'm really happy about them. They look good but they feel better. It will be nice to put those back on. When you're in an environment that's controlled like that, we've always had success. I know we like to be portrayed as a very tough team. But we have the skill players, and have for years, to be a fast-paced offense, and the indoor facility over there usually gives us the opportunity to play fast and use our speed.”

A RIVALRY BUT NO REVENGE

The Packers and Vikings have combined to win seven of the last eight NFC North titles. While the Bears have fallen upon hard times and the Lions generally are an afterthought, the Vikings have been the Packers’ most consistent challenger in the division. That includes last year, when the Vikings beat the Packers 20-13 at Lambeau Field to end Green Bay’s five-year run atop the division.

For the Vikings, it was a big step in the program being built by Zimmer.

“It was big,” Peterson said. “It was another NFC North championship for us. It was something that I expected to happen. I was still a little salty from when Green Bay came here last year and beat us at home, which I think should not have happened. But we learned from that. It was big. Anytime you’re able to win your division, it’s big for your organization.”

If it was big for the Vikings, it wasn’t a big deal for the Packers.

“I don’t want to be flippant about it,” McCarthy said during a lengthy session with reporters before the Jacksonville game. “Division titles are important but I don’t lose any sleep over it, because we have a bigger goal. We don’t hang division-title banners around here.”

Even Zimmer has turned the page. Like McCarthy, the goal is much larger than division titles and playoff berths.

“It was so long ago, it seems like now,” he said. “I guess it was just to prove it that we can play with the big boys. Green Bay has got such a great tradition and history and all of those things that they have done, and we’re trying to build a program. Everybody said we couldn’t play good in prime time, we couldn’t beat Green Bay, we can’t win on the road — all those things that people were saying last year. I think it just proves that we have a very resilient football team and we’re going to try to fight each and every week.”

At least for public consumption, this game isn’t about revenge for the Packers. There’s no doubt this is a big game, with a chance to take an early lead in the division by beating their rivals on the road. But turning the tables on the Vikings after what happened last year?

“We haven’t even discussed that yet, if we even are. I doubt it,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “They played well last year. Obviously, we had our way with them the first time we saw them up there, and they obviously beat us to win the division. This isn’t to get back at them or anything.”

Added Packers safety Morgan Burnett: “You don’t have to talk or have a big motivational speech to get guys up and ready for this game. It’s a division game. You’re playing against the Minnesota Vikings, which is a division rival. We’re going into a hostile environment on prime-time TV. That’s the reason you sign up to play in the NFL, for these type of moments. Guys are excited. We’re pumped up and ready to go.”

INSIDE THE VIKINGS

— The Vikings entered this season with high hopes, and for good reason. With Peterson in the backfield and a dominant defense, they had wrested the NFC North title away from the Packers. And with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entering his third season, the Vikings were an ascending team.

Those high hopes crashed back to Earth when Bridgewater went down in practice on Aug. 30 with a severe knee injury that included a torn ACL.

“Especially the day when it happened, it was pretty rough, because the players all love Teddy, and he’s such a great kid,” Zimmer said. “He had such a great preseason. But we kind of went through this a little bit with Adrian my first year here. The one good thing about my team is that we have some pretty tough guys and smart guys, and they’re pretty resilient. They understand things happen. I think the mood in the locker room is fine. I think they feel good about the trade that we made, and trying to continue to push forward to meet our goals. But traumatic is a good word. I guess it was pretty traumatic the first couple days.”

That’s certainly true for Peterson. He might be a physical freak but, at age 31, he’s closer to the end of his career than the start. Bridgewater’s injury isn’t going to make Peterson’s pursuit of a Super Bowl ring any easier.

“Yeah, it was hard to lose him, of course, a franchise quarterback,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you have to be able to regroup when adversity comes, no matter how devastating it is, and put the next pieces in place, continue to go after your goals. And our goal is to defend this North division and put ourselves into position for home-field advantage to end up in Houston at the end of the season. So that hasn't changed at all, we just have a different piece at the quarterback position.”

— An actual, honest-to-goodness passing game would be Peterson’s best friend. And the Vikings thought they were making inroads with Bridgewater and the addition of first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, the No. 23 overall selection. With Treadwell, second-year receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph, Bridgewater would have three quality targets at his disposal, with former Packers draft pick Charles Johnson being a nice complementary piece. Instead, Bridgewater is out and, making matters worse, Treadwell didn’t play a single snap against the Titans.

That had “never” happened in his football life, the All-American from Ole Miss said.

“He still has work to do,” Zimmer said. “We still have to keep getting him going. As you've seen, Diggs was inactive for (the first) three weeks last year. We're trying to do things right, get him ready to play and get him ready to go when the time is correct. I think all these young guys need to learn, not just him but all these guys, need to learn about professional football a little bit. It's not like you just come in and you're the best player on the field right now.”

Diggs is the focal point of the passing attack. Even while not playing to start the season, he caught 52 passes for 720 yards. The yardage total trailed only Oakland’s Amari Cooper among rookies, and Diggs trailed only Cooper in 20-yard catches by a rookie, as well.

“I think he has worked real hard to expand what he does real well,” Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner told reporters in Minneapolis. “He’s a real sudden — when you see him, it jumps out at you — he’s a real sudden receiver that has got excellent change of direction, and he has gotten a lot better competing for the ball and going up and making those contested catches.”

— In last year’s playoff opener in frozen-to-its-core Minneapolis, the Vikings beat the Seahawks … or, they would have had standout kicker Blair Walsh not missed a 27-yard field goal.

How would Walsh respond to that famous miss? Not very well, based on the first week of the season. Walsh missed two field goals and an extra point in last week’s win at Tennessee. So, just like Green Bay’s Mason Crosby in 2012, the kicker is under an intense spotlight.

“No,” Walsh said when asked by Vikings beat reporters if he was surprised by the scrutiny. “It’s the nature of the business. You guys say what you want to say and it’s understandable. You’ve got to get up here and be accountable for your mistakes and I understand that. We had a nice, good team win. I was part of it in the second half and I was part of a lot of the team wins last year, too, so that’s how I feel going into this game and the rest of the season. I’m confident.”

Walsh did bounce back in the second half. After missing two field goals in the first half, Walsh went 4-of-4 in the second half — though he did miss an extra point.

“I’m much better after the game when it comes to those situations than during the game,” Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer told reporters. “I told him, and I think he agreed with me, he’s too good a kicker to miss the kicks that he missed. The 37-yarder, he can’t miss to start the game. The 33, the PAT, he can’t miss that. The one at the end of the half (a 56-yarder), a lot of kickers are going to miss that. He’s good enough to make that, but it was still a very difficult kick. We need him to step up and that’s what I told him at halftime. I said, ‘We’re going to have some more opportunities and it’s a close ball game.’ We were down 10 at the time. I said, ‘We’re going to need you to step up’ and he did. He really did, other than the missed PAT he had a really good second half. Coming out and making that field goal after the long kickoff return kept the momentum in our favor and now it’s 10-3. Now it’s a whole new ball game after that, at least momentum-wise. You could feel that on our sideline.”

— The Vikings might have uncertainty at quarterback and kicker. Where there is absolutely no uncertainty is the strength of their defense and that unit’s ability to challenge Rodgers.

Since Zimmer took over in Minnesota in 2014, the teams have squared off four times. While Rodgers and the Packers are 3-1 in those games, Zimmer and Co. have put the squeeze on Rodgers. His passer ratings have gone down in each game, from 138.7 to 109.7 in 2014 to 86.9 to 80.8 in 2015.

Zimmer laughed when asked if his increasing familiarity with Rodgers makes him a bit easier to defend.

“He’s as good as there is,” Zimmer said. “He amazes me with the things he does, the things he sees. Not just with his athletic ability. I’m talking about his intelligence and the way he sees everything. Then you add his athletic ability and his competitiveness. I mean, this guy is unbelievable. I kind of wish he was in a different division.”

The Vikings did well against Rodgers in both meetings last year. In Green Bay’s win at Minnesota, Rodgers completed only 47.1 percent of his passes. In Minnesota’s win at Green Bay, Rodgers threw for 291 yards but needed 44 passes to get there.

“He’s definitely one of the most difficult to prepare for just because of all the things he brings to the table,” Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards told reporters on Thursday. “He’s been in that system for a while. He understands all of the intricacies of what they’re trying to get accomplished scheme-wise. He understands what to do in the run game. He understands what they’re trying to do protection-wise. He seems to get them out of a lot of tough situations. You can have them all covered, execute and do exactly what it is you want to do and he’ll run or he’ll throw the ball down the field as a receiver breaks out of the pattern and gets down the field and get open. He presents all of the problems that you don’t want to have happen every week.”

STATS ARE FOR LOSERS

— Last year, the Vikings ranked fifth in points allowed. With the entire starting 11 back intact, they’re tied for eighth in points allowed, tied for 10th in yards allowed, tied for fifth in rushing yards allowed and are sixth in rushing yards allowed per carry through Week 1. The run-defense numbers are particularly noteworthy heading into Sunday’s game against Eddie Lacy because the Titans have two excellent runners in DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry plus athletic quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“They’re gap sound, they’re definitely disciplined and they know what they’re doing,” guard Lane Taylor said.

The Packers caught a break with Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd ruled out with a knee injury. But the Vikings are deep up front. Tretter will get the massive challenge of battling 6-foot-4, 329-pound defensive tackle Linval Joseph. Linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks have elite athleticism at the position.

Lacy has had some big days against the Vikings, with four 100-yard games and six total touchdowns in six career contests. However, with the NFC North on the line in Week 17 last year, the Vikings held him to 34 yards on 13 carries.

“They’re playing together and they’re fast,” Lacy said. “They took advantage of the turnovers they created last week and that pretty much won the game for them. So we just have to stick to our game plan. We can’t give the ball away, that’s No. 1. Protect the football and go out there and see what they got.”

— Like Lacy said, turnovers will be huge. Since the start of the 2015 season, the Packers have a league-high nine games with zero giveaways. The Vikings, on the other hand, are a league-best plus-3 in turnovers after Week 1. When they force at least three turnovers in a game, they have won 31 consecutive games since 1996, according to STATS.

“We have not been a huge defensive turnover team,” Zimmer said. “We try to be disciplined and everybody be in the right place and do things the right way. It’s some of the things we talked about in the offseason — about trying to get better and create more turnovers. And typically when you can pressure the quarterback — the Kendricks interception was a really good example of being able to pressure the quarterback and him making a mistake. I would love to say we’re going to get turnovers every week, but it just doesn’t happen in this league. And I wouldn’t say we’re gambling type of football team.”

— The Vikings built that defense through the draft. When they’re fully healthy, they have six first-round picks in their starting lineup (Floyd, outside linebackers Barr and Chad Greenway, cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Terence Newman, and safety Harrison Smith) and two second-round choices (Joseph and Kendricks). Even with Floyd and Rhodes ruled out, the Vikings will have five first-round starters, since 2015 first-rounder Trae Waynes will step in for Rhodes.

The star power runs beyond the top picks. Defensive end Everson Griffen was a fourth-round pick in 2010 who has blossomed into a standout. During his first two years with Zimmer, he had 12 sacks in 2014 and 10.5 in 2015. That total of 22.5 sacks ranked sixth over the past two seasons. At 273 pounds, he is a physical player. But he was athletic enough to be a gunner on the Vikings’ punt team early in his career.

In 13 career games against the Packers, he has nine sacks, including the sack-strip that was returned for a touchdown in the Vikings’ win at Lambeau in Week 17. Bakhtiari, who was injured and didn’t play in that game, is eager for the challenge.

“He’s a hell of a player,” Bakhtiari said. “I enjoy being able to have a tough matchup. It’s a good competition. I have respect for him. It’s always exciting when I get to play a top-caliber rusher.”

— Here’s why Bakhtiari received his lucrative four-year contract extension: According to Pro Football Focus, he hasn’t allowed a sack in his past 453 pass-protection snaps. That’s the longest streak for any left tackle in the NFL.

“I need to go out and show it week in and week out,” Bakhtiari said. “People say, ‘Hey, you reached the top.’ But there’s everyone coming in after you trying to take that spot. I’ve never really seen myself as the guy up on top. I’ve always, no matter what, let’s just say I am, but I always find people I’ll put up there that I want to chase after.”

HISTORY LESSONS

— The Packers lead the regular-season series 58-49-2. You can thank McCarthy for that. He’s 14-5-1 against the Vikings to blow open a series that was tied 44-44-1. Rodgers is 11-5 with a sizzling 113.2 passer rating and 34 touchdowns against five interceptions.

“I think it’s always been (a rivalry but) it’s just been kind of amped up the last couple years with the energy that Mike (Zimmer) has brought in with his staff and his system,” Rodgers said. “We beat them three out of four, but obviously they beat us last year at home and took the division for the first time in a while. So it’s a healthy rivalry. They’re a very good team, and it’s an important game for us even though it’s Week 2.”

— Some good history: Nelson’s touchdown catch last week at Jacksonville was his 50th, sixth-best in Packers history. He is chasing former teammate Greg Jennings (53), Antonio Freeman (57), Donald Driver (61) and Sterling Sharpe (65). Don Hutson’s a mile ahead of everyone with 99.

Some bad history: Rodgers, the NFL’s all-time leader with a passer rating of 104.1, has had 11 consecutive regular-season games with a passer rating of less than 100. His longest previous stretch was just four games back in 2010.

Getting back into triple-digits will be a challenge against the Vikings, though their secondary could be vulnerable without Rhodes. Taking Rhodes’ spot will be the inexperienced Waynes, who averaged only 12.2 snaps on defense as a rookie. Playing opposite Waynes will be the 38-year-old Newman. Still, that group played well in smothering the Titans.

“They outscored the offense of the other team. They scored twice,” Rodgers said. “That's what you've got to avoid you play a good defense like this is turnovers. Anytime it's a division game, we talk a lot about how the turnover margin is usually a big deciding factor in the game. So, it's going to be at a premium. When you're playing in a loud environment, the crowd wants nothing more than reasons to get excited and turnovers are a big reason to get excited.”

— The Packers and Patriots are the only teams in the NFL with seven consecutive playoff berths. Both teams are off to a good start in making that eight in a row. Since 1978, when the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, 52.0 percent of Week 1 winners make it to the playoffs compared to 24.1 percent of Week 1 losers. Plus, 31.2 percent of Week 1 winners win their division compared to 13.8 percent of Week 1 losers.

— If this game goes to overtime, it’s advantage, Minnesota. The Vikings are 3-0 in overtime under Zimmer and 3-1-1 in overtime games against Green Bay. That tie came in 2013 at Lambeau Field with Matt Flynn at quarterback. The Packers, meanwhile, are 1-8-1 in overtime games under McCarthy and 0-7 with Rodgers, including playoffs. Their lone overtime win over the past decade? Brett Favre’s touchdown pass to Greg Jennings at Denver in 2007.

FOUR-POINT STANCE

— Minnesota’s Smith and Green Bay’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are two difference-makers at safety — a position of growing importance.

That importance can be seen through recent drafts. In the four most recent drafts, nine safeties were selected in the first round. In the six drafts from 2003 through 2008, six safeties were taken in the first.

Smith, the 29th pick in 2012, was a first-time Pro Bowler last year. Rodgers called him one of the top two or three safeties in the NFL. Since 2012, Smith and Miami’s Reshad Jones are the only players in the league with at least 12 interceptions and five sacks. He’s a physical hitter and a playmaker who already owns the Vikings’ record with four career pick-sixes.

Clinton-Dix, the 21st pick in 2014, is on a Pro Bowl path. Last year, he led the team in tackles and added three sacks and two interceptions. While he had only three interceptions in his first two regular seasons, he has three interceptions in two career postseasons. His impact was evident vs. Jacksonville, with his hit dislodging a pass from Allen Robinson that would have put the Jaguars just 5 yards from the tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

“I think both of those guys are outstanding young football players in the National Football League,” McCarthy said. “I think Harrison is definitely someone you have to be aware of and account for. He’s an impact player. He does an excellent job of reading and jumping route concepts and making adjustments. I really like the way he plays. And I don’t think I need to tell you how I feel about Ha Ha. Ha Ha has been one of our best football players starting last year and going into this year. Ha Ha has the same characteristics and ability and both of those guys are very good tacklers.”

What makes Smith and Clinton-Dix so good is their versatility. They are as dangerous at the line of scrimmage as they are when playing deep coverage.

“I’d say a few years ago, you’d see more box-type safeties, that maybe they had one role, (which was) to get up and fill in the run be kind of a quasi-smaller linebacker type of guy,” Capers said. “Where now, every team has a tight end that’s in between a wide receiver-tight end, a bigger receiver, so your safeties end up having to match up on those guys. You saw Ha Ha out covering (New England’s Rob) Gronkowski here, going up the field and making a big play getting the ball stripped out down in the end zone. Those are the kind of guys that you have to match up with — those guys that are really good receivers but yet they’ve got a size advantage. If a safety can’t cover, then it becomes a liability.”

— The Packers’ special teams will have to be on alert against Vikings returners Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels.

Last season, Patterson led the NFL with a 31.8-yard average on kickoff returns. From 2013 through 2015, he returned four for touchdowns. No other returner has more than two. That includes his record 109-yarder vs. Green Bay at the Metrodome in 2013. His 61-yarder last week at Tennessee jump-started a comeback from a 10-0 halftime deficit. Because of Patterson, Minnesota’s average starting point after a kickoff is the 38.7-yard line — almost 10 yards better than any other team.

“They were kicking it out of the end zone, out of the end zone,” Packers special teams coordinator Ron Zook said. “The opening kickoff of the third quarter, they kick a returnable ball and he takes it about 60. He’s big, he’s strong, they do a nice job of blocking and you’ve got to cover the guy. Like I told our guys, you’ve got to tackle him to the ground. You’ve got to wrap and hold on and get him on the ground. Plus, he’s extremely fast.”

Meanwhile, since the start of the 2012 season, only Darren Sproles has more punt-return touchdowns (four) than Sherels (three) and only Antonio Brown (16) has more 20-yard punt returns than Sherels (15).

“He’s not the big, strong, physical type guy, but he’s a good football player. Really good,” said Zook, who coached against Sherels while Zook was the head coach at Illinois. “I said to him after the game last year, ‘I played against you for your whole career in Minnesota and I hardly knew who you were. Now, all of a sudden, you’re scoring touchdowns.’ He’s got a knack for doing it. He’s not only a very, very good returner, he’s a good special-teams player. He’s one of their top special-teams players in terms of tackles. He’s one of the guys that we have to be concerned about.”

— Neither team played good red-zone offense last week. Green Bay went 2-of-4, with its two failures preventing it from burying the Jaguars in the second half. Minnesota was worse, going 0-for-3.

— Both teams were downright rotten on first down. The Packers rank 29th with 3.00 yards per first-down play. Of their nine possessions (not including taking a knee to end the game), they had four three-and-out punts but scored on their other five drives. The Vikings are 32nd with 2.24 yards per first-down play. The league average in Week 1 was 5.45.

“The frustration last year was with lack of consistency, too many three-and-outs and some scoring drives,” Rodgers said. “It’s almost like if we get a first down, we score. If not, we’re going three-and-out. We need to be better as far as that’s concerned, and hopefully it can start this week.”

QUOTEWORTHY

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on Packers WR Jordy Nelson’s return from a torn ACL. His passionate answer and knocking on the table in front of him to emphasize his point can’t possibly be replicated by reading this quote: “He has to mentally understand that his ACL, that ligament in particular, is stronger than the one he didn’t tear. So pass that message on to him — that the one he tore is stronger than the one he didn’t tear. So, go out there and just it loose. You’ve got to play fast. You’ve got to have that confidence to understand that piece of it, and know that, ‘I can go out and I'm still going to be good.’”

Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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