Tim Yotter: Obviously, timing had a lot to do with Aaron Rodgers' extension in order to count $12 million of the cap hit on this year's salary cap. However, do you think he deserved an extension like that this early in his career, and what is your assessment of how he has played in his first season as a starter?
Bill Huber: Did he deserve it? Of course not. Nobody deserves $67 million for a body of work that included seven games and four victories – none of which were of the come-from-behind variety. But, really, the Packers didn't have much choice. Being able to dump a lot of money on this year's cap alleviates the cap-killing possibility that he turns out to be no better than Rex Grossman, and if the Packers had waited until after this season, Rodgers and his agent could have said no and elected to test free agency after 2009. Considering how much money he could have gotten as a free agent, $67 million might be a bargain.
As for Rodgers' play this season, he's been superb. Head coach Mike McCarthy was critical of some of Rodgers' decisions last week against Tennessee, but for the first seven games, you'd find it difficult to question no more than 10 choices. That's incredible for any quarterback, much less a first-year starter.
TY: Jared Allen said he hasn't had much success against Chad Clifton in the two previous meetings, but I see that Clifton missed last Sunday with an allergic reaction to medication. What has Clifton had to say on his meetings with Allen, and how have he and the offensive line played this year?
BH: Clifton is a marvel. The guy is always hurt – blame a lot of that on Warren Sapp – and rarely practices, but on game day Clifton is solid. Clifton is almost never in the locker room. I assume he's going through rehab when the media horde is let loose. But after smothering the Colts' Dwight Freeney in Week 7, Clifton chalked it up to years of experience and years of perfecting his pass-blocking technique.
The line has been OK but seems to be improving a little each week. They averaged more than four yards per rushing attempt last week against the vaunted Titans defense. Obviously, the Metrodome noise will be an issue this week.
TY: Ryan Grant seems to be doing a little better after a slow start to the season. What has been the difference for him of late?
BH: One reason is tied into my last answer: The line is playing better. More frequently, the Packers' blockers are pushing the defense back rather than vice-versa. It helps that Grant is rounding into form. He missed the entire offseason program while seeking a new contract, then missed almost all of training camp because of a hamstring injury. So those first four regular-season games were, in effect, his preseason.
The next step for Grant is for him to pop a long run, which he did more frequently than any running back in the NFL last season – one 20-yarder for every 17.1 attempts, compared to one for every 18.3 for the Vikings' Adrian Peterson. He's been close but just hasn't been able to shake the last line of defense.
TY: The release of Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila was a surprise to some. Did his performance just fall off that quickly after a solid season as a pass-rush specialist last year, or was there more to the story?
BH: No, there was nothing more to the story – lack of production, simple as that. After a couple of down years, KGB tallied 11 sacks (including the playoffs) last season. This year, after a sack in Week 2 at Detroit, Gbaja-Biamila didn't record a quarterback pressure, much less a sack. He needed knee surgery during the offseason, and while he said he felt good, that first-step explosion just wasn't there. When the Packers needed to move somebody to activate defensive tackle Justin Harrell, they released KGB because they liked the potential of young defensive ends Michael Montgomery and Jeremy Thompson.
The Packers could miss him this week – he had some of his best games against Bryant McKinnie.
TY: Mike McCarthy has owned Brad Childress in their meetings since taking over as head coaches of the respective franchises. What has been the key to McCarthy's 5-0 record against the Vikings?
BH: Simple: Quarterbacks and coaching. While the Packers have trotted out Brett Favre and Rodgers at the game's most important position, the Vikings have used Tarvaris Jackson and other scattershot passers. Plus, McCarthy has played to his team's advantage – the Packers' receivers vs. the Vikings' secondary – while Childress gave Peterson just 13 touches in the first matchup last year and 20 in the 2008 opener.
That's why Sunday's game is intriguing. The Vikings will be more prepared for Rodgers' strengths this time, Peterson is the focal point of the Vikings' offense again and quarterback Gus Frerotte, while prone to mistakes, is capable of making big plays.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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