Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Packers, Part II

Viking Update goes into enemy territory to talk Packers with Bill Huber of Packer Report. How much different is the Packers pass rush without Clay Matthews? Can Al Harris play (and to an effective level)? Who should really be feared on the Vikings' defensive line? More inside as we go behind enemy lines.

Tim Yotter: We know all about Clay Matthews leading the NFL in sacks, but as a team the Packers are second with 21. Is that a product of a risk-reward, all-out-blitzing defense or is the team getting home with only four rushers?

Bill Huber: Actually, that's a product of Matthews. The Packers ranked second in the NFL in sacks with 21 entering last weekend's games, too. Matthews was out with a hamstring strain – the same hamstring that cost him all of the preseason – and they never got close to sacking Miami's Chad Henne. Some of that was a byproduct of the Dolphins max protecting, but without Matthews, the Dolphins could take away Cullen Jenkins (four sacks) and the Packers had no other answers. Jenkins is a superb interior rusher, even with a club cast on his broken hand, but they're getting nothing from the other outside linebacker position and inside linebacker Nick Barnett, who's out for the season after wrist surgery, was a decent blitzer.

Pressuring Brett Favre will be a major story line this week. As you no doubt recall, Favre could have made a sandwich during the games last year. He wasn't sacked in either game. The Packers desperately need Matthews to make an impact and free up his teammates.

TY: Favre's desire to play with Randy Moss has been well-documented. When the Vikings got Moss for a third-round pick, what was the reaction among the media and fan base in Green Bay? And what sort of reception do expect for Favre and Moss? BH: That's a great question. Apocalyptic might be an overstatement, but on the day that the Vikings got Moss, the Packers lost out on Marshawn Lynch, who went to Seattle for a fourth-round pick and a bag of recyclables. So, it was a double-whammy for Packers fans to see the Vikings, as usual, make a move to bolster the roster and the Packers, as usual, do nothing. Would Lynch have been the answer without Ryan Grant, who is out for the season after ankle surgery? Who knows, but the feeling was he would have been an upgrade over Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn.

There's no doubt that Favre and Moss will get booed, though I think the reaction for Favre will be much less hostile than last year. Then again, with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, the fans have the whole day to get their game face on, if you get my drift.

TY: Will Al Harris make it back for Sunday's game and what kind of attention do you expect the Packers to place on stopping Moss versus loading up to stop Adrian Peterson? BH: Harris has practiced the last two days, though I'm not sure what that means. These are his first two practices since a devastating knee injury 11 months ago against San Francisco, so he's got a lot of rust to shake off. Doing all the drills on his own is one thing; matching up on Moss or Bernard Berrian or Greg Camarillo is another. No doubt they could use his height (6-foot-1) to match up against Moss on occasion, since Charles Woodson (also 6-1) typically plays against the slot receiver. But, cornerback hasn't exactly been a problem. Woodson is Woodson, Tramon Williams (5-11) has developed into an upper-echelon defender and undrafted rookie Sam Shields (5-11) has been a revelation. He might be the fastest player in the entire league, if you believe those pro day 40-yard times.

There's no doubt the game plan is to stop Peterson first. That's Dom Capers' history. He makes no secret that if you can't stop the running game, all of those fancy blitzes will be kept in mothballs because it's pointless to send six at the quarterback if the running back is getting 5 yards a pop. In a perfect world, the Packers' defensive line will whip the Vikings' offensive line, allowing Capers to stop the run while having the resources available to stop Moss.

TY: Jared Allen punked the Packers last year with his pass rush, but so far he's had a quiet season. Is the offensive line better this year?

BH: Sort of? How's that for a tepid answer. We're grading on a curve here, to be honest. Last year, Chad Clifton wasn't available in either of the games, so Allen embarrassed left guard-turned-left tackle Daryn Colledge in the first game and schooled right tackle-turned-left tackle T.J. Lang in the game here. Also in those games, Ray Edwards had his way with right tackle Allen Barbre, who is no longer on the roster.

On Sunday, it'll be Clifton at left tackle. He's not the Clifton who was a rock for most of his career but he's still a pretty decent player. At right tackle is first-round pick Bryan Bulaga, who is supposed to be the heir at left tackle but is filling in for veteran Mark Tauscher. Bulaga has had his ups and downs in two starts but a guy like Edwards – who has to be one of the five most underrated players in the game – is probably a better matchup than a speed guy like Miami's Cameron Wake last week.

TY: Like Favre, Aaron Rodgers doesn't seem to be as sharp as last year. Is that strictly because of Ryan Grant going down or what's going on there?

BH: I think it starts with injuries. Without Grant, there's really no premise of a running game. Coach Mike McCarthy has said that the starting point of his passing game is the running game because play action is such a big part of his offense. Well, since they barely bother running the ball – and because Jackson and Kuhn can't run the ball with the power and speed of a guy like Lynch – play action is sort of a humorous proposition.

That's why I can't believe Thompson wouldn't up the ante and offer Buffalo a third-rounder for Lynch. With play action, the linebackers might take a step forward at the snap, which opens up the passing windows. Without play action, the linebackers can take a step back at the snap to help take away bread-and-butter things like slants. So, that's had an impact. Losing Jermichael Finley, a remarkable 6-foot-5 pass-catching weapon who had become a security blanket of sorts for Rodgers, has been a huge loss, too.

Talking to receivers coach Jimmy Robinson on Thursday, he says his guys have to do more, too. That means eliminating the drops (the offense as a whole has 11) and his guys doing more than just making the routine plays. Greg Jennings did that last week with an 86-yard touchdown. Donald Driver didn't practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an injured quad, and third/fourth receivers James Jones and Jordy Nelson have been consistently inconsistent.

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