Last year when the Vikings invaded Green Bay on Halloween night in preparation for their game with the Packers, all of the hype surrounding the game – not dissimilar to what is expected this weekend – was centered on Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field for the first time in visiting colors.
For the Packers coaching staff, the bigger issue wasn't No. 4 coming back to Green Bay, it was how they were going to protect their own quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Veteran starting offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher were both out and replaced by inexperienced backups Allen Barbre on the right side and rookie T.J. Lang on the left side.
The Packers' biggest concern initially was how Lang would hold up under the strain of going against Jared Allen. But that mindset quickly changed, as Ray Edwards' manhandling of Barbre led to two sacks, a handful of running plays blown up in the backfield, a deflected pass and several hurries of Rodgers, who was never able to get comfortable in the pocket.
Rodgers got sacked 14 times in the two games the Vikings played last year. Favre wasn't sacked once. Rodgers inability to set and throw was a constant problem and Edwards one of the primary culprits.
"That's our job," Edwards said. "If we can stop the run and force a team to pass, that's when Jared and I earn our money. It's our job to break the pocket and force the quarterback to throw. That's when we get to do what we do best. We were able to do that against them last year and the results were obvious."
He said the key to his success against the Packers last year was that he was able to school Barbre consistently and bring immediate pressure behind the line of scrimmage. The Packers went out of their way to improve that glaring weakness in the offseason. The team re-signed both Clifton and Tauscher and used their first-round draft pick on Iowa's Bryan Bulaga.
Although Tauscher is listed as the starter on the Packers depth chart, it is Bulaga who has played right tackle most of the season. He owned Barbre in their matchup last year. He doesn't expect the same approach from the Packers on this visit to Lambeau Field.
"I was able to get into a great rhythm," Edwards said of his game at Green Bay last year. "I didn't have too much respect for the guy I was going against – I believe they cut him this year. They've got a good rookie (Bulaga) over there and I've seen a lot of good things on tape. I'm definitely going to have to bring my ‘A' game against him and try to make things happen."
Edwards is impressed with what he has seen from Bulaga's performance against a couple of the best young pass rushers in the league from the Packers most recent games – overtime losses to the Redskins and Dolphins. What he saw wasn't what he expected from a rookie still learning the NFL game. At Purdue, Edwards went up against some of the best offensive tackles the college game had at the time. He said Bulaga, an all-conference player at Iowa, doesn't give the appearance of a first-year player.
"Actually, he looks like he's been around a while," Edwards said. "It looks like he's playing really well from what I've seen of him on film. He played really well against (DE Brian) Orakpo of Washington and (Brandon Wake) of Miami. He's been doing pretty good. I'm going to have come prepared to play all night long. He's from the Big Ten, so I know he's ready to play."
Edwards hopes his return to Packers Country will be as successful as last year's trip to Lambeau Field was. He said the Vikings aren't intimidated by the specter of the time-honored football venue, having proved they can win there. He said he and his teammates are looking forward to heading into Green Bay in hopes of putting the Packers behind them in the standings and taking aim at the Bears atop the NFC North.
Is playing in Green Bay as daunting as so many make it sound? Not according to Edwards … at least not at this time of the year. The tundra won't be frozen and the intimidation that can bring to opponents unaccustomed to playing in the worst elements has been negated.
"It's no problem for me," Edwards said. "I'd play them anywhere. I'd play out in the parking lot if that what was where we had to play. I love the game. I love playing it. I'm just glad we're playing them there in October and not December."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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