Edwards seeing a different Packers strategy

Defensive end Ray Edwards got by with one-on-one matchups for much of the past few years, but things have been different this year and that includes their first matchup with the Packers. The blocker and philosophy have changed from previous contests.

If the Vikings are going to make the comeback needed to get themselves back into something resembling playoff contention, they will have to improve in a lot of areas. One is going to be pressuring the quarterback and getting sacks – something that wasn't an issue a year ago.

In 2009, the Vikings led the NFL in sacks with 48, terrorizing quarterbacks and averaging three sacks a game. Through six games in 2010, the Vikings had six sacks and neither Jared Allen nor Ray Edwards was anywhere near expectations. Of the team's six sacks, Allen and Edwards combined to account for 2½ sacks – after combing to register 23 last year.

Things have improved over the last three games since the Vikings last played the Packers – the team has 13 sacks and the Allen/Edwards combo has eight of them. The numbers are starting to build, but Edwards hopes the Vikings have lulled the Packers into confidence with their first-round draft pick.

When Edwards thought of the Packers when he became a starter in 2008, it was veteran Mark Tauscher that was his opponent. The teams were waging war, but his day centered completely against a single man. They would collide with bad intentions 60 times in three hours. But it was mano-a-mano. Me vs. you. Bring it on.

However, when the Vikings and Packers renewed their rivalry in October, Edwards was up against first-round rookie Bryan Bulaga – a 315-pound draftee from Iowa that ideally will replace left tackle Chad Clifton next season. For now, he's at right tackle.

Edwards, who always gives props to fellow Big Ten players, acknowledged that Bulaga was a worthy opponent, but, like Ringo Starr, he got by with a little help from his friends.

"He's pretty good," Edwards said. "The biggest difference is that with (Tauscher), it was usually just me and him (going one-on-one). Bulaga is going to be good, but, when we played them over there, they gave him a lot of help with chips and things like that. Hopefully this time around, we'll go one-on-one, but, if they come with chips again, we have to work through those and make plays."

"Chips." for those unfamiliar with the term, are skill-position players who, on their way into passing lanes, take a second (or more) to assist an offensive lineman by throwing a shoulder into the defensive end. The momentary double-team can stop a defender's momentum in its tracks. In that regard, it is effective. With Edwards viewed as the "other guy" on the Vikings' defensive line, he was typically given single coverage from a right tackle who was instructed to neutralize him. Things have changed this season.

"Teams have been blocking me different," Edwards said. "Some games, it's pretty much one-on-one. That's what I was used to my first couple of years starting. Now I'm getting a lot of chips from backs and tight ends. It's just something I've been getting used to and I have to take advantage of those one-on-one opportunities when I have them."

Those opportunities will be needed to contain Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is as dangerous with his feet as his arm. A loss to the 6-3 Packers would all but mathematically kill the Vikings' hopes of a divisional three-peat. Edwards said his job – chips be damned – is to keep Rodgers between the offensive tackles and limit his damage potential.

"We have to keep him in the pocket," Edwards said. "He's dangerous when he's on the move. If you get pressure, but don't get to him, he can hurt you. He's a lot more effective that way. Our plan is to make sure he doesn't get outside the pocket. When we've done that before, it's been successful."

Edwards said that the Vikings, while pressed against the wall in the standings, are not losing focus. He said in the big picture of things, players are keeping their minds on the job at hand, which, despite outside influences, remains strong.

"No matter what's going on, you have to maintain focus," Edwards said. "Life is going to bring problems, whether it's at work or at home. You just have to stay focused on what you have to do. That's what we're doing."

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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