Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Packers, Part III

We wrap up our three-part preview of the game by examining the matchups that will determine who wins. Leading off: Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, who has been superb this season, against Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, who has 4.5 sacks in the last two games.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS ON OFFENSE

LT Chad Clifton vs. DE Jared Allen: Allen had 7.5 sacks against fill-in left tackles Daryn Colledge and T.J. Lang in last season's games against the Packers, but Clifton is playing some of the best ball of his long career. In the matchup last month, Clifton almost pitched a shutout against Allen, who finished with no sacks, one quarterback hit and merely one tackle. Since joining Minnesota in 2008, Allen has one sack against Clifton in three games. This, however, appears to be a different Allen than the one who had just one sack in the first seven games this season. Allen had 2.5 sacks two weeks ago against Arizona and 2.0 sacks against Chicago last week. Throw in the crowd noise, and Clifton will face his biggest challenge of the year.

QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Vikings CBs Asher Allen/Chris Cook: Allen and Cook are listed as probable, with Allen coming back from a concussion and the rookie Cook finally getting past the knee problems that have dogged him since training camp. The Packers, starting with coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, treat left cornerback (and slot corner in three-receiver sets) Antoine Winfield like royalty because of his coverage skills, smarts and run-stopping ability. That means the Packers will go after Allen and Cook, with Cook likely to start and Allen playing in nickel. The Packers continually went after Cook in the first matchup, but he's been playing better the last few weeks. Watch for the Packers to try to isolate Greg Jennings on Allen and Cook as much as possible. Jennings caught six passes for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first matchup and has 25 catches in his last four games.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS ON DEFENSE


Charles Woodson tackles Percy Harvin.
Tom Hauck/Getty Images

CB Charles Woodson vs. WR Percy Harvin: Harvin was the Vikings' best offensive player against the Packers in the first game, with five catches for 65 yards and three rushes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Assuming Sidney Rice makes his season debut, Harvin will do most of his work in the slot, which means being matched up against Woodson. Woodson has been OK on the outside but remains brilliant in the slot, but he doesn't have the deep speed to match up with Harvin. Like the Vikings with Winfield, the Packers love Woodson's run-stopping ability in the slot, and he and Matthews were dominant while blitzing in tandem against Dallas.

LB Clay Matthews vs. RT Phil Loadholt: Everyone knows that Matthews is the motor that makes the Packers' top-ranked scoring defense run. With a league-leading 10.5 sacks, he's the front-runner to win defensive player of the year. He couldn't beat Loadholt for a sack in Round 1 of the rivalry but he did draw a big 15-yard penalty that pushed the Vikings out of scoring range. Beyond rushing the passer, though, Peterson runs outside and to the right more than any other direction, according to STATS, and Loadholt is a big, powerful blocker. Matthews is more than a one-trick pony, and he'll need to play a great all-around game to help keep Peterson in check while making Brett Favre uncomfortable in the pocket.

THE PACKERS WILL WIN IF ...


Vikings fans have turned on Brad Childress.
Tom Dahlin/Viking Update

... they start fast. It's almost cliché to say a visiting team in a dome game needs to start fast, but that would be huge in this game. McCarthy is 9-3 in dome games, with most of those wins coming because his offense has successfully silenced the home folks. In his two losses at Minnesota, the Packers never led last year and trailed for most of the game in 2008 before rallying in the second half. This year's Vikings are 3-6 — but 3-1 at home. Starting fast might induce a "here we go again" attitude, not only among the players but the fans, most of whom want coach Brad Childress to be handed a pink slip.

THE PACKERS WILL LOSE IF ...

... they can't stop the run better than they did in last month's game. In retrospect, it's almost unbelievable that the Packers won that game considering Adrian Peterson rumbled for 131 of the Vikings' 196 rushing yards. Green Bay's game plan always begins with stopping the run. Favre might lead the league in interceptions, but he was brilliant in rallying the Vikings against visiting Arizona two weeks ago and was right on the money for the most part in the loss at Chicago. In other words, the ol' gunslinger can still sling it. If Favre has a running game to lean on, it's going to be a long day for the Packers' defense. As always, Dom Capers' game plan will be to stop Peterson and force Favre into sure-passing situations.

THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF ...

… they can protect Brett Favre. When Favre has time, he has shown he still has the arm and accuracy to deliver a strike, despite dealing with numerous injuries. After a career year in 2009, Favre's rating has been one of the worst of his career in 2010 – it's currently at 72.2 – but he hasn't been helped by his uneven receiving corps. Last Sunday, you could make a case that none of his three interceptions were really his fault. Once was tipped at the line of scrimmage and the other two came when receivers slipped. But the key is keeping Favre clean. According to NFL stats, the Vikings are one of only eight teams to have taken 50 or more QB hits. He hasn't been sacked a lot (18 times), but he's felt the pressure.

THE VIKINGS WILL LOSE IF ...

… they lose the turnover battle. Favre has been the main culprit here, throwing a league-high 16 interceptions (at least three more than any other QB) and adding another five fumbles lost. That means 21 of the Vikings' 23 turnovers are on Favre. Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin are the Packers. Aaron Rodgers has only nine interceptions and the Packers have lost only four fumbles total. Their defense has also been better than the Vikings at creating turnovers, getting 14 interceptions (compared to Minnesota's eight) and five fumble recoveries (Minnesota has four). Add it all up and the Vikings are minus-11 in turnovers and the Packers are plus-6. Of all the statistics that explain why one team is 3-6 and the other is 6-3, that's easily the most glaring.


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