Clay Matthews vs. Bryant McKinnie
Last week, our key matchup focused on Devin Hester. On a team lacking in big offensive playmakers, Hester was a player who, if allowed to make big plays, could be the difference in winning and losing. He exploded and the Bears won. This week, the Vikings face a similar situation when they go up against a Packers defense that has hit its stride, making the battle between Green Bay outside linebacker Clay Matthews and Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie this week's key matchup.
In their first meeting, the Vikings gave McKinnie some tight end and fullback blocking help, limiting Matthews to just one tackle – by far his least productive game of the season. What has made that achievement stand out is that, if the vote were to be taken now, Matthews would likely lead the league in voting for defensive most valuable player. He has become an emotional leader on the field and a difference-maker capable of changing a game with one big play. He not only has a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown, he leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks.
He is a force in all aspects of the game, shutting down running lanes for guys like Adrian Peterson, taking running backs and tight ends in coverage and, obviously, rushing the passer. Knowing that Brett Favre is less than 100 percent, bringing the blitz is not only going to be expected, it will be assured. Matthews has the innate ability to bring his arm crashing down on the quarterback when he gets close to a sack. He can cause fumbles at any time and is likely going to have at least one chance at doing that to Favre.
McKinnie buried his professional reputation when he blew off the early practices at the Pro Bowl to party with friends and was dismissed from the team, but he has made amends this year. While far from dominant, he has been consistent and has graded out well against most of his opponents. He hasn't been overwhelmed like he was against the Panthers and Julius Peppers last year and he can take at least partial credit for Matthews being neutralized in the first meeting between the teams.
The Vikings don't need to be perfect to beat the Packers on Sunday, but they can ill-afford to have the pointless turnovers that have sabotaged their 2010 season to date. Nobody on the Packers defense is more likely to make the big play that could turn the tide of the game than Matthews. He is going to have a bull's-eye on Favre all afternoon long and it won't stop until the game ends, meaning that McKinnie will have to account for him and make plays on the move. The extent to which the lack of production in the first meeting can be replicated Sunday will go a long way to determining who wins and who loses – and what direction both teams take for the rest of the 2010 season.
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.
Key matchup: McKinnie vs. Matthews
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