Defensive end Jared Allen, who is still on pace to set the NFL sack record, will face a relatively inexperienced left tackle Sunday against the Packers. Green Bay's coaches have been pleased with Marshall Newhouse's performance of late, but he's still learning.
While running back Adrian Peterson
, who has had some big games against them in the past, is the obvious choice, the other player on the Minnesota Vikings
roster who has the goods to potentially disrupt the Packers' perfect season on Sunday is Jared Allen
The eighth-year veteran and All-Pro defensive end is well on his way toward surpassing his career-high sacks total of 15½ in 2007, his final season with the Kansas City Chiefs
. Allen leads the league after the first six weeks with 9½ sacks.
The Packers won't have longtime stalwart left tackle Chad Clifton
for Sunday's game at the Metrodome because of a Week 5 hamstring injury that has him sidelined indefinitely. Yet, what the Packers lose in having Clifton's know-how of being a 12-year starter may pale in comparison to the youth and athleticism they have with Marshall Newhouse
in trying to keep Allen off star quarterback Aaron Rodgers' backside.
The 6-foot-4, 319-pound Newhouse, who also brings a cerebral element to the field, has been winning over his coaches and teammates since breaking into the starting lineup for the first time as a pro three games ago.
"He's done well," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "He's met the challenges that have been placed in front of him up to this point of time."
Newhouse, a fifth-round draft pick out of Texas Christian, never was activated during his rookie season in 2010. He had to watch the Packers' postseason blitz to the Super Bowl title on injured reserve after suffering a back injury in practice toward the end of the regular season.
He reported to training camp in late July after the league lockout was lifted in great shape and had a strong showing in camp practices at the outset. Newhouse, though, regressed some in the preseason games as the Packers gave him a look as a backup to Bryan Bulaga
at right tackle.
Newhouse is a natural left tackle – he was a starter there his last three years in college – but wound up having to go back to right tackle to make his starting debut in the Oct. 2 rout of the Denver Broncos because of a knee injury to Bulaga. Newhouse acquitted himself with two straight starts on the right side.
However, his second start, in the Oct. 9 comeback win at Atlanta, Newhouse had to make an in-game switch to left tackle in the first half after Clifton went out with the bad hamstring.
Newhouse is settling in at left tackle, making his first start there Sunday in a 24-3 win over the St. Louis Rams. Bulaga returned for that game, and a solid effort by the second-year bookends is something Philbin hopes will carry over to this weekend's matchup with the rival Vikings in a loud environment that can unnerve even the most experienced offensive linemen on the visiting team.
"Obviously, Jared Allen is an excellent football player and plays fast," Philbin said. "But, I'm sure whoever we put out there will be confident and prepared."
CB Sam Shields is a big question mark to play in Sunday's pre-bye game at the Minnesota Vikings. Shields sustained a game-ending concussion as he tried to bring an interception out of the end zone and took a hard hit in the third quarter of the Packers' 24-3 win over the St. Louis Rams last Sunday. The nickel back will have to pass a series of NFL-mandated tests throughout the week to have any chance of being cleared to play.
OLB Frank Zombo emerged from Sunday's game with a hyperextended knee, and his status for the upcoming contest won't be known until later in the week. Zombo made his season debut after being out with a broken shoulder blade. He played the full game and worked in a rotation with right-side starter Erik Walden.
LT Chad Clifton is expected to be sidelined for a second straight game because of a severe hamstring injury. Second-year player Marshall Newhouse started in Clifton's place on Sunday and figures to remain there for the upcoming game.
DE Mike Neal will be out for at least another week. Neal, who was projected to be an opening-day starter, has been recovering from left knee surgery that was performed Sept. 13. He suffered a knee sprain in a non-contact drill during training camp. An earlier estimate from the team after Neal's surgery that he could get back on the field by the bye week may not pan out, and the prospect of having Neal available anytime soon is uncertain.
QB Aaron Rodgers strengthened his early-season candidacy for league MVP with an unprecedented sixth game with a passer rating of at least 110 in as many outings this season. Rodgers compiled a 119.6 efficiency mark Sunday, going 17-of-28 for 310 yards and three touchdowns (all in the second quarter) with a late interception coming on a dropped pass. Rodgers leads the league in several key statistical categories, including touchdown throws (17), completion percentage (70.2) and passer rating (122.5) and ranks third in passing yards (2,031).
K Mason Crosby has made 17 consecutive field-goal attempts in the regular season, tying the team record Chris Jacke set in 1993. Crosby's streak started in early December last season. He is 10-for-10 on field goals this season.
WR Greg Jennings is entrenched as the Packers' top playmaker on the receiving end of Rodgers' throws. Jennings had a team-high six catches for 82 yards Sunday, bumping his season totals to 35 receptions and 530 yards.
WR Donald Driver didn't make a start Sunday for the first time this season. The 36-year-old Driver's playing time has diminished in recent games. He had a seven-yard touchdown catch Sunday but finished with just three catches for 25 yards. Driver has only 12 receptions for 101 yards and two TDs this season.
WR Jordy Nelson made the start in Driver's place Sunday and had his first 100-yard receiving game of the season. Thanks in large measure to a 93-yard catch-and-run touchdown (a career-long reception), Nelson totaled 104 yards in just two catches. He is tied with Jennings for the team lead with four TD receptions.
TE Jermichael Finley has been relatively quiet in the offense since his breakout seven-catch, three-touchdown performance in the Week 3 win at Chicago. Finley had only one reception (for 20 yards) on Sunday and has an aggregate eight catches for 115 yards and no TDs in the last three games.
RB James Starks remains the No. 2 halfback on the depth chart but has led the team in rushing each of the last three games. He had 13 carries for 49 yards Sunday and has produced 152 rushing yards in the recent stretch.
RB Ryan Grant has struggled running the football the last two games after returning from a one-game absence because of a bruised kidney. Grant followed up a season-low outing of seven carries for 18 yards in the Week 5 win at Atlanta with nine rushes for 25 yards Sunday.