Few things infuriate Vikings fans more than the Green Bay Packers enjoying success. The Packers are 6-0 and the talk has turned to whether they can go unbeaten in the 2011 season. Unfortunately for the Vikings, there is credence to that discussion. As it currently stands, there is no team more dominant in the NFL than the Packers and they are on a roll typical of teams building toward a Super Bowl championship.
Not only are the Packers 6-0, they have beaten their opponents by an average of 14 points. They beat the Saints by eight, the Panthers by seven, Chicago by 10, Denver by 26, Atlanta by 11 and St. Louis by 21 points. They have been oppressive, thanks in large part to the performance of quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
With a chip on his shoulder given the frosty relationship Rodgers had with Brett Favre, the Packers pass offense has been as dominant as any since the undefeated season of the Patriots in 2007. Rodgers is completing more than 70 percent of his passes, has a passer rating of 122.5 (including game-by-game passer ratings of 105.0 or better in all six games), throwing for 2,031 yards with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He has topped 300 yards passing in all but one game, and he threw for 298 yards in that game. He has been as efficient as any QB during a title-run season – Peyton Manning in 2004, Brady in 2007 and Drew Brees in 2009. He has been almost flawless and will likely be throwing early and often against the Vikings on Sunday.
The Packers have been pass-heavy because Rodgers has been the most prolific passer in the league and the running game hasn't been spectacular, but reasonably effective. The two-headed backfield of James Starks and Ryan Grant has combined to carry the ball 118 times for 499 yards – not great numbers, but enough to keep defenses honest. The Vikings will have to bottle up the tandem and force the Packers to pass – something that hasn't been a problem to date, even when the Packers offense becomes somewhat one-dimensional.
When the Packers throw, Rodgers has several dangerous options. Greg Jennings is the primary target, catching 35 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns, but he is far from alone. TE Jermichael Finley has 23 catches and three touchdowns, Jordy Nelson has 20 catches for 413 yards (almost 21 yards a catch) and four TDs, James Jones has 15 catches and three touchdowns and veteran Donald Driver has 12 catches and two touchdowns. Rodgers finds a way to spread the ball around and keep all his receivers engaged and happy. When you have so many viable targets, it's hard to keep everyone interested if they go long stretches without getting the ball. The Packers have been able to avoid that and, in the process, they have one of the top offenses in the NFL.
Defense has been another matter. While the Packers haven't had a team get within a touchdown of them, their defense has been a little suspect in the passing game. The Packers have the 23rd-ranked defense in large part because they are 31st in passing. Many dismiss that ranking, because it's based solely on yardage numbers. When a team gets ahead by double digits in the second half, which the Packers have consistently done, they give up what are called "garbage yards" – yardage that piles up in the final minutes as the Packers run the ball to kill clock and the opponent passes non-stop. Packers opponents have averaged 40 pass attempts a game – a number most coaches deem as too high to be consistently successful – and much of the reason is that the Green Bay offense has been so efficient that the defense has been forced back on the field and often playing a prevent defense.
Green Bay has a lot of playmakers on defense, led by Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, but both of them have been banged up and likely won't be at 100 percent Sunday, although both are expected to play. The Packers were at or near the top of the sack totals last year and haven't had such success this year, and their rush defense has allowed 4.1 yards per rushing attempt. However, because they have been able to play with leads so often, the Packers defense has become a bend-don't-break unit that gives up yardage, but not points. Since their Week 1 victory, the Packers have allowed just 16 points a game and have more than held up their end of the bargain.
Over the past few years, there has always been something up for grabs when the Vikings have met the Packers, whether at Mall of America Field or Lambeau Field. This time around, it would appear the only thing at stake is Green Bay's chase of perfection. The Vikings have rarely been a home underdog, much less the nine- to 10-point dog they are this Sunday. If the Vikings are to defeat the Packers, they may have to play a perfect game because the Packers are playing at such a high level that even when teams play near perfect (like New Orleans in Week 1), they barely have a chance to win. The Vikings will need to hit on all cylinders because the Packers have been doing that, and they will be very difficult to beat unless the Vikings can create turnovers and keep the high-powered Packers offense on the sidelines. Any mistake by the Vikings could spell doom, because the Packers have been as good as anyone at taking advantage of mistakes and turning them into points that have added up to six wins this 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.
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