Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Packers

With one of the Vikings' biggest games in years on the horizon, we check with Bill Huber of Packer Report for insight on the Packers. How are the run defense and offensive line holding up, and who are the underrated players this year?

Tim Yotter: Since Adrian Peterson went for 210 against the Packers, Green Bay's run defense appears to have improved. How much of that is Clay Matthews' return and how much just facing other backs?

Bill Huber: You know, it's kind of the old loser's lament of would've, should've, could've from the first game. Most of Peterson's yards came on three or four runs and a lot of the yards came on missed tackles from a defense that entered that game among the best tackling teams, based on ProFootballFocus.com's data. So, the Packers emerged from that game thinking things weren't quite as bad as the stat sheet indicated.

To answer your question, the return of Matthews has been huge. In four games without Matthews, Green Bay allowed 158 rushing yards per game and five touchdowns. In the 11 games with him, Green Bay has allowed 95.2 rushing yards per game and six touchdowns. Last week, Chris Johnson gained 28 yards on 11 carries — though, it should be noted, we'd be the starting guards on the Titans' injury-plagued offensive line.

Peterson's big day came without Matthews and defensive end C.J. Wilson, who's an unsung run-stopper up front. If I were a betting man, I'd say Peterson won't get the record. But, obviously, you'd be a fool to bet against Peterson this year. I'm too young to have seen Jim Brown but what Peterson's doing this year is beyond compare in my mind.

Yotter: What was the reaction there to Jeff Saturday making the Pro Bowl? Vikings fans are upset because John Sullivan didn't make it and Saturday makes it after getting benched.

Huber: If you ever wanted affirmation on the joke that is the Pro Bowl, there you have it. What's the solution, though? The game is for the fans so the fans deserve a vote, right? They pay for everything, after all, and if they want to see Jeff Saturday, then they should see Jeff Saturday. What surprised me is the player and coach vote didn't nullify the fan vote, though, I suppose, with Colts fans and Packers fans stuffing the ballot box, maybe his lead was insurmountable.

You know, Saturday wasn't bad. He was pretty good in pass protection and his intelligence helped keep the offense going as it adjusted to life without longtime starter Scott Wells, who signed with the Rams during the offseason. But an interesting thing happened during the course of the season: The pass-happy Packers became one of the most balanced offenses in the league. Run blocking, especially at age 37, was not Saturday's forte. The new center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, is an improvement in that regard.

Yotter: The Packers have tried all kinds of offensive line combinations over the past few years and yet Rodgers has still been sacked 46 times but only has eight interceptions. Does he tend to hold onto the ball longer than most or is that offensive line still a sore spot?

Huber: As tends to be the case, it's a combination of a bunch of things.

Some of it falls on Rodgers. The coaching staff, however, can live with Rodgers holding the ball too long because he makes enough plays down the field to mitigate some of the abuse. Against Chicago two weeks ago, Rodgers bought time on a pair of third-down conversions that turned into touchdowns.

The offensive line has been an issue. Don Barclay, an undrafted rookie, is their third right tackle. Barclay, however, has been something of a savior. Bryan Bulaga, the 2010 first-round pick, sustained a season-ending hip injury against Arizona on Nov. 4. With 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod on injured reserve with a broken leg sustained last year, the solution was to move left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and put Dietrich-Smith into Lang's spot at guard. When Lang was injured a few weeks later, the Packers had no choice but to throw Barclay into the lineup, and he's done well. In the last four games, the Packers have allowed nine sacks.

The key to Sunday's game will be how the offensive line holds up to Minnesota's front four. Green Bay has had problems, at times, beating Cover-2 because the line hasn't held up long enough for the receivers to get open against seven-man coverage schemes.

Yotter: The Packers have a pretty extensive list of injuries heading into this game once again. Which of the key players on that list are most concerning?

Huber: By their standards, they're a picture of health. Amazing how these things run in cycles.

For this week, it's Randall Cobb and Wilson. Cobb, who is 46 receiving yards and 36 kickoff-return yards from being the first player in NFL history to hit the 1,000-yard mark in both categories, has been the offense's most consistent performer other than Rodgers. With receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson playing about two full games together, it's been Cobb that's become Rodgers' go-to receiver, especially on third down. I'd pay to watch Cobb battle Antoine Winfield for 60 snaps.

I talked about Wilson earlier. If he's out again, then Mike Neal and Jerel Worthy will rotate at end alongside stalwarts Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji. Neal and Worthy are better suited for passing downs.

Yotter: The Packers have obviously had good success this year, but they had only three Pro Bowlers and one of them was a farce with Saturday honored after he was benched. Who are the Packers you felt deserved it but didn't get in?

Huber: Tramon Williams, head and shoulders. I'm not going to pretend I know the rest of the league, so maybe those other cornerbacks deserved the recognition, but Williams has been outstanding. At cornerback, so much of it is name recognition and interceptions. Williams has two interceptions — both against Chicago in Week 2. However, coordinator Dom Capers matches Williams against the opponent's top receiver week after week. In four games against the NFC's starting receivers, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, Williams scored decisive victories.

Last year, nose tackle B.J. Raji was named to the Pro Bowl and probably didn't deserve the honor. This year — and especially the second half of the season — Raji has played to that level. Guard Josh Sitton has had an excellent season, too, but probably gets docked by the team's ugly sack number.


Bill Huber is the publisher of Packer Report. Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



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\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"Since Adrian Peterson went for 210 against the Packers, Green Bay's run defense appears to have improved. How much of that is Clay Matthews' return and how much just facing other backs? You know, it's kind of the old loser's lament of would've, should've, could've from the first game. Most of Peterson's yards came on three or four runs and a lot of the yards came on missed tackles from a defense that entered that game among the best tackling teams, based on ProFootballFocus.com's data. So, the Packers emerged from that game thinking things weren't quite as bad as the stat sheet indicated. To answer your question, the return of Matthews has been huge. In four games without Matthews, Green Bay allowed 158 rushing yards per game and five touchdowns. In the 11 games with him, Green Bay has allowed 95.2 rushing yards per game and six touchdowns. Last week, Chris Johnson gained 28 yards on 11 carries — though, it should be noted, we'd be the starting guards on the Titans' injury-plagued offensive line. Peterson's big day came without Matthews and defensive end C.J. Wilson, who's an unsung run-stopper up front. If I were a betting man, I'd say Peterson won't get the record. But, obviously, you'd be a fool to bet against Peterson this year. I'm too young to have seen Jim Brown but what Peterson's doing this year is beyond compare in my mind. What was the reaction there to Jeff Saturday making the Pro Bowl? Vikings fans are upset because John Sullivan didn't make it and Saturday makes it after getting benched. If you ever wanted affirmation on the joke that is the Pro Bowl, there you have it. What's the solution, though? The game is for the fans so the fans deserve a vote, right? They pay for everything, after all, and if they want to see Jeff Saturday, then they should see Jeff Saturday. What surprised me is the player and coach vote didn't nullify the fan vote, though, I suppose, with Colts fans and Packers fans stuffing the ballot box, maybe his lead was insurmountable. You know, Saturday wasn't bad. He was pretty good in pass protection and his intelligence helped keep the offense going as it adjusted to life without longtime starter Scott Wells, who signed with the Rams during the offseason. But an interesting thing happened during the course of the season: The pass-happy Packers became one of the most balanced offenses in the league. Run blocking, especially at age 37, was not Saturday's forte. The new center, Evan Dietrich-Smith, is an improvement in that regard. The Packers have tried all kinds of offensive line combinations over the past few years and yet Rodgers has still been sacked 46 times but only has eight interceptions. Does he tend to hold onto the ball longer than most or is that offensive line still a sore spot? As tends to be the case, it's a combination of a bunch of things. Some of it falls on Rodgers. The coaching staff, however, can live with Rodgers holding the ball too long because he makes enough plays down the field to mitigate some of the abuse. Against Chicago two weeks ago, Rodgers bought time on a pair of third-down conversions that turned into touchdowns. The offensive line has been an issue. Don Barclay, an undrafted rookie, is their third right tackle. Barclay, however, has been something of a savior. Bryan Bulaga, the 2010 first-round pick, sustained a season-ending hip injury against Arizona on Nov. 4. With 2011 first-round pick Derek Sherrod on injured reserve with a broken leg sustained last year, the solution was to move left guard T.J. Lang to right tackle and put Dietrich-Smith into Lang's spot at guard. When Lang was injured a few weeks later, the Packers had no choice but to throw Barclay into the lineup, and he's done well. In the last four games, the Packers have allowed nine sacks. The key to Sunday's game will be how the offensive line holds up to Minnesota's front four. Green Bay has had problems, at times, beating Cover-2 because the line hasn't held up long enough for the receivers to get open against seven-man coverage schemes. The Packers have a pretty extensive list of injuries heading into this game once again. Which of the key players on that list are most concerning? By their standards, they're a picture of health. Amazing how these things run in cycles. For this week, it's Randall Cobb and Wilson. Cobb, who is 46 receiving yards and 36 kickoff-return yards from being the first player in NFL history to hit the 1,000-yard mark in both categories, has been the offense's most consistent performer other than Rodgers. With receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson playing about two full games together, it's been Cobb that's become Rodgers' go-to receiver, especially on third down. I'd pay to watch Cobb battle Antoine Winfield for 60 snaps. I talked about Wilson earlier. If he's out again, then Mike Neal and Jerel Worthy will rotate at end alongside stalwarts Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji. Neal and Worthy are better suited for passing downs. The Packers have obviously had good success this year, but they had only three Pro Bowlers and one of them was a farce with Saturday honored after he was benched. Who are the Packers you felt deserved it but didn't get in? Tramon Williams, head and shoulders. I'm not going to pretend I know the rest of the league, so maybe those other cornerbacks deserved the recognition, but Williams has been outstanding. At cornerback, so much of it is name recognition and interceptions. Williams has two interceptions — both against Chicago in Week 2. However, coordinator Dom Capers matches Williams against the opponent's top receiver week after week. In four games against the NFC's starting receivers, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, Williams scored decisive victories. Last year, nose tackle B.J. Raji was named to the Pro Bowl and probably didn't deserve the honor. This year — and especially the second half of the season — Raji has played to that level. Guard Josh Sitton has had an excellent season, too, but probably gets docked by the team's ugly sack number. 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