The Vikings have done a masterful job the last three weeks of ramping up their defensive intensity and harassing opposing quarterbacks. In those three games, two quarterbacks (Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub) didn't finish the game and the third (St. Louis' Sam Bradford) was knocked down and beaten into submission.
The Vikings are looking at completing their playoff run by using the same formula for success – batter and bruise the other team's quarterback. The problem with that scenario is they may be facing the best quarterback in the NFL in Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. He has led the Packers to the playoffs each of the last three years and has done it without an effective running game. The Green Bay offense has been largely one-dimensional, but he has found a way to make it succeed by having the best accuracy of any quarterback in the league and he has ability to burn opponents throwing the ball and running the ball.
"You have to get to Rodgers quick, because he can hurt you with his feet and his arm," defensive tackle Christian Ballard said. "He's a phenom-type quarterback. He can do it all. The big thing is getting pressure and keeping him contained so he can't make plays on the outside. You have to knock him down as often as you can and not let him beat you with his feet."
Flustering Rodgers isn't easy. One of his primary skills is to avoid the pass rush, extend plays and work with his receivers to improvise plays. It is that skill that has made him an elite quarterback and a big-play threat even when a defense has done its job properly.
"The ways he can beat you by being elusive and staying on his feet makes it tough," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "The biggest thing is that he and his receivers work so well together. They take what they do in practice out to the field in games and, if he keeps a play alive, they know how to adjust to make plays. They do it all the time."
Simply bringing pressure on Rodgers often isn't enough to slow him down. With his ability to scramble and make plays when the play that was called has broken down, defenders are often pressuring him in the pocket, but finishing the deal is never easy. Getting close doesn't fluster Rodgers. In many instances, it only makes him more dangerous.
"He's such a tough guy to rush," DE Brian Robison said. "The last time we played him, I had some great rushes around the edge. I was able to get my hands on him, but he was still able to make plays. That's the thing. You want to get him off his spot, but at the same time, you need to contain him. He's a tough quarterback to get after."
One of Rodgers' innate skills is that he can manage the pocket. While other quarterbacks will take off running when the internal clock in their head tells them that the play is breaking down, Rodgers can buy time with movement within the pocket – sliding left or right a few feet to avoid the immediate pressure and buy himself a couple extra seconds to deliver the ball.
It is a skill he learned from Brett Favre, who had excellent feet despite rarely scrambling. It frustrates players in the secondary because they can only chase after receivers so long before they lose contact with them.
"His ability to extend plays and keep plays alive is what he does better than just about anybody," Smith said. "He's so cool back there and doesn't panic. He manages to find receivers that are open because he keeps plays alive – not necessarily by scrambling, but by sneaking out of the pocket and rolling out here and there. At some point, you can't keep covering a guy forever. That's what makes him so tough is that he can keep plays alive longer than you can cover his receivers."
If the Vikings are to make the playoffs, they're going to have to do what few others have been capable of doing – forcing Rodgers into making mistakes and frustrating him. It won't be easy, but that is the task in front of them and it is a challenge the Vikings are ready to embrace.
"This is what you play the game for," Greenway said. "We know what Rodgers can do. He's won a championship doing it and he has led his team to the playoffs the last three years and won our division the last two. We know he is going to bring his ‘A' game with him Sunday, but that's a challenge we're ready for. We just have to go out and execute and not let him beat us."
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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