With the injury prospects for Saturday's game pretty well known and deep familiarity between the Vikings and Packers, there is one key aspect that the Minnesota Vikings have considered throughout the past two weeks as they prepared for consecutive games against the Green Bay Packers – how much should they blitz QB Aaron Rodgers?
Entering last Sunday's game, Rodgers was second in the NFL with 14 touchdown passes thrown when blitzed, but that didn't dissuade the Vikings too much.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams still stuck mostly with a four-man rush on passing downs, sending four on 29 occasions and mixing in the occasional three-man rush three times, but he also sent five rushers nine times and six rushers on four occasions.
"You have to be careful. Sometimes it's high-risk, high-reward and then sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you," Williams said this week. "We have to worry about, how much we put pressure on him with more than four and take a calculated risk when we do want to pressure."
That sounds similar to former head coach Mike Tice's saying. He used to say, "Live by the dog, die by the dog." Sometimes "the dog" (blitz) gets to the quarterback in time and sometimes the blitz just leaves the covering defenders vulnerable.
"He's not going to panic back there. He's very patient," safety Harrison Smith said of Rodgers. "He'll look, buy time and keep looking. You've just got to stay in coverage and play honest."
Several Vikings defensive backs reiterated a challenging task in staying in coverage on the Green Bay's multiple receivers longer than usual because of Rodgers' ability to escape pressure up front.
Ultimately, the Vikings got to Rodgers just enough in a 37-34 win. They sacked him five times, tying for the second-most times he has been sacked during a season that was capped with 51 sacks.
This week, both Rodgers and Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy seemed almost exasperated talking about Rodgers being blitzed.
"If that's the only thing you want to talk about, I hope they blitz us again because anytime you do see pressure, there's voids in the coverage. We'll be playing in a different environment obviously this week than we played this past week," McCarthy said. "But we had some pre-snap penalties, we had some timing issues as far as declarations with our protections. Other than that, I was very pleased with the way the offense played."
Rodgers did finish with a season-high 365 yards passing and didn't throw an interception, and he especially had success in the second when cornerback Antoine Winfield was out with injury.
McCarthy is also right that the home-field advantage of Lambeau should help with the way the Packers want to run their offense. They had communication issues at noisy Mall of America Field that didn't allow them to operate as quickly as they wanted.
"If they want to keep blitzing, they can go ahead," Rodgers said.
"Teams play us differently. You can see different looks. One-high (safety), two-high pressure, they put a lot of different looks on us and we had some success there, I think."
The Vikings may be rethinking their blitzing strategy on the road. While they sent an extra pass rusher about one-third of the time in front of a noisy home crowd, that might not be as effective at home.
Rodgers led the NFL with a 108.0 passer rating this year, the second consecutive season he has topped the league. He also has the highest passer rating (105.5) in NFL postseason history.
In order to try and counter that, the Vikings will have to be effective when they do blitz, hoping they can generate ways for the ultimate defensive prize.
"The key for us defensively is creating turnovers," Winfield said. "Against that offense, you have to turn the ball over and get off on third down."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings know the risk-reward of blitzing
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