The Minnesota Vikings have their hands full this weekend, as they must travel to Green Bay to take on the Packers for the NFC North title. They have not beaten their division rivals on the road since 2009, and since then the Vikings have gone 1-9-1 against them in the regular season.
Their one tie did come at Lambeau Field, but the Packers were also playing in that game without Aaron Rodgers and they had already clinched a playoff spot at that time.
The talk always centers about Rodgers when discussing how to beat the Packers, and rightfully so. He always seems to play at the top of his game against the Vikings, which is always difficult to defend, considering he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
In recent years, though, another Packers player that has seemingly had the Vikings’ number that they know they will have to defend is running back Eddie Lacy. Since joining the league in 2013, Lacy has rushed for over 100 yards in four out of his five career games against the Vikings, totaling 534 yards and five touchdowns on 114 carries.
The only time he did not rush for over 100 yards against Minnesota was his first game against them in 2013 when he went for 94 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
“He’s a good player,” head coach Mike Zimmer said of the Packers running back. “I mean, you got to tackle him; you got to get off of blocks. Their offensive line does a good job of not allowing you to get off of blocks and we got to tackle better. But he’s a good player.”
The Vikings defense has seemingly gotten a wake-up call since being blown out in a three-week span by the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. They have not allowed a 100-yard rusher – though teams have combined for over 100 yards – in the past three weeks and that all starts up front.
The defensive line has been playing at a high level, and with the return of Linval Joseph to the starting lineup Sunday against the New York Giants things only seemed to get better as they held the entire Giants team to under 100 rushing yards.
“Tom Johnson had two sacks, I thought he played well,” Zimmer said when asked about the defensive tackles. “Sharrif played a little bit high at the beginning of the ball game but started playing better. … But, no, they’re playing good. The defensive line is playing good most all the time.”
The defensive line, specifically the defensive tackles, is going to be key in slowing down Lacy on Sunday night. If they can do that and make the Packers one-dimensional they will then have a better chance of getting after Rodgers and making things difficult for him.
Getting Joseph back was a big part of that and Sharrif Floyd knows it. Those two have not been healthy at the same time very often this season, but when they are it creates a force to be reckoned with.
“It was great having Linval back,” Floyd said. “Me and him are going to sit down some more and watch some film and be ready for this game. I feel like if me and him are on the same page everything else will fall into place. We’re really key to stopping that run and that’s what we got to focus on this week so far.”
While controlling Lacy is likely going to be a focus for the defense when they get into meetings, Floyd is trying not to focus on just one player at this point in time. Instead, he just wants to focus on getting whoever has the ball in their hands to the ground.
“We got to get to the guy with the ball,” he said. “It don’t matter who it is. Eddie Lacy’s not their best back and they got good backs over there so, again, we just got to get to the guy with the ball. It don’t matter who it is.”
The Packers were able to put up 124 rushing yards against the Vikings when they met on Nov. 22, and by doing that they controlled the game clock. That then forced the Vikings to almost abandon the run game completely and throw the ball 38 times, which is not something they want to do on a regular basis.
If that sort of thing happens again it could end up being another long day for the Vikings, which is why you can be sure the defense is going to look to corral Lacy and the Packers running game. Doing so starts in the middle of the defensive line with Joseph and Floyd.