The Minnesota Vikings have spent most of the 2015 season looking to force a changing of the guard atop the NFC North. To date, all three times the Vikings had the opportunity to make a statement about putting themselves in the Super Bowl discussion, they’ve come up short against the teams viewed as the class of the NFC – Arizona, Seattle and Green Bay.
Things have been especially difficult against the Packers. Since Brett Favre led the Vikings on their deep playoff run in 2009 – the last time the Vikings won the NFC North – Green Bay has owned Minnesota. Since 2010, the Vikings have won just one of last 12 games, going 1-10-1 against the Packers, including a record of 0-5-1 at Lambeau Field.
With the NFC North hanging in the balance and Green Bay looking beaten and battered offensively, the Vikings see this as their opportunity to change the course of history in the division. Yet they are fully aware the four-time defending division champs won’t go down without a fight and the Vikings defense will have to bring its best.
“Every time we play Green Bay, it’s always a challenge for us,” safety Andrew Sendejo said. “They’ve got some weapons on offense. It’s another prime-time game and we’re looking forward to it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting some turnovers like we did last week and getting the offense the ball.”
From the outside, it would look like an ideal time to be catching the Packers. Coming off a crushing 38-8 blowout loss in which Aaron Rodgers was sacked nine times and knocked down just as many more times as he got rid of the ball, the Packers looked like anything but a team looking to make a Super Bowl run.
Since a 6-0 start, they’ve lost five of their last nine games, but it would seem every time they take a step backward, they find a way to respond.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a good time to get those guys,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “When you lose games, especially with No. 12 (Rodgers) throwing the ball around, when he loses games, he’s not happy. I wouldn’t say it’s a good time to get those guys. He’s still a great quarterback, but they’re missing their weapon – Jordy Nelson. That’s a big Pro Bowl guy that’s gone. We know we have to go out there and play hard. He’s not going to give us the game.”
The biggest challenge facing the Vikings may not be Rodgers, but running back Eddie Lacy. In five career games, he has owned the Vikings, rushing 114 times for 534 yards and five touchdowns and catching 16 passes for 112 yards and another TD.
His individual performances against the Vikings have been the best of his career. The numbers of carries, yards and touchdowns speak volumes – 29-94-1, 25-110-1, 13-105-2, 23-125-1 and 22-100-0.
He definitely earned the Vikings’ attention because, while Lacy has had his share of struggles in his career, they have never manifested themselves against the Vikings.
“I don’t know if he runs harder against us or what it is, but he’s got something against the Minnesota Vikings,” Munnerlyn said. “He definitely runs hard. When you watch some of the games, definitely when we play him he’s got the extra chip on his shoulder.”
A big, bruising back, the Vikings are taking the approach that other teams have done with Adrian Peterson – swarm and bring every available defender to take him down with bad intentions.
“The key is to wrap up and have help,” Sendejo said. “He’s a big guy. You have to have a good tackling plan coming into the game and everybody rallying to ball and never assuming that he’s down. There are a lot of times where he will look down or looked wrapped up and he’s not. You’ve just got to get everyone to the ball.”
One thing that has changed in Green Bay is an offensive line that is extremely banged up. None of the five starters were full participants in Wednesday’s practice and the Vikings know they’re going to be nowhere close to 100 percent Sunday night.
Although the Vikings are aware of their injuries concerns along the O-line, defensive end Brian Robison said the Vikings can’t expect things will go their way because of it. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who will line up opposite Robison Sunday, is among the walking wounded. Robison knows that, injured or not, Green Bay will defend its turf with a vengeance, even if their offensive line is a collection of limping warriors that aren’t at full strength.
“We’ve just got to go out there and rush like we know how to rush,” Robison said. “You just go out there and play ball. Injuries don’t dictate how we do things around here. It really has no bearing on what we’re going to do. Every game stands on its own merit. Just because (Bulaga) has certain strengths or did certain things against you last game doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to do the same things the next game.”
The Packers have been a dagger in the back of the Vikings ever since Brett Favre took them down on their home turf Nov. 1, 2009. The Vikings haven’t been a legitimate challenger to them until now and, as the defense sees it, it’s time to take the blueprint the Cardinals provided them and expand upon it.
“We’re looking to do what Arizona did them,” Munnerlyn said. “We going to do what we’re capable of doing – getting after the quarterback and making plays.”