Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

Minnesota Vikings preview: Packers thin at a few positions

The Minnesota Vikings will be facing QB Aaron Rodgers, who has dominated them during his career. However, there are positions that are thin for Green Bay.

There isn’t much hype that needs to be assigned any game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. But, throw into the mix that it is the first regular-season game to ever be played at U.S. Bank Stadium – a milestone that will be remembered decades from now as the inaugural game in the iconic new stadium – and it being played in front of a national TV audience and you have the makings of a game for the ages.

The Packers have dominated the recent series. Since 2010, Green Bay has won 10 of the 13 meetings between the teams – with one tie thrown in when the Packers were without Aaron Rodgers. The two Vikings wins both came in Week 17 of their respective seasons (2012 and 2015), which also makes this meeting unique in the recent history of the rivalry. The Vikings and Packers haven’t played in September since 2008 and an early-season meeting means both teams haven’t been as severely impacted by injuries as they typically have been in midseason matchups.

In his career as a starter against Minnesota, Rodgers has posted a record of 11-5, including a 10-2 mark in his last 12 meetings. For his career, he has completed 354 of 514 passes for 4,267 yards with 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions – posting a passer rating of 112.2. He has never thrown less than two touchdowns in his last six games in Minnesota, throwing a total of 17 touchdowns. If the Vikings are going to beat Green Bay, keeping Rodgers in check will be critical, but he isn’t the only weapon that has impacted the Vikings.

Running back Eddie Lacy has dominated the Vikings like few other teams. For his career, Lacy has averaged 67 rushing yards a game. In six games against the Vikings, he has averaged 95 yards a game and has scored six touchdowns in those six games. He has topped 100 yards in four of those six games and had 94 in another. The only one of those six games that the Packers lost was the one game in which Lacy was held in check – Week 17 last year when he rushed for just 34 yards on 13 carries. Rodgers may be the focus of the attention for most casual fans, but the players know that if they’re beating Green Bay, it starts with shutting down Lacy – something that has proved elusive.

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The Packers’ receivers run deep and they have loads of talent. Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have been Pro Bowl talents and the team is deep with young players. That includes three third-year receivers selected in the 2014 draft – Davante Adams, Jared Abbrederis and Jeff Janis – 2015 third-rounder Ty Montgomery, and rookie Trevor Davis. The team employs an inordinate number of three-receiver sets that, in Week 1, saw Cobb on the field for 97 percent of plays, Adams for 92 percent, Abbrederis for 22 percent and Montgomery for 17 percent. Throw in playmaking tight ends Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers and there is no shortage of receivers the Vikings will have to be concerned with.

One of the perplexing parts of the Packers organization is how they address offensive line. Prior to the start of training camp, the expectation was that Green Bay would have an offensive front of David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga at the tackles, Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang at guard and Corey Linsley at center. But Linsley is on the PUP list and Sitton was a shocking cut when the Packers trimmed their roster.

While most teams keep nine or 10 offensive linemen on their roster, the Packers are keeping just eight, including a pair of rookies (second-rounder Jason Spriggs and sixth-rounder Kyle Murphy) as the backup tackles and swingman Don Barclay as the only backup for both guard and the center position. Previous backups Taylor Lane and J.C. Tretter have moved into the starting spots at left guard and center, respectively. If the Packers get hit by injury along the O-line, which has happened the last couple of seasons, they could be extremely thin.

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The Dom Capers defense is an interesting one that will throw the Vikings some unique looks because of how they use their players. In their season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, no individual defensive lineman played more 60 percent of plays and the only two that were on the field for more than 20 percent of plays were defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who earned a four-year, $42 million extension last December, and former Viking Letroy Guion.

What the Packers do better than most in their 3-4 defense is incorporate their diverse linebackers to play near the line as de facto defensive linemen. Ageless Julius Peppers is only a half-time player, but he is still a difference-maker who can alter the outcome of games. Datone Jones is listed as a linebacker by the NFL, but he plays as much as a lineman as he does a linebacker.

The aggressive nature of the Packers defense is embodied in Clay Matthews. Forced inside the last couple of seasons due to injury, he’s back on the outside, where he has been a perennial Pro Bowl talent. Joined by veteran Nick Perry and youngsters Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez, Capers has found a collection of players that fit in his system and can be interchanged depending on down and distance.

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The strength of the Packers 3-4 defense is its secondary, which is routinely asked to single-cover receivers and play at a high level in both the pass and run game. They have one of the most dynamic pair of safeties in the league with Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The same is true for cornerbacks Sam Shields and Damarious Randall. However, Shields suffered a concussion late in their Week 1 win and has been ruled out for Sunday night, which will test the depth of the corners, just as Minnesota is with losing Xavier Rhodes.

You can bet that the hype machine will be in overdrive Sunday, as a national audience tunes in to see which team is going to take the early edge atop the NFC North. The Vikings and Packers are two evenly matched teams that will likely fight all season long to lock down the division title. Sunday will be the first shot across the bow that puts one ahead of the other and a case can be made for both teams as to why that one will come away with a victory Sunday night.


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