Playoff Feel For Packers

Green Bay really needs this win to have any shot at the playoffs, and in order to do that they need to rally behind Ahman Green coming off their bye week. Standing in his way will be Chris Claiborne and the Vikings' linebackers.

There is never need to hype a matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers. The fact that the teams have played 84 times in their history and the Vikings hold a 42-41-1 advantage should be enough. But, with the Packers coming off their bye and heading into the Metrodome on Sunday night, Green Bay players, coaches and fans understand that a loss at Minnesota not only eliminates them from division title contention, it could deliver a death blow to their playoff hopes if they drop to 3-5.

Just as the Vikings experienced a reversal of fortunes at Green Bay in Week 1, the Packers and Brett Favre will look to do the same at the Metrodome. Favre has a record of 2-9 at the Metrodome and has experienced some his career lows in front of the Vikings faithful. He has always struggled in domed stadiums, where the crowd noise makes the entire offense a half step off when the ball is snapped. Favre is prone to throwing stupid interceptions by forcing the ball where other QBs wouldn't dare. It's that bravado that could be his downfall as the Vikings attack him with blitzes and stunts.

Don't be surprised to see the Packers try to take the fans out of the game by giving the Vikings a steady diet of the running game — translation: Ahman Green. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons, Green has rebounded this year to lead the NFC in touchdowns and vault himself back into the discussion about the best all-around backs in the NFL. He is capable of 25 carries a game, but the Packers will also give the ball to Najeh Davenport and William Henderson to mix things up and eat time off the clock. If the Packers don't fall behind early, expect to see a lot of running, as Green Bay tries to shorten the game with long, ball-control drives.

When the Packers do need to pass, Favre has many options at his disposal. Aside from the receiving ability of his running backs, Favre has a young wide receiver corps that can create a lot of matchup problems. Donald Driver is back from the scary injury he suffered in the first meeting with the Vikings and is joined by youngsters Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson, as well as veteran Antonio Freeman. Favre will throw to all of them at different times, meaning the Vikings' nickel and dime D-backs will have to be on their toes at all times. Even the tight end position has diversity. Bubba Franks is one of the best red zone tight ends in the league, but free-agent signee Wesley Walls is making a name for himself as a go-to receiver over the deep middle. Both will warrant attention from the linebackers.

Up front, the Packers have a solid offensive line that is very familiar to Vikings fans. Tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle and center Mike Flanagan all have between four and eight years of NFL experience and work together well in pass protection and the patented Packers run blocking that includes "student body" sweeps. The Vikings' defensive front will have all it can handle in this battle, which promises to be a war from start to finish — complete with late hits and trash talk.

While the offensive line is rock solid for the Packers, the defensive line is a mess. After losing Vonnie Holliday to free agency, the Packers knew they would have to keep their starters healthy. It hasn't happened. For a second straight year, big-money defensive end Joe Johnson is out. Worse yet, his backup, Chukie Nworkie, has missed time with injuries, leaving Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila as the only healthy DE of note. In the middle, Gilbert Brown remains but is a shell of his old "grave digger" self and needs to be spelled often by third-year pro Rod Walker. At the other tackle, Cletidus Hunt is a stalwart. He has become the centerpiece of the defensive front and will need to be neutralized. This is a matchup that should clearly favor the Vikings, if Hunt and KGB are kept in check.

The linebackers were supposed to be a question mark heading into the season, but rookie MLB Nick Barnett is making a strong claim for defensive Rookie of the Year honors with his play. He has been a madman from sideline to sideline, making big plays and delivering even bigger hits. He's flanked by fourth-year man Na'il Diggs and fifth-year pro Hannibal Navies. This is a young group that, if the Packers are willing to spend the money, could be the cornerstone of the defense for years to come. They are an attacking group that will cause problems for the Vikings offense.

The Green Bay secondary has been the subject of constant debate this year. Burned by the Vikings, Chiefs and Rams, this is an inconsistent group that can and does get beat deep. At the corners, Mike McKenzie and Al Harris have shared time with nickel back Bahwoh Jue and, at times, have played like shutdown corners — at other times, like confused rookies. At the safeties, Darren Sharper and Marques Anderson are formidable but often late in offering deep coverage support, which could kill the Packers Sunday.

No hype is needed. Vikings vs. Packers. What more needs to be said. Let's play!


MATCHUP TO WATCH
Vikings Linebackers vs. Ahman Green —
The coaching mindset can change from play to play and week to week. Just as the matchup to watch in the season opener was Chris Hovan rushing Brett Favre, this time around the Packers' change of philosophy will make Ahman Green against the Vikings linebackers the matchup to watch.

Few teams are as intimidated about playing in the Metrodome as the Packers. Whether it's the airport-runway-volume noise level or apparent Packers curse in the middle of the Metrodome roof, things go wrong for the Packers in the dome and their play selection this time around will change accordingly.

In the games the Packers have won, Green has been the key — both as a rusher and receiver. Healthy for the first time in three years, he went into the bye week as not only the leading rusher in the NFC but the leading scorer. On pace to score 22 touchdowns, Green is dangerous anywhere on the field. He can break a 70-yard touchdown run or pound it in from the 1-yard line. With a week of rest, he could be ready for a huge day.

The Packers want to keep the crowd out of the game and keep the Vikings offense from getting any rhythm. To do that, Green may be asked to carry the ball as many as 30 times. When you figure that every run takes 30-45 seconds off the game clock, if the Packers can run Green 30 times, the time of possession will be in the Packers' favor. That's where the linebackers come in.

Green Bay runs as many sweeps as any team in the league. They've perfected the lateral blocking techniques and awareness needed to make the sweep a productive play. That means not only will Greg Biekert, Chris Claiborne and Henri Crockett be asked to stuff runs up the middle, they are going to be asked to chase down plays sideline to sideline. If the Packers can establish the run, as they must if they want to win and try to keep their playoff hopes alive, they will have to wear down the Vikings linebackers.


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