Matchup to Watch: Williams Wall

There are plenty of intriguing storylines and matchups to watch tonight as the Vikings open the season at Lambeau Field, but how Pat and Kevin Williams perform against an uncertain interior offensive line might be the most important matchup.

Kevin Williams and Pat Williams vs. Packers interior line

In a game with the significance of this one, there are myriad potential matchups that deserve highlighting. Jared Allen vs. Chad Clifton will be huge. Both quarterbacks are likely to be pressured and how they handle it warrants a key matchup. Adrian Peterson vs. MLB Nick Barnett is another. Artis Hicks vs. Cullen Jenkins and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila could be enormous if Hicks is overmatched. The same came said at right tackle, where Ryan Cook will be asked to shut down NFC sack leader Aaron Kampman.

All of these will be key and any of them (if a mismatch) could surely change the outcome of the game. But, in our mind, the Matchup to Watch this week will be one of the harder ones to see – as the Williams Wall faces off against the interior line of the Packers.

The hallmark of the Vikings defense the last three years has been the consistent ability to shut down the running game. That is accomplished by Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. In a Tampa-2 defense, the job of the defensive tackles is to clog the middle running game, force teams to run outside and let the speedy defenders chase them down. The Williams Brothers have been so effective at it that some opposing teams have abandoned the run completely because they know it won't succeed. What they will face tonight at Lambeau Field has the potential to be a matchup that could affect both the Packers running and passing game.

It shouldn't be forgotten that the Packers were the only team to have a 100-yard rusher (Ryan Grant) against the Vikings defense last year. But that was a healthy Packers O-line, which isn't the case this time around. The job of the Packers O-line is to use three players – both guards and the center – to contain them. Center Scott Wells is a very solid anchor who has distinguished himself as a technically sound and potentially dominating player. But he is questionable with a back injury and will be a game-time decision. If he can go, he won't be at 100 percent. If he can't go, the Packers will have to shuffle their line on the fly.

If Wells does start, he will be flanked by guards Jason Spitz and Darryn Colledge. Spitz is a player who gets tabbed by scouts as "an overachiever" – he doesn't have the best athleticism, but he puts in a blue-collar, lunch-pail effort each week. Colledge is about as inconsistent as any offensive linemen can be. At times, he looks like he could be a dominant player. On the next series, he looks like he doesn't belong on an NFL roster. You get to see both players in the same game and, at times, from one play to the next. That is the best-case scenario for the Packers.

The worst-case is that Wells doesn't play. Spitz is his primary backup, so he would have to shift to center and second-year man Allen Barbre – the only other available guard on the roster – would have to move from the left side to the right. The Packers would be down to three healthy interior linemen, who, if replaced, would have to have their spots filled by backup tackles Tony Moll and rookie Breno Giacomini.

Either way, it seems like a Catch-22. Wells doesn't have much time in games working with Rodgers, so center exchanges could be an issue. He's been practicing most of them last week with Spitz, so there may be a different delivery of the ball. Wells also makes the line calls, so the Packers may feel more obligated to get him on the field despite his injury. If Wells doesn't play, two of the three interior linemen will be out of position and the third (Colledge) can look as bad as any guard in the league at times.

This is a matchup the Vikings must dominate to win. If the Williams Brothers can collapse the middle of the Packers line, it will not only bottle up the running game, but collapse the pocket on Aaron Rodgers in the passing game and force him to move – more likely in the path of either Jared Allen or Ray Edwards. If Pat and Kevin can push the linemen around, it will open up blitzing lanes for E.J. Henderson.

With all the possibilities coming out of this battle, there may be others that deserve consideration, but the Battle of Williams Wall is the Matchup to Watch tonight.

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