"They are the most aggressive cornerbacks in the league. That's part of their defense is to hug you and be all on you," Vikings receiver Aundrae Allison said.
The arrival of cornerback Charles Woodson in Green Bay coincided with the hirings of Mike McCarthy with the Packers and Brad Childress with the Vikings, but whatever the reasons, the Vikings' passing game has struggled against Green Bay of late.
Last year, Brooks Bollinger had only 176 yards, no touchdowns and an interception, but Kelly Holcomb fared better in the first meeting in the Metrodome. There, he passed for 258 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Both were losses for the Vikings.
In Tarvaris Jackson's first meeting against Green Bay on Dec. 21, 2006, he managed only 50 yards passing, an interception and a putrid 35.4 rating in one of the ugliest offensive performances in recent Vikings memory, a 9-7 loss. Earlier that year, Brad Johnson threw for 257 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Metrodome against the Packers.
With Holcomb and Johnson's performances vs. Bollinger and Jackson's, it might stand to reason that experience pays off against the Packers secondary. Or maybe just playing in the Metrodome is a salve for the Vikings' wounds.
But the aggressive play of cornerbacks Al Harris and Woodson has been the talk among Vikings receivers this week.
"They are definitely up there at the top of the league," receiver Bobby Wade said. "I've got a lot of respect for those guys. Charles Woodson, obviously all the accolades and things he's done in the past for other teams, he's playing really good football right now. The pick six. Al's been hurt and came back last week and played, but he's an extremely physical corner, a lot of savvy. Other than that, it's their front. Their front seven with the linebackers and those guys. We've got our work cut out for us. There's no doubt about it. They like to come up and put their hands on you and get up in your face, press and things like that."
The Packers are tied for the league lead with 13 interceptions through eight games and have returned five of those for touchdowns.
"It's the experience. Charles Woodson, Al Harris, those guys are so comfortable with what they're playing. They play a lot of man defense, but you see them come off their man to make plays on other routes or other players out there on the field. A lot of that has to do with them understanding their opponent, not being really surprised about what they're getting. A lot of it has to do with the scheme. For wide receivers in this league, we're going to have to beat man to man," Wade said.
"They have a lot of confidence in those guys."
Allison said the Packers are a physical bunch, but he believes they get the respect of the officials and therefore he isn't expecting Woodson and Harris to be called for pass interference too much.
"When we go against Green Bay, I can't really picture them making too many of them calls because I feel like they go with really big-name guys. Those guys, Al Harris and Charles Woodson, do it every play but they probably won't call it," Allison said.
The upside for the Vikings is that they believe the Packers' aggressive man-to-man approach on defense could help open the deep passing game.
"It's a lot of opportunities. Anytime you get man they obviously are trying to gear themselves into stopping the run, so it gives you an opportunity if you do get a good release, if you're able to win at the line, if you're able to separate from a guy. It gives you a lot of opportunity for run-after-catch knowing that there is one guy you just beat and there might be one other that you need to beat to score," Wade said. "That allows a lot of opportunities for big plays. They've done a good job. They try to eliminate some of the big plays. Not only that, but they try to match the big plays with big defensive plays – the pick six and things like that. They're leading the league in that right now."