By late last week, Vikings guard Anthony Herrera had become pretty familiar with the Packers' ways – at least on film. First-hand experience will have to wait until tonight when Herrera begins seeing Green Bay's new 3-4 defense in person for the first time.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy took a calculated risk earlier this year, hiring Dom Capers as his defensive coordinator. Capers has become famous in league circles for his 3-4 defense, which he has now installed in Green Bay, causing an offseason of concern about how quickly the Packers could make the transition.
"All those guys they are rotating have done a great job switching and rotating, switching from playing three-techniques or head-up twos to moving out there," Herrera said of the different tasks being assigned to Green Bay's defensive linemen. "I think they're just a little bit more active. Their guys are very sound. They're pretty close to San Fran with how they want to do stuff, with outside linebackers literally playing their outside guys, which are their primary rush guys."
Herrera tried to make his job and the job of his offensive line teammates sound simple at times, saying that the Vikings have seen the 3-4 look two out of the first three weeks already this season. However, Green Bay approaches it a little differently. The Packers play 3-4 50 percent of the time and 3-5 50 percent, according to Herrera.
Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is the one having to make the adjustments. Coming over from the Packers in 2006, this is the first time he has seen Green Bay running a 3-4 as their base defense.
"The scheme is completely different from what we are used to from them," said Bevel, who will rely on his knowledge of the players to help guide his game plan. "I think just more insight into what guys like to see, how they read routes, how quickly they are out of their transitions, those types of things."
Herrera said Green Bay's version of the 3-4 is a little more active than what the Vikings saw out of San Francisco, and he credited the Packers' defensive ends as being more skilled than some the Vikings faced in earlier versions of the defense.
But the Packers also throw in an additional look, a 3-5 defense. Last week, with safety Atarti Bigby out with injury, backup linebacker Brandon Chillar stepped into the lineup and essentially offered the Packers a fifth linebacker on the field. Herrera said it's still and odd-man count on the defensive line, which helps the Vikings read it to some degree.
"We're not going to adjust anything because a linebacker is playing safety. We're still going to do it the way we're taught to do it and we're going to keep it rolling," he said.
But the offensive line still has to figure out which, if any, of the linebackers will be blitzing. More than likely, it's going to be either Aaron Kampman playing the "Will" linebacker spot or A.J. Hawk playing the "Buck" linebacker.
It's not really figuring out who's coming, it's just blocking them the right way with the right technique all the time," Herrera said.
The key for the Packers is getting Kampman, who has played a mean defensive end since 2002, involved in rushing the passer.
"He is a million-mile-an-hour guy, like an Energizer bunny. Whatever he does, he's going to do a million miles an hour. The rush stuff is the same. He has played on his feet before from time-to-time. The biggest thing he is getting used to is dropping (back in coverage). I see his position evolving. Obviously he had a sack last week. He gets more comfortable with every game he plays," Childress said of Kampman.
"They do a good job of mixing him. They drop him, they put his hand on the ground, they drop him, they bring him, they put his hand on the ground, bring him, they twist him. He is athletic enough to do all the twist games. I wouldn't be surprised to see him move around as their joker. Nothing would surprise me with him because he has enough athletic ability to all those things."
Herrera figures the Vikings are lucky to get the Packers early because Kampman may not be comfortable enough yet at linebacker to maximize his talent. Later in the season, that might not be the case.
"He's playing out of position, so in one year he's not going to get it down. By the end of the year he's going to feel a little more comfortable, but I think he's doing a great job right now where he's at. Kampman, I love watching him play because he's like me, where he's a little bit of an over-acheiver. He plays hard every down," Herrera said.
"He's athletic enough. He's like DeMarcus Ware (of the Cowboys). They don't drop him a lot, they rush him a lot. Everybody knows it, but you still have to block him. That's basically what they're doing with Kampman. Everybody knows they're going to drop him once in a while, but more likely he's a primary rusher."
Against Cleveland's 3-4 defense, running back Adrian Peterson had 180 yards rushing. Against San Francisco's 3-4, Peterson was held to 85 yards.
"There are so many different looks that they throw out there to confuse you, but as long as we are on the same page it doesn't matter what they do," Peterson said.
Vikings coach Brad Childress stresses ball security and how big of a difference turnovers can make in tight games. The Vikings are plus-4 in the takeaway-giveaway ratio, tied for fourth in the league, but the Packers are best in the league.
Green Bay has a plus-8 ratio, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers still without an interception three games into the season. The Packers defense has seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries, while the offense has lost just one fumble
"This week playing San Francisco, they were big on stripping the ball, trying to keep you up and the third and fourth person trying to strip the ball," said Vikings receiver Percy Harvin. "We know (the Packers) have a lot of ball-hawkers over there. (Cornerback Charles) Woodson already has three picks. One thing we have to reiterate is ball security and taking care of the ball on offense."
Woodson was tied for the league lead entering this weekend's games, but former Vikings safety Darren Sharper, now with the New Orleans Saints, has the league lead now with five interceptions, two of those coming on Sunday.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Packers bring Vikings another 3-4 challenge
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