Vikings focus on the pass rush

On Oct. 5, Jared Allen registered a career-high 4.5 sacks on Aaron Rodgers. This time, he will be facing a different offensive tackle. Allen and the rest of the defensive line know the importance of the game and talked about the matchups and preparation.

In the first matchup between the Packers and Vikings in a much-ballyhooed Monday night game at the Metrodome earlier this month, most of the attention was placed squarely on the quarterbacks – how would Brett Favre play in his first game against his former team and how would Aaron Rodgers respond in his first meeting against the legend he replaced.

The Vikings defense did a lot to deflate that discussion, as they pounded Rodgers into the Metrodome turf consistently – sacking him eight times, knocking him down 14 times and pressuring him just about every time he dropped back to pass in the first three quarters. While Favre was efficient, Rodgers was running for his life – scoring just seven offensive points in the first 55 minutes of the game before rolling up 140 yards against a prevent defense in the final five minutes.

As the teams prepare to meet for the second time in four weeks, the big question on the minds of Packers players, coaches and fans is how they're going to stop the Vikings pass rush that was so dominant in the first meeting?

This time around, while Favre will take most of the spotlight glare, Jared Allen and Ray Edwards are looking for a repeat performance. There couldn't be more at stake. With the bye week following Sunday's game, a win at Lambeau Field would put the Vikings at 7-1, while the Packers would fall to 4-3 with a sweep at the hands of the Vikings. With no-tiebreakers in their favor, the Packers would be three games behind the Vikings with eight to play.

To ask Allen and Edwards the importance of Sunday's game, you get two very distinct and different answers. Edwards has learned a lot from his Media 101 classes on how to downplay the significance of a game and he proved that in how he responded when the scenario was laid out as to the stranglehold the Vikings could put on repeating as division champions with a win.

"To me it's just another week," Edwards said. "It's one-sixteenth of the season. We're trying to finish off our first half of the season on a good note and just play ball."

Allen flunked out of Media 101, or at the part where they teach how to be boring. He says what's on his mind and there's usually something on his mind. When asked about the importance of winning Sunday, he didn't give the politically correct answer. He gave the answer that most fans have – a win this week could dig Green Bay a hole from which it would be very difficult to recover.

"It's huge," Allen said. "It would put us three games up with a win. It's huge, especially going into the bye week. Then we have a three-game home stretch where we could get some separation and put that thing away. We have to win all those obviously and we're not looking too far ahead. This game is huge – to sweep someone in the division and to create that big a gap midway through the season is important."

The dominating performance of the Vikings pass rush in the first meeting stole the thunder from the Favre vs. Rodgers main event and there was plenty to go around. Allen recorded a career-best 4.5 sacks and scored a safety on Rodgers in the fourth quarter, Brian Robison had 1.5 sacks and Jimmy Kennedy and Ben Leber each added one. The Vikings brought their "A" game and it got noticed. After blowing up the makeshift Packers O-line in front of a national audience (including most of the players from the other 30 NFL teams), the defensive ends have seen a much different approach from opposing offenses in the three weeks since.

"In a way, it has kind of hurt us," Edwards said. "Everybody is either chipping me and Jared or they're keeping a tight end (to block) in max protection. That's something dirty about our job. We just have to keep doing what we can do to get (to the quarterback)."

The Packers have played only twice since the game at the Metrodome and have been dominant. Granted, it was against the Browns and Lions, but it signaled an impressive return from their bye week and has momentum on their side. The memories of that Monday mauling are still fresh for the Packers offensive line. The Vikings don't expect they're going to come in with the same game plan this time around, since the one they used last time failed so miserably.

"You can't expect them to run the same thing," Allen said. "They're going to change. They're going to game plan differently. We're going to game plan differently. It's going to come down to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, being good on early downs, forcing them into third-and-longs and getting off the field."

Also in question is what players will make up the injury-plagued O-line for Green Bay. In the first meeting, left tackle Chad Clifton was out and the Packers slid guard Daryn Colledge to left tackle from left guard. He was schooled, fooled and abused by Allen all night and that game signaled the end of the Colledge experiment at OLT. If Clifton can't go Sunday – a distinct possibility – fourth-round rookie T.J. Lang, a college guard from Eastern Michigan, would draw the unenviable assignment of stopping Allen. He said he is doing film study on all of them, but tries not to dwell too much on focusing on one player because, at this point, it's pointless to speculate.

"I try not to think about them," Allen said. "I just try to focus on who I'm going to be playing right now. It's kind of similar to the first game. I don't know if Clifton was playing. I don't know if Colledge was going to be out there. I'm just preparing for everybody. I'm going to watch tape on all of them and, fortunately for me, I've played against all of them. It's going to come down to fundamental things – preventing big plays, stopping the run and getting off the field."

One of the advantages Allen and Edwards have brought to the Vikings defensive line is that they have been able to consistently provide enough pressure that the Vikings don't have to blitz to get heat on the quarterback. When they do, it's a jail-break of their choosing, not a requirement to rattle a QB. The D-line can do that by itself. Edwards said he, Allen and the Williams Wall have developed a shorthand with one another that they can anticipate what the others will do and, if one of them loses gap integrity, they can count on a teammate being there to make up for it.

"One thing about our D-line is that we know how to play well off of each other," Edwards said. "If one of us gets outside our gap, there is always another guy there to cover us up. We really don't worry about that because we know how to play off each other."

Allen said that whoever is going to be opposite him Sunday, he's going to have a plan of attack ready for him. Although it would appear to an outsider that linemen essentially block the same, Allen said there are subtle differences each player has – things he does well, things he tips off, things he struggles with. He said he will come in with a blueprint of what he wants to do and, depending on what he sees, make the adjustments to attack the Packers where they are the most vulnerable.

"There are certain things that work against certain guys that don't work against another," Allen said. "You have to get a mental game plan prepared for all of them and I'll know who I'm going up against before Sunday. There's a lot of in-game adjustment. Film is a good starting point, but football is about reacting and changing things up on the run. That's what makes it fun. Whoever they put out there had better be ready to bring it, because we're going to."

As it was when the month of October started, the eyes of the football world will be focused on Brett Favre making his return to Green Bay. But, in the end, if the Packers are going to spoil his homecoming, they will have to find a way to stop Allen and Edwards –a feat they couldn't accomplish four weeks ago.

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