Everybody knows that the Green Bay Packers have one of the best passing offenses in the National Football League. While Aaron Rodgers isn't having nearly the season he had a year ago, he's still one of the league's top quarterbacks, and he has a lot of folks to throw to, even with Greg Jennings having been absent for the better part of the season. (He's supposed to be back this Sunday, though.)
So, could the key to stopping the Packers actually be. . .slowing down the running game? It sounds a bit ludicrous at first. . .after all, the Packers' top three rushers (Alex Green, Cedric Benson. . .who hasn't played in months. . .and James Starks) have about the same number of yards for the entire season (739) as Adrian Peterson has by himself over the last five weeks (737). But as Mike Wobschall, the official blogger for the Minnesota Vikings' web site, points out, the Green Bay rushing game is just efficient enough to put them into advantageous positions.
No, Green Bay does not typically unleash a pounding ground game against the adversary. But a deeper analysis of their offensive performance this year could lead one to conclude that their ability to run the ball on 1st down leads to more production from their passing game and success on the NFL's most important down - 3rd down.
The Packers possess one of the NFL's top passing attacks when they're hitting on all cylinders, but they actually run more (52%) than they pass on 1st down. And they are fairly efficient at doing so. Green Bay averages 4.1 yards per carry on 1st down, which ranks just 21st. But because their passing offense can be so lethal, that per carry average leads to favorable conditions on 3rd down. The Packers are in 3rd-and-5 or less on 43.4% of their 3rd downs. Consequently, Green Bay ranks 8th in the NFL with a 42.1% 3rd-down conversion rate.
However, if there's a team equipped to do that, it's apparently the Minnesota Vikings, as Wobschall points out.
And here's the good news: the Vikings rank 2nd in the NFL in 1st-down rushing defense, surrendering an average of just 3.56 yards per rush. Leslie Frazier's defense will need similar or better production in this area on Sunday if they are to hold off an explosive Packers passing attack.
Look, there aren't a lot of us that are optimistic about our favorite football team's chances on Sunday afternoon, myself included. Leslie Frazier's record against the Vikings' two biggest division rivals, the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, currently sits at 0-6, and only two of those games have been particularly close. Yes, the Minnesota Vikings are a vastly improved team in pretty much every facet of the game compared to what they were last year. . .a defense that was near the bottom of the league in every category last year is now at least average in most respects, if not better. And, from a purely statistical standpoint, the Vikings and Packers are fairly close in a lot of categories.
The Packers' offense averages 24.8 points/game, which is 13th in the NFL. The Vikings' offense averages 22.5 points/game, which is 15th.
The Packers' offense averages 342.9 yards/game on offense, which is 18th in the NFL. The Vikings' offense averages 333.4, which is 22nd.
The big difference on offense, obviously, is where the yardage comes from. . .the Vikings are 30th in the NFL in passing and 3rd in the NFL running the ball, while the Packers are 14th in the NFL in passing and 23rd in the NFL in rushing.
The Packers' defense allows 22.3 points/game, which is 14th in the NFL. The Vikings' defense allows 22.6 points/game, which is 17th.
The Packers' defense allows 348.1 yards/game, which is 17th in the NFL. The Vikings' defense allows 336.6 yards/game, which is 11th.
Green Bay is actually 22nd in the NFL against the pass and 11th against the run on defense, while the Vikings. . .for the first time in approximately forever. . .are statistically better against the pass (13th in the NFL) than they are against the run (15th in the league).
The numbers are close. . .but after what we saw against the Chicago Bears on Sunday from our favorite football team, the gap probably just seems a lot larger than what it is on paper. This game, even more than the game last week against Chicago, in my opinion, is a game where pretty much everything needs to go right for Minnesota in order for them to come out with a victory.
The Vikings must perform better on third down than they did against Chicago. They wouldn't have to do much in order to improve from that performance, considering that they were absolutely abysmal defending third downs at Soldier Field.
The Vikings have to keep their offense on the field and keep the Green Bay offense off of it. Obviously, a big part of that is continuing to pound Adrian Peterson, but the other part is that Christian Ponder absolutely has to do a better job of finding open receivers. . .and when he does find them, the receivers need to actually catch the football better than they did against Chicago.
Frankly, it wouldn't disappoint me to see the Vikings run the ball between 35 and 40 times, even working Toby Gerhart into the offense significantly more than they have this season. I doubt that it will happen, largely because I don't have any idea what the heck goes through Bill Musgrave's head sometimes, but if there was a game to do it, this would be the one.
Lastly, the Vikings need to do something that they were unable to do last week. . .take advantage of a relatively weak offensive line. Through 11 games this season, only one team in the NFL has allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked more times than the Packers' 37. That team is the Arizona Cardinals with 46 sacks allowed, and if the Vikings have any hope of winning on Sunday, their pass rush needs to put together a similar performance to the one they did against that Arizona team, when John Skelton went down seven times. Yes, Aaron Rodgers is a huge step forward from John Skelton. Duh. But he can still be harassed and sacked, and the Vikings will need to do both on Sunday in order for this team to have a chance.
Many people think the Vikings are going to slowly fade out of the playoff picture going forward. They can reverse that fade with a victory on Sunday afternoon. Can they do it? Well. . .
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