We're just a couple of days away from Minnesota and Green Bay facing off at Lambeau. Jason Hirschhorn, Staff Writer for Green Bay Packers site Acme Packing Company, was kind enough to exchange a Q&A with us about a team that looks significantly different than the one that throttled the Vikings a little less than a month ago in the Metrodome. My answers for his Vikings questions can be found here. Here's what Jason had to say:
1. The Aaron Rodgers injury has really changed the tone of the 2013 season for Green Bay. Scott Tolzien has been thrust into the starting role after backup Seneca Wallace also went down with an injury. Tolzien won't be confused with Rodgers anytime soon, but he has put up some decent stats outside of the turnovers that are keeping the team from finishing drives. What's your take on how Tolzien has played during his first two games, and what do you think he needs to do to get the Packers a much-needed win on Sunday?
Aaron Rodgers' fractured collarbone not only altered the landscape of the NFC North, but the entire conference. At the time of the injury, the Packers sat at the top of the division with a fairly easy path to a top two seed in the playoffs. Now, their best case scenario is the a playoff berth as one of the lower seeded division winners, and even that path comes with great difficulty.
As for Scott Tolzien, he has more tools than you'd expect form an undrafted quarterback who just made his first NFL start, but the turnovers are deeply concerning. Most of the interceptions have been the result of not knowing the defender's location, and correcting those blind spots in the middle of the season is extremely difficult. For the Packers to be effective behind Tolzien, he's going to need to avoid at least half of those bad throws while continuing to make the deep completions that have kept the offense going in Rodgers' absence. That's going to be hard for any quarterback, especially one as inexperienced as Tolzien.
2. Do the Green Bay Packers finally have a legitimate running game with Eddie Lacy? The rookie running back has been very impressive since returning from an early season concussion. Is Lacy the main difference for the improved running game or is the offensive line playing better as well? Do you think Lacy will have another good day against Minnesota even with Rodgers out?
In just over half a season, Eddie Lacy has established himself as the Packers' best running back since Ahman Green. He hits the holes quickly while being nearly impossible to take down by a single defender once he has momentum.
However, much of the credit is due the Packers offensive line. In recent years, run blocking was a tertiary function for Green Bay's linemen. However, with the additions of David Bakhtiari and the flipping of guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang, the Packers have improved considerably in this area.
As Vikings fans are aware, good running back and offensive line can only do so much when the quarterback isn't performing. Unless Tolzien's play improves considerably, the ground game could struggle as it did a week ago.
3. For some reason I feel like this season is beginning to feel eerily similar to 2010 where the Packers made an improbable run to win the Super Bowl. Green Bay has a ton of injuries, they're on the fringe of the playoff picture, people are counting them out because they're too beat up to contend...doesn't that sound like a few years ago? I know the major difference is that Rodgers is hurt this time around, but if he comes back healthy in a week or two could you see the team making another run like that?
(Note: I mostly asked this question to reverse jinx the Packers and make sure it doesn't happen again. But I'm still curious if you feel the same way.)
Rodgers' prolonged absence is a major difference, but another factor is the defense. In 2010, the Packers defense was one of the league's elite units in stopping opposing quarterbacks, finished number one in defensive quarterback rating. In 2013, the Packers' rank just outside the bottom five in the same category. When a team can't even slow down the opponent's passing game, it's nearly impossible to contend for a championship. Whether or not Rodgers can return soon, the defense is likely going to keep them from reaching the ultimate goal.
4, Give us one player on offense and one player on defense that the casual Vikings fan might not be all that familiar with but could have a big impact on Sunday's game.
On offense, that player is Jarrett Boykin. Boykin is a second year receiver who has become an integral part of the offense with Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley, and James Jones all missing time. While not a burner, Boykin has three receptions of 35 yards or more in the past five weeks. He's also adept at breaking tackles and turning short passes into long gains. The Packers will utilize Boykin both on the outside and in the slot, wherever the better matchup exists.
As for the other side of the ball, pay close attention to defensive lineman Mike Daniels. He possesses and unconventional stature for a 3-4 defensive end (6-0, 291), but has established himself as the Packers' best pass-rushing defensive lineman. Look for him to spend a significant part of the afternoon in the Vikings' backfield.
5. Finally, who wins the game and why?
I think the Packers finally end their skid this week. While there're still more questions than answers with Tolzien, the Vikings defense has struggled this season and should have trouble with Lacy and the Green Bay offensive line. It won't be pretty, but I'll take the Packers 24 - 14.