Cracking the Packers: Last month's loss helps Sunday's game plan

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2012 - 6:26 AM

A Week 13 loss in Green Bay helped the Vikings draw up their blueprint to win Sunday's rematch.

 

The 23-14 loss at Lambeau Field was barely an hour old, its sting still raw when Vikings running back Adrian Peterson began diagnosing all that went wrong.

It was obvious Peterson and his teammates were all having difficulty digesting such a bitter defeat.

Then came the question that really struck a nerve.

Peterson was asked whether the loss, which came a week after a 28-10 face-plant in Chicago, was further proof the Vikings didn't have the horses to compete at the top level in their division.

Peterson recoiled, scowling as if he'd just swallowed a triple shot of Wild Turkey.

"Do we not have the horses? Did you not see the game today?" he snapped. "Did you not see how that game ended? Turnovers. Penalties. That's why we lost the game. Guys fought today. We lost because we gave it to them."

Sure, that response carried added fury as the missed opportunity sunk in. But even now, four weeks removed and heading into a high-stakes rematch with the Packers, the Vikings remain convinced they dug their own grave in Green Bay.

"We gave one away," defensive end Jared Allen said Thursday.

Added fullback Jerome Felton: "We felt like we could have easily taken control of that game and we let it slip away. That loss really hurt."

So now what? To finish an improbable December rally and reach the playoffs, the Vikings need a home upset of Green Bay. And it's not just that they must avoid giving another winnable game away. They must also find a way to contain the NFL's reigning MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. And they must scheme to beat a Packers squad that hasn't lost a division game in more than two years.

The good news: Green Bay has lost four times already -- to the 49ers, Seahawks, Colts and Giants. Each of those games has provided clues on how the Packers can be toppled.

Heck, even the Vikings' Week 13 failure at Lambeau Field drove home an understanding that Green Bay is beatable. The blueprint for Sunday must contain four key principles.

1 RUSH FOUR, GET HOME

Rule number 1 against Green Bay: Blitz at your own peril.

Arguably no quarterback in the league handles extra pressure with as much moxie and aplomb as Rodgers.

Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams labels Green Bay's quarterback "a quadruple threat" who extinguishes blitzes like they're candles on a birthday cake.

"Wow, he's intelligent," Williams said. "He's seen all the looks. He knows what he's looking at. He gets the ball out of his hands. And when he doesn't get the ball out of his hands, he has an uncanny ability to move and avoid the rush and keep his eyes downfield and find open guys. And then when he doesn't do that, he's athletic enough to beat you with his feet."

Last week, Tennessee coordinator Jerry Gray went blitz-heavy. Rodgers, in turn, delivered a 55-7 reprimand.

Said Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield: "Blitzing him is tough. Because they take so many chances. They're always trying to go vertical."

In short: After sending a dizzying combination of pressures at St. Louis' Sam Bradford and Houston's Matt Schaub, the Vikings will charge their defensive line almost exclusively with rattling Rodgers this week. But it's a formula that can be successful.

Sure, the world might always remember Green Bay's controversial 14-12 loss in Seattle in September for the M.D. Jennings interception that was ruled a Golden Tate touchdown catch by a replacement ref named Lance Easley. But in truth, the Packers' undoing began during a first half in which their offensive line was abused by Seattle's front four. In posting a first-half shutout, the Seahawks held Green Bay to 47 passing yards and delivered seven of their eight sacks without blitz help.

The Giants attacked similarly in their 38-10 blowout of the Packers two months later, keeping as many defenders as possible in coverage and limiting their blitzes. The result was a five-sack night, four coming from defensive linemen.

2 ESTABLISH THE RUN

Sure, the Colts and Giants might have turned their quarterbacks loose to fuel their victories over Green Bay. In Week 5, Andrew Luck threw for 362 yards and two scores to rally Indianapolis to a 30-27 win. Eli Manning threw for 249 yards and three TDs in New York's romp.

But with the NFL's most dangerous back in Peterson, the Vikings are certain to stay true to their identity.

In Week 1, San Francisco pounded away with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to the tune of 153 yards on 25 carries against Green Bay. The 49ers' physicality in getting the ground game going set an early tone and fueled a 30-22 victory.

Heck, Peterson himself did major damage to the Packers' defense in the teams' first meeting, turning 21 carries into 210 yards. That should have been enough to close the deal and would be welcome Sunday.

Which leads to the next principle ...

3 GET THE QUARTERBACK TO MAKE PLAYS

Even more importantly, command Christian Ponder to avoid catastrophic mistakes.

It's not just that Ponder threw two costly interceptions to thwart second-half scoring drives at Lambeau Field. It's that with four minutes left, he had completed five passes for 36 yards and had gone more than 38 game minutes between completions.

Make no mistake, Ponder isn't Luck. But like Indianapolis' prized rookie, Ponder has mobility he can use to his advantage. That might mean buying time, then regrouping to make improvised but calculated throws. Or it might mean Ponder needs to identify open running lanes and bolt for positive yardage, such as last week in Houston when he aided the Vikings' final TD drive by beating an all-out blitz with a 29-yard run.

Noted offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave: "Another case where our players are playing where our chalk ends."

And yes, the Vikings are confident Ponder still vividly remembers and understands the consequences of his two woeful interceptions at Green Bay.

"I think we can get those out of our system," Musgrave said. "I think we've sensed from the last three games that he's definitely learned from those."

4 KEEP THE FAITH

The Colts wouldn't have beaten Green Bay if they didn't believe a second-half rally from 18 points down was possible. Seattle used Russell Wilson's contagious calm on the final drive to produce their "Fail Mary" miracle.

So for the Vikings, retaining belief Sunday will be key -- even through the inevitable ups and downs of what will be an emotionally charged game.

As hard as it might be to believe, coach Leslie Frazier came away from his team's 23-14 loss in Green Bay feeling encouraged. Not with his team's execution on the whole, but certainly with the unity and grit they showed.

"I had talked to them the night before the game about playing together as a team and playing for one another," Frazier said. "And I remember watching them in pregame and how they were going amongst themselves and encouraging each other like I hadn't seen throughout the season. That was a good sign."

And when adversity and frustration surfaced, Frazier loved seeing his players' camaraderie and fight.

"It made me feel like as a team we were really coming together the way you need to in the month of December," Frazier said. "I just sensed that we were really bonding. Which is the intangible when you're going through some adversity and about to play some really, really tough teams ahead."

That loss in Green Bay could have killed the Vikings' season. Instead, they regrouped with convincing victories over the Bears, Rams and Texans, retaining a belief that they belong in the postseason.

  • VIKINGS WEEK 17

    Up next: 3:25 p.m. Sunday vs. Green Bay • Mall of America Field • TV: Ch. 9 (100.3-FM, 1130-AM)

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New England 14 2nd Qtr 0:31
Seattle 7
Miami 83 FINAL
Boston 75
LA Lakers 80 FINAL
New York 92
Arizona 3 FINAL
Montreal 2
St. Louis 4 FINAL
Washington 3
Nashville 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Minnesota 4 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Miami-Florida 54 FINAL
Florida State 55
Oakland 96 FINAL
Youngstown St 80
Cincinnati 46 FINAL
East Carolina 50
Michigan 66 FINAL
Michigan State 76
Marist 75 FINAL
Canisius 67
Fordham 77 FINAL
Dayton 101
Manhattan 87 FINAL
Monmouth 76
Quinnipiac 100 FINAL
Niagara 105
Utah 67 FINAL
USC 39
Connecticut 68 FINAL
Houston 70
California 90 FINAL
Washington 88
North Dakota St 64 FINAL
Western Ill 62
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(22) Rutgers 76
(14) Texas 59 FINAL
TCU 64
Coll of Charleston 49 FINAL
Towson 71
Cornell 53 FINAL
Yale 60
Xavier 68 FINAL
Providence 57
Drexel 61 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 44
Stony Brook 60 FINAL
New Hampshire 52
Maine 52 FINAL
Albany 44
Miami-Florida 66 FINAL
Pittsburgh 81
(21) Georgia 72 FINAL
(10) Kentucky 80
Arizona 69 FINAL
Colorado 81
Wake Forest 63 FINAL
(4) Notre Dame 92
Loyola-Chicago 56 FINAL
Illinois State 72
(24) Oklahoma 69 FINAL
West Virginia 78
St Johns 73 FINAL
Seton Hall 78
Delaware 73 FINAL
Hofstra 62
Binghamton 49 FINAL
UMass Lowell 66
Vermont 49 FINAL
Hartford 60
William & Mary 72 FINAL
Northeastern 66
Boston College 60 FINAL
(16) North Carolina 72
Virginia 77 FINAL
Clemson 72
(2) Connecticut 83 FINAL
Temple 49
Arkansas 53 FINAL
Alabama 42
Virginia Tech 71 FINAL
Georgia Tech 79
Kansas 58 FINAL
(3) Baylor 66
Canisius 51 FINAL
Rider 52
Monmouth 52 FINAL
Fairfield 54
Quinnipiac 81 FINAL
Saint Peters 50
Butler 55 FINAL
Creighton 62
Wichita State 61 FINAL
Drake 64
Evansville 52 FINAL
Indiana State 67
(18) Miss State 67 FINAL
(6) Tennessee 79
Villanova 47 FINAL
DePaul 49
Georgetown 73 FINAL
Marquette 80
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Rice 58
Auburn 45 FINAL
(12) Texas A&M 78
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Utah 48
Missouri State 56 FINAL
Northern Iowa 64
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Minnesota 49 FINAL
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Illinois 62
Bradley 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 76
Florida 67 FINAL
Vanderbilt 58
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(5) Maryland 93
(1) South Carolina 77 FINAL
Ole Miss 59
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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