Vikings defensive end Brian Robison realizes his logic sounds strange, but he figures the best way to contain the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night is to make them one-dimensional on offense so they rely strictly on Aaron Rodgers’ passing.
Crazy talk, right?
“You don’t necessarily want the ball in Aaron Rodgers in hands,” Robison said, “but we’ve got to get them in that mode where they feel like they have to pass, and we’ve got to be able to get after them.”
Unlike years past, Robison said the Packers offense has become a “pick your poison” operation because they now possess one of the league’s top rushing attacks to complement Rodgers’ prolific passing.
The Packers are ranked No. 6 in the NFL in rushing (134.7 yards per game) and already have had three different running backs top the 100-yard mark in a game. Injuries to receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley have depleted the Packers receiving corps and encouraged them to rely on a more balanced approach.
“In the past, you just concentrated on trying to come up with a way to defend the quarterback and the passing game,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “They’ve made it a little bit tougher for defenses with their commitment to the run game.”
How different is it? The Packers have not finished in the top 10 in rushing since 2004. They did not have a 100-yard rusher from Week 6 of the 2010 season until the 2013 season opener, a streak of 44 games. They’ve had a 100-yard runner in three of their past five games.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Packers became the first team since the 1989 Washington Redskins to have three different running backs — rookie Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin and James Starks — rush for 100 yards in the first five games of the season. Rodgers called that statistical accomplishment “almost foreign for us around here.”
“It’s awkward to sit and talk about Green Bay and running the ball,” Robison said. “But they’re running the ball and running it well.”
To be clear, the Packers offense still revolves around Rodgers and his ability to torch defenses with his passing. But teams now must design a game plan that accounts for Green Bay’s running game, too.
“You take a potent offense like that and you throw in a stable run game, that makes a huge difference,” defensive end Jared Allen said.
Lacy gives their offense a different dynamic. The second-round pick has rushed for 301 yards the past three games, which leads the NFL in that span. He became the first Packers rookie since 1971 to rush for at least 80 yards in three consecutive games.
“He’s powerful,” Robison said. “He’s one of those guys that is not going to get brought down with arm tackles. He’s going to keep his feet churning. We’ve got make sure we put some hats on him and we wrap up and bring him to the ground.”
The Vikings have struggled to stop the run at times this season, which puts even more stress on their vulnerable secondary. Their ability to contain the Packers running game is especially critical because Rodgers is hard enough to defend without having to worry about his running backs, too.
His 116.4 career passer rating against the Vikings ranks No. 1 in league history (since the 1970 merger) against a single opponent. If the Packers are able to establish their run, that will open the entire playbook for Rodgers and keep the Vikings defense guessing.
“You want to make every team one-dimensional, especially when you’re playing against a team like the Packers who have such a great quarterback and receiving corps who can get things done on the outside,” middle linebacker Erin Henderson said. “You want to make them have to go that route to beat you.”