NFL Preview - Green Bay (7-3) at Minnesota (4-6)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - If Adrian Peterson was wearing purple on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings would have been a significant underdog to the Green Bay Packers.
Without the former MVP?
Well let's just say the high-powered Packers probably feel pretty good about their chances as the long-time rivals prepare for the latest incarnation of their "Border Battle" in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Green Bay has won two straight and six of seven overall behind its own former MVP in Aaron Rodgers, who is playing the quarterback position at an absurdly high level right now.
Rodgers, who threw six first-half touchdowns in a 55-14 Week 10 blowout of the Bears, threw for three touchdowns and 341 yards last week as the Packers improved to 5-0 at home with a 53-20 drubbing of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Green Bay is the first team since the 1950 Rams to score at least 53 points in consecutive games and is one of only six teams in history to reach the half- century mark in consecutive contests. Overall Rodgers is leading an offensive unit that is scoring an NFL-best 33.0 points per game.
"This is not easy," Rodgers said when asked about putting up such massive numbers. "There's a lot of preparation that goes into it. It takes 11 guys to win, to do the job to make something like that happen."
Eddie Lacy ran for 69 yards and a score on 10 carries and added another TD through the air against the Eagles. Randall Cobb had a game-high 129 yards on 10 catches, Jordy Nelson made four grabs for 109 yards a score and Davante Adams also hauled in a TD catch in the win.
"Very good home victory. I thought our players did an excellent job in all three phases," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "I've got to figure out new ways to compliment Aaron Rodgers. He's playing at an extremely high level."
Peterson, meanwhile, isn't walking through that door to save the Vikings season.
Minnesota is 4-6 after a 21-13 setback in Chicago last week, a game that dropped the Vikings to 4-6, three games behind both the Packers and Detroit Lions in the NFC North.
Peterson, the game's best pure runner was suspended for at least the remainder of the 2014 season earlier this week for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, a punishment stemming from the abusive discipline Peterson inflicted on his 4-year-old son last May.
Of course Paterson has been shelved since the season opener after being indicted by a grand jury in Montgomery County, Texas, on Sept. 11 and the Vikings have moved forward with two talented rookies in their backfield, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Jerick McKinnon.
"That's the furthest thing from my mind right now," Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer said of the Peterson issue. "I need to figure out how we can tackle and get people out on third downs."
"I don't agree with it," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn added. "He's missed nine games already, but, at the end of the day, the NFL came up with that decision and we have to live with it."
Bridgewater went 18-for-28 for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Bears but threw an interception in the final minute with the Vikings trying to come back and the Soldier Field clock malfunctioning.
Charles Johnson had six catches for 87 yards to lead all Minnesota receivers while McKinnon ran it eight times for 38 yards.
"We can play much better than we did today," said Bridgewater. "We knew coming in that it was going to be a challenge for us because Chicago was going to have a chip on its shoulder."
The Packers lead their all-time series with Minnesota by a 56-48-2 margin and Rodgers has dominated the Vikings over the years, winning eight of his past nine starts against them, including a 42-10 drubbing at Lambeau Field in Week 5. Bridgewater, however, missed that game with an ankle injury.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Minnesota's only hope here is getting the Packers out of Lambeau, where they are 5-0 and have outscored opponents by a 219-85 margin while averaging 43.8 points per game. Conversely, Green Bay is 2-3 on the road and has been scoring three TDs less at 22.2 ppg.
Rodgers has generally destroyed the Vikings over the years, feasting on Minnesota's old cover-2 philosophy. In 13 career starts against Minnesota, Rodgers has amassed 30 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions.
That was supposed to change under first- year Vikings coach Zimmer, who preaches controlled aggression with the keys being getting after the passer but doing it in a more disciplined manner, a necessity against Rodgers, who is one of the best ever at extending plays with his mobility.
It's still a work in progress, though, and the Minnesota D reverted back to some bad habits in Chicago, enabling Jay Cutler to extend plays and get the ball down the field. If the unit does the same thing against Rodgers they might as well not show up on Sunday.
Zimmer's finished products have had more success against Rodgers than most. The All-Pro was 0-2 against Zimmer's defenses in Cincinnati with a less-than- stellar 57 percent completion percentage.
In his past two efforts this season, A-Rod has nine touchdowns without an interception and 656 passing yards, despite giving way early to backup Matt Flynn in the blowouts. Rodgers' 120.1 passer rating leads the NFL and would be a single-season record while his 28 TDs are second in the league.
"Obviously Aaron is having a great season and has done so many things, but I think you can't lose sight of the fact that this is a team sport," McCarthy said. "I just think it's a group that's a year better and has hit its stride a little bit."
That group includes Nelson and Cobb, who have combined for 19 TD catches, as well as Lacy, who has rebounded nicely after a slow start, rumbling for 547 yards and five TDs. The powerful Lacy is very tough to tackle and Minnesota didn't look all that interested in hitting last week in the cold, missing about a dozen tackles.
"Number one, especially on the defense, is you have to be able to go out and tackle pretty well," Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. "(Lacy) is a good back, a big back, like a battering ram. It's going to take more than one guy to bring him down. We don't want to leave one guy on him. He's a tough runner."
Veteran Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has been very cautious with Bridgewater, really scaling down the playbook for the rookie. The safe approach has shown on the field, however, and Minnesota is 29th in passing offense and 30th in total offense, averaging just 309.1 yards per game
The team claimed veteran running back Ben Tate off waivers Wednesday a day after he was released by Cleveland and he could be thrown into the fire immediately because McKinnon is dealing with a balky back and backup Matt Asiata suffered a concussion last week.
The Packers' defense has been helped by the fact Rodgers has been putting up two touchdowns or so in the first four of five minutes of games. That has enabled a flawed unit to play with the lead and pin its ears back to go after the opposing QB, resulting in a NFL-best plus-14 in turnover differential.
"Just being opportunistic," Green Bay pass rusher Julius Peppers said when discussing his defense. "Guys being in the right place at the right time and making the plays when it's time to make them. That's pretty much it."
The Green Bay D is poor against the run but no one has been able to expose that weakness because opponents are usually playing the catch-up game.
"They start fast," Bridgewater acknowledged. "And once they get out on you, they don't let up, so we know that we're going to have to start fast also. ... It's a good thing that it's back home this week."
The Packers have scored 108 points in their last two games while Minnesota has a total of 90 in its last six.
If Turner continues down the path of producing tentative game plans with an intent on keeping it close and winning things in the fourth quarter (and there is no reason to think he will not), the Vikings have no chance here. Rodgers is simply too explosive for that mentality.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 34, Vikings 17
11/23 10:44:11 ET