Vikings vs Packers: Blocking for Rodgers the Most Critical Factor for Green Bay

Andrew Garda@andrew_gardaFeatured ColumnistNovember 30, 2012

It's pretty close to utter chaos at the top of the NFC North which is good for fans and bad for heartburn.

The Packers are hot on the heels of the division-leading Chicago Bears, who have had their offensive line decimated by injury and subpar play.

Sound familiar?

That's the thing—for all the ability the team has, the offensive line is the biggest question mark.

Play-calling is a factor, as is Aaron Rodgers occasional tendency to hold on to the ball too long. Ultimately though, the offensive line needs to step it up a few notches.

They need to do it without any real help.

When things work offensively, they are almost impossible to stop. However, when the offensive line or an extra blocker fails to do his job, it can be a problem.

We'll take a look at both here (using coach's footage  as we get into the game plan.

Jordy Nelson's touchdown against Corey Webster in the first quarter is the result of a few things that take place right before a great effort on his part.

Two of the three previous plays were off-tackle run plays and they pulled the defense up, as well as caught the eye of the safeties who were very concerned with the short field.

The third play was a short pass to fullback John Kuhn out on the flat which, while it doesn't go for huge yards, but as with the previous two runs, it made the Giants think the Packers were content to take the small plays as they went down the field.

Which is when Jordy Nelson torches them, of course.

On the play, the Packers' formation looks like it's set up for another short play as only two receivers are set out wide. Nelson is to the right of Rodgers which James Jones is wide left.

Both receivers go out with Jones breaking in toward the center of the field, then back towards the sideline. 

The safeties (bright red arrows) come toward the line of scrimmage.

While two linebackers drop into coverage, they shift to their right first, then drop back. The delay leaves the middle of the field open and had Jones kept going across the middle, he would have been wide open.

Regardless, the safeties moving up and the delayed drop of the linebackers tell you all you need to know here—the Giants were far more worried about the short play than a long one.

This all leaves Webster on an island against Nelson, who has both the speed and agility to make it hard for a defensive back to hang with him.

Nelson stops and starts just short of the 50-yard line and just about breaks Webster's ankles before heading full speed down the field where Rodgers hits him in stride for a big gain.

This sort of sequence—three short plays and a deep one—should work well against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend.

The Vikings have become more vulnerable to the run as the year has gone on, so if the Packers will get Alex Green and James Starks moving early, it will set up the defense for this type of exploitation. 

The Vikings are a little better defending the shorter passes, but a screen or delayed out such as the one Kuhn executed will also work well.

In terms of the secondary, the Packers match up very well with the Vikings. While Nelson, Jones, Randall Cobb and possibly Greg Jennings aren't monsters, they do have a slight advantage over the Vikings' like Antoine Winfield or Jamarca Sanford.

Skill-wise, the Packers receivers are much better than the Vikings' secondary.

The short 'jabs' followed by the long 'uppercut' could bait the Vikings into leaving the corners to cover Nelson, Cobb, Jones and company solo and the Packers would want that all day.

Of course, they need to make sure Rodgers has the time to throw the ball to utilize that mismatch.

It's been interesting to listen to the chatter from fans and analysts about what went wrong against the Giants. Is it the line, is it Rodgers, is it play calling or is it something else?

Quite simply, to all of the above I say yes.

Rodgers has been holding the ball too long, sometimes avoiding pulling the trigger on an open player short to hope something long breaks open.

Yes, the plays being called in some situations often make you scratch your head.

Yes the offensive line is a mess.

All that being said, even when they brought in extra blockers for a play, it hasn't gone as well as it needed to. 

The tight ends, running backs and fullbacks all need to do a better job of blocking.

Let's look at a play where it all worked out OK, but the overall effort on the lead block was awful.

On the play, Jermichael Finley (red circle) shifts inside Randall Cobb, just off tackle. 

If you watch the video above, the first view on it shows Finley cut behind the offensive line as lead blocker for Cobb, who takes the handoff from Rodgers on an end-around.

Finley completely whiffs on the defender and if you think it looks bad on the first, wide portion of the clip, keep watching—it's worse from the end zone view.

What saves this from being a disaster, and actually turns it into a nice play, is that Cobb is a phenomenally talented player who makes the incoming defender miss.

This is not an uncommon occurrence during the odd time the Packers bring in an extra blocker.

Be it a running back, a tight end or a combination of the two, they just don't execute well. If you look again at the video clip, Finley looks like he almost can't be bothered to block on the play. It's lazy and it almost gets the play killed.

The Vikings are going to come after Aaron Rodgers hard and knowing the Packers have issues at the edge of the line, will come blitzing off the edge probably quite a bit. 

Expect lots of Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson attacking Marshall Newhouse and TJ Lang—especially Newhouse.

Because that's what worked for the Giants.

Defensively, it's a matter of stopping Adrian Peterson as much as the Packers can and getting after Christian Ponder.

With the injuries the Packers are dealing with along the center of the defense, their already shaky run defense is going to have a hard time stopping Peterson.

While I won't advocate just letting him go, their main point of concern has to be Ponder.

Peterson will keep the Vikings in the game, but if Rodgers is on his game, Ponder will have to be the one to win it.

The secondary will not have much of a hard time if Percy Harvin is out—Jarius Wright is the biggest threat here and he's likely to make some plays. Harvin and Wright will be a bigger concern but honestly it doesn't look so good for Harvin right now.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph can be a match-up problem, so it will be up to guys like Morgan Burnett and either MD Jennings or Jerron McMillian to step up from the safety position or linebackers like Dezmon Moses or Erik Walden dropping into coverage.

Rudolph can be knocked off his routes, so taking a close look at the last month's worth of tape is a good idea as he has been less of a factor over that time.

If I have to guess where the tipping point comes for in this game, though, it will be the Packers' offensive line. It has to be prepared for a lot of pressure from a Vikings team with it's back against the wall.

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Follow me on Twitter at @andrew_garda.


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