EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Facing a humbled team with a wounded offensive line, the Minnesota Vikings have seen this script before.
Outsiders would expect Minnesota’s pass rushers to be licking their chops in an anticipated matchup with the Green Bay Packers’ beleaguered offensive line in Sunday’s game at Green Bay. After all, the Vikings are known as one of the league’s top pass-rushing teams and are facing a Packers’ line that allowed five sacks in a loss to the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football last weekend.
Not so fast, says Minnesota. It was the same scenario Vikings defensive end Jared Allen and his teammates faced against the Chicago Bears last week.
“I mean, come on,” Allen said Thursday. “Monday Night Football and you get embarrassed like that, you know what’s going to happen. You get max protection. And we chose to max cover, and tried to cover (receiver Brandon Marshall).”
Allen and the Vikings expect similar concessions will be made by Green Bay for Sunday’s game. After Chicago had allowed six sacks during a nationally televised game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Bears went to more short passing and better protection last week against Minnesota and quarterback Jay Cutler was only sacked once, the result of having his foot stepped on by the center.
Chicago attempted just three passes of 15 yards or more in the air, going 0 of 3 on the attempts. The Vikings believe game situation, since they were playing from behind, is one of the biggest factors in rushing the passer. The Bears and Green Bay in their previous games were behind and had to resort to playing catch-up.
“That’s the similarity,” Frazier said of the previous games for Chicago and the Packers. “If you can get a lead when you’ve got a group of guys that can rush the passer, you have a chance. But if it’s a game that’s in the balance or you’re behind, it’s hard to rush the passer when you’re behind or in a game that’s kind of nip and tuck.”
Green Bay, which has allowed the second most sacks this season in the NFL, saw quarterback Aaron Rodgers sacked five times last week. But the Packers aren’t likely to change much, either. Despite the protection issues, Green Bay still tries to attack downfield with Rodgers and its elite set of receivers, which gets Greg Jennings back this week.
The Packers understand their weaknesses.
“A lot of the pressure has just been from four-man rush,” Rodgers said earlier this week. “So, teams have been resigned to play a lot of split safety and counting on their front four to get after me and our offensive line. There’s been some success with that method, so I wouldn’t expect a big change or deviation from that kind of strategy.”
The onus is on Minnesota’s front four, especially Allen, Kevin Williams, Brian Robison and pass-rush specialist Everson Griffen. Allen, coming off last year’s spectacular 22-sack season, has just seven this season and has gone three games without a sack. Through 11 games last season, he had 13.5 sacks. He also made a living against the NFC North, specifically the Bears and Packers.
The Vikings, which tied for a league-high with 50 sacks as a team last year, had 15 sacks in four games against Chicago and Green Bay. Allen had 7.5 of those sacks and enjoys the challenge of getting to Rodgers.
“He’s such a good quarterback that sometimes he’ll hold the ball a little longer to make a great play,” Allen said. “Sometimes that can work against him where you get a quarterback that’s that good and sometimes you can get to him because he holds it a little extra. Sometimes that burns you. I think it’s just been a combination of the way our games have been played over the years. Like I said, they’re not afraid. Their offense is predicated on taking shots down the field. When you take shots down the field, every once in a while you’re going to give up some sacks.”
Chicago has allowed 35 sacks this season, the third-highest total in the league and two less than Green Bay’s runner-up total. Both teams have had to reshuffle their lines because of injury. The Packers are starting Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard with T.J. Lang moving to right tackle to replace the injured Bryan Bulaga.
Minnesota’s pass rush has dropped to 13th this season with 27 sacks through 11 games and following the scheme that’s been successful against Green Bay this season, the Vikings will hope for strong pressure from their defensive line and hope an early lead can force the Packers to wait for big plays.
“You don’t really see a whole lot of teams blitzing them, but at the same time you see the teams that have success against them are teams that are able to build some sort of lead and be able to get after them,” Robison said. “You look at the Seattle game, you look at the New York Giants game, those were teams that were able to build some sort of lead on them and be able to get after them with their front four.”
The scenario would seem to be a perfect match for Robison, Allen and crew, but they know things aren’t always as they seem.