A lot of attention will be paid to the offenses in Sunday’s huge Vikings-Packers clash, and with good reason. You’ve got Adrian Peterson on one side and Aaron Rodgers on the other side. Not to mention all those Packer receiving weapons. And of course the on-going Christian Ponder drama. Plenty of offensive storylines to chew on. But, let’s not overlook the defenses here. There’s plenty to discuss on that side of the ball as well. Both these teams started the year with tons of question marks on defense, and have steadily been putting it together as the year has progressed. Let’s break down some of the top defensive storylines:
Clay Matthews, Back in the Fold
The Packers were without their #1 pass-rusher for several weeks, and it undoubtedly hurt them. But now Matthews is back and that could be bad news for Christian Ponder. Just ask Jay Cutler. Matthews sacked Cutler twice in his first game back from the injury. No doubt, Matthews is still a beast. I hope the Vikings shut this guy down, cause I really can’t stand his sack dance antics. And his fans are just pains in the butt.
To Blitz or Not to Blitz
Will Alan Williams have the nerve to blitz Aaron Rodgers the same way he blitzed Sam Bradford and Matt Schaub? Conventional wisdom says it would be a bad idea to bring extra men against Green Bay. Rodgers is just so good at those pre-snap reads. He sees where the blitz is coming from, gives his receiver a little wink or a nod or some kind of signal, and before you know it, you are toast. Rodgers is just unbelievably calm in the face of pressure and so brilliant at diagnosing defenses. It will be fascinating to see how the chess game plays out between Williams and Rodgers.
Casey Hayward is An Impact Player
The Vikings had Hayward on their radar screen during the draft. But the Packers traded up and snapped Hayward away. And now we can see why the Packers loved this kid so much. He has been a huge addition to their secondary. He now has six interceptions as a rookie. Watch out for this guy. Charles Woodson likely won’t play, but Green Bay still has a big-time ball-hawking cornerback out there lurking, waiting to strike.
Harrison Smith is An Impact Player Too
Smith played a brilliant game against Houston. He made several big plays to help hold down that Texans offense. None was bigger than his tackle to stop Garrett Graham short of a first down with the Texans trying to fight their way back in the fourth quarter. Smith gets a lot of grief for his poor form tackling but that was a great effort. Smith also showed off his coverage skills by blanketing Owen Daniels on a bootleg pass attempt, forcing an incompletion and almost getting the pick. Smith’s presence changes things for the Vikings. They haven’t had a playmaking safety like this since Darren Sharper was in town. And Smith hits too. He can also get home on a blitz as Jay Cutler found out. Bet on Smith having a huge impact Sunday against Green Bay.
Look Out for Mike Neal
Read this write up on Mike Neal. This guy was well on his way to being a bust for the Packers. But now he’s turned his whole career around and is becoming a true force on the defensive line for Green Bay. Neal’s emergence has been a big part of the Packers’ defensive turnaround this year. They just weren’t getting enough from their linemen, and that’s why they picked up guys like Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels in the draft. I guess Neal took that as a message. And he has responded.
Everson Griffen is Living Up to All That Potential
Griffen was once one of those guys you worried about. He was talented but seemed to play with complete lack of discipline. And then he had that double arrest incident, which made you wonder how long he’d even be in the league. Things have changed for Griffen though. He’s kept his head down and worked. And now it’s paying off. These last two weeks with Brian Robison on the shelf, Griffen has finally gotten enough snaps to show what an impact he can make. And he’s delivered big time. He’s become a total monster in the pass rush. And he had an interception dropping into zone coverage against the Rams. His athleticism is off the charts. He’s a guy who just goes out there and makes plays. He’s a pure instinctive defensive player. If he were smaller and faster he could easily be a safety or corner. He just gets how to play defensive football. He’ll probably start this game at defensive end and kick inside with Robison coming in on nickel. Wherever he lines up, Griffen makes things happen. He’s the x-factor for this defense. The Percy Harvin of D.
I’ve touched on a few guys who’ve played a role in helping both these defensive units improve. But I can’t forget the men who pull the strings. Dom Capers has been considered a defensive guru for many years. The Packers took a step back last year, but they rebuilt through the draft in 2012 and now Capers has this unit playing well. The Packers are not the same one-dimensional team they were in 2011. They can play some D too. That makes them dangerous in the playoffs.
And the way things have been going in recent weeks, Alan Williams may soon join Dom Capers on that short list of defensive wizards in the NFL. I love what he’s done the last three games with scheming. Get this guy some more players and watch him build a great defense. This game will be fun to watch on the defensive side of the ball. There’s a lot of talent out there and the guys calling the plays are both great at the chess game.
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