(Sports Network) - Chicago and its porous offensive line were able to right
the ship thanks to a visit from Minnesota last Sunday.
Now it's Green Bay's turn as the banged-up Packers entertain a mistake-prone
Vikings team in a key NFC North matchup.
The 7-4 Packers are a game behind the division-leading Bears in the North and
a game ahead of Minnesota with just five left in the season. All three teams
have the playoffs in mind but that goal is probably realistic for just two of
The Vikings looked overmatched in the Second City last Sunday and things don't
figure to change all that much in Titletown this week against a Packers team
which has won four straight over Minnesota and nine consecutive games overall
in the NFC North.
Jay Cutler returned from a concussion to complete 23-for-31 passes for 188
yards and a touchdown during a 28-10 win over the Vikings at Soldier Field.
His counterpart, Minnesota's Christian Ponder had yet another poor performance
connecting on just 22-for-43 throws for 159 yards, one touchdown and one
interception for the Vikings, who were coming off their bye week and lost for
a third time in their past four games. Adrian Peterson carried the ball 18
times for 108 yards in the loss but also fumbled it twice.
"It was a very disappointing game since we didn't execute the way we needed to
on the road," said Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier. "We struggled in a
number of areas, including third down and the red zone on both offense and
defense. We didn't get that done and they made some big plays on special
Cutler finished 15-for-17 in the first half when it counted as the Bears built
a virtually insurmountable 25-3 lead against a Vikings team simply not built
to play from behind.
Cutler used his Brett Favre-like arm to direct pinpoint passes into tight
window after tight window as Chicago converted 10 of its first 13 third down
Minnesota was unable to muster much of a pass rush from Jared Allen or Brian
Robison, who have both been dealing with nagging injuries for most of the
season, and Cutler, who always seems to look like Dan Marino against the
Vikings, played pitch-and-catch with Brandon Marshall all day.
"They had a great game plan. They executed well," Vikings cornerback Antoine
Winfield said. "I don't know what their third down percentage was. They kept
converting, kept converting. Once they got in the red zone, they were scoring
touchdowns. We can't allow that to happen. The game got out of hand really
early. We didn't really give ourselves a chance."
Part of it was certainly Minnesota's fault. You would think a player coming
off a concussion with a left tackle named J'Marcus Webb opposite Allen would
be as skittish as a cat but Cutler knows what the Vikings are about.
The Vikings' plan on defense was so vanilla against a guy who was concussed
two weeks ago, it was almost like Frazier, a member of Chicago's famous 1985
Super Bowl team, was a mole, intent on helping his old organization.
Mike Tice, the Bears' offensive coordinator and an ex-Vikings head coach, had
no such divided loyalties, employing max protection schemes and instructing
Cutler to take advantage of simple and ultimately futile zone coverage as the
Bears halted a two-game skid and opened up a one-game lead over the Pack in
the NFC North once Green Bay fell to the Giants later on Sunday.
Minnesota seemed to game plan based on media reports on how bad the Bears'
offensive line was. By the time Frazier and his defensive coordinator Alan
Williams finally changed things up and decided to take a chance here and
there, the game was long decided.
"We knew that coming in with (Jay) Cutler coming off a concussion and what the
49ers defense did to them last week. We knew they were going to max up and run
two- or three-man routes," Winfield said. "Their game plan worked today."
The Packers' game plan also figures to work this week especially since they
are coming in angry after a 38-10 drubbing at the hands of the Giants, Green
Bay's worst defeat since a 35-7 loss at Chicago on Dec. 23, 2007.
"You win five in a row and everyone is happy, but like I said last year, there
are things that go under the radar that need to be handled," Packers
quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "Sometimes it takes a loss. ... We need to
remember this feeling and not have this kind of embarrassment happen again."
Rodgers had a rare off night in North Jersey connecting on only 14-of-25
passes for 219 yards, one touchdown and an interception for the Packers, who
were also stunned by the Giants in the NFC Divisional playoff round last
season at Lambeau Field.
"This is a game that really makes everybody look inside and find out what
you're about," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after watching his team's
five-game winning streak snapped. "I believe in what we're about as a football
team. I haven't felt like this since probably the first game I coached as a
Green Bay Packer head coach. Beaten very thoroughly tonight. Doesn't taste
good, doesn't feel good."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Green Bay hasn't been as explosive offensively this season, ranking 13th in
the NFL at 24.8 points per game after leading the league with 35.0 ppg in
2011. The lack of a running game, which is nothing new to the Packers, and
injuries to star wide receiver Greg Jennings and emerging tackle Bryan Bulaga
have contributed to the downtick in production.
The running game isn't about to turn around anytime soon and Bulaga is on
injured reserve with a hip injury but Jennings, who has missed the last seven
games with an lower abdominal tear, is set to return.
The Pro Bowl receiver practiced all three days last week and proclaimed
himself "ready" for the Giants but Green Bay remained cautious. He hasn't
missed a practice again in preparation for the Vikings and will be back
"Greg's a dynamic player. He's been to the Pro Bowl, he has an excellent
working relationship with Aaron Rodgers, they're on the same page," McCarthy
said. "Greg's one of those receivers that's extremely athletic, his body
language is very easy to readjust to and Aaron has great confidence to throw
to with anticipation. They have a lot of history together, a lot of
production. It'd be great to have him back."
Jennings, a legitimate No. 1 receiver when healthy, turns the Packers
receiver corps from good to great. Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall
Cobb have all been very productive at times in Jennings' absence but aren't
quite as dangerous to an opposing defense without Jennings around.
Rodgers, meanwhile, has 18 touchdowns passes and a 116.5 passer rating in
eight career starts against the Vikings defense and it's tough to imagine a
team which uses the cover-2 as a crutch like Minnesota matching up with the
Green Bay receivers as well as tight end Jermichael Finley.
"Everything we want to accomplish is still in front of us and that'll be our
focus," McCarthy said. "I believe in what we're about as a football team."
The Vikings, on the other hand, can't fall behind since Ponder's intermediate
and downfield accuracy is among the worst in all of football.
Minnesota can be competitive when they grab a lead and ride Peterson, who has
rushed for 737 yards (147.4 per game) and five TDs over his past five games,
but team's understand that and tend to load the box with eight or even nine
defenders, daring Ponder to beat then with play action, something the second-
year signal caller has been unable to do on a consistent basis.
There was a chance Ponder would be without his top two targets on Sunday but
tight end Kyle Rudolph has been cleared following a concussion suffered
against Chicago, while receiver Percy Harvin, who has missed the past two
games with a sprained ankle, is still working his way back and should be a
game-time decision. Harvin was able to work in individual drills early in the
"We're still being cautious in how much we give him," Frazier said.
The Vikings are just 1-4 on the road this season and Ponder has shown little
mental toughness when the wheels start coming off in enemy territory.
That's unlikely to change in Green Bay making this a rather easy one for the
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 34, Vikings 14
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