There really is no distinct weakness on the Minnesota defensive unit.
They have three good run-stoppers up front with Linval Joseph on the nose, Everson Griffen at defensive end and Shariff Floyd (out this weekend due to a knee injury) at the three-technique.
They have three outstanding pass rushers in Griffin, Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr. All eleven starters are back from last year.
Minnesota DE's Griffin, Brian Robison and Hunter against Green Bay offensive tackles David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga:
There is no question; the onus in this game is on the Green Bay offensive tackles, David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga, as they match up with some of the fastest defensive ends in the game today.
The key matchup to watch is Bakhtiari against Griffin, the All-Pro defensive end of the Vikings. Griffin combines speed and power. A pass rush threat, 10.5 sacks a year ago, he is also stout against the run.
Last week, it was his pass rush that precipitated a terrible throw from Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota that was intercepted by linebacker Eric Kendricks and returned 77 yards for a touchdown.
In 13 games against the Packers, Griffin has 32 total tackles, 9 sacks and 12 TFL's. He’s the best player on a very good defensive front four.
In passing situations, the Vikings will move Robison, a veteran, inside to the three-technique position and plug Hunter into the end position opposite Griffin.
Hunter is just 21 years old, is a physical freak and a budding star. His long arms and innate speed make him a threat off the edge. He runs a 4.56 forty-yard dash, and as a situational pass rusher he was second among all rookies with six sacks last season.
His athleticism will be a challenge for Bulaga, the wily veteran on the Green Bay line.
Of all the matchups in this game this is the one to keep an eye on as the game ensues.
The second level: Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway
This is as good a defense on all three levels as the Packers will face this season, and that includes a date with the Seattle Seahawks later this year.
Anthony Barr, the strong-side linebacker, is an emerging star! Barr played every defensive snap at Tennessee last week. He has the size, speed and range to overpower the A-gap on pass rush or set the edge against the run.
Barr is one of those players the Packers will have to account for on every defensive snap.
At middle linebacker is second year pro Eric Kendricks. His instincts are off the charts; his speed is in the 4.6 range (excellent for a linebacker), making him a sideline-to-sideline player.
The old vet, in his final season, is Chad Greenway who plays on the right outside of the Minnesota line backing corps. A ten-year starter, he has lost some of his game but has seen it all, and is an excellent leader for this young linebacking corps.
The Packers must account for Barr on the pass; they should run right at the smallish Kendricks and take advantage of Greenway, the senior citizen in this group.
Note: In passing situations, both Barr and Kendricks remain on the field while Greenway leaves.
Secondary: Terrance Newman, Trae Waynes and Captain Munnerlyn (Xavier Rhodes won’t play due to a knee injury) vs. Green Bay trio of receivers in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams.
In the secondary, the Vikings play a lot of quarters coverage, four across the back line of the defense. They are missing their best cover-corner, Xavier Rhodes due to a knee injury this week.
Rhodes was a late scratch last week after injuring his knee Sunday morning while stretching in his hotel room. I’ve now heard it all!
In Newman, the 14-year pro, they have a savvy veteran who at 38 years old still holds his own on the corner. He usually plays “soft” in coverage and is at his best reacting to and closing to the ball.
Starting in place of Rhodes is Waynes who teamed with former Wisconsin and current San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon at Kenosha Bradford high school.
Waynes is the fastest Viking, he didn’t start last year, and now is getting exposure in the secondary due to the injury to Rhodes. Waynes has the speed (4.26), but his inexperience and aggressiveness is something the Packers hope to take advantage of because he has a tendency to sit on routes. He was up and down last week at Tennessee.
The nickel corner is Munnerlyn, a very good player who reminds some of former Viking Antoine Winfield. Usually the extra defensive back is someone you can take advantage of; that’s not the case here.
Mike Zimmer vs. Aaron Rodgers — the chess match
The chess match in this game will be waged between Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who calls the defense, against Packers head coach Mike McCarthy (who calls the offense) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Vikings like to play quarters, they crowd the line with seven and it is a guessing game as to who is coming on the pass rush.
This is the smartest group of blitzers in the league! They are deployed from a variety of angles, so keep an eye on No. 55 Barr through the A-gap, No. 22 Harrison Smith (maybe the best safety in the league) off the edge along, with Hunter at defensive end and Kendricks at inside linebacker through the A-gap.
Zimmer loves to “sugar” the A-gap with Barr and Kendricks in the middle slot, and that will stress the interior of the Packers offensive line, center JC Trettor and guards Lane Taylor and T.J. Lang.
Communication up front for the Green Bay offensive line, with the varying Minnesota fronts, is a key to winning the war in the trenches this week.