Senior writer jclombardi highlights Packers headlines.
Packers must pressure QB Favre: Packers did not sack Brett Favre in two losses to the Minnesota Vikings last year. But members of this year’s defense think they have enough manpower to pressure the former Packers quarterback Sunday night. And the Packers just might have NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews (hamstring) back for the game after missing last week’s loss to Miami. “Barring any setback, I think he’ll be ready to go,” coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. Green Bay’s defense, which in recent weeks has been depleted by injuries to several key players, also might have cornerback Al Harris and safety Atari Bigby available. Both former starters returned to practice Wednesday after missing the first six weeks of the season. DE Pickett and LB Chillar are both expect to play Sunday.
Keys to beating Vikings: Offense—If the Packers can protect Rodgers, they feel good about the matchups on the perimeter. Antoine Winfield remains an elite player but fellow starter Cedric Griffin is out with a torn ACL. That means rookie second-round pick Chris Cook, who has played in just one game because of injuries to both knees, will get the start. Second-year player Asher Allen is the third corner and will be forced onto the field a lot by coach Mike McCarthy’s play-calling. Defense–The challenge with facing the Vikings is their offensive versatility. Adrian Peterson is, at worst, the second-best running back in football. So, the defense has to be preoccupied with keeping Peterson in check. Still, it all starts with Peterson: Stop the run, force Brett Favre to pass and empty the defensive playbook on third-and-long. Favre wasn’t sacked in last year’s games, when he threw seven touchdown passes with no interceptions. He’s been sacked 16 times in five games this season and the Packers – with NFL sacks leader Clay Matthews probably back in the lineup — rank second in the NFL with 21 sacks. Special teams–The Packers’ special teams have been abysmal after a strong start. Aside from a No. 13 ranking on punt returns, the Packers rank 24th in kickoff returns, 18th in kickoff coverage and 30th in net punting. Meanwhile, the Vikings feature the explosive Harvin on kickoff returns. “We did a better job of kicking him into the corner the first time around,” Slocum said. “Second time, we gave him a couple vertical seams and he took advantage of that. Fortunately, we had very fast safeties that tackled him. We need to keep him in the cage of the coverage.”
Behind Enemy Lines–Packers Report Huber vs Viking Update Yotter: Yotter—Beyond recent injuries, what are the Packers’ excuses for not producing in the passing game like they were last year? Huber–It’s not a Packers season without chaos on the offensive line. RT Tauscher injured a shoulder a couple weeks ago and Bulaga got thrown in at right tackle. Bulaga did well against Washington but was miserable against the Dolphins. Losing RB Grant didn’t help. The Packers have barely run the ball since. Losing TE Finley for the season with a knee injury was a horrible blow. Rodgers just hasn’t gotten into a groove with his receivers. Yotter--Is that Aaron Rodgers being slightly off or just a bad stretch for the receivers? Huber–It always fascinates me how teams do business. No Sidney Rice? Go get Randy Moss. No Ryan Grant for the Packers? Sign some guy off the Falcons’ practice squad. What else is amazing is the Packers’ misfiring passing game. No doubt Rodgers hasn’t been sharp but he’s not getting a lot of help whether it’s from the receivers or the front office. The whole offense is on his shoulders. Rodgers at this stage is the better player but he doesn’t have the supporting cast. Huber–How do you see the game playing out? Yotter--One of those games where momentum plays an even bigger role than normal. If the Vikings can keep it close in the first half, I think that plays into their game. They have the more balanced offense of the two teams and are better coming out of the halftime locker room than they have to open games. Also, they have the better special teams, which could make a difference in the battle for field position. It will be on Favre to diagnose the blitzes and make the correct reads quickly. If he does that, the Vikings win. If the Packers get in his head early, the Packers hold the advantage. Huber–Special teams to me is the X-factor. The Packers are horrendous. They can’t punt in the clutch, Mason Crosby hasn’t proven he can kick in the clutch and the battle of returners is a landslide in the favor of the Vikings. I just can’t pick the Packers to win a big game until they actually win a big game.
Return of veteran CB Al Harris: Entitled “It Will Come,” the inspirational message was given to him by then-Packers cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington. The words ring true today as he’s on the cusp of completing his comeback to the NFL, 11 months after a horrific knee injury. Harris on Friday completed his first week of practice since the injury and could be activated off the physically unable to perform list for Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. The message, which Washington found on a website called The Daily Motivator and remains inside the door of Harris’ locker, begins: Work patiently toward the goal you’ve set, and it will come. The setbacks are no reason to quit but are confirmation of the necessity to push forward.
Switch in positions for Woodson not likely this year: If Charles Woodson follows the career path of Rod Woodson and eventually does move to safety, it won’t be happening before next season. Despite a return to health by fellow cornerback Al Harris, the Green Bay Packers have no immediate plans to move Woodson from left cornerback. The penalty-ridden Woodson is off to the slowest start of his last four seasons in Green Bay. Opposing quarterbacks have attacked. At midweek, an executive in personnel for an NFC team who has viewed every Green Bay game said it was clear to him that Woodson has slipped. “He can’t cover anymore,” the personnel man said. “He could have been called for 10 more penalties. He’s a guesser with great anticipation and instincts. That’s why he’s been so productive.” Tramon Williams has been the team’s No. 1 cornerback this season. Whitt acknowledged that Woodson “is not playing to his standards, and to the standards we’ve set for him.” But the third-year assistant coach insisted it wasn’t true that Woodson no longer can cover. “He is covering no different than he covered last year,” Whitt said. “On my grade, he’s given up less plays this year than last year. The biggest difference has been he doesn’t have the interceptions that he had last year. He hasn’t made the splash plays, and that’s what people see.”