Defenses in the NFC North get very little sleep during the weeks in which they face Aaron Rodgers. Since becoming the full-time starter for the Packers, Rodgers is 40-13 against the NFC North while throwing a staggering 115 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions. He is the riddle that no divisional opponent has been able to solve, but if the Vikings are going to squeak out a victory at home on a short week they will need to find a way to keep him from carving them up.
One of the most underrated parts of Rodgers’ game is his mobility and how utilizes it to create big plays for Green Bay. While he is not a huge running threat, Rodgers uses his athleticism to get outside the pocket and pick apart defenses. Once he breaks contain, defenses tend to freeze and fixate on Rodgers rather than staying with their original assignments. The Packers do an excellent job improvising their routes to exploit gaps in coverage once Rodgers scramble, and leads to opportunities for deep shots. A perfect example of this was in the divisional round of the playoffs a year ago against Dallas when he uncorked this absolute strike to Jared Cook after rolling to his left. Never mind the degree of difficulty of that throw, but Rodgers’ ability to threaten the defense as a runner gets defenders to glue their eyes on him while he continues to scan the secondary. Keeping him contained in the pocket is essential to slowing down the Packers’ passing attack.
The Vikings have the personnel to keep Rodgers bottled up in the tackle box. Everson Griffen has been an absolute monster to start this season, and with Green Bay’s offensive line in shambles he should be able to bother Rodgers. Between him and Danielle Hunter, the Vikings have the pieces off the edge to disrupt his rhythm. The key for those two is maintain lane discipline and not allow Rodgers to slip past them when they pin their ears back. The interior of the defensive line will need to get a push to give Rodgers nowhere to step up in the pocket. Linval Joseph had a nice game Monday night against Chicago despite being matched up against former Pro-Bowl guard Josh Sitton for large portions of the game. Getting pressure with four rushers is pivotal against Green Bay, who feasts against the blitz.
In addition to discipline from the defensive line, Mike Zimmer will likely have one of Eric Kendricks or Anthony Barr spy Rodgers in obvious passing situations. Last week against Dallas, Rodgers recognized that the Cowboys did not have a spy on a pivotal third down play and proceeded to slip away from a sack and scamper for a first down on what ended up being the game-winning drive. Barr and Kendricks are both capable of spying Rodgers, and it would be wise to have one of them in charge of preventing that kind of back-breaking scramble this week.
There is no simple solution to slowing down a player of Rodgers caliber. The Vikings will in all likelihood vary the looks they throw at the former MVP, but having great rush discipline and deploying a spy should be a frequent occurrence if they hope to avoid a long afternoon.