Preview: Teams playing to their strengths

Adrian Peterson (Andy King/Getty)

The team that took the early momentum in the season series was the team that was able to dictate tempo and stick with their strength. No big surprises are expected Saturday night, but each team will look to grab an early lead and play to what they do best.

When two teams play twice in the span of seven days, it creates an interesting dynamic. With both the Vikings and the Packers desperately needing a win in their Week 17 matchup at the Metrodome, there wasn't much either team held back, despite both knowing that a Vikings win would almost assuredly lead to a rematch between the two teams.

"When it comes to a game like this, I don't think either team is going to try to re-invent the wheel," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We both know what the other does and we have to find a way to execute on our end to make sure we can get our job done, even though the roles will be reversed and the Packers will be playing in front of their home fans making a ton of noise and playing in the elements, something they're more used to than we are. But, in the end, it will come down to execution."

When the Packers won 23-14 in the first meeting between the teams, Green Bay got off to a fast start, building an early 10-0 lead and it was then able to dictate the pace of the game. The Packers ran 73 offensive plays in the game – 37 passes and 36 runs – keeping the Vikings defense off the field. Nowhere was that more true than in the fourth quarter.

With the Vikings trailing 20-14 and driving to the Green Bay 24-yard line with a chance to take the lead, Christian Ponder threw an interception on the final play of the third quarter. What followed was one of the most epic drives of the 2012 season. The Packers ran 18 plays that covered 88 yards and took a whopping 11 minutes off the game clock to put the game away.

"Our biggest problem in that game was getting off the field," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "We let them have three really long drives (12 plays or more) and weren't able to get off the field when we had the chance."

The Packers scored on all three of the time-consuming drives and those three field goals provided the margin of victory in the Dec. 2 meeting at Lambeau Field, as the Packers held the ball for an impressive 38:30, while allowing Minnesota to control the ball for just 21:30, including just two minutes, 47 seconds of the fourth quarter.

The Vikings flipped the script last week at the Metrodome. Minnesota held the ball for the first 12:16 of the first quarter and finished the game with a time of possession edge of 31:55 to 28:05. As Green Bay had done in the first meeting, it was a fast start that helped the Vikings dictate the pace, as Minnesota scored on its first three drives and built a 13-0 lead that allowed the Vikings to stay patient with the running game.

"We came out ready to play and it showed early," offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said. "We were able to move the ball up and down the field and play Vikings football. We were able to get physical in our ground game and push them around in the run game."

Adrian Peterson was once again the star of the Vikings offense, backing up his 21-carry, 210-yard game at Green Bay with a career-high 34 carries for 199 yards in Sunday's game. As a team, the Vikings ran the ball 37 times and threw on 29 plays. The Packers, on the other hand, had to effectively abandon the run. Of the 61 plays the Packer ran last Sunday, 45 of them were dropbacks by Rodgers (40 of them passes and five resulting in sacks) and only 16 of them were designed runs.

"The goal is always to make a team one-dimensional," defensive end Brian Robison said. "Even though Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league, if you can make any offense one-dimensional, you can pin your ears back and get after him. Even the best quarterbacks struggle when they know the pass rush is coming and don't have time to do what they want to do."

It's no secret what the Packers have planned for the Vikings and what the Vikings intend to do to attack Green Bay. Rodgers is going to spread the ball around to his numerous receiving targets – for the first time since early in the season, he is going to have all five of his wide receiver targets together on the field at the same time. The Vikings are going to counter with a steady dose of Peterson and mix in the deep passing and play-action passing game. It wouldn't be surprising that, if he can get the ground game moving early, Peterson may set another career high in rushing attempts. The Packers will have the advantage of having veteran safety Charles Woodson back in the lineup, while Antoine Winfield will be a game-time decision (although he is convinced he's playing). These two players could be critical to the success of both defenses and perhaps make the difference between winning and losing.

The Vikings and Packers have met just once in their franchise history and it was under similar circumstances – Green Bay hosting the Vikings in the wild-card round. The Vikings got off to a fast start and coasted to a 31-17 win over the heavily favored Packers in January 2005. Eight years later, they're hoping history repeats itself, but the one thing they know is that they are innately familiar with the Packers and there won't be any surprises from either team Sunday.

"Both teams know what the others do," Greenway said. "Having played them twice in five weeks, there isn't much that either team is going to change from what we game-planned for last Sunday. We may tweak things here and there – fix up things that we could have done better the last time around – but we're probably going to do much of the same stuff we did in the last game and so are they. In the end, it's going to come down to who executes the best because we both have a pretty good idea going in what the other team is going to do."


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.


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