- Gary Horton, Scouts Inc.
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This week's first "Monday Night Football" game (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) features the Vikings on the road versus the Packers. Scouts Inc. has all the story lines to keep an eye on in this matchup.
Battle in the trenches
DE Jared Allen is the Vikings' prized free agent, and is expected to have a huge year. But Green Bay LT Chad Clifton has played very well against Allen in their past matchups and you get the feeling that the Packers' coaches are comfortable leaving Clifton one-on-one with Allen.
However, the matchup that should favor Minnesota is on the inside -- Vikings DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams versus the Packers' trio on the interior offensive line. Even though the Packers have three guys (LG Daryn Colledge, C Jason Spitz and RG Josh Sitton) to block the Vikings' duo, Pat and Kevin Williams are huge power players who get a great inside push and they have the ability to collapse the pocket in a hurry. If the Packers cannot establish position inside and create a pocket, it will be a long day for QB Aaron Rodgers, who hates pressure in his face from the outside.
Under the radar running back
Everyone knows about RB Adrian Peterson's skills, but the player who flies a little bit under the radar is RB Chester Taylor. He is not as physical as Peterson, but he runs hard, has surprising speed and is pretty good in the passing game. Taylor can also stay in the game on third down and gives the Vikings an excellent 1-2 punch.
Peterson's unique skill
Peterson has an excellent combination of power and speed. He can run over defenders or simply run by them. Because he is so physical and he likes to engage the defender, tacklers must square up in the hole and hit him with leverage and balance. When he comes at a defender full speed it's easy for that defender to get back on his heels and absorb the hit.
However, he has a unique skill that allows him to lure the defender into the hole by making it look like he is making a power run, but at the last second Peterson will make a quick cut and the defender has no time to gather himself, recover and make the tackle. The only other back in the league who really does this well is San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.
Watch out for the slant
Heading into this season, the Vikings appeared to have a solid secondary, at least on paper, despite being ranked last in the NFL in pass defense a year ago. However, when you look at them on film you notice they are vulnerable, especially at the safety position. FS Madieu Williams is out for at least three weeks with a neck injury and he is replaced by Tyrell Johnson, who is unproven. Plus, SS Darren Sharper seems to be slowing down and he doesn't cover the ground that he used to. As a result, Rodgers should be able to exploit the Vikings with the slant route in the middle of the field -- especially if the pass protection holds up inside.
Spread it out
The Packers will spread the field on offense to try to force the Vikings to go deeper in their pass coverage because the Packers think their third and fourth receivers are better than the Vikings third and fourth corners. Also look for Green Bay to stay in its spread offense in the red zone, especially because Minnesota is impossible to run on when the field shrinks.
Look for the Packers to widen their run game because of the great interior run defense of the Vikings. RB Ryan Grant does an excellent job of running the toss play, he excels as a one-cut-and-go runner behind the Packers' zone-blocking schemes and he is really good at running against the grain. The Packers have their best chance to move the football on the ground by running at Allen, which forces Pat and Kevin Williams to run side-to-side.
Free up Hawk and Barnett
There is more pressure on the Packers' defensive line in this game to eat up blockers inside rather than penetrate and disrupt. Minnesota's offensive line does a nice job of getting to the second level and blocking in space. The Vikings will try to get to LBs A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett, who are the keys to the Packers' run defense. If they are protected by the guys up front and have room to get to the ball, they have a shot to slow down Peterson and the Vikings' explosive running game.
Don't be afraid to throw it away
Rodgers' ability to get rid of the football when there isn't a play to be made has greatly improved. After being sacked four times in one half during the Packers' second pre-season game at San Francisco, he really worked on reading his progressions, making better decisions and going to his check downs. He loves to throw the deep ball, but he must continue to avoid holding on to the ball too long -- otherwise the Vikings' defensive line will pile up a lot of sacks.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called "The War Room."
Gary Horton knows what to pay attention to during the Vikings-Packers MNF game.