Each week, John Lynch breaks down a dynamic NFL offensive playmaker, devises a game plan and discusses a strategy for success. This week, Lynch examines how he would defend against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense.
It's really fun watching Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers play ... that is, of course, unless you have to play against Aaron Rodgers.
Fresh off his MVP-winning performance in Super Bowl XLV against the Steelers, Rodgers and the Packers haven't let up. Rodgers, who is the NFL's top-rated passer, has the Packers (6-0) off to their best start since 1965. They're also the only remaining unbeaten team this season and the first defending champion to start 6-0 since the 2007 Colts.
So my assignment's not easy this week: Gameplan for the 1-5 Vikings and their defense against the Packers' high-octane offense.
When the Vikings start to watch film this week, they might think they're watching a Stephen King movie, because Rodgers' performance this season has been scary. When I watch him, the thing that stands out the most is he's playing with such confidence. He's been phenomenal.
There's no hesitation in anything he does. He trusts what he sees and delivers the ball with authority. He's got such tremendous arm strength, but one thing people overlook is his athleticism. He's a very good athlete who extends plays by scrambling out of the pocket, making throws downfield and by running the ball. This versatility poses huge problems for a defense. Rodgers is definitely the total package.
I covered the Falcons right after they played the Packers in Week 5 and a lot of the bigger plays Rogers made in that game were him ad-libbing outside the pocket. The Falcons took away his intended target right away, but he has the uncanny ability to deliver the ball on the run. It also doesn't hurt that his receivers are in total sync with him and know how to find the open void in the zone. As a former defensive back, I'll tell you that it makes them darn near impossible to cover.
And with those receivers, you might as well pick your poison.
Greg Jennings is arguably playing the position as well as anyone in the NFL, with the exception of Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who's in a class of his own. Then there's receiver Jordy Nelson as well as Jermichael Finley, who is one of the most talented tight ends going. I haven't even mentioned Donald Driver or James Jones yet. What's more, Rodgers isn't bashful about spreading the love around. Jennings and Nelson each have four TDs, while Finley and Jones each have three and Driver two.
With that receiving corps, what makes Rodgers so difficult to deal with is his comfort of playing in that system. He's been there the whole seven years of his career. And he's been with coach Mike McCarthy since he took over in 2006. Aaron got to sit for three years behind Brett Favre and really learn the system. He knows where all of his options are.
If the Packers are vulnerable anywhere, it's the running game, which is ranked 24th in the league. Last week against the Rams, who are the 32nd-ranked defense against the run, the Packers averaged only 3 yards a carry on 32 attempts and no scores. In fact, the Packers didn't score at all in the second half.
So if I'm the Vikings' defensive coordinator, I'm going to try and make the Packers beat me with their running game. Challenge them to do so.
The Rams defense was successful -- for the most part -- at keeping the ball in front of them and held the Packers to their lowest point total of the season (24). One of Vikings' biggest problems this year has been they haven't tackled well. That has always been one of their hallmarks, and it's a must with the type of defense they play.
If they don't tackle well, the Packers receivers will feast on yards after the catch. It's been the Vikings' Achilles' heel all season, very uncharacteristic for them.
But lost in all of this is that nobody on the defensive line is playing better than Jared Allen. He leads the league with 9 1/2 sacks. He never takes a play off. For the Vikings to be successful against Rodgers, that defensive line is going to have to apply pressure, especially since Rodgers gets rid of the ball so quickly. With Allen -- who I think will be in the Hall of Fame one day -- along with Kevin Williams and Brian Robison, that line will have to be at its best for Minnesota to be successful.
While the Vikings have been struggling offensively, I'm sure the Vikings defense will look at this as a huge challenge.
Knowing that your offense doesn't score much is a tough situation for a defense to be in, especially playing a team as explosive as the Packers. But some of the great defenses I've played on, like the Bucs, would embrace this type of situation. In the 1999 NFC Championship Game, we were playing the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams. We held them in check the entire game, but ended up losing 11-6.
Great defenses take it from the mentality of, "Hey, if we need to score to win, we'll do that, too."
With the Packers coming to town, that sounds like a great game plan for the Vikings defense.