In this week's "Five Questions," Rob Reischel, who covers the Packers for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, talks about the Vikings' next opponent's secondary struggles, offensive line and Clay Matthews.
PFW: Why has the Packers' secondary struggled so much this season?
Reischel: There are a number of reasons for the woeful play of Green Bay's secondary. The Packers all talked about communication breakdowns this week … and I'm sure that's a big part of it. Green Bay also misses Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins, who was lost for the year with a neck injury. But there's a lot more than that. The pass rush has been lousy and the DBs have had to cover too long. Tramon Williams, Green Bay's best CB last year, hasn't been as good largely due to a shoulder injury. Charles Woodson has made a ton of big plays … but has given too many, as well. No. 3 CB Sam Shileds has had a sluggish second season. And Charlie Peprah, who stepped in for Collins, isn't nearly the same player. Add it all up and you can see why the Packers rank 31st against the pass.
PFW: Other than Aaron Rodgers, who has been the team's MVP?
Reischel: Great question. A case can be made for players like Woodson, WR Greg Jennings, C Scott Wells and even LB Desmond Bishop. But I'd go with TE Jermichael Finley. While Jennings' numbers (48-723-6) are better than Finley's (30-378-5), Finley's presence on a field changes how everyone defends the Packers. Finley's too big for corners and safeties and too fast for linebackers. So he often sees double-teams that open things up on the outside for the WRs. With the same personnel last season and Finley sidelined, Green Bay averaged 24.3 points per game. With Finley back in 2011, the Packers are averaging 34.4.
PFW: How will the offensive line hold up against the Vikings' front four, especially in pass-rushing situations?
Reischel: Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times in Week Seven, twice by Jared Allen. Packers OLT Marshall Newhouse figures to have his hands full with Allen again. But in Allen's three career games in Green Bay, he has three sacks. In four games vs. the Packers in the Metrodome, he has 8½ sacks. Newhouse will likely need some help from time to time. But, overall, the Packers' OL should be just fine.
PFW: Are Clay Matthews' lower sack totals a numbers quirk or something more?
Reischel: I'd say it's more of a numbers quirk than anything. The Packers' second OLB, Erik Walden, is a mediocre starter, at best. Green Bay also hasn't generated much pass rush up front. Therefore, other teams have been able to double-team Matthews far more than past seasons. Matthews has played the run well and can even cover. He's a complete linebacker. It's just one of those goofy years where he's been a split-second away from getting to QBs.
PFW: What has been most successful in slowing the Packers' offense this season?
Reischel: In all honesty, not much has worked against the Packers. Perhaps the best strategy is playing two deep safeties, and make Rodgers & Co. nickel and dime their way up and down the field. That strategy works against many teams, who stumble somewhere along the way, but Rodgers almost never makes a mistake, though. So while that strategy might force the Packers to take seven minutes instead of three to score, they'll still typically score. But what's a defensive coordinator to do? If you blitz, Rodgers is ready and has a plethora of pass catchers set to go the distance. The Packers also don't turn the ball over. It's why they're on pace to score 550 points, the third most in NFL history.