GREEN BAY—Aaron Rodgers feels he has as much responsibility as anyone for helping prevent Vikings running back Adrian Peterson from breaking the single-season rushing record.
“We need to make them one-dimensional, and that’s going to be done through scoring some points early, trying to take the crowd out of it a little bit,” Rodgers said on Wednesday as he previewed Sunday’s NFC North showdown. “We have to try to make them throw the ball to beat us.”
That’ll be easier said than done in the raucous Metrodome, with the Vikings’ playoff fate at stake and Peterson 208 yards from breaking Eric Dickerson’s 1984 mark of 2,105.
Rodgers has a lot of respect for Minnesota’s defense, which held the Packers to just 23 points in the first meeting four weeks ago despite Green Bay rolling up 435 yards, a Packers’ season-high at the time.
The combination of defensive end Jared Allen’s pass rush with cornerback Antoine Winfield’s and rookie safety Harrison Smith’s coverage abilities stalled a handful of promising drives, as the Packers attempted four field goals (making three). Smith had an interception, the last one Rodgers has thrown.
“He’s really coming on,” Rodgers said of the first-round pick out of Notre Dame. “He’s a guy who has the potential to be a star in this league, I think. He’s a young player right now but he’s picking it up fast.”
The key defender, though, could be the veteran Winfield, of whom both Rodgers and Mike McCarthy spoke highly. Rodgers ranked the aggressive, tackling cornerback among the top four or five slot corners in the game and labeled him “the toughest pound-for-pound guy in the league.” McCarthy called him one of his favorite players on an opposing team. Winfield is expected to play with a cast to protect his recently broken hand.
The difficulty of the Vikings secondary’s job could depend on the Packers’ health. Receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the last three games and was a full participant, but fellow receiver Randall Cobb is dealing with both ankle and knee injuries and will have to pass a test on Friday in order to play.
If Nelson plays, the Packers would at least have Nelson and Greg Jennings on the field together, which has been a rarity this season. Not counting Week 4 against New Orleans (when Jennings departed at halftime), and the first Minnesota meeting in Week 13 (when Nelson left early), those two receivers have played only two full games together this season – in Weeks 1 and 3.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Nelson said. “We want to be full strength come playoff time. That’s our goal.”
Running back Alex Green (concussion) and tight end Tom Crabtree (hamstring) were also back at practice as full participants, and McCarthy said he’s hopeful right guard Josh Sitton, who missed Wednesday’s workout due to a concussion, will be cleared as soon as Thursday. New starting center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee) is also on the injury report as a limited participant in practice, but McCarthy said he’s been given no reason to be concerned.
So there are signs the offense is returning to full health, but depending on Cobb, the wait may last until the postseason.
“I think that’s what you want. That’s what you’re asking for,” said running back Ryan Grant, who filled in admirably for Green last week with 114 yards from scrimmage (80 rushing, 34 receiving) and two TDs. “You want to go into your most important football games with the most players and the best players you have.”
The Vikings’ best player – one of the league’s best – is Peterson, and as Rodgers reminisced about growing up and watching Detroit’s Barry Sanders in 1997 become just the third player in league history to top 2,000 yards rushing (he finished with 2,053), he’s not interested in seeing history made on Sunday at the Packers’ expense.
Rodgers will take his role in that very seriously, as he did last time. When Peterson rushed for 210 yards against Green Bay in the first meeting, he did it in three quarters, and the Packers’ 18-play, 11-minute drive for a field goal is what shut Peterson out in the fourth quarter.
“Adrian has had an incredible year, and it’s fun to watch, it is, from afar,” Rodgers said. “We don’t want him to break the record this week, because if he does, it probably means they’re playing the way they want to and they’re ahead in the game. But he rushed for 200 last time we played them and we beat them, so.
“He’s tough to stop. You just try to slow him down a little bit, and if the offense can get going, and make them throw a little more, that would slow him down.” Additional coverage - Dec. 26