GREEN BAY – Packers Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett is a former running back with a full appreciation of the running game’s importance, but he knows it’s the Packers’ passing game that’ll be at the test in what remains of this season.
“If they’re going to play that type of defense,” Bennett said of opponents loading the tackle box to stop the run, “you have to take advantage of it downfield. Attack!”
Once upon a time, the Packers were one of the NFL’s most attacking pass offenses. This year, the Packers have struggled to move the ball through the air. A pass offense that set records in 2011 and has seen Aaron Rodgers win league MVP awards in ’11 and 2014, is No. 26 in the league heading into Sunday’s regular season finale.
The most demoralizing of all the Packers’ league rankings is No. 31 for net yards per pass play. Clearly, the Packers have not attacked downfield.
“We have the capability of attacking it. We just haven’t been consistent as far as making the play,” Bennett said.
The Packers will try again to make plays downfield, when they host the Vikings in an NFC North title showdown at Lambeau Field on Sunday. Also at stake is the No. 3 playoff seed and a home game in the wild-card round of the playoffs. With a win, the Packers will host either the Vikings or the Seahawks in the first round of the playoffs. A loss would send the Packers to Washington as the NFC’s No. 5 team.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy has said the key to the Packers’ quest for a more potent passing attack relies on beating man-to-man coverage. Bennett agrees.
“Yeah, it’s one-on-one on the outside with one deep safety. You have to apply all the principles we teach to take advantage of that situation. You have to win your one-on-ones,” Bennett said.
On defense, you might say the Packers need to win the 11-on-one battle they’ll face in trying to stop running back Adrian Peterson. The Packers held Peterson to 45 yards rushing in a 30-13 win in Week 11 in Minneapolis.
“Our linebackers will be very important to us, just as they were in the first game,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said.
Clay Matthews was the main cog in stopping Peterson in that game. Matthews had six tackles, two of which were for loss.
Peterson has a 64-yard lead over Tampa’s Doug Martin in pursuit of the NFL rushing title.
“They’re very familiar with us, but we’re familiar with them. The successful teams have things they do well and they’re going to do them in every game,” Capers said.
Second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater continues to grow. His passer rating is up to 90.6.
“He’s playing his best football in the last month of this season,” Capers said of Bridgewater.
Cordarrelle Patterson is the Vikings’ main weapon on special teams. He’s returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
“You have to fit the blocks right. If you fit it wrong, it turns into big plays. He carries people. He’s fast. I think he’s the best in the league,” Special Teams Coordinator Ron Zook said of Patterson.
Zook referred often to “January football,” which means cold temperatures, shorter kickoffs and more returns, all of which make kick coverage more important.
“It gives him a chance to hit it on the run. It’s the same for both sides. It’s January football,” Zook said.
Click here for more Packers-Vikings preview coverage