GREEN BAY—The circumstances scream this is the week the Packers must guard against a letdown.
They’ve blown out two straight opponents. They’re about to play a team they handled easily six weeks ago. A marquee matchup with the AFC’s hottest team awaits next week.
These situations are precisely why Mike McCarthy has preached since his arrival in Green Bay as head coach that “handling success” is any team’s biggest challenge. He said on Wednesday he’s always trying to “deliver the same message differently,” and this is a week that message must take hold.
“It’s rang true over the years for us – when we as a group get complacent, start kind of feeling ourselves a little bit, if you will, that’s when the poor performances come,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
The Packers (7-3) can’t afford a poor performance on Sunday in a divisional matchup that could become crucial in playoff tiebreaker scenarios. They’re also playing in an unfamiliar stadium against a 4-6 Vikings team that will be playing a different quarterback than in the first meeting back on Oct. 2.
“A letdown to me is a combination of a lack of preparation and a lack of execution,” Rodgers continued. “To guard against that you have to go back to the things that got you where you are today, and that’s your preparation, your practice habits and your mindset going into a game.
“I don’t expect any letdowns from any of our guys. We hold them to a high expectation, and you have to guard against complacency slipping into the locker room and slipping into your mind.”
Even as hot as Rodgers and the Packers’ offense are, a glance at the film of Minnesota’s defense ought to get their attention.
The Vikings are a different defense since early October, and not just because they’ve gotten star linebacker Chad Greenway back from injury. Rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Barr also has grown into a difference-maker. To win an overtime game at Tampa Bay, Barr stripped the ball from a receiver, scooped up the fumble and returned it for the deciding TD.
“He’s a big-time playmaker with a bright future,” Rodgers said. “He’s one of those guys going forward, you’re going to have to figure out where he is on every play.”
Rodgers and McCarthy were equally complimentary of defensive-minded Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his pressure packages, which produced 20 sacks in a four-game span following the first meeting with Green Bay.
A quintet of defensive linemen has combined for 23 sacks on the season, led by Everson Griffen’s nine. Barr has added four sacks. The pass rush dried up a bit in a loss at Chicago last week, but the Packers are planning for an aggressive unit.
“I think you’re seeing the path of a first-year defense, a very well-coordinated defense,” McCarthy said. “Their pass rush, they’re very talented. I think you’re seeing this team develop into what Mike Zimmer wants.”
Rodgers pointed out much of the league has been copying Zimmer’s pressure schemes since his days as a defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, and he can make it difficult for the offense to figure out who’s rushing from snap to snap.
“The longer he’s over there, the more stuff they’re going to be putting in,” veteran guard Josh Sitton said. “I think we’ll see some new stuff from them this week, but we’ll look at everything in practice and be ready for anything.”
That mindset has produced impressive results of late, and the Packers are playing their best football of the season, but this is not the time to think like that.
“I don’t believe in peaking early. I don’t even know what that means,” Rodgers said. “I just know that we approach things one game at a time.”
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