GREEN BAY—It was so long ago, it’s hard to recall the name.
Chester Taylor. He’s the last Minnesota Vikings feature running back not named Adrian Peterson to face the Packers. It was in 2006 at Lambeau Field … on a Thursday night … in the rain. Hmmm.
This Thursday, after a run of 15 consecutive Packers-Vikings meetings featuring Peterson, Minnesota will have new ball-carriers. Peterson is away from the team due to legal troubles, which has turned the Vikings ground game over to what Mike McCarthy called “an outstanding 1-2 punch” in third-year pro Matt Asiata (above left) and rookie Jerick McKinnon (right).
Players on the Packers defense had trouble coming up with those names this week, though it’s hard to blame them, given their very recent emergence and the short prep time for Thursday’s game.
Clay Matthews referred to the bruising Asiata (6-0, 234) as “that one guy who can run really hard,” and to the compact McKinnon (5-9, 208) as “the little guy” who’s “really quick.” Mike Neal talked about one as “physical” and the other as “fast.” Julius Peppers simply stuck with the uniform numbers he saw on film.
That’s not to say the Packers had any difficulty seeing the dual threat they pose, as the pair combined for 213 rushing yards and three TDs against the Falcons last week in an impressive Vikings victory.
“That’s no disrespect,” Matthews said of the generic references. “They put up some running yards last week. You’d think with ‘AP’ being out there would be a drop-off, but there really isn’t.”
Added Peppers: “They definitely pop out on the tape. We notice them. We’re on alert.”
Asiata, a former undrafted free agent, and McKinnon, a third-round pick from Georgia Southern, were probably even more wide-eyed in their film room watching the Packers surrender 235 rushing yards to the Bears last Sunday.
That number dropped Green Bay to the bottom of the league rankings against the run, and those results need to change. The Packers bounced back in this regard once already, bottling up the Jets’ Chris Ivory and Chris Houston one week after Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch led a 200-yard rushing effort by the Seahawks.
That’s in part why the Packers aren’t sweating the dubious distinction that comes with their league ranking after four weeks, at least not yet.
“It’s only the first quarter of the season,” Neal said. “For now that’s what it is. We’ll correct it. There’s a lot of football to be played. If you’re seeing that in Week 12 or 13, that’s a problem.”
The problem last week, according to Neal, was the Packers defenders were slow to adjust when they saw how the Bears were attacking them on the ground. With the run defense switching between 3-4, 4-3 and nickel fronts, Peppers called that phase “an ongoing process.”
“We’re going to get it fixed,” he said.
They don’t have to fix it against Adrian Peterson on Thursday, but the Vikings are sure to make it a tough task nonetheless.
“We’re going to have our hands full, especially with what we put on film this past week,” Matthews said. “They’ve got to be coming in here thinking they’re going to run it on us, and it’s a great opportunity for us to show that’s not the case.”
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