Packers-Vikings: 3 things to watch
Life without Adrian Peterson wasn't supposed to be this easy for the Vikings. Although many don't know Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon by name, the two young running backs quickly are developing a reputation.
They carved up a suspect Atlanta run defense for 213 yards in last week's 41-28 win and could be primed for another strong outing if the Packers' run defense doesn't get straightened out. Asiata, a 6-foot, 234-pound bulldozer, has been featured in place of Peterson, though he's averaging a lukewarm 3.4 yards per carry this season.
McKinnon, a third-round rookie out of Georgia Southern, serves as Asiata's change of pace and is the more explosive. He gashed the Falcons for 135 yards on 18 carries. The Packers have allowed at least 100 rushing yards in each of their past 10 games.
The bleeding must stop against the Peterson-less Vikings, especially if the forecast holds. As of Wednesday evening, the National Weather Service said there's a 90 percent chance of rain with the potential for thunderstorms.
The Packers feel their lingering issues against the run are correctable. Now, they have to prove it. "I think we've always been able to get it squared away," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.
"If you look at the yards per rush in the second and third game, it's totally different from the first and the fourth game. The one thing that's encouraging to me is I think we've been heading in the right direction in terms of keeping people out of the end zone."
Cordarrelle Patterson's 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown almost broke the sound barrier inside the Metrodome last October. If the Packers want to keep the Lambeau Field crowd into the game, their defense and special teams must take Patterson out of it (figuratively, of course).
At 6-feet-2, 220 pounds, Patterson moves extremely well for a receiver of his size. As long as the kickoff is in the field of play, the 23-year-old doesn't have any problem taking it out. His 30.8 yards per kickoff return is one of the best in the NFL. There's always a threat of Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner using Patterson in the backfield, as well.
He has only one carry over the past three weeks, but ran for 102 yards and a touchdown on three carries in a dominating 34-6 win over St. Louis to open the season. The Packers' defense has been susceptible to read-option and end-around plays.
If Teddy Bridgewater plays, Turner could try to deploy many of the same tactics as former Packers and Vikings assistant Darrell Bevell did with Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin in Seattle's 36-16 win over Green Bay. If Bridgewater can't go, the Vikings would turn to Christian Ponder, who's 1-4-1 against the Packers all-time.
The Packers got their offense going last week, but there's still nothing doing in the run game. A forgettable September saw Eddie Lacy average 3.0 yards per carry. A month into the season, the NFL's reigning offensive rookie of the year is on pace for fewer than 700 yards.
The Packers also didn't give a carry to veteran James Starks for the second time in three games in Sunday's 38-17 win over Chicago, and the offensive line hasn't found its footing. Packers coach Mike McCarthy believes a running game needs at least 30 carries to get established.
After averaging nearly 19 carries per game as a rookie, Lacy is seeing 13.3 in his sophomore campaign. It's plausible the Packers could use a few more weeks to find their offensive identity, but time is running out. They had one of the franchise's most prolific offenses in 2011 despite having the NFL's 27th-ranked run offense.
It probably won't get much easier than the Bears' run defense, which was historically bad in 2013 and off to another slow start. But Lacy mustered only 48 yards on 17 carries with his longest rush going for 10 yards.
The Vikings sit in the middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed (113.2) and yards per carry (4.0) after holding an aging Steven Jackson (13 carries for 49 yards) in check last week.