By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are five keys for Saturday’s wild-card playoff game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers:
>>Adrian Peterson needs to do his usual, take-over-the-game thing against the Packers’ porous run defense. The Vikings’ running back, a leading candidate to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, ran for 199 yards against Green Bay in Week 17. He came within nine yards of the league’s single-season rushing record, and picked up right where he left off when he ran for 210 yards against the Packers in Week 13. Counting his pass receptions, Peterson has averaged a staggering 7.4 yards per touch against Green Bay.
>>Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers must continue his red-hot second half of the season. Although the Vikings ended up winning in their season-finale against the Packers, Rodgers gave Minnesota’s defense plenty to think about for the playoff rematch by throwing for 365 yards. Rodgers’ wide array of pass-catching targets, his ability to extend plays, and injuries to the Vikings’ secondary should go a long way toward allowing him to have another big performance.
>>The Vikings have to maintain the exceptional pass protection they’ve given Christian Ponder. The Packers have sacked Ponder only twice in the last two times the teams have met. With Ponder dealing with an elbow injury he suffered last week, it will be particularly important that his offensive line keeps the hits on him to an absolute minimum. He had a mostly rough regular season, but has had two of his more efficient showings in the past two weeks, and also had more success with longer throws than he did for most of the year.
>>The Packers need to give their passing game some support on the ground. Make no mistake: the Packers’ offense is driven almost exclusively by Rodgers’ throwing arm. But Green Bay did show some signs of life in its running game when DuJuan Harris, who took over for Ryan Grant, generated an average of five yards per carry against the Vikings in Week 17. If Harris is able to get a little traction, he could prosper from the fact Minnesota’s defense is (as it should be) going to be focused on stopping Rodgers and his receivers.
>>Defensive end Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikings’ pass-rushers have to apply steady heat on Rodgers. With Allen and Everson Griffen leading the way, the Vikings do an outstanding job of pressuring the quarterback. And they should be able to make Rodgers uncomfortable, given the Packers’ struggles in pass protection and Rodgers’ tendency to hang onto the ball. The Vikings had five sacks against Rodgers in Week 17, with Griffen picking up three.
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>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.
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