Skip to main content

Key Matchups Changing In Second Meeting


S Atari Bigby intercepts a pass late in the fourth quarter to seal the Packers' season-opening 24-19 victory over Minneota on Sept. 8, 2008.

The two teams just played each other less than a full month ago, but neither the Minnesota Vikings nor the Green Bay Packers will look the same in the rematch on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Injuries and other factors have led to lineup changes that will affect some of the key personnel matchups on Sunday, matchups that produced several of the game-turning plays in the first meeting, a 30-23 Minnesota victory.

Here's a rundown of the changes, both expected and potential ones depending on the injury report, compared to the teams' first showdown this season.


The biggest change here is the return of Atari Bigby as a starting safety for the Packers. Bigby missed three straight games after injuring his knee in the season opener, the Minnesota contest the last in that streak.

His replacement at the Metrodome, Derrick Martin, was either out of position or missed the tackle on at least three critical plays - a 16-yard pass to Bernard Berrian on third-and-11 that led to a touchdown, a 43-yard catch-and-run by Percy Harvin down to the Green Bay 3, and a 31-yard TD toss to Berrian on the opening drive of the second half.

Martin was benched after the last of those, and Bigby returned to the lineup following the Week 5 bye. The fact that the Packers haven't allowed a touchdown since Bigby came back - albeit against a banged-up Detroit offense and a struggling Cleveland unit - isn't entirely a coincidence. Head Coach Mike McCarthy has often referred to the improved communication in the secondary with Bigby back there, and fellow safety Nick Collins has more freedom to attack and make plays as well.

It's worth noting Bigby made late fourth-quarter interceptions in both 2007 and 2008 to help seal wins over the Vikings.

"Just chemistry," Bigby said of the difference his return makes. "All the guys know me, I know all the guys, and everybody feels comfortable with me back there.

"I feel good. I'm coming along. I don't want to say I didn't miss a beat, but I'm pretty good where I'm at."

Another potential factor here is Berrian, who is questionable with a hamstring injury that forced him to sit out Wednesday's practice and work only in limited fashion on Thursday and Friday. Berrian was Minnesota's leading receiver in the first game, with six catches for 75 yards and the one TD. Harvin, a speedster and kick-return threat, is also questionable on the injury report with an illness.

Sidney Rice (5-70-1 TD on Oct. 5) seems to have emerged as Brett Favre's go-to receiver now, with 16 receptions for 312 yards (19.5 avg.) in the Vikings' last two games. But without another potential deep threat on the other side, and with Bigby back in the lineup for Green Bay, things could play out very differently in the rematch.


Allen simply terrorized Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Oct. 5, racking up 4½ of Minnesota's eight sacks and posting a safety and forced fumble as well. For the first three quarters of that game, and for all but one of the sacks, he was lined up across from Daryn Colledge, who had moved from left guard to left tackle to replace Chad Clifton (ankle).

While it's still somewhat up in the air who's going to play left tackle for the Packers on Sunday - rookie T.J. Lang took all the team snaps on Wednesday and Thursday before Clifton returned to practice on Friday - it's definite that Allen's matchup won't be the same this time.

Clifton is listed as questionable on the injury report as he continues to work his way back from re-injuring the ankle in Week 6 vs. Detroit. Meanwhile, Lang made his first career start at left tackle last week in Cleveland and has played well. One of them will get the start, with Colledge remaining at his customary left guard spot.

"I've got to prepare for either," Allen said earlier this week. "I enjoy playing against Clifton. He's a good player. We have good battles. You put a rookie over there, it's all part of it. I'll prepare for both and we'll see what happens on Sunday."

Clifton is obviously the veteran with experience against Allen and in big games like this, but how much all the missed practice time might impact his effectiveness will be taken into account. If the Packers go with Lang, he's also seen Allen before, having faced him in the fourth quarter of the first meeting after Colledge went out with a knee injury. Allen got one of his sacks against Lang, but otherwise the rookie held up well.

"He's got tremendous speed coming off the edge," Lang said of Allen. "He really uses his hands well, he's got long arms. He's able to get into guys pretty good.

"When you play a guy like that, you have to be really technically sound. You have to have good pass sets and you have to use your hands well. He's got power but he's also got speed. I think he uses his speed to his advantage and he likes to get around the corner on guys."


One key guy is very likely to be missing from each team here. Packers tight end Jermichael Finley had his breakout game on Oct. 5, catching a career-best six passes for 128 yards, including a 62-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter.

But Finley is listed as doubtful with a sprained knee sustained on the opening drive of last week's game in Cleveland, when he was upended after a 16-yard reception. He is scheduled to work out before the game on Sunday to see if he can play, and McCarthy wasn't ruling him out as of Friday, but his prospects appear iffy at best after not practicing all week.

{sportsad300}Spencer Havner filled in admirably against the Browns with a 45-yard TD catch, but if Finley can't play, the Packers will miss both his ability to stretch the middle seams of the field and his presence around the goal line.

Meanwhile, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield will miss his second straight game with a sprained foot, which he originally injured against Baltimore in Week 6.

Winfield accounted for the only interception by either team in the first meeting, picking off Rodgers when he tried to force an out route to Greg Jennings at the Minnesota 23-yard line early in the second quarter. The turnover took potential points off the board for the Packers, and the Vikings responded with a 77-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-7 lead.

McCarthy earlier this week called Winfield the Vikings' best player in the secondary as well as a defensive leader, and there's no disputing that. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin referred to Winfield as one of the best tackling corners in the game, and a "complete football player."

The Vikings are confident in the rotation they've established among Karl Paymah, Benny Sapp and Asher Allen for two spots (starting corner and nickel), but Winfield's overall presence, both against the pass and in run support, will be tough to replace.

"I have a ton of respect for him," Rodgers said. "He might be the toughest pound-for-pound guy in this league. He's an undersized guy but he brings it. He brings the wood, as we used to say. He'll hit you in the mouth, hard, and he's definitely a guy, if I saw him outside the pocket, I'd be getting down. Quickly."


This has nothing to do with personnel matchups, but it's almost certain to play a factor. As Packers fans know, Favre has made a Hall of Fame career out of getting a pre-snap read on a defense and changing the play at the line of scrimmage to take advantage of something he sees. The louder the din at Lambeau Field on Sunday, the harder it will be for Favre to do that.

Conversely, Rodgers gets that advantage at the line of scrimmage now, and Minnesota's relentless pass rush doesn't get the benefit of the Metrodome's artificial turf and the Packers' necessary silent count to get the same jump off the ball. Last year in Green Bay, Allen was rendered almost invisible by the Packers, failing to record a single tackle. But the two times they've faced him on the fast track at the Metrodome, he has 5½ sacks and two safeties.

"When we were up in the Metrodome, we used silent count the whole game," Lang said. "We couldn't hear anything. It was very loud up there. We're happy we get to play on our home turf. It lets us take advantage of the snap count a little bit more and makes us feel comfortable as an offensive line. We can actually hear what's going on."

The Vikings certainly used the home field to their advantage in the first meeting, and now the Packers hope to return the favor.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content