O-Line Ready For Another Tough Test

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When two teams play each other as frequently as the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings do - twice every year and now this week's playoff game brings a first ever third meeting in the same season - it's easy to see how the players and coaches involved can become very familiar with the opponents they will be facing Sunday afternoon.

One area where the players are understandably even a little more familiar with each other is along the offensive and defensive lines. The Packers' offensive line is well aware of the challenge that is ahead of them as they face the Minnesota defensive front, led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kevin Williams.

Right guard Marco Rivera, a three-time Pro Bowl lineman himself. went so far as to say that the front four the Vikings possess is the biggest weapon the visiting team will be bringing to Lambeau Field this weekend - even more dangerous than their high-octane offense.

He said that Williams, the Vikings' first-round and the ninth overall pick in the 2003 NFL Draft who has turned back-to-back seasons of 10.5 and 12 sacks in his first two years out of Oklahoma State, is the catalyst of the potent front.

"They have a very good defensive line," said Rivera. "I think the strength of their whole team is their defensive front. Kevin Williams is a legit player, he's a very good player and he's going to play for a lot of years to come. You've got to respect that guy and you've got to know where he's at at all times."

Fellow guard Mike Wahle agreed, but he stressed that Williams isn't only dangerous when rushing the passer.

"We'll have to pay a lot of attention to him," Wahle stated. "He's making a ton of plays. He's really playing well. If there's one guy that we're going to need to stop up front, it's going to be him.

"The guy just has a knack for getting to the football, in the run game or in the pass game. When you watch film, it's not just him pressuring the quarterback, he's making all the tackles in their run game too it seems like. He's always around the football, so you've really got to finish your block with him or you're going to be in trouble."

The big men up front for the Packers were able to hold Williams and his teammates in check for the most part in the two earlier meetings this season, giving up just one sack (not to Williams, but defensive end Lance Johnstone) in the 73 times Brett Favre dropped back to pass, but that should be no surprise as Favre complimented his line for their great protection Wednesday.

"The pass protection has been great," Favre said of the record-low sack total allowed by the Packers this season. "The numbers don't lie. What did they give up, 14 sacks? I'd like to say it's because of my scrambling ability, but that's not the case. They've done just an outstanding job of protecting.

"And I think (we're) either first or second in the league in attempts, which is even more amazing. It's not like we threw 300 times, we almost threw 600 times and gave up 14 sacks - that's just an outstanding number."

But both the quarterback and the linemen acknowledged that they will have to do a better job of winning the battle in the trenches Sunday at Lambeau Field than they did on Christmas Eve.

"Now those numbers, you can put them aside now that we're in the playoffs," said the quarterback matter-of-factly. "Minnesota really had our number a few weeks ago. If you looked at the film closely, you'll see that their defensive line really got the better of our offensive line. We won the game, so it's easy to overlook that, but I think our guys have probably the biggest challenge they've faced all year coming up this week. They've risen up to every challenge; let's hope they do it again this week."

Rivera envisions a better day for he and his linemates since they won't be dealing with the noise factor of the Metrodome and will be able to hear Favre's snap count much more easily. The guard thinks that will be one difference, but that the outcome of the game won't change.

"We were fortunate enough to get the win (in Minnesota)," he said. "They're coming here, so it's our crowd and we won't have that noise factor that we had over there so we'll be able to get off on the count which is very important. We just need to sustain our blocks, get the execution right, and hopefully we'll have a good day.

"We're going to go out there and just try to execute the gameplan and do everything possible to beat the Vikings. They're going to throw some new things at us that we haven't seen yet, but all we can do is prepare like we did last game and hopefully the results are the same."

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