What You Might’ve Missed: Limiting a nemesis

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GREEN BAY – It’s rare when Everson Griffen isn’t talked about much after a Packers-Vikings game.

After all, in the defensive end’s previous 16 games against Green Bay, dating back to 2011, he had recorded 11½ sacks. Not a bad “season” against a rival.

But Griffen didn’t have a sack in the Packers’ 21-16 victory over the Vikings on Sunday, and he had minimal impact overall. Three assisted tackles and three quarterback hits in 68 snaps. The Packers will take that.

While All-Pro LT David Bakhtiari deserves the lion’s share of the credit for limiting Griffen, the Packers’ play designs – particularly on play-action passes – required other players to do their part as well. He can be a tough assignment (just ask Bakhtiari, who was playing with a troublesome back), but the Packers did the job.

Here’s a rundown of several important snaps, some of which were big plays for the Packers, and others that were oh-so-close.

Play No. 1: First-and-10 from the Green Bay 25, first quarter, 15:00 left

Result: 39-yard completion to WR Davante Adams

This is the first play of the game, and QB Aaron Rodgers runs a hard play-action fake to the right to RB Aaron Jones. In order to sell the run, the entire offensive line has to move to the right, including Bakhtiari, which takes him off of Griffen (97) on the back side. So to handle him without Bakhtiari, the Packers use two tight ends. First, TE Robert Tonyan (85) chips him before leaking out on a route. By then, TE Marcedes Lewis (89) has come across from the other side of the formation to pick him up, and Griffen stops his pass-rush momentum. Rodgers has plenty of time for the completion, the Packers’ longest of the day.

Play No. 2: Third-and-5 from the Minnesota 40, first quarter, 6:13 left

Result: 21-yard completion to Adams

The Vikings overload their front, and Rodgers adjusts the protection before the snap, bringing TE Jimmy Graham (80) in tight and shifting RB Jamaal Williams (30) into the backfield. The call is to slide the protection to the right, with Williams coming across to the left to pick up blitzing S Anthony Harris (41). That leaves Graham one-on-one with Griffen, and he gets the job done for another big gain. Later in the game, Graham allows a sack when matched one-on-one with DE Danielle Hunter, but he’s up to the task here against Griffen.

Play No. 3: First-and-10 from the Minnesota 33, first quarter, 1:16 left

Result: 15-yard completion to Adams

Like the first play, this is a hard play-action to the right, so the whole line has to move that way to sell it. The change is Rodgers is going to bootleg back to his left, and Griffen is the backside pursuit. It’s WR Geronimo Allison (81) who has to keep Griffen away from Rodgers, and while he doesn’t do much, he gets just enough of him for Rodgers to find a clear throwing lane.

Play No. 4: First-and-15 from the Green Bay 30, second quarter, 6:07 left

Result: Incomplete pass

Once again, it’s a play-action fake to the right, which sends Bakhtiari on a run sell and leaves Griffen for others to handle. This time, it’s Allison first at the point of attack, and the 71 pounds he’s giving up to the pass rusher are obvious. The help comes from Graham as he slides across the formation to pick up Griffen and keep him off of Rodgers long enough to get the pass away. Only a great play by Vikings S Harrison Smith (22), knocking the ball away from Adams at the last moment, prevents another big play.

Play No. 5: Second-and-goal from the Minnesota 12, first quarter, 3:23 left

Result: 12-yard TD pass to Allison

Rewinding a bit, here are a couple of plays that show Bakhtiari doing his traditional work against Griffen as the two staged another classic matchup. These plays show just how ferocious Griffen can be when, without play-action fakes, he’s pinning his ears back (as they say) and going after the QB. And why it’s so important to have a player of Bakhtiari’s caliber in these situations. This one is power vs. power, and Bakhtiari holds him off just long enough for Rodgers to hit Allison for the score. Also, don’t miss the little schematic wrinkle to this play, with Adams lining up in the backfield.

Play No. 6: Third-and-6 from the Green Bay 20, fourth quarter, 15:00 left

Result: Incomplete pass

Another example of the hard-charging Griffen, on a third down, and Bakhtiari thwarting him. Bakhtiari holds his ground even better here than the previous play, bad back and all. Just a textbook job. Once again, only a great play by the Vikings in coverage, this time by S Jayron Kearse (27) against WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (83), denies a potential big-gainer.

Bonus play: Second-and-4 from the Green Bay 29, second quarter, 7:16 left

Result: Incomplete pass

This bonus play has nothing to do with Griffen or Bakhtiari, but it’s here because it’s an impressive example of neutralizing another nemesis in this rivalry, Vikings S Harrison Smith (22). The Packers get nothing out of the play as Rodgers can’t find anybody open and scrambles around before throwing incomplete. But watch the blitz pickup by RB Aaron Jones (33) as Smith comes charging through the guard-tackle gap. That one will get some cheers in the film room.

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