Vikings aim to unleash potent rush on QB Rodgers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- If the Vikings are salivating while watching film of Aaron Rodgers being driven to the turf, they're not admitting it.Green Bay's star quarterback was sacked eight times in the Packers' 38-8 loss at Arizona last weekend. On...

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals Dec. 27 at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Photo by Joe Camporeale / USA TODAY Sports)

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. - If the Vikings are salivating while watching film of Aaron Rodgers being driven to the turf, they’re not admitting it.
Green Bay’s star quarterback was sacked eight times in the Packers’ 38-8 loss at Arizona last weekend. On Sunday at Lambeau Field, Rodgers will face a Minnesota defense that has nine sacks in the past two games.
“They had a lot of injuries up front, so that could have had a lot to do with it, but it doesn’t really matter what they did last week,” defensive end Brian Robison said Wednesday. “We’re going into Green Bay, and they’re going to give us what they’ve got. It’s for a division championship.”
The regular-season finale between the 10-5 teams will decide the NFC North. Perhaps the key will be how much pressure the Vikings can put on Rodgers.
Rodgers had to play last week behind a makeshift offensive line and it showed. Injured left tackle David Bakhtiari (ankle) was inactive, and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (ankle) was knocked out halfway through. Also missing time were center Corey Linsley (ankle) and guard T.J. Lang (shoulder).
Bakhtiari was unable to practice Wednesday, although he is expected back soon, and the other three were able to go on a limited basis.
In all, the Cardinals had nine sacks against the Packers, the last on quarterback Scott Tolzien.
“Look at the guys that were playing on the line,” Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson. “Who you have out there playing for you makes a big difference.”
Nevertheless, the Vikings’ pass rush has been downright fierce of late - five sacks in a 38-17 win Dec. 20 over Chicago and four in last Sunday’s 49-17 victory over the New York Giants.
“The Vikings’ defense is playing very well, particularly their pass rush,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Over the past two games, defensive tackle Tom Johnson has three sacks, defensive Danielle Hunter 2.5 and Robison two. Hunter really has emerged in recent weeks, and is second among NFL rookies with six sacks.
Defensive end Everson Griffen remains the team leader with 8.5 sacks. While he didn’t get one in the past two games, he did have three quarterback hits.
“Hunter has helped a little bit, and we’ve been moving B-Rob around a little bit, I think that has helped some,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Everson seems to be more healthy now (after a recent shoulder injury). Tom Johnson is not playing near as many plays, so he gets a chance to concentrate a little bit more on rushing.”
Johnson had two sacks against the Giants, helped by the return of nose tackle Linval Joseph, the team’s best run stopper, who had missed three games with a foot injury.
“We’ve stopped the run the last few weeks much better than we have, and we’ve put people in situations to where they have to throw the ball,” Robison said. “Those are situations that you want to be in to allow your front four to really get after the quarterback.”
Patterson said the Vikings also have been able to tee off against quarterbacks not known for their running ability: Chicago’s Jay Cutler, the Giants’ Eli Manning and Arizona’s Carson Palmer, sacked twice in Minnesota’s 23-20 loss on Dec. 10.
Rodgers, though, is mobile - even if it didn’t appear so against the Cardinals.
“When you’re playing … Rodgers, you’ve got to rush under some control because those guys can get out of the pocket and he can kill you,” Patterson said.
A key for the Vikings will be trying to stop the run and force Rodgers into passing situations. But Minnesota, 1-10-1 this decade against Green Bay, hasn’t done much of a job in recent years slowing down Packers running back Eddie Lacy.
Lacy has 10 100-yard games in his three seasons, and four have come against the Vikings. He also has a 94-yard effort against them.
“We’ve got to stop Eddie Lacy and (running back James) Starks,” Robison said. “We’ve got to get after Aaron Rodgers and make him throw us some turnovers, and keep the penalties to a minimum. If we do that, we’ve shown that we can be pretty good.”

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