- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- As difficult as it is to pick the toughest challenge of all the formidable offenses the Minnesota Vikings have faced during the first five weeks of the 2014 season, the Green Bay Packers might have earned that distinction.
When the Packers are at the peak of their powers, they combine one of the game's best quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers with 24-year-old Eddie Lacy, a battering ram of a running back that requires extra attention from defenses and creates opportunities for Rodgers to burn defensive backs off play action. The Packers' running game hadn't complemented their quarterback very effectively before Thursday night, but as a powerful running game found its stride for the first time in 2014, the Vikings' defense was flattened in the process.
Coach Mike Zimmer seemed more upset with the team's run defense than any other aspect of the game on Friday, pointing out the times he saw players "freelancing" on film and not staying committed to a scheme that would have choked off running lanes if defenders did their jobs. The Packers ran for 156 yards on 28 carries, with Lacy picking up 105 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts. Rodgers was there to sting the Vikings every time they committed an extra defender to the run, firing his 66-yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson after a play-action fake got safety Robert Blanton and the Vikings' three linebackers to cheat up.
The Vikings spent their first six defensive plays in nickel, and Lacy ran for 58 yards on four carries in those plays. Then, on the Vikings' first play in their base package, Rodgers found Randall Cobb in single coverage against Captain Munnerlyn, hitting him for an eight-yard touchdown on a corner route.
Here are some other observations from a film review of the Vikings' defense during the Packers' 42-10 win.
The Packers' guards -- T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton -- make their running game work, but it was rookie center Corey Linsley who might have done the most to neutralize defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who probably had his worst game of the season. Sitton cut Joseph on Lacy's 18-yard run in the first quarter, and it was Linsley winning matchups with Joseph on back-to-back nine- and 10-yard runs in the third quarter. Joseph also missed a tackle on James Starks' 17-yard run in the third quarter. Lacy averaged a league-high three yards after contact per carry, finishing several runs by pummeling defensive backs Xavier Rhodes and Robert Blanton.
Zimmer had enjoyed success against Rodgers as the Bengals' defensive coordinator thanks to his ability to confuse Rodgers on blitzes, and the one he dialed up on Sharrif Floyd's first-quarter sack might have been his best of the night. The Vikings showed a double-A gap blitz with Anthony Barr and Gerald Hodges on third-and-9, but Barr dropped back into coverage as Harrison Smith surged around the right side of the line unblocked. Rodgers evaded Smith and Brian Robison, keeping the play alive for 5.91 seconds, but never got a chance to look downfield before Floyd wrapped him up. It was a rare moment for Zimmer's blitz package, though; he only sent extra pressure on five Rodgers dropbacks, and Rodgers hit 3 of his 4 passes for 62 yards against the blitz.
Rhodes had one of his better days of the year, allowing just 2 completions on 4 targets and breaking up a long throw to Nelson after he got turned by Nelson's initial move.
Barr also was more reliable in pass coverage than he's been early this season; he helped take away Rodgers' checkdown options before Everson Griffen brought the quarterback down for a second-quarter sack.