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Packers prepare for another loud stadium

Tom Oates The Wisconsin State Journal GREEN BAY -- If Green Bay's offense battled extreme heat and opening-game communication problems in Jacksonville, wait until the Packers get to Minnesota. The one-two punch that awaits the Packers on Sunday n...

U.S. Bank Stadium
General view of U.S. Bank Stadium with Minneapolis downtown skyline as backdrop during an NFL preseason game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Minnesota Vikings. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Oates

The Wisconsin State Journal

 

GREEN BAY - If Green Bay’s offense battled extreme heat and opening-game communication problems in Jacksonville, wait until the Packers get to Minnesota.

The one-two punch that awaits the Packers on Sunday night in Minneapolis is unlike anything they will face all season. The combination of coach Mike Zimmer’s defense and the shiny new U.S. Bank Stadium will be the supreme test for an offense trying to regain its footing after a rare off year.

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Zimmer, one of the NFL’s most respected defensive coordinators in Cincinnati before he was named coach of the Vikings two years ago, has frustrated Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with his defensive schemes in the past. And the Vikings will be playing their first regular-season game in their super-sized downtown stadium, which they claim will be even louder than the no-longer-with-us Metrodome.

After looking disjointed in the Packers’ opening victory, the offense holds the key to the NFC North Division showdown. For Green Bay to beat the team that ended its four-year run of division titles last season, the offense must stay patient against Zimmer’s zone coverages and maintain its poise despite an off-the-charts decibel level fueled by the emotion of opening the long-awaited and much-debated stadium.

“You’ve got to prepare for some noise,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “Obviously, the old Metrodome was a very loud stadium when they were rolling. It makes it difficult on the communication, so you have to have a plan for that. And then just withstand the surge.”

The Packers have dealt with extreme crowd noise in Minnesota since the early 1990s, though that wasn’t the case the past two years when the Vikings played in the relative tranquility of the University of Minnesota’s outdoor stadium. Coach Mike McCarthy’s teams are 7-3 in Minnesota (5-3 in the Metrodome), so his plan to combat the noise with silent counts and hand signals is sound.

But those communication issues the Packers had in Jacksonville could be magnified if Vikings fans can re-create or even improve upon the often-frenzied atmosphere of the Metrodome. Ragnar and his noisy motorcycle won’t be there - victims of a contract dispute, if you can believe that - but the usual large contingent of Packers fans probably won’t be there, either. Vikings fans snapped up most of the tickets for the opening of their stadium.

At least the Packers won’t go in blindly. McCarthy said music is being cranked up “very, very loud” during practices and walk-throughs this week. It helps that the Packers have had to prepare for games at loud venues in Seattle and Arizona the past few years.

“We really start working on the noise in the spring now, where in the past we never really worked on it until we got into training camp,” McCarthy said. “But it’s a part of our daily operation. My understanding is it’s going to be very loud in the new stadium.”

If not, the Vikings will make sure it is. Most NFL people, McCarthy included, believe part of the Metrodome’s reputation as a noisy building was because the Vikings amped up the noise through artificial means.

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Still, it’s what the Vikings do on the field, especially on defense, that should concern Green Bay the most. Zimmer has faced a Rodgers-led offense six times - twice with Cincinnati, four times with Minnesota - and has a 3-3 record (1-3 in Minnesota).

More important, his 4-3 scheme has bothered Rodgers, holding him to a passer rating under 87 in four of the six games. Rodgers has 43 300-yard passing games in 119 NFL starts - none against Zimmer. In the six games, Rodgers’ completion percentage was 59.2, a full six percentage points below his career mark.

“(Zimmer) always does a very good job of taking away and challenging you at the things you do best,” McCarthy said.

What Zimmer does best against the Packers is take away the deep ball. His defense borrows liberally from the 3-4 zone-blitz scheme developed by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and others in Pittsburgh years ago and his secondary sits back in zones, forcing quarterbacks to be patient. The goal is to be disciplined, not force turnovers.

In the six games, Rodgers completed only 12 passes of longer than 20 yards and threw just 10 touchdown passes. He had a 66-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson against the Vikings in 2014, but the other nine scores against Zimmer defenses have averaged 10 yards.

“He’s a great coach and he’s a trendsetter,” Rodgers said. “What he’s done with the seven-up package has changed the game. A lot of teams have tried to replicate that but not to the same success or intricacies as Coach Zimmer has.”

Rodgers’ two best games against Zimmer-coached defenses were in 2014, when Zimmer was installing his scheme in Minnesota. That defense reached elite status in 2015 and was dominant in Minnesota’s season-opening victory at Tennessee.

“When you start to put year after year together in the same system, that’s how you can make that jump from a very good defense to an elite defense,” Rodgers said.

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The Packers didn’t have Nelson, their No. 1 deep threat, last season. He’s back, which will give the offense an opportunity to make a very loud statement of its own Sunday night.

 

- Copyright (c)2016, The Wisconsin State Journal/Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Related Topics: MINNESOTA VIKINGS
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