NFC North: Green Bay Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers' beverage of choice after games has long been a Grape Crush soda.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback doesn't always bring it with him to his postgame news conference like he did after Sunday's 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings, but he says he was not sticking it to the purple-clad team or its fans by doing so.


And to anyone who doubts how long he has been drinking that after games, he had a message Tuesday on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show.

"To all the idiot trolls out there, seven years," Rodgers said adding that he also enjoys a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. "PBJ and Grape or Orange Crush. It's been grape for the last five; the first couple years it was orange or grape."

Nevertheless, the image of Rodgers drinking from a bottle of Grape Crush got some people riled up after Sunday's game.

"Any of the local media or anybody who's seen me after a game, I'm always carrying that around with me," Rodgers said on his show. "That's probably the only soda that I ever drink – right after the game, when you've got to get those nutrients back with you. So that's my postgame [snack], PBJ and the Grape Crush. I do like it, contrary to anybody who thinks I was trolling anything. It's absolutely ridiculous. It's comical."

Patriots-Packers is No. 1 vs. No. 2

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
3:15
PM ET
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Not that it needed any more juice, but Sunday's Green Bay Packers-New England Patriots game at Lambeau Field -- a game some believe is a Super Bowl preview -- will be a matchup of No. 1 against No. 2 in the ESPN Power Rankings.

That's because the Packers moved up one spot from last week, when they were No. 3 in the rankings. They jumped over the former No. 2, the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots have been atop the rankings for the past four weeks.

A win on Sunday, when the Packers are three-point favorites according to the online oddsmaker Bovada.LV, would no doubt put Green Bay on top of the Power Rankings for the first time since the 2012 preseason poll.

Although the Packers have just a one-game lead over the Detroit Lions in the NFC North, they are well ahead in these rankings. The Lions slipped six spots to No. 13 after losing to the Patriots on Sunday.

Here's what the top of rankings look like:
  • 1. Patriots (9-2)
  • 2. Packers (8-3)
  • 3. Broncos (8-3)
  • 4. Cardinals (9-2)
  • 5. Cowboys (8-3)
Click here for the full ESPN Power Rankings and see my ballot below:

Rob Demovsky's ballot
1. Patriots
2. Packers
3. Broncos
4. Cowboys
5. Colts
6. Cardinals
7. Seahawks
8. Eagles
9. 49ers
10. Bengals
11. Steelers
12. Ravens
13. Lions
14. Chiefs
15. Chargers
16. Browns
17. Dolphins
18. Bills
19. Texans
20. Bears
21. Vikings
22. Rams
23. Falcons
24. Saints
25. Panthers
26. Redskins
27. Buccaneers
28. Giants
29. Titans
30. Raiders
31. Jaguars
32. Jets

QB snapshot: Aaron Rodgers

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
1:00
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A quick observation of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and how he played in the Green Bay Packers' 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12:

Rodgers
Just because Rodgers didn't put up astronomical numbers (209 yards with 2 touchdown passes and no interceptions) does not mean there's reason to be concerned that he's cooling off. The Vikings committed an extra defender to coverage, playing mostly with both safeties deep in order to prevent Rodgers from hitting Jordy Nelson down the field. Nelson may find extra attention this week as the Packers host the New England Patriots in what some are viewing as a possible Super Bowl preview.

The Packers' longest pass play was a 34-yard catch-and-run by tight end Andrew Quarless. In only three games this season has Rodgers' long play been shorter. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but all of those were on the road.

On the whole, Rodgers has been extremely effective on medium-to-long throws this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he has completed 46.9 percent of his passes thrown 20 or more yards downfield this season, with 8 touchdowns. By comparison, his opponent on Sunday, quarterback Tom Brady, has completed 27.3 percent of those passes with 3 touchdowns this season.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The bigger the game, the more the little things matter.

That's how Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is approaching the preparation for Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots (9-2) at Lambeau Field.

Brady
"Well, you have to be sharp," Capers said Monday. "There's not a lot of margin for error when you're going against a quarterback that's done it for as long as he's done it with the level of efficiency he's done it with. There's not many things he hasn't seen."

For a good portion of Monday's group session with reporters, Capers used words like "sharp" and phrases such as being "on top of your game" when talking about the Patriots.

When asked later what he meant by those, Capers pointed to three instances from Sunday's 24-21 win at the Minnesota Vikings that, if repeated against the Patriots, could prove more costly.

They were:
  • On a fourth-and-5 play in the second quarter, Morgan Burnett's interception was wiped out because of a holding penalty on Micah Hyde. The Vikings scored their first touchdown on that drive.
  • On a third-and-6 play in the second quarter, Hyde had a chance to tackle running back Joe Banyard short of the line to gain but instead Banyard carried him for 3 extra yards and a first down. (Hyde made up for it with an interception on the next play.)
  • On a third-and-4 play in the fourth quarter, outside linebacker Mike Neal was flagged for a neutral-zone infraction, which gave the Vikings a first down and led to the touchdown that pulled them to within three points with 3:23 left in the game.

"Those are the kind of things that in a game like this, these guys are efficient enough, you can't give them any advantage with, say, penalty-aided drives." Capers said. "Both of the [Vikings'] touchdown drives yesterday were penalty-aided."

The Vikings did not have the experienced quarterback or the playmakers to make Capers' defense pay for its mistakes.

The Patriots (9-3) do with Brady and his supporting cast of tight end Rob Gronkowski -- a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties alike -- receiver Julian Edelman and whichever running back they decide to use on a particular week. Two games ago, it was Jonas Gray, who rushed for 201 yards. The last game, it was the recently re-signed LeGarrette Blount, who had two touchdowns in his return to New England.

"We certainly have probably the biggest challenge coming in here Sunday," Capers said. "We've got to go back to work and make sure we're on top of our game and we're ready to go out and play our best, because that's what it's going to take to win a game like this."

When it was posed to coach Mike McCarthy on Monday that the Packers (8-3) would need to be sharp against Brady and Co., he replied: "So you're saying we're not sharp?"

Then how about extra sharp?

"OK, well extra sharp will be the focus," McCarthy said. "You gave me my theme for the week, I guess, there."

And then his tone turned more serious.

"New England is a great football team," McCarthy said. "Just the way they're hitting their stride right now, just watching the video this morning, very impressive. We'll stay in tune with that. We're not going to make a bunch of changes. We like the football team that we are, and we look forward to the competition."
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Mike McCarthy knew Eddie Lacy was not feeling well during Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but he still figured the Green Bay Packers' running back would be effective.

Lacy
Lacy was all of that and then some.

One day after he rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries -- season highs in both categories -- Lacy was still feeling the aftereffects of what McCarthy called a gastrointestinal illness.

"He was in today for the [regeneration] workout, so he went through the weight-room work and so forth," McCarthy said Monday. "It's something that we're still monitoring."

Before Sunday, Lacy had not carried 25 times in a game in almost exactly a year. His previous high this season was 17 in Week 4 against the Chicago Bears.

"Really I don't think statistics really reflect the whole picture of everything that we've done," McCarthy said. "Eddie's a good teammate and Eddie, and I think if you asked Eddie -- and I've heard him answer the question a number of times -- he just wants to be a good teammate."

But the Packers might need to start leaning on Lacy more now that the weather is turning sour in Green Bay. The early forecast for Sunday's game against the New England Patriots at Lambeau Field calls for temperatures in the 20s.

And they also might need the running game more if teams try to play coverage like the Vikings, who used a two-high safety look that limited Aaron Rodgers' shots down the field.

"It shows that we can win a game a different way than we have been winning, by scoring a lot of points early and having the opponent down by halftime by a large margin," Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "If you can win games, then you have to find ways to win each week. Yesterday, we found a way to do it."

Packers can move on to New England

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
11:30
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the moments shortly after Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers weren't quite ready to start thinking about or discussing Sunday's showdown with the New England Patriots at Lambeau Field.

"Haven't even thought about it yet," Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said Sunday before he left TCF Bank Stadium for the short flight from Minneapolis. "I'll worry about that on Monday."

Well, it's Monday, and it's time to move on to the Patriots.

Here's why Sunday's game between the Patriots (9-2) and the Packers (8-3) has the potential to be a monumental game:
  • Brady
    Rodgers
    It's the first – and potentially last – head-to-head meeting between MVP quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady as starters.
  • It's a matchup of the current No. 1 seed in the AFC and the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
  • It's a potential Super Bowl preview, which, of course, would mean it wouldn't be the last meeting between the two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

"It's just another big game for us," Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. "We've been playing well lately. They don't all come easy, like they have the past couple games. We've got to grind some out like we did [Sunday]."

The Packers haven't played the Patriots since their 2010 loss at New England, a game Rodgers missed because of a concussion he sustained the previous week at Detroit. Matt Flynn played in his place and nearly rallied the Packers to a victory, only to lose 31-27.

"To be honest with you, I don't think many of us are going to use that as motivation," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "We did win a Super Bowl that year, didn't we?"

Indeed, they did. But if they want to be considered the favorite to win it again this season, a victory over the Patriots might be a requirement.

Rodgers' only appearance against Brady came in a 2006 game at Lambeau Field in relief of an injured Brett Favre. Rodgers finished that game, but afterward it was discovered that he sustained a season-ending fractured foot.
MINNEAPOLIS – It might have been the longest 1-yard touchdown pass in Green Bay Packers' history, and for that reason the floater that Aaron Rodgers heaved across the field to rookie tight end Richard Rodgers on Sunday will serve as one of the most memorable scoring plays of the season.

Based on multiple looks at the replay -- and with a little geometry (see the Pythagorean theorem) to help in the calculation -- the ball traveled an estimated 39.4 yards through the air, according to unofficial calculations. The nearest Vikings' defender was at least 15 yards away.

Rodgers
Rodgers
Here's how it happened: In the second quarter of Sunday's 24-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers had a first-and-goal at the 1 after a 34-yard catch and run by Andrew Quarless. Coach Mike McCarthy then went with a three tight-end, two-back package that called for Aaron Rodgers to roll to his right. Almost everyone went with him, except Richard Rodgers. He waited for the entire Vikings' defense to follow the ball and then after a few seconds slipped out to the back left corner of the end zone.

By the time the rookie was waving his hands in the air about 3 yards from the back corner of the end zone, his quarterback was already at the numbers near the 10-yard line on the right side of the field.

"You usually don't have to throw the ball 20 or 30 yards for a 1-yard touchdown,” McCarthy said. "I'm sure you guys will measure that out and correct me. But Richard ran a great route on the back side. It's a delay route. Aaron delayed more than he probably needed to, but it was obviously a great throw."

And one that seemingly hung in the air for, as Richard Rodgers said, "forever. "

"I was just open, no one was really covering me," he said "So I was just standing back there waving."

Quarless was actually the primary read on the front side of the play, while Richard Rodgers was the second option on the back side.

"It didn't feel great that the back side was going to be open, so as I came off the fake and extended the play, Andrew got caught a little bit inside, so that was dead, " Aaron Rodgers said. "And at the last minute, I kind of saw him [Richard Rodgers] out of the corner of my eye and knew I had to put a little something on that to get it over there."

It gave the Packers a 14-7 lead with 5:23 left in the second quarter.

Illness doesn't hamper Eddie Lacy

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
5:55
PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Green Bay Packers' 24-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:

Lacy
Feeling ill: The Packers could tell running back Eddie Lacy wasn't feeling well throughout the game, but until it was disclosed after the game that he was suffering from an illness, no one on the outside knew. You sure couldn't tell by the way he performed. He rushed 25 times for 125 yards -- both season highs -- and scored two touchdowns (one rushing and one receiving). By the time reporters entered the locker room, Lacy was already on the team bus trying to recover. "I knew he wasn't feeling great," left guard Josh Sitton said. "He's a tough son of a bitch. ... You could see it on his face a little bit that he wasn't feeling too good. He's just tough, man."

Game ball: Rookie tight end Richard Rodgers knows what he's going to do with the ball he caught for his 1-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. "Probably give it to my dad," Rodgers said of his father, who is the Carolina Panthers' special-teams coach. It was perhaps one of the most memorable plays of the game because of how far Aaron Rodgers had to throw the ball for just 1 official yard. He rolled to his right and from just outside where the 10-yard-line number is painted, he throw the ball all the way to back left corner of the end zone, where the tight end was completely uncovered and waving his arms.

On to New England: The talk turned almost immediately to Sunday's showdown with the New England Patriots, the first-ever meeting between Rodgers and Tom Brady as starters. But most players said they wanted to enjoy this victory first. "I haven't even thought about it," receiver Jordy Nelson said. Guard T.J. Lang said: "It will be a big game for us. I haven't really thought about them too much."

Rapid Reaction: Green Bay Packers

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
4:01
PM ET

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 24-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium:

What it means: The Packers (8-3) should now have first place in the NFC North to themselves for the first time this season. They came into the weekend tied with the Detroit Lions, who were losing in the fourth quarter to the New England Patriots when the Packers game ended. But things could change again next week given that the Patriots are next up on the Packers' schedule. And then there's still the Week 17 game against the Lions at Lambeau Field. There's much to be decided in the division, but Sunday's win put things in the Packers' hands.

Stock watch: Micah Hyde’s stock in this game was both up and down. The Packers safety was called for a holding penalty when the Vikings went for it on fourth down (more on that below) and then got dragged several yards by running back Joe Banyard, who converted a first down on a short pass in the second quarter. But on the next snap, Hyde picked off Teddy Bridgewater. It was Hyde’s second interception in the last three games. Then in the third quarter, Hyde recorded his first sack of the season.

Questionable call: Which you would rather have if you were on defense: third-and-15 from your 49-yard line or fourth-and-5 from your 39? Packers coach Mike McCarthy declined an illegal shift penalty on the Vikings, which allowed Bridgewater's 5-yard scramble to stand, setting up the fourth down, which the Vikings went for and converted thanks to a holding penalty on Hyde that wiped out an interception by Morgan Burnett. Five plays later, Bridgewater's 22-yard touchdown pass to Charles Johnson tied the game at 7.

Game ball: Welcome back to the running game, Eddie Lacy. For the first time this season, Lacy carried more than 17 times. And he made the most of it, plodding his way to 125 yards on 25 carries. He did it without the benefit of many explosive runs (his longest gain on the ground was 16 yards). It was his second 100-yard game of the season. Both of them have come against the Vikings.

What's next: The Packers play perhaps their most anticipated game of the season next Sunday against the Patriots at Lambeau Field.
MINNEAPOLIS -- If the Green Bay Packers still plan to use Clay Matthews at inside linebacker as extensively as they have the previous two games, they will need to find another option at his old outside linebacker spot.

Nick Perry, who started the last two weeks at right outside linebacker, was declared inactive for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings. Perry was listed as questionable because of a shoulder injury.

Mike Neal would be the logical choice to assume those outside linebacker snaps, but rookie Jayrone Elliott also sees some action there.

Matthews has played the majority of his snaps the last two weeks at inside linebacker, especially on early downs, but it's possible he could go back to playing more at outside linebacker.

On Friday, coach Mike McCarthy said they would have to adjust their plan if Perry could not play.

The Packers also will be without one of their key special-teams players, cornerback Jarrett Bush (groin). In his place, rookie cornerback Demetri Goodson was activated for just the second time this season.

Here's the full inactive list:
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If Dom Capers' defensive system can be boiled down to a basic principal, it's this: Blitz as often as necessary to disrupt the rhythm and timing of an opponent's offense.

So it should come as no surprise that since he came to Green Bay as defensive coordinator in 2009, the Green Bay Packers have ranked as one of the NFL's most frequent blitz teams (see accompanying chart).

But there's much more that goes into it than just turning linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks loose.

Some of Capers' best defenses in Green Bay have been those that have blitzed the least (see 2009 and 2010).

"I'd say we're probably normally [blitzing at] around 38 to 40 percent of the time," Capers said.

But with worst defense he fielded, the 2011 unit that ranked last in the league, he blitzed the most.

"We couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback that year," Capers said.

That trend is hardly universal.

Take this season, for example. One of the best defensive performances came in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings. In the Packers' 42-10 victory, Capers blitzed on 47.2 percent of the Vikings’ dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information (which defines a blitz as sending five or more pass-rushers at the quarterback). Only three other times this season has Capers blitzed at a higher rate -- at Miami in Week 6 (53.1 percent), against Carolina in Week 7 (50 percent) and against the New York Jets in Week 2 (47.3 percent). All were victories

Then there was 19-7 loss against the Detroit Lions in Week 2, when the defense allowed just 10 points. Capers blitzed a season-low 12.8 percent of the time.

This season, the Packers' defense ranks just 25th in yards, but second in takeaways (22), tied for eighth in Total QBR (50.4) and 11th in sack percentage (7.0).

Here is a look at the Capers' philosophy through the eyes of some of his coaches and players:

Offensive coordinator Tom Clements

Before they were on the same side, Clements coached against Capers. One game stands out: Dec. 8, 2002 in Pittsburgh. Clements was the Steelers' quarterbacks coach, and Capers was the Houston Texans head coach.

"That was a weird game," Clements said. "Our defense held them to about a total of 60 yards. We had about 400 yards, and they beat us by three touchdowns."

[+] EnlargeDom Capers
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsDefensive coordinator Dom Capers has made his mark by adapting his calls to each opponent.
Actually, the numbers were these: The Steelers had 422 yards and the Texans had 47. Houston's defense scored three times, two interception returns and a recovered fumble return, in a 24-6 upset.

Which goes to show that when preparing for a Capers' defense, anything is possible.

"Multiple looks, multiple pressures," Clements said. "It requires a lot of film study by the coaches and the players, because you never know what you’re going to get."

Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac

Trgovac, the Panthers defensive coordinator from 2003-2008, knows what it's like to call plays.

He says it's an oversimplification to simply call Capers a blitzer.

"Just to call 100 blitzes, when you start getting in that rhythm of the game, that's actually the easiest part of the game to call," Trgovac said. "The hard part is trying to pick the blitzes based on what you're seeing in the game. You have something set in your mind early and have to adjust from there."

Trgovac says he often finds Capers alone in his office or a film room calling a mock game to try to anticipate those situations.

"He puts in the hours that's required to have knowledge to make a play call," Trgovac said.

Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt

Whitt, who like Trgovac has been with Capers since 2009 in Green Bay, also says it's unfair to label their defense as just a blitzing scheme.

"I wouldn't say that," Whitt said. "I would say it's a week-to-week deal, but we're going to try to do anything we can to win that week. If we have to bring five or six guys, we will."

But then Whitt pointed to one of the biggest defensive plays in last Sunday's win against the Eagles, Julius Peppers' 52-yard interception return for a touchdown. Capers rushed only three players -- defensive linemen Datone Jones, Josh Boyd and Mike Neal -- and dropped Peppers, Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk into coverage.

"It's whatever's needed," Whitt said.

Outside linebacker Peppers

The 13-year NFL veteran has never been used like this. In his eight seasons in Carolina and four in Chicago, he more or less had one job: put his hand on the ground and rush the quarterback as a defensive end.

"They wanted me to rush for the majority of the time," Pepper said. "Every now and then there was a fire-zone call where I was dropping, but primarily I was rushing."

Perhaps said that's why Eagles coach Chip Kelly said they weren't expecting Peppers to drop into coverage. He said it was "a great call" by Capers.

"I don't think it's anything new," said Peppers, who leads the Packers with 5.0 sacks and is tied for second on the team with two interceptions. "He's been doing that since he's been here as far as I'm concerned."
GREEN BAY, Wis. – JC Tretter's leg whip of Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole cost him $16,537, the largest known fine for a Green Bay Packers player this season.

It happened in the fourth quarter on Sunday, when Tretter finished the game at left tackle after the Packers pulled several starters in the blowout victory.

The NFL announced the fine on Friday.

Tretter said his leg whip was not intentional and planned to appeal the fine. On the play, Tretter's assignment was to cut block on the backside of a pass play to the right. He was penalized on the play.

"I grabbed [Cole] right after the final kneel down to tell him it was totally accidentally," Tretter said Friday. “I didn’t know my leg was even up that high.”

The fine was more than half of Tretter’s weekly salary, which is $29,117.65 before taxes.

The only other Packers players known to have been fined this season were tight end Andrew Quarless ($8,268) for his role in a Week 2 scuffle against the New York Jets, and outside linebacker Julius Peppers (amount unknown) for wearing unauthorized shoes.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The last time Clay Matthews was coming off a groin injury, the Green Bay Packers linebacker returned an interception 40 yards against the Chicago Bears before veering out of bounds.

That was in Week 4, one game after he dropped out of the loss at the Detroit Lions late in the fourth quarter.

Matthews
Matthews went back on the injury report this week with the same ailment, but thinks it's better this week than it was going into that Bears game.

How much better?

"I might go 50 yards and not 40," Matthews said.

Matthews was listed as a limited participant in practice on Thursday.

"I think we’re just being more cautious than anything," Matthews said. "I was able to go out there against Chicago, cautiously, of course. I feel like the progression I'm making this week as opposed to maybe Week 3 and 4 is ahead of where I was."

Perhaps more of an issue is the status of outside linebacker Nick Perry, who has a shoulder injury and did not practice for the second straight day, leaving his status in question for Sunday's road game against the Minnesota Vikings. Perry has started the past two games at Matthews' old outside linebacker position while Matthews has moved inside on early downs.

"Nick Perry is definitely important," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "Just that whole group, you talk about Nick and Mike Neal and Julius [Peppers], their ability to move around and play the elephant position has been very important. That was a big part of our change, and definitely fits with the movement of Clay."

However, Matthews said he doesn't think his role would change if Perry can't play Sunday.

"I think it's more of a 'next man up' type of mentality around here," Matthews said. "I'm sure [Jayrone] Elliott will have more opportunities as well as Mike and J.P. As we have seen in weeks prior, I rush off the edge and play in the middle, so wherever they need me, I will be there."

Here's the full injury report:
  • TE Brandon Bostick (hip, did not practice)
  • CB Jarrett Bush (groin, did not practice)
  • LB Elliott (hamstring, limited participation)
  • G T.J. Lang (ankle, limited participation)
  • LB Matthews (groin, limited participation)
  • LB Perry (shoulder, did not practice)
  • G Josh Sitton (toe, limited participation)
GREEN BAY, Wis. – As big a problem as Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have created for opposing defenses, the Green Bay Packers' ultraproductive pair of receivers has put general manager Ted Thompson in a bit of jam, too.

With $14.25 million already committed to Nelson this season as part of a four-year, $39 million contract extension he signed in July that broke him into the top-10 in receiver money, Thompson has to figure out how to keep Cobb in the fold as well.

And the longer the fourth-year receiver goes without a contract extension, the higher the price becomes.

Cobb
Nelson
Together, Nelson and Cobb have developed into one of the top pass-catching combinations in the NFL. But in order for it to anything other than a one-year wonder, Thompson must procure a deal with Cobb, who is in the final season of his rookie contract. Thompson has the salary-cap space – $8,794,417 according to the latest figures from ESPN Stats & Information – but that's not the only factor. There are other potential free agents to sign.

"I think everyone wants Randall to be here," Nelson said. "I think any player wants to play their whole career in the same spot, but it's a business on both sides. Sometimes people think it's a one-way business, but he's going to do what's best for him and what he thinks is the best situation for him."

Cobb almost certainly won't command Nelson’s $9.75 million-per-year average, but a deal averaging in the neighborhood of $6 million to $7 million isn't out of the question. At just 24 years old, Cobb is the definition of a young, productive, homegrown player that Thompson typically keeps around.

The feeling around the league is that there's no way the Packers would let him hit free agency next March.

"It will get done," said an NFL personnel executive. "He's a Ted guy."

Although the Packers' roster contains another young, potentially productive receiver in rookie Davante Adams (who has 27 catches for 286 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games), there's little proven talent behind him.

Even if Adams develops into the receiver the Packers think he can become, he's not the same type of complement to Nelson that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has in Cobb. With Nelson dominating on the outside with 60 catches (seventh in the league) for 998 yards (third) and nine touchdowns, he has typically drawn an opponent's best cornerback with a safety also shading that way. That leaves Cobb – the prototypical slot receiver at 5-foot-10, 192-pounds and all kinds of shifty moves – to work in the middle of the field in the short and intermediate routes.

"I think that's why they go well together," Packers safety Micah Hyde said. "With Randall, he controls the inside. Don't get me wrong, Jordy can go inside, too. But Randall does a good job, and the matchups that he creates is remarkable. And then for Jordy to be outside, with a guy like A-Rod getting them the ball, it's going to be hard to stop."

After a slow start, which Cobb said was caused in part by self-imposed pressure to produce in a contract year, he has been nearly unstoppable. Beginning with his seven-catch, 113-yard, two-touchdown game in Week 4 against the Vikings, Cobb has eclipsed with the 100-yard mark four times in the last seven games. In that stretch, he ranks sixth in the NFL with 653 yards, ahead of even Nelson, who ranks seventh with 647. For the season, Cobb ranks second in the league with 10 touchdowns and only a tight end, Denver's Julius Thomas, has more (with 12).

There are other great receiving duos in the league, with Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders leading the way; and even other great combinations in the Packers' own division, with Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Nelson and Cobb are new to that list, but could remain there for years to come.

"I do feel very confident that I wouldn't want any other guys than the guys we've got," Rodgers said.

Packers vs. Vikings preview

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
8:00
AM ET
video
When: 1 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis TV: Fox

The last time the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers faced each other, the Packers took a 28-0 lead at halftime on a rainy Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

Since then, the Packers have had halftime leads of 24 points or more in three of their four games. The Vikings, who faced the Packers without rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last time, will have the rookie on the field on Sunday as they try to slow down the league's hottest team at TCF Bank Stadium.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky preview Sunday's matchup:

Goessling: Rob, it seems like the decision to move Clay Matthews to inside linebacker on a part-time basis has paid dividends in the past few weeks. What has that done for the Packers' defense, and do you expect they will keep Matthews inside?

Demovsky: Ben, they'll keep him there until they find another playmaker they can put in the middle of the defense, which means he'll stay there the rest of this season. They would have loved to have gotten a guy like C.J. Mosley of Alabama in the draft last year, but he was gone by the time they picked at No. 21 in the first round. So after trying three different inside linebackers -- Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore and Sam Barrington -- at the spot next to A.J. Hawk, they more or less had no choice but to find someone more athletic to play there. And that guy was Matthews. It's saved their run defense. The interesting thing is how defensive coordinator Dom Capers has used Matthews in other spots as a pass-rusher. He still played Matthews some at his old outside linebacker spot last week against the Eagles, but then he also lined him up even wider at the end of a five-man front, where Matthews was essentially outside of the outside linebacker.

We all know what kind of impact Adrian Peterson could have made on the field, but how much has his situation off the field impacted the Vikings' season, and how has first-year coach Mike Zimmer handled it? Can they finally put it behind them after this week's ruling?

Goessling: If there's one silver lining for the Vikings, it might be what you just mentioned. Captain Munnerlyn said as much on Tuesday when I talked to him about the ruling; he said the Vikings now at least know Peterson's "not coming through that door," and they can focus on the players they have on the roster. I think the Vikings have done a fairly good job of blocking out the Peterson issue, but it's probably easier to compartmentalize it when they know he's done for the year, in all likelihood. Players almost universally wanted him back, but after the NFL dragged its heels following Peterson's plea deal, there was a growing sense among them that it wasn't going to come to fruition. As Munnerlyn put it, "I don't think the organization is going to let that happen or NFL let that happen."

It's interesting to look at the stats and see that the three teams to beat the Packers this season are the three teams that blitzed Aaron Rodgers the least. Is the key to beating Rodgers still pressuring him with four guys? What avenue can the Vikings take to slow him down?

Demovsky: Rodgers has proved it time and again that if you blitz him, he'll make you pay. Part of the reason is his ability to get rid of the ball so quickly. Part of the reason is he's so good at recognizing where the blitz comes before it even happens. And then there's his ability to use his feet to avoid rushers, and once he gets out of the pocket, his receivers know how to run the scramble drill. And now that the offensive line is protecting better than ever, it's even more difficult to get to Rodgers. The teams that have had the most success against Rodgers are the ones that can pressure with four and leave both safeties back in coverage. However, if you do that, you're vulnerable to Eddie Lacy and the running game.

The Packers didn't get to see Bridgewater in the first meeting. What will they see when they put the film on to prepare for him this week?

Goessling: They'll see a quarterback who's very much a work in progress. Bridgewater is coming off one of his worst games of the season, against the defense that Rodgers shredded the week before. He's looked too tentative at times, and is still adjusting to the differences of the game at the NFL level, where cornerbacks are better and pass-rushers more disruptive. Bridgewater has done a good job of limiting turnovers, he's shown a knack for being able to step up in the pocket and he's able to extend plays with his feet, but he needs to be more accurate and more decisive. It hasn't helped that he hasn't had Peterson. Cordarrelle Patterson is still learning the finer points of the wide receiver position, Greg Jennings (as you know) is a guy who needs a good quarterback to excel, and the offensive line has been an issue all season. Bridgewater will probably be better for all the struggles he's faced this season, but it's been a rough stretch for him as a rookie.

What do you think is the ceiling for this Packers team? They're playing as well as any team in the league right now; do you see them rounding into contending form, or might they be peaking too early?

Demovsky: I don't think they're peaking too early because they've won every game at home, whether it was early in the season and now. What they have to do is show they can beat a good team on the road and shut down a great quarterback. If they do that, then maybe you'll be able to say they have a championship-caliber defense. So far, they've won games when they've gotten takeaways. That formula works against lesser teams, but the great quarterbacks don't typically turn the ball over, so they have to find other ways.

The Packers have been protecting Rodgers well of late. He's commented after several games that he's barely been touched. Meanwhile, the Vikings got very little pressure on Jay Cutler last Sunday. How can they get any pressure on Rodgers this time around?

Goessling: As we've talked about, it probably won't happen with blitzes. The Vikings didn't bring much extra pressure after Rodgers the first time, and they know the risks of trying to heat him up with blitzes. The good news for the Vikings is, Everson Griffen has been on quite a roll. He didn't have a sack last Sunday, but he's got nine for the season, and his quickness off the edge has really helped him develop into a good pass-rusher, particularly in the past few weeks. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd has also been playing well, and Tom Johnson has proved to be a nice pickup as a slippery pass-rusher in nickel situations. It's likely we'll see Anthony Barr and Chad Greenway on the Vikings' double-A gap blitz a few times, but in the games where the Vikings have rushed especially well, they've done it as a team. Zimmer is big on preaching pass-rush discipline, where players choke off escape lanes for the quarterback and eventually take him down as they collapse the pocket as a group. The Vikings were struggling to do it well when they saw the Packers last, and after a poor week against the Bears, they'll have to get back on track with it to get to Rodgers this week.

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