Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has an NFL-high 9.5 sacks this season. Allen is on pace to break the single-season record for sacks in a season and will play a Green Bay Packers team that won't have his nemesis available to keep him away from MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers.
That job will fall to second-year player Marshall Newhouse, who will make his second NFL start at left tackle while veteran Chad Clifton recovers from a hamstring injury. The matchup might not be one-sided enough to spring the Vikings to an upset victory, but it could help Allen pad his sack totals in a way not unlike his experience when Clifton was injured two years ago.
Clifton has generally held his own against Allen. But as you might recall, Clifton missed both of the Packers' games against the Vikings in 2009. Allen had 7.5 sacks in those two games. If you would prefer to see me tell you all about it, check out the video below.
Rodgers expressed confidence this week that Newhouse understands both the challenge he'll face and the Packers' history against Allen without Clifton. Coach Mike McCarthy, meanwhile, said Newhouse "has played well the last two weeks" but "clearly" faces his "greatest challenge."
It's interesting to me that the Packers have drafted left tackles in the first round of the past two drafts, but neither has replaced Clifton. Bryan Bulaga is locked in on the right side, while rookie Derek Sherrod remains a backup.
Newhouse was a left tackle at TCU, but at 6-foot-4 he is not built like a classic NFL left tackle. As per their philosophy, the Packers have worked him at a variety of positions, and he started two games earlier this season at right tackle after Bulaga's knee injury.
"We have a history of drafting left tackles and moving them either inside or keeping them outside based on the evaluation once they get here," McCarthy said. "But you always felt Marshall … definitely had the hands and the footspeed to play left tackle."
The Packers have noted the potential impact of crowd noise at the Metrodome, a factor that is always a consideration for a young tackle. For Packers-Vikings games, however, I think it can work both ways.
As we've noted before, the Twin Cities has more Packers fans than most people around the country realize. Many of them find their way into Metrodome for the game. It's difficult to forget the scene of last year's game, when the building filled at one point with chants of "Go Pack Go."
In the end, I think Allen will prove a far more formidable opponent for Newhouse than the Metrodome crowd noise. The Packers have five tight ends on their 53-man roster, and I imagine they'll be put to good use on the left side of the Packers' line on Sunday.