The Vikings have their new hired gun, and the Packers have their old reliable.
One of the more intriguing one-on-one matchups for Monday night's season opener between Minnesota and Green Bay will take place in quarterback Aaron Rodgers' blind spot. That's where the Vikings' key offseason acquisition, defensive end and pass rusher extraordinaire Jared Allen, will battle snap after snap against the Packers' Pro Bowl veteran left tackle, Chad Clifton.
With the Vikings determined to pressure and rattle Rodgers as much as possible in his first NFL start, a hefty burden, as usual, falls on Clifton to do what he did for Brett Favre's final eight years in Green Bay, and that's keep his quarterback from hearing footsteps behind him.
"They pay us to get in the quartertback's face, to hit him, and hopefully disrupt his timing," Allen said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters this week. "If we can do that we feel we've got a great chance of winning. Obviously their job is to stop us from doing that, so whoever executes better is going to come out on top."
For Clifton, or any left tackle, facing the opposing team's top pass rusher is a weekly task. This matchup has garnered added attention, though, for two reasons - (1) because Allen comes into Monday night's opener as the reigning NFL sack champion, tallying 15 1/2 last year, and (2) because the Vikings made the Allen trade the talk of the offseason, surrendering a first-round and two third-round draft picks to Kansas City, plus signing Allen to a new contract that makes him the highest paid defensive player in the game.
All the hype doesn't have Clifton approaching the assignment any differently, however. The ninth-year veteran has spent the week getting the necessary rest and treatment for his chronically troubled knees, just like he would any week. And he's not about to do anything out of the ordinary on the field, either, having developed into one of the most consistent, if unsung, mainstays on the Green Bay offensive line.
"Same guy, same footwork, everything you teach," offensive line coach James Campen said. "It doesn't change just because you're going against a premier Pro Bowl guy or a name guy. It wouldn't change for him."
Allen and Clifton have met once before, last season when the Packers beat the Chiefs in Kansas City. Allen was limited to just three tackles and a half-sack in that game.
Allen had come into that week on a roll, racking up six sacks in the previous three contests. He moved around a bit, lining up at right end, left end, and some inside, but he wasn't the ever-present factor he was most of last season, when he posted seven multi-sack games.
"I thought Chad Clifton played well," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "It was a big game down there in Kansas City, tough environment to play, particularly for an offensive line with the crowd noise at Arrowhead Stadium."
This time they'll meet at Lambeau Field, so the crowd noise should be on Clifton's side. But the matchup features two other notable differences as well.
First, Allen has joined what already was a formidable defensive front in Minnesota. Defensive tackles Pat and Kevin Williams form one of the league's top inside tandems, and third-year defensive end Ray Edwards notched five sacks of his own last season rushing from the other side despite missing the final four games of the year due to a suspension.
Allen said because of the defenders around him, he doesn't anticipate lining up in as many different spots against the Packers this time around. Time will tell if that holds true, but a stronger surrounding cast also could have an impact on where the Packers offer help with an extra tight end or running back as a blocker.
"With Pat and Kevin inside, you can't double-team all of us, and if you do, then there's not that many people out running routes," Allen said. "But we all know it's going to be a challenge.
"Everybody is going to take their turn getting chipped and double-teamed. It's what we do. I'm hoping (a better overall unit) gives me more one-on-one opportunities, which should allow me to have more chances to win."
Second, Allen's target in the pocket this time around isn't a future Hall of Famer but a first-time starter whom Allen hopes won't be as savvy at getting rid of the ball quickly and dodging pressure. Again, time will tell on that, but Allen and his rushing mates clearly want to make Rodgers' night as miserable as they can.
"You never underestimate anybody, but it's on us to disrupt his timing, and we can't allow him to get into a rhythm and make those throws on time," Allen said. "Then hopefully we'll see if he has any Brett Favre-like plays in him.
"I'm going to watch more film this week, and try to get a feel for how they're trying to protect with Aaron back there."
Roadblock No. 1 wears No. 76, and if history is any indication, the Packers aren't likely to give Clifton, or fellow bookend Mark Tauscher at right tackle, much help in pass protection. Early last season, on his way to his first Pro Bowl appearance, Clifton shut out New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora and San Diego's Shawne Merriman in head-to-head competition, just doing what he does best.
"It wouldn't matter if it was you or me out there rushing, you have to work your fundamentals and your technique," Campen said. "That's ultimately what's going to win