Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Minnesota Vikings (3-6). In each of the last three games against a purple-garbed Favre, I’ve steeled myself for the emotion of the game, mentally prepared myself for the battle. This week? I’m not doing that at all.
(With your indulgence…)
What I’m thinking about this week is catharsis. In 335 BCE, Aristotle referred to catharsis in his epic Poetics as a “proper purgation of emotion.” Modern thinkers have interpreted the term to also refer to the “emptying” of emotion experienced by an audience following a drama or tragedy, often when stereotyped characters (whose nature we don’t expect to change) are confronted with and must face unique or surprising actions.
Yes, this concept most directly related to plays in the theatre, but let’s not kid ourselves – football is a dramatic performance. There are protagonists and antagonists, conflicts and obstacles, and – if the game is remotely interesting – a dramatic conclusion that throws the audience into a state either of ecstatic relief or profound agony.
On October 24, 2010, we fans were faced with the prospect of Brett Favre leading his team back from the brink of defeat. After seeing it so many times before, we all held our collective breath as this hero-turned-villain seemed poised to break our collective hearts. He had reveled in two victories over the Packers in 2009. It would be another crushing defeat, the third in a row. It would set the Packers back to 3-4, push the idea of playoffs out of the picture, and likely rip the lid off of previously-quashed locker room tensions.
But that didn’t happen. Somehow, some way, Favre’s 4th down pass sailed out of the back of the end zone. The game was over. The Packers had won, had beaten Favre. Rodgers could finally, after sitting behind him and defending him for so long, say I beat that bastard. Having been put through the emotional wringer for so long, Packer fans were exultant.
Four weeks later, here we are again.
It feels different this time. I’ve seen tweets and articles professing that this game doesn’t have the same emotional urgency as the Week 7 matchup. Why is that? Well, maybe it's because catharsis usually happens at the end of the play:
Aristotle uses the term metaphorically to refer to the release of the emotions of pity and fear built up in a dramatic performance. Because dramatic performances end, whereas life goes on, we can let go of the tension that builds during a dramatic performance in a way that we often cannot let go of the tension that builds up over the course of our lives.
Maybe some of us have let go of the tension that built around needing to “get back at” Favre or “prove that we’re the good guys.” What comes after that emotional release that comes with finally, finally, getting a win in this years-long battle with Brett Favre?
Well…a football game. Potentially, a really good, tough, football game.
This Sunday, the Packers will play the Vikings. The whole cast of characters will be on hand, but it may not have the same emotional weight. Instead, the game will have a different kind of urgency.
I don’t know. A lot of talking and nobody playing.
That said, it seems as though a lot of players are “trying to look on the bright side of life.” Apparently, the current party line goes something like this, c/o Adrian Peterson:
We have seven games left. What are we going to do? Are we going to put ourselves in position to have a chance or are we going to tap out? I feel like the guys will get it together and get back on track.
It ain't over yet. We can still make 10-6.
Echoed Steve Hutchinson:
Last time I checked, 10-6 was pretty good record. That's still tangible.
Talk about your silver linings.
The fans at home are… baffled by the conservative game plan Childress used against the Bears:
What happened to the no-huddle offense that was so effective against the Arizona Cardinals last week?
Or how about this: With Favre really clicking on the first drive and the Vikings kicking the Bears defense down the field, why in the world do the coaches call a conservative running play on third and 7 at Chicago's 23? I almost fell out of the press box. Adrian Peterson gets stopped short, the Vikings settle for a field goal and the momentum starts to turn right there.
That was just dumb.
Several fans have all but thrown in the towel on the season (the quarterback! the coach! the organization!). There are myriad blog posts calling the team “pathetic,” “undisciplined,” “disinterested,” and “inept.” Vikes Geek goes further (in a must-read):
After a shellacking at the hands of the Chicago Bears on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings have nudged the entire State of Minnesota into the realm of discussions once reserved exclusively for the Detroit Lions. And the discussion is, to say the least, not a good one.
Something to chew on… When Sidney Rice was put on the PUP list, the Vikings looked around for a receiver to fill his shoes in their passing game. Vincent Jackson. Randy Moss. Somebody. They knew that the existing talent on their roster could not play at Rice’s level.
The Vikings (especially without Randy Moss) need Sidney Rice. Most of the time, when you hear that “the NFL is a business,” it’s after a team makes a move that’s unpopular with players. In this case, the team would love for Rice to play, but there are rumors that it’s Rice that’s pulling the strings. [Of course, it is 99% possible that Sidney’s hip is not fully healed and that he’s dying to play but doesn’t have confidence in his health. He’s said as much. I’m going to contemplate the other 1%.]
Rice “practiced hard” all last week and didn’t play on Sunday. If Rice decides that there isn’t the prospect of a Super Bowl ring to get him to risk his newfound health and a potentially huge new contract, he may make the business decision to sit. For the whole season. The Vikings have left the decision up to Rice and his agent (Drew Rosenhaus, where have we heard that name before?), and the clock is ticking.
It’s not a holdout because he can say “I’m not 100%.” But…what’s more damaging? San Diego,making adjustments because they know they’ll be without Jackson until he caves, or Minnesota, keeping a seat warm for a guy that’s weighing whether it’s worth his time to bother suiting up?
When looking at the Packers on film… I’m curious whether the Vikings realized (or cared) that Spencer Havner re-signed with the Packers after being cut at the end of preseason. Havner had two catches for two touchdowns against the Vikings in Lambeau last year. With Finley out for the season, could Havner be the Packers TE who blows up the Vikings D?
You’re right. They’re probably looking at ways to keep Clay Matthews from getting past the Vikings banged-up offensive line. And at ways to stop the Packers screen game. And at ways to keep the Packers defense from keeping 8 men in the box without Randy Moss.
What We’re Up Against: Ever the rational thinker, Aaron Nagler lays it out for Packer fans:
They may not make the playoffs, they may get their coach fired - but by God, their entire season can retain a tiny semblance of redemption if they can manage to beat the Packers in what will surely be Brett Favre's last game against the team that made him relevant.
I don’t think the Packers buy the idea that a shoulder injury is what’s slowing Brett Favre. Everyone knows what he’s capable of, bum foot/shoulder/ankle/elbow and all. BJ Raji certainly knows what to expect from #4:
If he is going to play his best against anybody, or try to play his best against anybody, it's going to be us. I'm sure he's had this one circled on the calendar.
As Tom Pelissero opined on Packer Transplants on Tuesday, this game may come down to who is lining up at receiver for the Vikings. Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian practiced all last week before the former “opted to sit out” and the latter aggravated an injury before the game and “said he couldn’t go.” By gametime, the Vikings started Greg Camarillo and Greg Lewis opposite Percy Harvin, who was already playing on a sprained ankle. After reinjuring the ankle on a punt return, Harvin joined Rice and Berrian on the bench, watching their team struggle to move the chains.
If any/all of those three play on Sunday, the Packers secondary will be tested with the full West Coast Offense playbook. Visanthe Shiancoe’s probably still miffed that his touchdown catch was overturned. Berrian has made strides as a deep threat, and Harvin has blossomed even in the face of disputes with Childress. If Rice gets on the field, Tramon Williams will have to cover him like he’s 100% until it’s proven otherwise. That’s a tall order.
Regardless of the receivers, Adrian Peterson – the top candidate for Vikings MVP – will come to play. After being held to 51 yards last week, he’ll want to reprise his W7 172yd romp through the Packers front seven. Green Bay will hope that Howard Green, Cullen Jenkins, and Ryan Pickett (possibly) will be enough to slow AP and force Favre to throw.
If the Packers want to get to Favre, they may consider going after LT Bryant McKinnie – after all, he gave up two sacks to Arizona’s Joey Porter (not to mention a quarterback hit and pressure to the Packers in week 7). C John Sullivan and RT Anthony Herrera are banged up. If Clay Matthews can come off the edge and BJ Raji and get push inside, Favre might have a long day. Watch RT Phil Loadholt – if he’s caught holding or getting false start penalties, you know it’s only a matter of time before CM3 is in Favre’s face.
Pete Dougherty breaks down what’s changed for the Vikings in 2010:
A lot has to do with age. The Vikings got old almost overnight at quarterback and on the defensive line. Those two areas were the strength of the team last year. The drop-off, while not cataclysmic, is showing up in the Vikings’ record.
Look at how Football Outsiders has ranked the Vikings defensive line since 2006:
|Year||v. Run||Power* Rank||Stuff** Rank||v. Pass||Sack Rate|
*Power = stopping opponent from getting the first down when they need it (3rd/4th down <2, goal line)
** Stuff = tackling for loss or no gain
What changed? Well, pass-rush specialist Jared Allen came to Minnesota in 2008. Other than that? Not much. Guys getting old? Guys getting slow? Whatever it is, it’s not a good trend. (Behind that front four, however, Chad Greenway and EJ Henderson are two of the better linebackers the Packers will face.)
In the secondary, expect the Packers to scheme away from CB Antoine Winfield. If he’s healthy, rookie CB Chris Cook may want to avenge his miserable play in Week 7, but I still expect the Packers to attack him early and often. SS Husain Abdullah is coming off a 2-pick performance against Jay Cutler.
On some level, the Packers know that a significant challenge on Sunday may well be the noise of the Metrodome, which is deafening (and piped in) and hurts more than a hangover. The following Packers starters have never played a down in the Humpty Dump: RT Bryan Bulaga, CB Sam Shields, and LB Frank Zombo. The biggest concern is obviously Bulaga, who will get a rematch against DE Ray Edwards after allowing 2.5 knockdowns and 3 hurries, but not a single sack at Lambeau. If the Packers offense can score early and take the crowd out of the game, Bulaga could settle down nicely.
Big if, of course.
I kind of love how Tom Powers (Pioneer Press) talks about the Vikings injury situation:
Geez, Brett Favre has a broken bone in his ankle. Harvin is held together with duct tape and paper clips. Yet neither would ever consider sitting out. Berrian tweaks his groin and he's out. Vince Lombardi used to barge into the trainer's room and kick out all his players while screaming: "Everybody's healthy!" Maybe Childress, or Coach X, whoever is next in line for the throne, should try that.
As always, you should read more about the Vikings in Bob McGinn’s scouting report, Pete Dougherty’s pre-game analysis, and the JS Online’s match-up. (Not to mention the subscription-required ESPN scouting report, which is lovely.)
- Aaron Ackley of Cable, WI, is my new favorite person. Aaron, 11, was on hand on Tuesday when four Vikings players came to visit and cheer up the kids at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Aaron was all decked out in Packers gear and has a G on his wheelchair. He told them to, quote, “Tell Brett I said hi.” What were Kevin and Pat Williams going to do, tease the sick boy about his team loyalties? Puh-leeze. You go, Aaron.
- Brad Childress may not keep his job (may not deserve to keep his job), but he does give a good one-liner:
Q: How has the drama of this season affected you personally?
A: I started this business with a full head of hair.
In a lot of ways, this game reminds me (and Jason Wilde!) of the Cowboys game two weeks ago. Individually, the Vikings have so much talent. Hell, this squad sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl a year ago, and was one Favre INT away from the Super Bowl. By the same token, it’s become clear that, while brilliant by themselves, the Vikings lack cohesion and effectiveness as a team. Penalties, blown coverages, drops, and poor decision-making have haunted this team. They seem less interested, less motivated.
It would be wrong to see this game as Dallas Part II.
In so many ways, this game is not about Favre. The Vikings are one loss away from being too far away to make the playoffs, even on the easiest Madden setting. They’ve been embarrassed on national television, in the press, at home, and away. To be swept by the Packers would be the final nail in the coffin for an imploding team.
So, most of the fire the Vikings will have on Sunday (and I do expect them to be fired up) will have to do with pride. But there’s always room for Brett Favre. I don’t know if, like last year, the Vikings players will play to “win this one for Brett.” I do believe --- partly because he’s a “stereotyped character whose nature doesn’t change” --- that Brett will be up for the challenge. Whether he’s throwing to Greg Camarillo or Percy Harvin, he’ll be ready to play. That expectation alone would be enough to make me warn against predictions of a Cowboys-esque blowout. Jon Kitna, he ain’t.
If even a fraction of his determination finds its way to the Vikings locker room, the game is sure to be a doozy. Like so many Packers-Vikings games, it’ll probably come down to the final possession of the fourth quarter. We’ll probably be talking about it for weeks.
But will it have the same emotional oomph? Or will it be about the game? I’m not sure yet, but I think it’ll be different. In the theatre, catharsis always comes at the end of the play.
No one ever tells you what happens after.
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