Welcome to Opposition Research, where I'll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Minnesota Vikings. I could try to be dispassionate and approach this post like I did the one before it, but you know that’s not going to work here. Everyone in the national media is talking about this game - what it means to the Packers, what it means to Brett Favre, what it means to those fans that still can’t choose between the Packers and Brett Favre. You get the picture. So for this week, I’m going to do what I can to shed light on a few things you might not have heard about in the hype that’s already started.
Coming into this game, the Vikings are…bordering on overconfident, sitting atop the NFC North at 3-0 (buoyed by come-from-behind wins over the playoff-contending Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions). What's more, they're fresh from a game that had fans from both the 49ers and the Vikings posting uber-brief exclamations of “___ ____ Brett Favre.” The 49ers had the game all but won when, with 2 seconds on the clock, Favre threw a 32-yard strike to Greg Lewis, after which several things happened all at once: Favre checked off 4th quarter comeback #43 (or did he?); Vikings fans finally accepted Favre as their personal savior; 49ers fans blamed Favre for ruining birthdays; and, the hype for Favregeddon I kicked off with a bang.
The fans at home are…salivating over the possibility of making it to Week 6 without a 100-yd rusher. These particular Vikings bloggers think that the Packers are coming into town with the sole intention of breaking the Vikings’ 26 game streak of keeping rushers under 100 yards (Ryan Grant was the last to top 100 yds, in 2007's 34-0 romp). Really.
Now down from their post-game high, however, some fans are realizing that, were it not for that play, they wouldn’t be too thrilled with their QB. Without that play, Favre’s passer rating drops from 94.5 to 87.8, and his yards per attempt drop from 6.0 to 5.6. In a game where Favre was finally slinging it around (24 for ... did they really throw 46 times?), he had looked like a middling game manager up until that throw (269 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks). With Peterson held to 85 yards and the offense held scoreless in the second half to that point, that kind of production doesn’t raise confidence in a QB. At least, not until he makes that play. After that play, all is forgiven.
When looking at the Packers on film...Pat and Kevin Williams think they can keep Rodgers in the pocket and make him throw the ball, like they did in last year's Metrodome outing. Also, the Vikings aren't sure yet what to make of the Packers new 3-4 defense. Same players, wildly different scheme. Yes, the Vikings have played the Packers, yes they’ve played these Packers players, yes they’ve even played 2 teams with a 3-4 defensive scheme. But they’ve never played these players in this scheme, and Brad Childress is going to need that extra day to prepare for all the special plays that Capers is cooking up.
Something to chew on...the Vikings did not allow San Francisco to convert a single 3rd down in the game, forcing the 49ers to go a crippling 0-11. Now, before you start worrying about this as a regular thing, they hadn’t done it since 12/1998, and ranked 19th on 3rd down conversions in 2008. They had a good game…but it shows that they’re capable of, and the Packers (as we know) have struggled to avoid 3rd-and-a-cab-ride situations.
In addition, the Vikings just locked up Pro Bowl CB Antoine Winfield for five more years, in a new deal worth $35 million. Yes, the man is small (5'9", 190), but according to Andrew Brandt, he's a guy you plan around on game day. Winfield comes into the game with 20 career interceptions, 82 passes defended, and 684 tackles.
"Can I See Off Your Paper?" It's early in the week, and already, people are breaking down the ways that the game could play out. Mike McCarthy thinks Adrian Peterson can be contained (hint, it's about fundamentals and “gap control” - start at 18:30). Pete Dougherty has a great scouting report on the Vikings, as does LeRoy Butler, who highlights the need to:
- blitz on long down-and-distances;
- attack the safeties deep with play action passes and hefty doses of Greg Jennings and Donald Driver; and
- make sure younger players understand this is when the big boys come to play.
Some Vikings fans have graciously identified areas where the Packers can find room to run:
- As they put it, “The pass protection has to get better or Brett Favre is going to die.” They let go of aging but hardcore C Matt Birk and gave the position to John Sullivan, a 6th round draft pick in 2008 out of Notre Dame. Yesterday, they shook up the position again by waiving backup C Kory Lichtensteiger and promoting the undrafted Jon Cooper from the practice squad. Like the Packers, the Vikings have other linemen to fill in as needed, but it’s clear that the Vikings are worried about protecting Brett Favre. According to some, LT Bryant McKinnie seems slow in his lateral movements, while RT Phil Loadholt is having trouble with discipline. Favre’s been sacked 9 times already (4 vs. the Browns, who stood just ahead of the Chiefs at 31st in the stat last year).
- Bernard Berrian, the so-called “downfield threat that leads the deepest receiver corps in the North” might be missing Gus Frerotte’s softer throws. He's been absent, though rookie Percy Harvin and ex-Patriot Greg Lewis have been filling in admirably.
- The guys at the Pioneer Press want Childress to get more "creative" on offense. (This is an interesting audio preview of the game.)
- The Vikings have had some trouble covering TEs. (See here and here). Last year, MIN yielded 133 yds to Owen Daniels and 84 yds to Jerramy Stevens. Does this mean we might just see Jermichael Finley finally make his primetime debut?
- Football Outsiders thinks the Vikings left gaping holes downfield to make Shaun Hill look good...Rodgers doesn't need such help. (FO also puts GB and MIN neck and neck in their Week 3 DVOA ratings.)
As far as injuries are concerned, the most significant ailment facing the Minnesota Vikings are the migraines that threatened Percy Harvin before last week's game. Otherwise, they're hale and healthy heading into Monday night.
- To no one’s surprise, Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre lead off the week’s 10 most intriguing players list. Also not a shocker, Rodgers comes in ahead of Favre in one man’s QB rankings. In a related note, some people think that this week is all about Aaron Rodgers vs. Brett Favre.
- It’s possible this week might be a little emotional for Brett Favre. It's emotional for Packer greats, too.
- Despite that play, fantasy gurus recommend that you not start Brett Favre against the Packers, Corey. They think he might get a little irrational and throw a few interceptions.
- Over at the Journal Sentinal, only Michael Hunt thinks the Packers pull this one out.
- The Vikings players want to win this one for Brett. But they know it's "just another game." Right.
- The Vikings want Minnesota to pay for a third new stadium: "They don't want us to become free agents."
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