Welcome to Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the (now 6-1) Minnesota Vikings. I feel a little déjà-vu with this one, having done a Vikings post four short weeks ago, but that can’t be helped. Now at the season’s halfway point, this game is as much about ownership of the NFC North as it is about Favre. Win, and the Packers tie it up in the loss column. Lose, and the season looks measurably bleaker. With all the hype swirling again, let’s take a look at what the Vikings have been up to since Week 4.
Coming into this game, the Vikings are…exactly who we thought they were: physical, explosive, and eminently beatable. The Ravens should have beaten them after putting up 466 yards on offense in Week 6 (damn you, Steve Hauschka!). The Steelers did beat them, 27-17, at home last Sunday. (On a personal note, we cheered the Steelers while leaving the stadium in Cleveland…tough day all-around for Browns fans.) Vikings QB Brett Favre was beat up by Pittsburgh’s LBs all game, taking 4 sacks and 6 hits. Perhaps sweetest for Schadenfreude-seeking Packer fans, 14 of Pittsburgh’s 27 points came as a result of errors by Favre, whose too-high-and-too-hard throw to Chester Taylor was returned 82 yards by LB Keyaron Fox, and whose pump-fake-turned-fumble was returned 77 yards by LB LaMarr Woodley.
Some of the players are calling this game the “Super Bowl for the first half of the season.” Favre himself calls it just “1 of 16.” Of course. He even goes so far as to give fans permission to cheer for the Packers:
You know, it's OK to pull for your team, I guess.
The fans at home are…falling over themselves to forgive Favre for the negative 4th quarter plays. (Other reasonable analysts call him out for the poor throw.) Some fans are looking inward at what makes Vikings fans like little brothers:
Even in defeat we let them know why we lost. We soil their victories with a cocktail of poor sportsmanship and I-can-talk-longer-than-you ranting. It's not that we really are poor sports, it's just a natural reaction we have to dairy.
I’m not going to go deep into the main “Favre coming back to Lambeau” nonsense, but it’s clear that one of the questions facing the Vikings is whether they should minimize the potential impact of an emotional Brett Favre with a run-heavy gameplan or let him loose in the air.
When looking at the Packers on film…Brad Childress expected to see more Big Okie from the Packers in Week 4. Like just about everyone else, he realizes that the Packers defense has a different personality with Atari Bigby back on the field, and he also notices that Clay Matthews is a “good, athletic young guy.” For the most part, though, the Vikes have spent time looking back on the day when they truly understood what it means to "live by the Favre and die by the Favre."
Something to chew on…With respect to injuries on the purple side of the field, CB Antoine Winfield, WR Bernard Berrian, and LB E.J. Henderson were all missing from Wednesday’s practice. Greg Bedard expects Henderson back at practice on Thursday. Berrian has said that he hopes to play Sunday as well. Winfield has rebuffed claims that a broken foot will sideline him 4-6 weeks, saying he’s merely day-to-day. Even if he’s out, though, the trio of CBs (including rookie Asher Allen) that covered for Winfield did a nice job against the Steelers, so an exploitable opportunity is not guaranteed. After all, the Winfield-less Vikes held league-leading receiver Hines Ward to 3 yards. Still, as noted below, there's hope.
What we’re up against: It’s worth noting that this is the second game in a row where the Packers will try to correct the Steelers’ mistakes. Last week in Cleveland, what had been a sack on QB Ben Roethlisberger turned into Driver’s unforgettable 71-yd TD. Against the Vikings, the Steelers were far from perfect, allowing 4 sacks, a costly fumble, and a kickoff return for a TD. So, where on Sunday can the Packers clean things up? Here’s a hint – the Steelers had 0% efficiency in red zone and goal-to-go situations. The Packers must do better than that.
The Vikings passing defense is looking…well…surprisingly porous. Although the Vikings lead the league in red zone defense, they’ve allowed a league-high 27 passes of 20+ yards through 7 games, including 7 TDs. Per STATS Inc., the team sits at 28th in defense, having given up 29 plays of 20+ yards and 9 TDs of 20+ yards. (By contrast, the Packers offense is tied for 5th with 24 passes of 20+ yards and tied for 3rd with 7 passing TDs of 20+ yards.) After the Ravens game, Vikings DC Leslie Frazier began threatening players’ jobs if they gave up long plays, but the Steelers still managed to be explosive.
I’ve got to admit, I’m a little bit in love with the stats on NFP’s matchup page (the numbers, so pretty!). Then there's APC's great analysis based on the latest FO ratings (GBP at #1 in DEF?). I’m also entertained by all the ways that Adam Schein thinks that Favre will suffer on Sunday. But for the whole picture, you go to the guys who do this for a living. Bob McGinn says the Packers have “revenge on their mind,” but warns that the Vikings (and Favre) are more than capable of playing above expectations in high-stress games. As usual, Pete Dougherty’s scouting report is a must-read, as it goes into detail about just how serious a threat Sidney Rice could be if Favre gets going.
Percy Harvin’s got wheels, Jared Allen is still Jared Allen, and Adrian Peterson runs over Pro Bowl-caliber linebackers with ease. This team has a lot of offensive weapons and has a defense with more than its share of nastiness. Still, at the end of the day, I think this game is going to be about who can harness the electricity at Lambeau and make it work for their team. If the O-Line can protect Rodgers and give him time on his feet, I think that Sunday will be special for the Packers faithful.
- During the Vikings bye week, Congress will hold hearings to scrutinize the Minnesota law that let the Williams duo thwart the four-game suspension handed down by the NFL earlier this year. This case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, guys…crazy.
- The Vikings lit up (and injured) an NFL official during the Steelers game, and today it came out that the NFL is considering giving referees helmets to wear as protection.
- In news that is both disturbing and incomprehensible, Brad Childress dressed up as a flight attendant on the trip back to Minnesota. It’s unclear whether he purchased the wig and blue hosiery especially for the stunt, or if he pulled them out of his bottom dresser drawer.
- Vikings fans are as classy as ever.
Jared Allen expects to hear boos. Ryan Longwell expects Brett to be booed by the fans, and seems happy to have another “Lambeau Leper” on the team. The NFL Network talking heads expect fans to give Favre a standing ovation. What are you expecting?
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