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Thursday, November 11, 2004

Game Preview: Vikings @ Packers

by Thomas Pyc
PackerChatters Staff

A Midseason Classic:

When the Green Bay Packers (4-4) meet up with the Minnesota Vikings (5-3) on Sunday each team will enter the matchup with contrasting streaks and breaks. The Packers are currently riding a three game win steak as well as coming off a bye week, while the Vikings enter the contest on a two game losing streak and only six days between kickoffs. If momentum is still a factor in this day and age of parity, then it definitely falls in favor of the Pack.

These years of parity are definitely helping keep the league tight and rivalries close. Divisional games between both of these teams has become a more intensified over the past few years as well. Several Packer faithful might tell you that the game with the Bears is the biggest rivalry for the organization but this game even offers a unique attribute not found within the Bears-Packers games. A couple of the media outlets in Viking country actually offer Packer coverage. The Minneapolis Starr Tribune assigns a beat writer (Jugg Zulgad) to cover the Packers daily and KFAN Sportsradio 1130 offers a weekly Packer preview show. There is no such arrangement in all of sports let alone all of football. Add the fact that the winner of this game will control first place in the NFC North and this game becomes even more intriguing.

This particular game will offer a pair of solid offenses. Minnesota’s is 1st in yards and 4th in points where as Green Bay is ranked 4th in yards and 6th in points. Unfortunately for the Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss is listed as doubtful on the team’s injury report. The Vikings will also be without kickoff specialist, Aaron Elling, who broke a bone in his ankle during their last game. The backfield of this potent Viking offense has also been shaken by injuries and stirred by suspension but regardless of who is running the ball for the Vikings, production should not be a concern. Part of the reason for the success of this offense is due to the excellent center (Matt Birk) and guard (David Dixon and Chris Liwienski) trio that make up the heart of the offensive line. Vikings’ quarterback Daunte Culpepper has been having a phenomenal season. Second in the league in passer rating (115) and having success against the Packers in the past should have been more than enough reason to keep Packers’ defensive coordinator, Bob Slowik, busy over the bye week.

The Packers’ offense has looked excellent, for the most part, during their winning streak. During the second half of the Redskins game the offense did not seem to be the same as it did in the previous few weeks but all of the weapons are intact and should be ready to go on Sunday. Brett Favre was removed from the injury report on Wednesday after some speculation regarding his throwing hand over the break. Javon Walker and Donald Driver are still one of the top three receiving duos in the league and game-breaking Ahman Green should be rested and ready. With Mike Sherman calling the plays the offense is racking up as much yards as it previously did but the ability to convert 3rd downs has moved the team up to 2nd in the NFL and allowed for some game controlling drives that helped keep a shaky defense on the sidelines.

So who’s first in the league in third down conversions? You guessed it, the Vikings. The Packers’ defense will have their hands full with or without Randy Moss on the field. To this point the Packer D ranks 3rd in the NFL when it comes to preventing the opposition’s conversion of 3rd down but getting off the field quickly is not the biggest concern for this group, it is the big plays that have hampered this unit. The return of Grady Jackson has worked wonders for the Pack and they are 9-2 overall in the games he has been a part of since arriving in Green Bay. But at the same time as Grady’s return offers a boost, Darren Sharper is listed on the injury report as questionable (PCL sprain). If Sharper cannot go it will be Bhawoh Jue in his place. Jue performed admirably against the Redskins but Sharper can control a game on good days.

The Vikings’ defense currently comes in at 28th in the league for yards surrendered. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams is having a phenomenal season and should keep the Packers’ offensive line busy all game long. But for the Vikings that might be where the defensive threat stops. They did manage to sign cornerback Antoine Winfield in the offseason to improve their secondary but at 5’8” he can be outmatched going up against bigger wideouts. Size also presents a problem for defensive tackle Chris Hovan who has been moved to nose tackle due to the success of Williams and he has not been the same since.

Whether you where cheese upon your head or a horned helmet with blonde braids on Sundays you should be excited about the first meeting of the 2004 season between these two teams. The winner will have an edge in the division going into the second half of the season and that alone should keep the intensity on the field at a high level. Throw in all the intangibles and we should be in store for a heck of a game.

Key Matchups

Wide Receiver Javon Walker vs. Cornerback Antoine Winfield – The Vikings tend to play a lot of zone but Walker will have his opportunities to take advantage of the height mismatch offered by the Vikings’ secondary.

Left Tackle Bryant McKinnie vs. Defensive End Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila – McKinnie has not lived up to expectations since being drafted 7th overall in 2002. KGB on the other had developed into a fine pass rusher despite being drafted in the 7th round. If McKinnie cannot protect Dante’s blindside during this matchup KGB could control the game.

Vikings’ Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan vs. Packers’ Defensive Coordinator Bob Slowik – The Vikings came into Green Bay last year and shocked the Packers and their fans by controlling the ball all game long. The Packers defense can turn the tables if they can continue their 3rd down rating as well as prevent big plays from an offense that is without Randy Moss.

The Bottom Line

In a midseason classic such as this you can analyze each teams’ strengths and weaknesses all day but this game could easily come down to who wants it more. If the Packer faithful can help the team’s play at home for this matchup the after effects could easily last for the remainder of the season. Dante Culpepper’s opportunities will dictate whether or not this game stays close.

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