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Friday, December 24, 2004
Game Preview: Packers @ Vikings
by Thomas Pyc
The second meeting of the 2004 season between the Vikings and the Packers has a lot on the line for both clubs. The division championship and the guarantee of at least one home playoff game is on the line this Christmas Eve. The Packers have already clinched a playoff birth, unlike the Vikings, and despite Green Bay’s 4-4 home record this year I am positive that they would still like to start off the postseason at home.
The first meeting of the season ended with a 34-31 Packer victory that Vikings’ fans will tell you hinged on a controversial onside kick recovery. The Packers had jumped out to a 14-point lead twice but a persistent Vikings team would not go away until the final whistle. The game as a whole was 3 hours and 23 minutes worth of solid football entertainment; we should not expect anything less this time around.
The Vikings’ Offense vs. The Packers’ Defense
So what is different this time around? Randy Moss for one. Moss has been battling back spasms but he has still managed to muster two consecutive 100-yard games. Viking center Matt Birk is the team’s best blocker, he was on the field for the last meeting but he will make his return from sports hernia this week. Down the line at right tackle a second year free agent, Adam Goldberg, has made the jump into the Viking starting lineup. The Viking backfield is using four different running backs (Bennett, Moore, Williams and Smith) but all season this unit has found its consistency at the quarterback position where Daunte Culpepper is having a phenomenal year. Overall, this part of the Vikings is probably in better shape then it was in their first matchup with the Packers.
Last week against the Jaguars the Packers defense looked like they were in prime pre-season form. They committed pass interference penalties several times over. Every now and then a glimmer of hope would appear from a three-and-out series but absolutely no consistency has been seen all season from the Packer D. Earlier in the year the finger could be pointed towards the secondary but now the Packers are experiencing problems at all levels of the defense. The nose tackle position is starting to run out of gas, Na’il Diggs was coming on strong before the weakside linebacker was sidelined with a bruised kidney. On the other side of the field Hannibal Navies’ nagging shoulder injury is starting to severely affect his play as well. Add all of that to Ahmad Carroll’s touch-feely coverage and the opposition cannot help but to feel confident. Bright spots are hard to come by for this group.
The Packers’ Offense vs The Vikings’ Defense
Offensively the Packers have all the tools to succeed. Brett Favre had his typical problems against a solid cover 2 scheme last week but he can easily get over that performance with a short memory and an encounter with the Vikings’ defense. But even Favre knows this offense is better when it is consistently running the ball. The return of center Grey Ruegamer should help the running game which was key to last year’s Metrodome victory for the Packers. The Packer offense also started its season with only four receivers on its roster and now with Robert Ferguson out for the upcoming game the offensive success of this team relies even more heavily on the ground game. Backup tight end, Ben Steele, or backup running back, Tony Fischer are the top candidates to fill in at fourth receiver.
The Vikings’ defense has also been sub-par for the year. Since the last meeting between these two teams the Vikings have benched nose tackle Chris Hovan in favor of Spencer Johnson (rookie free agent). Another potential difference that the Packers could see is with the amount of playing time Minnesota corner back, Antoine Winfield, sees. Winfield has a high ankle sprain and hasn’t played since December 5th; he should be back in the lineup this game but possibly only as a nickel back. Overall, this unit is playing just well enough to get the Vikings into the playoffs but not good enough for them to win when they get there.
The Bottom Line
If this were an outdoor game I would have to say that this is what football is all about. Two teams in contention for the division title and a home playoff game. Both teams are having to use their depth due to injuries and both teams are bitter rivals. The Packers need to control the game by running right at the Vikings but this game will not be over until the final gun with as quickly as Minnesota can put points on the board. Enjoy!