Category Archives: Vikes v. Pack

In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass, Hire A Packer

After the controversial trade of trouble-making wideout Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seachickens, things must have been getting tense at 9520 Viking Drive. Shortly after the Harvin trade, the Vikings brain trust watched available wide receivers Danny Amendola, Wes Welker, Brandon Gibson, and Anquan Boldin sign with or get traded to other teams. Prior to Friday, the Vikings number one wide receiver was Jerome Simpson. Yes, THAT Jerome Simpson. He of 26 receptions on 52 targets fame. Yikes.

On Friday night, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they agreed to terms with former Packer wide receiver, Greg Jennings. Across Minnesota, a collective sigh of relief could be heard.

Jennings is the perfect fit for the Vikings offense. Sure, he is a little old for a wide receiver, he has knocked out 29  birthdays to date, but he still possesses the qualities, great route running and steady hands, that the Vikings receiver corps has been missing since Cris Carter hung up his cleats and started whining talking professionally for ESPN.
Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

Jennings is great route runner with steady hands in the mold of Cris Carter.

And I know what you are thinking, wait a minute, Cris Carter?!? Are you forgetting about Troy Williamso…errrrr…Randy Moss. No. Moss was a great wide receiver, but he just flew down the field and took the ball away from opposing defensive backs with his other-worldly athleticism. Jennings is precise. He uses his route running and physicality to get open 5 to 20 yards down the field. This is perfect.

If Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder showed anything last year, it was a hand cannon for an arm. Just kidding, I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. What Ponder showed was a propensity for making the right play when the down and distance was between 8 and 10 yards. His passer rating in those instances was nearly 100. Jennings thrives on those kinds of plays.
In 2011, when he was not dealing with a hamstring injury, Jennings caught only 8 passes more than 20 yards down field. That means 59 of his 67 receptions were for less than 20 yards. And, of that 59, 41 were for 10 yards or less. Right in Ponder’s wheelhouse.
The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook --- in a Seachicken jersey.

The next time Vikings fans see Cheech, he will be lining up across from Chris Cook — in a Seachicken jersey.

Jennings’s deal is for 5 years and $47.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed. That is $7.5 million less than the Seachickens just guaranteed former Viking Percy Harvin. On its face, the trade of Harvin for a mess of draft picks (2013 1st and 7th – 2014 3rd) and the signing of Jennings for $1.5 million less seems like a great outcome. Was it tense there — sure. Considering the next best free agent wideout was Laurent Robinson (yikes), the stress was merited. But, in case of emergency, the Vikings went with a tried and true approach.

Signing away Packer greats has worked before — think Sharper, Longwell, and, of course, Brett Favre. Getting Jennings make the Vikings a lot better than they were 48 hours ago. However, the current outcome assumes one big thing: that the Vikings could not have found a way to keep both Harvin and Jennings.
The ticket-buying public has no idea what happens behind the scenes with Percy. Because he was traded, we can assume there were some significant issues. Percy being Percy. On the field, he is one of the most talented players in the league. A receiving corps of him, Jennings, and the emerging Kyle Rudolph would have been very hard to stop — no matter how well the quarterback played.
Unfortunately, we will never know what would have happened had the Vikings paid both guys. The cap room was there, but — at least in Harvin’s case — the attitude was not. Moving forward, with the emergency in the rear view, the Vikings need to nail this year’s draft like they did last year. Another wide receiver (please be Keenan Allen) and a some additional help in the secondary would be welcome additions to a team that is at a crossroads. Either take the next step and become a contender or take two steps back to the bottom of the division.
Advertisements

Packers Have a Leadership Void

Packers lost its defensive leader with Woodson's release.

Packers lose its defensive leader with Woodson’s release.

In a move that should have surprised few, Charles Woodson was released after 7 productive years in green-and-gold. TT’s signature free-agent signing in 2006, Woodson revitalized the Packers defense. He amassed 38 INT and 10 TDs donning the G. And he was named the 2009 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Accolades aside, there is little doubt that Woodson’s play declined this past year. He was noticeably a step slower in coverage, resulting in plenty of PI and holding calls that he used to get away with. He could still support the run well. But he was simply a liability in the secondary. With Hayward’s emergence, Woodson became expendable.

Still, the Packers will miss Woodson because of his leadership. He was, without question, the leader of the defense. He primarily led by example, but he took a vocal leadership role in the later years, most noticeably during the 2010 Super Bowl run. Many players credit his halftime speech – following his injury – as inspiring their play. Heck, his post-NFC Championship speech is engraved in the Super Bowl ring.

Woodson’s release follows on the heel of Driver’s retirement. Like Woodson, Driver’s play regressed this past year – to the point he only earned a roster spot by playing on special teams. Also like Woodson, Driver was a leader of the receiver corps. When it was announced he’d return this past season, the young WR’s – many of whom would eventually fight Driver for playing time and a roster spot – spoke highly of Driver’s presence and leadership role.

Now, the Packers enter the 2013 without two of its veteran leaders. Already a young team, the team just got younger. It is imperative to the Packers success for new leaders to step up and take over the void that is left by Woodson and Driver.

Filling Woodson’s leadership role will be tough because the secondary is full of young players. Tramon would be the most obvious replacement because he is the elder statesmen of the group. But he’s not making the calls for adjustments and getting players into position like Woodson did. For this reason, I expect Morgan Burnett to become more assertive in the secondary.

Burnett’s play was not flashy last season. But, he was one of four non-offensive linemen that played every single snap. An amazing accomplishment considering the amount of injuries that plagued last season’s defense. But this reliability creates a sense of comfort in the secondary, knowing that Burnett is always going to be back there getting them in the right position.

Filling Driver’s leadership role will fall to James Jones. With Jennings also leaving the Packers, the WRs will be markedly different next year. And with Jones’ emergence this past season after rediscovering his hands, he becomes the senior member of the group and also its most productive.

This is a perfect role for Jones too. Always quiet in the way he goes about his business. Ascending as he did last year, Jones will provide leadership through example: work hard, stay patient, and trust that Rodgers will get you the ball when you are open.

Burnett and Jones are positioned to assume the leadership positions for their respective position groups. But, the Packers team leadership roles will fall to young stars: Rodgers and Clay. Primed to earn the richest contracts for offensive and defensive players, both Rodgers and Clay must become the team leaders.

Rodgers has already assumed this mantle to a certain extent. But he was also deferential to the veteran leaders. Now, Rodgers is the fourth oldest player on the team. He is the veteran leader.

For Clay, he’s still young and hasn’t appeared to take true leadership role on the team. But, with a new contract comes new responsibilities. He is bound to inspire players with his relentless play and heart. He will be looked to assume a bigger leadership role beyond just setting an example.

It’s a young man’s game. And the Packers are a young team that just got younger by losing Woodson and Driver. Its imperative to next season’s success that new leaders fill the leadership void left by them. Burnett, Jones, Rodgers, and Clay must be ready to fill it.

One Man’s Fake Dead Girlfriend, Is Another Man’s Steal Of The Draft

2013’s strangest story gets weirder each and every day. I mean, who expected Octomom to hop back on the stripper pole?? Okay, sad jokes aside, the story of this very new year has been that of confused/disgraced Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. Te’o’s story played out this week like something out of the Theater of the Absurd. He did not know this was a hoax? Hang on, he was not complicit? This kid was supposed to be attending classes at one of the preeminent universities in this country and yet he was duped into a 2 year online relationship with a girl who, let’s face it, was a 7 out of 10 on a good day!? Either he is a hopeless romantic, gay, in on the hoax, or some combination of those three.

But here is the thing: it does not matter. I do not care. Neither should any self-respecting Vikings or Packers fan.

Te'o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why...

Te’o got embarrassed in a the national championship and now we know why…

Manti Te’o is clearly a bit of a hunyuck. But he is also one helluva a football player. Sure, he got lit up like Chevy Chase’s Christmas Vacation house in the national championship game, but do you think he had other things on his mind? According to approximately 326,789 online reports, Te’o’s life had been falling apart (behind the Golden Dome) for about three weeks. Anytime you are spending a lot of QT with the school athletic director – Jack Swarbrick – your stress level is likely a bit higher than normal. Might even affect your play a little, especially against a squad like Alabama.

So, giving Te’o a mulligan for the Alabama game, what do we know? Te’o averaged 125 tackles, including 61 solo numbers, during the last three years. The guy has been a tackling machine. This year, he has added some play-making ability in the secondary, nabbing 7 INTs.

In terms of off-season hardware, the guy pretty much cleaned house. In fact, Te’o is the most decorated defensive player in college football history. His awards list includes: IMPACT Player of the Year Lott Trophy, the Maxwell Award, the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Butkus Award, the Lombardi Award, and the Walter Camp Award. Of course, he also took 2nd in the Heisman Trophy race.

Now, did the fact that Te’o’s fake girlfriend supposedly died only 6 hours after his grandma (or was it before – a cloudy timeline is a bit suspecting to say the least) give him a bit more national noteriety? Undoubtedly. Did his star shine a bit brighter? Assuredly. But he still had to perform on Saturdays. And perform he did.

Prior to Te’o’s world falling apart in spectacular fashion, he was ranked as the top linebacker in the country and, according to most draftniks, a guaranteed Top 10 pick. Now? Who knows? And that is where we come in.

Both the Vikings and Packers could use an improvement at middle linebacker. The Vikings have Jasper Brinkley, who had a decent season, but Te’o is the type of talent that could carry a franchise for the next 10 years. Now there could be some concern that Te’o could not adapt to the Vikings’ Cover 2 because in that system, the middle linebacker has to be able to get to the deep seam to help the safeties. And while Te’o has shown flashes of strong ball skills, particularly this season, he does not have break away speed. All of that said, I am not too worried, Te’o would still be a major upgrade for the Vikings and he would represent a superb value at the 23rd overall spot.

Hawk's minutes this year were way too high and Te'o would be a huge upgrade.

Hawk’s minutes this year were way too high and Te’o would be a huge upgrade.

The Packers could use a middle linebacker even more considering the corpse of A.J. Hawk logged serious minutes for the Green and Gold this year. For that reason alone, you know – having a pulse – Te’o would represent a significant upgrade in Dom Capers’s system.

Talent upgrade aside, the Packers might actually be a better fit for Te’o considering that he ran a 3-4 at Notre Dame. That system would not require him to get as deep on his pass drops and he would have the luxury of playing with a near Pro Bowler at nose tackle – B.J. Raji. Linebackers in a 3-4 are only as good as their nose tackle. And having Raji occupy interior linemen would give Te’o space to do what he does best: make tackles. He and Bishop would finally give the Packers top-end talents at ILB.

The Packers also have a veteran squad that could easily address/diffuse any lingering issues with Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend. This is perhaps more important than anything else considering how poorly Te’o played in the national championship game with everything on his mind.

Of course, this is all speculation. Over the next several months, we will learn – hopefully – the truth behind this hoax. And the truth will be the big determining factor into how much this hoax will affect Te’o’s draft stock, if at all. But for now, the imaginary 7 out of 10, Lennay Kakua, could be a very real blessing in disguise for the Vikings or Packers come draft day.

The Mythical Chip on Rodgers’ Shoulder

As you watch Saturday Night’s game, keep in mind the following phrase: with the 24th selection of the 2005 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers select Aaron Rodgers, QB, Cal. We all remember that night – seeing an incredibly young-looking Rodgers waiting in the green room for what seemed an eternity. But that night also started the development of a giant chip on Rodgers’ shoulder that he carries to this day.

Aaron Rodgers, now the best QB in the league, shares a trait with Michael Jordan that drives their success – the inability to forget those who have slighted them. For instance, during his HOF induction speech, Jordan made sure to remind everyone for the 1-thousandth time that he was cut from his high school basketball squad.

In a similar fashion, Rodgers doesn’t forget. He still keeps a letter from a college coach during his recruitment that told him he’d never make it. He remembers a professor at Cal advising him that he would never make it. And he even reminds McCarthy that he did not pick him with the 1st selection when he was at San Francisco.

Which brings us back to the present. Saturday night marks the first time Rodgers will play a meaningful NFL game at Candlestick Park, the home of his favorite team growing up in Chico, CA – a shade under 3 hours from the stadium. Rodgers immediately pointed this fact out following the wild-card win against the Vikings. And in doing so, it became immediately apparent that he was relishing the opportunity to go home to face his favorite childhood team and the team that doubted his skills when it took Alex Smith instead of him in that 2005 draft.

This is great news for Packers fans because the signature games of Rodgers’ career can trace back to him entering that game with a point to prove. No matter how insignificant – or even imagined – the doubt, hate, or negative commentary may have been, Rodgers tends to latch onto it and use it to fuel his greatness.

Rodgers' emphatic Championship Belt, announcing his ascension to the 'Elite'

Rodgers’ emphatic Championship Belt, announcing his ascension to the ‘Elite’

The first instance was the 2010 divisional round playoff game at the Georgia Dome. At the time, Rodgers was 1-1 in the playoffs, having posted gaudy numbers in the epic near-comeback at Arizona in the year prior and impressive stats in the week prior on the road at Philly. Still, he hadn’t validated himself as an elite QB. Heck, PA, the vox of the Vikings, called Rodgers “The Big Box Score.” Entering that evening’s matchup, the talk focused on the young-QBs, with many proclaiming Matty “Far From Ice” as the next one to join the elite club.

All Rodgers did was play his single-best game of his career. In the 48-21 route, Rodgers completed a ridiculous 86% of his passes for 366 yards 3 TDs and one rushing TD. And it wasn’t just these lofty stats. It was the way he did it. He combined pinpoint accuracy with incredible poise and an uncanny ability to escape pressure. Succinctly, it was Rodgers’ coming out party.

Rodgers next signature game was the first game of the 2011 season – the home opener against the ‘Aints. Leading up to the game, the media was praising Brees for organizing player-only workouts while the lockout consumed the summer. Rodgers, in turn, did not.

Rodgers led the Packers to a 42-34 victory, throwing for 312 yards and 3 TDs. And after the game, Rodgers quipped throughout his presser about the fact that the offense was rusty for not having practiced like Brees did. This was the first clear-cut example of Rodgers’ obsession with proving doubters wrong.

The most recent case was the Packers demolition of the previously unbeaten Houston Texans in week 6 of this season. At 2-3*, the Packers were struggling and a date at the undefeated Texans had many questioning this team.

Of course, you know the story. Packers routed Houston 42-24 in its most complete game of the season. Rodgers threw for 338 yards and a career-high 6 TDs. He could do no wrong that evening. And following the game, Rodgers was asked what he’d like to say to his critics: “SHHHHHH!

There are no critics to motivate Rodgers for Saturday night’s tilt. But, he doesn’t need them. He still has that chip marinating on his shoulder since the 49ers overlooked him in that 2005 draft.

Don’t get me wrong; winning at San Francisco this Saturday will be no small accomplishment. But, knowing that Rodgers will enter the game with that chip on his shoulder gives me a great amount of hope.

Rube vs. Roob: Playoffs Edition

Well ladies and gentlemen, AP has forced a Game 3. The bitter rivals face off again in another playoff matchup – and this time, under the bright lights of Saturday Night Football. After an instant classic this past Sunday, the two teams play for keeps with a chance to play at SF or Atlanta as the reward. Out of no respect to the ass-clown Rube, you can go first:

Vikings Rube:

Mr. MVP, AP, forces game 3.

Mr. MVP, AP, forces Game 3 – 1.5.13 – Lambeau Field.

Someone’s bitter. What, are you telling me you didn’t enjoy the 199 yards AP forced down your throat? Or the fact that Christian Ponder – yup, that Christian Ponder – had 3 TD’s and ZERO turnovers? What happened to that “elite” defense you’ve been bragging about?

Packers Roob:

Blind squirrel theory me boy – except that whole AP bit. That guy is a beast.

Vikings Rube:

While I am a full believer in the blind squirrel theory, that was not what happened Sunday. All-galaxy RB Adrian Peterson happened. Dr. Ponder and not Mr. Christian happened. Mike McCarthy doing his best Andy Reid impression happened (McCarthy gave no value to his TOs and it killed him). Kicking savant Blair Walsh happened. And lastly, a surprise playoff appearance happened.

It is this last bit that makes this Saturday’s playoff game so intriguing. The Vikes are playing with house money. They have nothing to lose. AP has already locked up his MVP candidacy. Side note, if he does not win, he needs to file the 843rd lawsuit, and counting, against Roger Goodell. AP’s season, compared to the very good seasons of Messers Manning, Brady, and Rodgers, was just that much better. All you need to do is look at last Sunday’s game to know AP deserves the hardware. Every person in the Packers organization knew AP was going to get the ball and he still went for nearly 200 yards.

But enough about the Vikings clutch victory last Sunday, let’s get back to this weekend’s game.

The Vikes were 3-13 last year and were not supposed to be even 5 wins better this year. This Saturday’s game represents the gravy. And I am talking, at Grandma’s for Thanksgiving gravy. The good stuff. Most Vikes fans would have been thrilled with AP’s other-worldly season, an improvement from Dr. Ponder, some consistency on defense, and an 8-8 year. That would have been great considering how poorly we played last season.

Instead, this team finishes 10-6 and makes the playoffs???? Seriously???

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei... McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Jordy Nelson tries to rescue Coach Rei… McCarthy from a bone-headed illegal challenge.

Match-ups (I swear we will get to these) and Coach Reid’s…I mean…McCarthy’s decision making aside, this Saturday’s game is going to be interesting because one team is not supposed to be there. That is always dangerous for the team that is.

Packers Roob:

House money. Interesting take. I frankly think it works against you. The Vikings just played their best game of the season… by far. It was a highly emotional game and atmosphere. Vikings simply gave everything they had to get to the playoffs by winning multiple games in a row, including a contested final game against its biggest rival. Their goal was making the playoffs, and they accomplished it. Now, to turn around and regain that emotion is difficult to accomplish – especially for a young and inexperienced team. I simply don’t see how the Vikings are able to regain that level of emotion which you need to play at such a high level in the playoffs. Of course, this is similar to what the Packers did in 2010 when it made it’s Super Bowl run. Still, that was a team led by an elite QB coming into his prime and a juggernaut of a defense. Vikings don’t have either.

Even if we assume the emotional levels will match, the Packers still have the edge. Like I said, it was a herculean-like effort for the Vikes to pull of this win. I don’t see Dr. Ponder (and not Mr. Steele) re-appearing to the tune of 200+ yards, 3TDs, and zero turnovers. And, in our third try, the Packers HAVE to limit AP to less than 200-yards. Right?!?! Plus, the Vikings pulled off this win after the Packers spotted them 13 points while it toiled away with running Ryan Grant the first two possessions – not to mention a few lucky bounces, such as the non-catch catch. Meanwhile, this was one of the worst defensive performances of the season by the Packers. Bottom line, there was a lot that went right for the Vikes last Sunday, while the Packers did not look like the same team that had been starting to peak at the right time. I just do not see the same thing happening, and that is what needs to happen in order for the Vikes to win.

Vikings Rube:

You are absolutely right (holy hell, someone write that down). It will be difficult for the Vikings to match the emotion of last Sunday’s game. But that is the beauty of it. They do not have to achieve that kind of emotion. There is no pressure on them. Just like the Packers in 2010. Or the Giants in 2012. Both teams won big games going into the playoffs and replicated that success in the playoffs. The Vikings can just go out and play football. Meanwhile, the pressure continues to build for the Green and Gold. The Packers are looking at this match-up and thinking, man, we got gifted the first game, played an outstanding offensive game in round two, and somehow we still lost. We should be 0-2 against this squad. The Packers’ defense is reeling. They have shown no answer for stopping AP. And for the record, I am not sure there is one. I am waiting to hear back from my buddy at NASA.

Mr. Steele's wedding was the first one without a reception.

Mr. Steele’s wedding was the first one without a reception.

Now, will Dr. Ponder play as well this Saturday as he did last Sunday? Maybe not. But, he is trending in the right direction. His average QBR during the last 4 games of the season (against quality opponents) was nearly 30 points higher than through his previous 12 games. And 4 games is a decent sample size. Keeping that in mind, if Dr. Ponder can find the stadium, lace his shoes up right, and not throw any back-breaking INTs he could manage the Vikes to victory. Remember, just saying that AP will not continue to impose his will on this defense is not a solution. Coach Reid…I mean McCarthy…better come up with a better scheme than that.

Packers Roob:

You will not win in the playoffs hoping your QB can be a game-manager. The Vikings defense is not elite enough to accomplish that. Dr. Ponder needs to have a similar effort for the Vikes to win. And that is assuming AP runs roughshod over our defense again. And even though there is no stopping this beast, I do expect the third time to be a little more difficult for him. This is a proud defense. Woodson is coming back this week, and he is known for sticking his nose in there and making tackles at the line or even behind it. And you have got to expect the coaching staff to embarrass Tramon, Shields, and Hayward for their poor tackling efforts. Check that, Tramon did not make tackling efforts, he simply played ole with AP.

Plus, lost in AP’s dominance was B.J. Raji’s dominance. He was constantly in the backfield, bottling up the middle of the line. AP got his yards by bouncing it outside where our OLB’s – yes, that includes Claymaker – poorly set the edge and/or the CB’s wanted no part of AP. But, if Raji and Pickett continue to control the middle and are able to push the line into the backfield, AP will have to work hard, again, to get his yards. If the Packers maintain better gap control, they can limit AP. And before you go off, realize that by limiting AP, I simply mean limiting him to the low-100’s. That can be accomplished. In his career, AP has had the following rushing yards at Lambeau: 2011 – 51 yds.; 2010 – 131; 2009 – 97; 2008 – 103; and 2008 – 45. Though there are many variables in play with such a historical study – i.e. worse offensive lines and blowouts by the Packers – those performances show that the Packers have historically “limited” AP to normal, human-level rushing totals. If the Packers expect to win, AP’s 200-yard average cannot continue.

Vikings Rube:

I have to give credit, where credit is due, Woodson is a better tackler than Tramon. Though, that might the world’s lowest bar. Raji did play well and Sullivan played poorly. If you want to talk about a trend that likely will not continue, that is it. Sullivan is too good of a player (his Pro Bowl spot was stolen by the Packers’ back-up center) to let that happen twice. So, even if the Packers are able to improve on the edges, I expect a similar improvement for the Vikings in the middle. And while 200 yards might be a reach, AP and the Vikes could get a win with a consistent 150 and a well-managed game from Dr. Ponder.

That said, the team’s success hinges, not necessarily on the offense (where I expect the Vikings to put up some points), but on the defense (where there are a couple of significant question marks). Those questions marks are the health of Antoine Winfield and Brian Robison. Both are impact players for the Vikings and not having either or both could suck all the drama out of this weekend’s match-up faster than a Psy concert on New Year’s Eve.

(Not so quick aside, after watching Psy’s terrible performance on New Year’s Eve, he had the gall to announce that he is putting an end to the Gangnam Style momentum? My first reaction was: what a moron!!! Why kill the golden goose? Milk that bad boy for all it is worth. Just ask other one-hit wonders (that is right Psy, you are a one-hit wonder) like Vanilla Ice and Lou Bega. You do not kill the golden goose. My second reaction (I know what you are thinking – you had two reactions to this news – this is my life) was: who does he think he is? When we (putting on my society hat), make you an overnight millionaire, WE tell YOU when to stop playing that terrible song. That means we might just stop paying attention or we might relegate it to the wedding circuit for the next 10 to 15 years (in which case –  you’re welcome). Or, we may give that bad boy an S-curve bounce in the charts and have its remix (thank you Skrillex) be the hit song of this summer. We are fickle and have not decided yet. But you will keep playing it until we decide.

Okay, back to football.

Robison's strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

Robison’s strip-sack was the biggest play of the game.

The loss of Winfield or Robison would be killer. Robison has had a really good season and his strip sack in Sunday’s game was a huge turning point. Him being out there is critical to the Vikes rushing the passer and getting home with 4 guys. Perhaps most importantly, he allows Everson Griffen to play inside, where he had a field day on Sunday, notching a hat trick with 3 sacks. As huge a loss as Robison would be, the loss of Winfield might be even bigger. Prior to Winfield’s injury, Rodgers was Ponder-like 8 for 15 for 48 yards and one TD. After Winfield’s injury, with Sherrels and Jefferson seeing more playing time, Rodgers went 20 for 25 for 317 yards and 3 TDs. That is downright scary.

Both players swear they will play this week. But a bum shoulder is not the best injury for a defensive lineman. It is just about as bad as a broken hand for a defensive back. The outlook is scary and the Vikes will need both players healthy if they are going to prevail.

Packers Roob:

Raji’s been on a tear for the last 1½ months or so. And he didn’t abuse Sully; he abused those turnstiles you call guards. Though not as dominant as last Sunday, Raji was regularly blowing up the middle runs in the first go-around too. I expect the same to happen this third game.

Finally, we get to the most important part of Saturday’s game: the relative health of each team. In a weird turn of events, the Packers enter Saturday’s game about as healthy as it can be. The only noteworthy injury to follow is Jordy, who mysteriously missed practice early this week. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear serious and he appears to be full-go. And yes, I’m aware of Jerel Worthy’s season-ending injury, but those 14 tackles aren’t exactly tough to replace. Conversely, there are major injury issues with the Vikings. You are absolutely right, Winfield’s injury opened the flood-gates to Rodgers & Co. You’re also forgetting your new favorite, the Golden Fundamental. He was out for the last part of the game and, while it sounds like he will play, he may be limited. If both Smith and Winfield are out or severely limited, the game is over before it begins.

Frankly, Robison does not scare me. He made the most important play of the game when he stripped-sacked Rodgers. But, I do not buy into his importance. And the reason is simple: I do not care how much you sack Rodgers. Unless it turns into the first-half of the Seahawks game where Rodgers was sacked a preposterous 8-times or something, sacking him a number of times throughout the game has little impact on his effectiveness. In Sunday’s game, the Vikings had 5 sacks and applied some pressure on top of that. What did Rodgers do? Throw for 365 yards and 4 TD’s. This was his third-consecutive game of 3 or more TDs and nearly-or-above 300 yards throwing. The offense is clicking. The only thing I worry about with the sacks is the strip-sack. But, Rodgers isn’t Culpepper with the ball. And as I said last week, the sacks often occur because of Rodger’s propensity to hold the ball longer in hopes of making plays with his feet. He’s simply lethal rolling out of the pocket. So, bring the pressure. You may get the sacks. Unless you get a turnover with it – which is not a common occurrence when Rodgers is pressured – I do not expect the sacks, pressure, or hits to impact the game as it does with other QBs. Thus, to me, the game turns on the Vikings’ secondary play. Given the recent success of the Packers passing offense and the Vikings injuries, the Packers are probably licking their chops to get after it Saturday night.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

DuJuan Harris. Set to become the 2012 version of James Starks.

And, let’s not also forget about the success of the Packers run game Sunday. Though far from great, once Ryan Grant was benched and DuJuan Harris was inserted into the full-time role, the run game produced an effective 70 yards on 14 carries, good enough for a 5.0 ypc. If the Packers continue to have any sort of success with the run game, the offense should approach, if not surpass, 30 points again. I do not see the Vikings going tit-for-tat in the scoring department like last week. So, yeah, you may say, I am rather confident heading into Saturday’s showdown.

One final note – 2 of Walsh’s 3 misses were in outdoor games – at Chicago and at Lambeau. Considering the Vikes only played four outdoor games this season and the fact Walsh has never kicked in a game when the temperatures will be 20-degrees or below, your second-best offensive weapon may not be as reliable. (And save it. Yes, I know Shanksby is still our kicker.)

Vikings Rube:

Only a Packers Roob would try and go after a Pro Bowl, record-setting kicker with some foolish stat like that. All three of those misses occurred on either Thursday or Sunday, this weekend’s game is Saturday night. Boom! The best way to counter a preposterous stat is with another preposterous stat.

You are sort of right about Rodgers. You cannot stop him by blitzing him. You can stop him by getting pressure with your front four. That is where Robison’s value comes in. Plus, and you completely ignored this, it is not just about Robison, but instead about allowing Griffen to rush from the middle, that means so much to the Vikings defensive scheme. Unfortunately, even with that pressure from the front four, I am not sure a coached up Sherrels or Jefferson can hold their own. That is why Winfield is so important.

So, now that I have re-explained it to you, how about that vaunted Packers running attack. Sure, the Packers averaged 5 yards a carry, but it was not consistent. Harris had more than half his yards, 39, on just 5 carries. Everything else was a few yards here and there. Since the Packers are not going to give him the rock 25 plus times and let him try to break a big one, why even bother? Rodgers has already shown an ability to sustain a drive without running the ball. Take a page out of Sean Payton’s book and just throw it 50+ times. Now that is a scary proposition. And as proof, in 5 of the 6 scoring drives last weekend, the Packers ran the ball two times or less. Um, hmmmmm, even Andy Reid could figure this one out. Actually, on second thought, never mind…pay no attention to that…I was only playing around.

Predictions:

Vikings Rube:

I know what the logical move is here. Pick the Green and Gold. Vegas has them as a TD+ favorite. Fortunately, Adrian Peterson plays for the Vikings and this season has just been one of those years. He has done illogical things all year. He is a man possessed who has answered the bell every time he has been called on. Oh, 2nd and 27 following a moronic set of penalties? How about 28 and a trail of bodies for 1st and Goal. Out of the backfield after a ball fake? Sure, this receiving thing cannot be that hard. 2nd and 10 on the final drive of the game/season and only seconds remaining? I will have 26 yards and a near record to set up Blair for a chippy. Block a FG or make a tackle on special teams? Okay, so he only wants to do that. It seems like every time the Vikings have needed him, Peterson has performed. Logical or not. What is more, the Vikings’ opponents knew it was going to him and they still could not stop him. That only adds to the lunacy. I am not picking against him now. Peterson gets whatever we need, including a Vikings playoff win.

Vikings 30 Packers 28

Packers Roob:

The Packers have been looking to the playoffs all season long. That is why they were so cautious with injuries and have been slowly gaining momentum to come into the playoffs playing at or near its peak. Last week was a setback for the defense. But, the return of Woodson will make a difference and I think the rest of the defense will fair better tackling AP. Rodgers & Co. keeps on rolling. This is a veteran team that knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. With last year’s brutal ending in mind, they will be looking for redemption. Packers start their Super Bowl run with a complete game victory over the Vikes.

Pack 34 Vikes 23

Again, for those looking for last-minute ticket deals. You won’t find a better selection of tickets at Ticket King. Reliable and local. Trust in The Ticket King.

Packers – 2012 Year in Review

Happy New Years Packernation! It’s been a fun year, full of ups-and-downs for our favorite squad. Here’s a breakdown of the good, bad, and ugly that we endured this calendar year.

The Good – The emergence of young and promising stars on both sides of the ball: Randall Cobb and Casey Hayward. Cobb is the definition of a multi-threat talent. He’s a top-end slot receiver, shown to be a threat out of the backfield, can take any punt or kickoff to the house, and smart – see his heads-up play of making a kickoff out-of-bounds in the Tennessee blowout. He led the league in total yards this year, breaking the all-time Packers yardage record in the process. His emergence has basically made Greg Jennings dispensable this offseason, much to the rejoice of his sister. And the best part of his emergence is his humility. Cobb is simply a team player that says “we” instead of “I.”

Trading up to get Hayward is one of TT's best draft-day decisions.

Trading up to get Hayward is one of TT’s best draft-day decisions.

Similarly, Casey “All I Do Is Intercept” Hayward has already established himself as one of the top cover-corners in the league; and he’s only a rookie. He’s shown an awareness on the field that would make even the savviest of veterans blush. He’s yet to get beaten for a TD, not been flagged, and isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the pile – unlike Tramon Williams. Because he didn’t start playing full-time until week 6, he’s unlikely to win the ROY – but he should. His emergence has solidified the Packers’ secondary not only for this year, but for the immediate future.

Honorable Mention: TT’s draft. TT has built this team through above-average draft classes nearly every year. This year’s class is shaping up to be one of his best. Devoting the first six selections to a defense that hemorrhaged yards and points last season paid off. Nick Perry didn’t flash, but showed he belonged and should develop into a solid player opposite Claymaker. The same can be said for Worthy. Hayward is the best selection. And McMillian and Daniels  have provided much needed depth to the line and secondary. McMillian could be in a battle with M.D. Jennings for the starting safety spot for the next couple of years.

The Bad – The Packers have suffered a rash of injuries. The following players have been injured at various points this season (and I’m bound to miss a few): Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, JerMichael Finley, Bryan Bulaga, T.J. Lang, Cedric Benson, James Starks, Alex Green, Jerel Worthy, B.J. Raji, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Frank Zombo, Desmond Bishop, D.J. Smith, Sam Shields, Charles Woodson, Sean Richardson, and Davon House.

To put this into different perspective, the Packers have been without their top 3 RB’s, a combination of their top-3 WR’s, the top TE, the starting RT and LG, multiple starting defensive linemen, their starting outside linebackers, their top-2 inside linebackers, a combination of two of the top-4 CB’s, and Woodson. Heck, Jennings and Jordy just played their third game together in week 17.

It’s been a season that’s tested the mettle of this team. But, in a glass half-full approach, it bodes well for the overall depth and talent of the roster going forward.

Ole!

Ole!

Honorable Mention: Tramon Williams’ run “support.” AP ran roughshod over this team to the tune of 409 yards on 55 carries, good enough for a ridiculous 7.4 ypc. Minnesota ran directly at Williams repeatedly in both games, obviously knowing that he’s unwilling to take on a block or attempt to tackle AP. Williams isn’t the sole reason for AP’s dominance. But his decision to play ole with AP makes him a primary culprit.

The Ugly – January 15, 2012. Giants 37, Packers 20. I don’t want to relive this date anymore by rehashing the specifics. But needless to say, it was the definition of ugly.

Our potential playoffs dagger.

Our potential playoffs dagger.

Honorable Mention: Mason Shanksby. As Bob Uecker would say, juuuuuust a bit outside. Shanksby is 21 of 33 on the year. That’s 63.6%, 13% below his now lower career average. And if you had any doubts, he’s dead-last in kicking percentage. Though he’s hit four in a row (nothing says a K is in a slump like celebrating four consecutive makes), Packers fans are queasy anytime Shanksby takes the field.

Rube v. Roob: Playoffs or Bust Edition

Sunday will be the 104th installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 54-48-1. The Packers have won eight of the last ten, including the last five games. But this game is different for two distinct reasons. If the Vikings win, they are in the playoffs. If the Packers win, they lock up the second seed and the all-important 1st-round bye. In the regular season, it does not get any bigger than this. The drama level for this one is at eleven. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we will let the Packer Roob fire the first shot:

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra...that difference between 10 and 11.

The drama level will be at a peak this Sunday. With playoff positioning at stake, there will be that little extra…that difference between 10 and 11.

Packers Roob:

Thank you for your courtesies. I do not anticipate such courtesy will last long in this debate. I am not sure you need me to explain how I feel about my squad. Just see my latest post. So, with that out of the way, I look at this weekend as really a win-win situation. Either the Packers win and get a bye, or we lose and still get a bye because there is no way the Vikes beat us twice.

Vikings Rube:

Let it be confirmed that I tried to take to the high road. Tried to be courteous. Not surprisingly, the Roob dodges the analysis and goes right for the low blow, cheap shot. How very Woodson-like. Before getting into this weekend, it is that very reaction that makes Packers believers so insufferable. When their squad shows even a flash or two of dominance, all of sudden they are not only the best team in the league, but likely the best team of all-time. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been going on for as long as I can remember. Reaching the peak of insufferability during the Brett Favre MVP years.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett's INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

What!!! Is that present for me??? And that one too?? Both of Burnett’s INTs in the last game might as well have been gift-wrapped.

Oddly enough, Packers fans were not chirping like that after they got their early Christmas present from Christian Ponder at Lamblow a few weeks ago. More like running away from the House that Moss repo’d like they stole something. The Vikings dominated the first meeting of the season, and if not for some incredibly bone-headed plays — you are welcome Morgan Burnett — the Vikings take down their bitter rivals and are playing for the 2nd seed this weekend. But that is not the reality of the situation. So let’s get to the reality.

Unlike the Packers roob, I am going to take off the purple-and-gold glasses and look at Sunday’s tilt with an objective eye. This game, like many others in the NFL, is going to come down to who controls the line of scrimmage. The Minnesota Moving Co. has been downright filthy in the last nine games. Even though AP did not rush for 100 yards last week, it took 9 or 10 in the box to slow him down. Plus, he still did enough damage to allow Ponder to shot put footballs to his wide receivers and tight ends. If the Minnesota Moving Co. can keep it going, they will not need the 210 yards AP got a few weeks ago to win this game.

Ball control is what won the day against the Texans last week. The Vikings did not have one 3-and-out and their average drive consumed nearly 3 minutes of game time. That same game plan is what is needed this week. In Lamblow, the Vikings dominated the ball for 2 ½ quarters. They need to bring it for a full 4 quarters and there is no doubt they can win the game. Controlling the line scrimmage, maintaining ball possession, and keeping Aaron Rodgers off the field are the ingredients for a Vikings win. Even though the Packers have their precious Claymaker back, they are still susceptible to the run. The Roob will try to point at how well the Packers run defense has been the last few weeks. But AP and Toby are on another level compared to the RBs the Packers have seen in those games. Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are shells of their former selves. Neither is much of a threat. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are…well… Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure. Nothing more to say there.

Packers Roob:

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP's last performance.

Seeing #28 in the backfield has not been a pleasant experience for any opposing defense this year. The Packers are probably still having nightmares about AP’s last performance.

This league is all about when you play teams. And when the Vikes and Pack last played, the Pack fielded half a team. Only four defensive linemen were healthy and Clay was out. Insert 3 undrafted FAs at OLB – a critical part to any 3-4 – and not enough big bodies to stay fresh, and you get a 210 effort by AP. Not that it matters when you are facing a beast like AP, but for argument’s sake, the Packers are 10th in total defense, including a respectable 14th against the run. In fact, all season, the Packers have given up more than 100-yards to only 2 rushers – Frank Gore and AP. And this is with a squad that’s had injuries on top of injuries on top of injuries. That is not the case this time around. The following players are back healthy: Claymaker (and the new sack dance: The Clayboy), Mike Neal, Jerel Worthy, and, hopefully, C.J. Wilson.

The loss of Claymaker simply cannot be understated. He is close to, if not, the best defensive player in the league. He is elite in all phases: rushing the passer, run defense, and even dropping into coverage. He’s tenacious and gets after the ball wherever it is on the field. In his place, were the likes of Frank Zombo and Dezman Moses. A bit of a drop off in talent, to say the least.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

Standout rookie Casey Hayward will need to have another strong performance if the Packers are going to slow down AP & Co.

So, yes, AP rolled up on the Packers last time. But, that is not happening this time around. And even if he does post 100+ yards, it won’t matter because you still have Christian Steele and his noodle arm throwing the ball around to the Gustavus Adolphus WR corps. Don’t let last week’s performance fool you. Ponder is not a NFL QB. He’ll be lucky to be in the league in five years at this rate. And this week he is going up against an elite secondary, one that houses the top 1-3 level of CB’s in the league: Tramon, Shields, and Hayward. He won’t have anyone open to throw the ball to. Remember, last time around – when Shields was hurt – Ponder completed only 3 passes to 2 different WRs for 38 yards. So the game will come down to AP and AP alone. 210 yards was not enough last time around. Assuming he does not put up another monster game, how do you expect to beat the Packers this time around?

Vikings Rube:

210 was not enough?? It was more than enough. Unfortunately, Ponder gift wrapped two INTs for that vaunted Packers secondary and completely ruined the Vikings chances. In the last three games since those idiotic moments of charity, Ponder has only one INT and a QBR that is more than 20 points higher than his season average. Has Christian Ponder been Aaron Rodgers in the last three games? No. I am not foolish enough (read: drunk on the Kool-Aid) to suggest that. That would be like trying to say the Grant/Green combo has been AP-like in their last three games (something I am sure you were going to say later on). So even though the Vikings are 32nd in the league in passing, can Ponder shot put enough completions to get the Vikings a victory on Sunday? Absolutely.

While I admit that the Packers defense is better now than when these teams saw each other a few weeks ago, the same can be said of the Vikings defense. They absolutely throttled the vaunted Texans’ offense, holding them to just a tick more than 200 yards of total offense. And while the Rams actually put up some yards against the Vikes two weeks ago, most of it was in garbage time after the game had been decided. Even though he might not be Casey Hayward, the addition of Chris Cook to the Vikings secondary certainly made the squad better as it meant less Josh Robinson field time. Teams were absolutely destroying Robinson in coverage.

What is nice about having Chris Cook back, is that he does not have to be an elite CB. The one thing the Vikings defense has done consistently well all year, and will need to again on Sunday, is get home with 4 or 5 defensive linemen. This makes Chris Cook that much better because he is not on an island. Now, the potential loss of Brian Robison hurts us here; though, the latest reports are that he is going to give it a go. Robison was having a really good season prior to dinging up his wing a couple of weeks ago. Everson Griffen stepped in nicely for him last week. But the Vikings rotation of linemen, particularly having Griffen rush from the interior, had been the secret to theVikings’ success. Having to move Griffen to the edge hurts our ability to create that push up the middle.

Thankfully, we still have Ten Gallon Allen. The guy who’s poster is on the Clayboy’s bedroom. With 2 more sacks against the Pack in the last match-up, that brings his total to 13.5 in his last 7 games against the green and gold. He just feasts on the Packers and, considering the Packers’ current patch-work line, I would expect more of the same on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

You are partially right. The only way the Vikes win is if its D-line absolutely dominates. Allen is a beast against us, but we held the rest of that line to 0 sacks. And even with Allen’s dominance, the Packers absolutely controlled the game last time around, with the game-winning drive going for 11-minutes. Let me repeat that… behind a “patch-work” line that had EDS at guard (who is terrible there) and Lang at RT (for a half) and Don Barclay replacing him (his first game action of his career), the Packers went on an 11-MINUTE game-clinching drive. Barclay is not perfect, but he has been solid since being inserted at RT. And Lang is an above-average guard. Heck, our line is so good right now that we replaced our Pro Bowl center: Jeff Saturday. The luxuries we have with such a deep talent pool along the line. Clearly, our line will be better this time around.

And because of that improvement, we have discovered a respectable running game. Packers have changed their rushing attack somewhat by doing more zone traps than stretch plays, and there have been more pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that’s gone for 100-yards in each of the last five games, including against that alleged dominant D-line the Vikes sport.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

At the end of it all, Rodgers is the x-factor. If he keeps rolling, the Vikes will be hard pressed to get a win. Pressure him and the Vikes will be playoff bound.

Congrats on holding Bradford and Schaub in check. But, it is another beast to tame Rodgers. The reigning MVP is finally hitting his stride with the passing game. Against a Bears defense that normally controls our passing game, Rodgers shredded them – on the road – to the tune of just under 300 yards and 3 TDs. Mr. Domestic Abuser is not your answer to solving our passing attack. The only way this passing attack does not continue its recent strong play is if Cobb is not healthy enough to play. Unfortunately, reports seem to point to him missing the game. Thankfully, Jordy returns. And a healthy Jordy and Jennings are more than serviceable “replacements” of Cobb.

Vikings Rube:

No doubt that Rodgers will be the difference maker (just like last game). Though as mentioned above, when he is running for his life, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. The Packers’ running game is not a concern. I hope that Grant and Green get 20+ carries a piece. If that happens, the Vikings chances of winning are greatly increased. Anything to get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

You are absolutely right about our resident Erik Walden, he is not a Pro Bowl caliber CB. He is not the answer. But he is a significant improvement over Josh Robinson. Frankly, that is all we need. If we are going to talk about the Vikings’ secondary, we need to give the appropriate due to rookie Harrison Smith. The Golden Fundamental has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. He is a heady football player who makes all the right plays and a few exceptional ones. For example, his tackles at the goal line and on third down against the Texans last week almost single-handedly changed the outcome of that game. He picked Rodgers in their first meeting and he will looking for the hat trick of INT for TDs this Sunday.

Packers Roob:

What?! Rodgers running for his life results in his effectiveness being greatly reduced?! Have you seen Rodgers outside the pocket? He’s the best QB in the league, due in part to the fact that he is the best outside the pocket. He can run for first downs and make all the throws even while on the run. If the Vikes want to successfully stop him, it’s best to keep him contained in the pocket, forcing him to step up in the pocket.

And trust me, if we run the ball 20+ times, we win the game. I cannot find the actual record, but the Packers own a ridiculous winning percentage during MM’s tenure when they run it more than 20-times. We do not run it when we are trailing. So if we run it that much, we are in cruise control.

— Predictions —

Packers Roob:

I almost feel bad the Vikes won last week to get your hopes up for this week. But this is what Minnesota fandom is all about: major letdowns. The domefield advantage won’t be enough. After all, Rodgers has hung 64 points in his last two trips to the Dome.

Like I said, it is all about when you play teams and you are catching a Packers team at the start of its run. The team is finally getting healthier. And all aspects of the Packers game is trending in the right direction – minus Mason Shanksby. With a 2-seed in the balance, I foresee a motivated team looking to quash those playoffs aspirations.

Pack 28 Vikes 16

Vikings Rube:

This is not going to be an easy game to win. And you are right, this is lining up for the classic end to the Vikings season. Make a miraculous run, win 3 straight, and then lose at home to our most-hated rival. Sounds like I will be earning another horn stamp on my Vikings fan card. Two more and I get a free dome dog. All kidding aside, the Vikings had the first match-up in their grasp and Ponder threw it away. Or failed to throw it away, depending on how you look at it. They will not make the same mistake twice. AP gets his 2,000 yard season, falls short of the record, but the Vikings get the victory. On to Lamblow for Round 3.

Vikes 23 Pack 21

And, if you want to try and watch this Sunday’s game in person, do not forget to visit our friends at Ticket King. They have all the options covered for this HUUUUGE game.

Believe in This Packers Team

I believe the Packers are the NFC favorites to make it to the Super Bowl. 55-7 thrashing of the Titans aside, this team is trending and peaking just in time for the playoffs. It’s not just the 9-1 record over the past 10 games; it’s the following reasons why the Packers are morphing into a juggernaut.

Offense –

Packers are looking Super as the post-season approaches.

Packers are looking Super as the post-season approaches.

I believe Rodgers is regaining his MVP form. Marred in a slump where he surpassed 250-yards only once in 6 games, Rodgers has turned it around the last two games. Against a Bears defense that has always slowed him, he was vintage Rodgers, throwing for just under 300 yards and 3 perfect TD strikes. And his completion to Cobb along the sidelines reminded me of the Falcons playoff game two years ago.

I believe Rodgers’ recent surge is due, in part, to the newfound run game. The Packers have rushed for more than 100-yards in each of their past 5 games. It has been any combo of running backs doing the work, including retirement home recallee Ryan Grant – who just amassed 80 yards and 2 Tds on 20 carries. Alex Green seems more patient and starting to get good chunks of yards per carry. And the rush attack has changed somewhat in the form of less zone stretches to more traps and pulling linemen. The result is a rushing attack that teams have to honor. At least a little.

I believe the offensive line has stabilized – relatively speaking – with the insertion of Don Barclay at RT and the health of T.J. Lang. Lang is not a RT. When forced to take over for Bulaga, the line had two weak links: Lang at RT and DES at LG. Barclay, though not perfect, is a grinder and fighter. He’s had a lot of success in the running game and hasn’t gotten Rodgers killed. Yes, Rodgers still takes a fair share of shots and sacks, but that also comes from Rodgers trying to extend plays. It is the catch-22 of Rodgers: he takes sacks, but also makes defenses pay by extending the plays.

I believe the WR corps is finally starting to show its teeth. Cobb has emerged as Percy Harvin 2.0, not Harvin-lite. He’s become the go-to target for Rodgers. Assuming he and Jordy are healthy in the playoffs, Rodgers will finally have his full weaponry at his disposal. To top it off, JMike has finally decided to play like the TE he’s supposed to be.

Defense –

I believe the injuries have actually made this defense better and more prepared for the playoffs. There’s no doubt the loss of Bishop was a huge loss. But, the injuries to Clay, Woodson, Raji, Shields, Perry, and Wilson forced the younger players to step up and assume important roles. And that they did. The younger players have stepped up so well that it’s fair to wonder where Woodson will play, and even whether his return is all that crucial for the defense.

I believe Claymaker and Neal are quickly becoming a strong tandem, almost a Clay-Jenkins-lite. Neal has always flashed promise with his strength and speed, but he was never healthy. Finally, he’s been able to stay relatively healthy this year. And since Clay’s return, the duo have racked up 5.5 sacks, 7 tackles-for-losses, and numerous pressures these past two weeks.

@The_Clayboy will be a common sight this post-season.

@The_Clayboy will be a common sight this post-season.

I believe opposing QB’s will be seeing a lot of The Clayboy this postseason. He looks no worse for the wear following his injury.

I believe B.J. Raji is becoming a force in the middle, like he’s supposed to be. Raji may not have the gaudy stats at the end of each game. But he’s been making an impact in each of the last several games. Raji and Pickett are tough to run against in the middle. And Raji has started getting push up the middle on throwing downs.

I believe Casey Hayward is a star in the making. According to Pro Football Focus, Hayward is second in the league in overall man-to-man coverage and tops for passer rating. Hayward has not been flagged for a penalty or allowed a TD. And he has six picks and 10 passes defended. To top it off, he ranks ninth in run stop percentage among corners, having not missed a tackle. All this coming from a rookie that plays primarily in the slot, a position that requires much more on-field awareness, preparation, and skill. As Peter King stated, his play is Pro Bowl worthy, if not All-Pro worth.

I believe that Shields’ return has cemented the Packers secondary as one of the best in the league. Shields has been downright dominant since returning from injury, including drawing an incredible three offensive pass interference calls against Alshon Jeffrey two weeks ago. Shields strong play in 2010 was the catalyst for that defense becoming the juggernaut it was.

Special Teams –

I believe in Mason Crosb… ok, so I don’t believe in him. My green-and-gold kool-aid isn’t that strong (though its close).

Intangibles –

I believe the Packers are getting healthy just at the right time. Throughout the season, the Packers were riddled with injuries, including to many key figures. Now, most of those players have returned or are set to return in time for the playoffs. Though the young players proved they belong, Jennings, Jordy, Clay, and Woodson will only improve an 11-4 team.

I believe this Packers team is battle-tested. Outside the Texans and Titans games, the Packers have had to battle for each victory. Faced with what seemed like insurmountable injuries, the Packers haven proven resilient as they inch towards a 2-seed. Such resiliency will bode well in the playoffs where every game is a battle. Unlike last year when the Packers simply didn’t know how to face adversity, this squad has faced it and thrived.

I believe that even still, the Packers will face a tough road to get to the Super Bowl. The NFC is simply stacked with both the 49ers and Seahawks playing at elite levels. But, unlike last year, this Packers team can win any style of game. It can grind out games, play stout defense, and not simply rely upon scoring a ton of points.

I believe this is a Super Bowl team. Do you?

Packers’ Secondary Leads the Way

The Packers survive Sunday Night for a 27-20 victory over the Motor City Kitties. Winning 7 of their past 8, the Pack are alone in 1st place and have a chance to clinch the division with a road win at Chicago next week. A remarkable opportunity considering the obstacles this team has overcome this season.

The Packers would not be in this position if it were not for its secondary. Still without its leader – Charles Woodson – the secondary stepped up and held a strong passing attack in check. Coming into the game, the Lions ranked 1st in passing yards per game, averaging 312.5 yards. The end number tonight was 264 yards, but this was somewhat inflated with garbage-time stats.

Holding the Lions under its average does not tell the whole story, though. The secondary came through when it had little help otherwise. Limited by injuries, the front-seven got absolutely zero pressure on Stafford the entire game. He was not sacked once and was rarely under pressure. Still, Stafford found it tough going finding open receivers. This is a testament to Tramon, Shields, and Hayward.

Tramon was opposite Megatron for a majority of the evening. Though Megatron’s total yardage still eclipsed 100-yards, Tramon was successful in limiting Megatron’s impact. It took 10 catches to get these yards. Megatron was unable to get over the top and Tramon batted away the few chances he tried. He deserved the SNF Player of the Game honors.

The return of Shields solidifies the Packers secondary.

The return of Shields solidifies the Packers secondary.

Shields returned after missing nearly half the season. And he looked no worse for the time away. He quickly supplanted House at the outside cornerback position opposite Tramon. And he deserved it with his play tonight. He had 1 INT and should have had another. And he made a great play on ST to stop a kick return that could have gone the distance had the returner been able to beat Shields to the edge.

And not to be forgotten, Casey Hayward continues to show that he’s the real deal. He didn’t grab his 6th INT – though he should have; instead, he was just steady in his coverage, never getting beat for a big gain. He also flashed on a running play in the first half, beating the TE inside to nearly make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Left on the outside was Davon House, who must now settle for the dime CB. It’s a nice problem for the Packers to have – a fourth CB that could start for many NFL teams.

To be able to hold the most prolific (note – not the best) passing attack in the league, the secondary showed that its battle-tested and ready for the playoff run. The 2010 Super Bowl team won it because (1) Rodgers was unstoppable and (2) the defense was a juggernaut. When Claymaker and Woodson return, this defense has the ability to become a juggernaut in much the same way. And the reason is because of the play of this young secondary.

Next up, Jay Quitler and a Division Title.

Border Battle: Lots of Ugliness

While enduring an ugly game, we exchanged pleasantries analyzing what was a crucial game for both teams. The 103rd installment of this rivalry proved dramatic, while ugly.

Packers Roob: 

You ready to roll!?! Packers get ball to start. They are terrible this season on their first drive. It’d be huge to get some points to start fast!

TOUCHDOWN!!! Pack march down the field. Jones posterizes Jefferson with a sick TD grab! Two notes: JMike caught the first pass his way – can’t be a good omen for Vikings fans – and the Packers had a semblance of a running game. As I said in the preview, this could get ugly!

Vikings Rube:

Well, it seems the horseshoe that was lodged firmly up Bielema’s derriere last night was airmailed to Green Bay in time for the start of today’s tilt. Finley and Jones catch balls they normally would bat down like they are in rec league volleyball game?!? Not a good sign at all for the Vikes.

Then, following a quick three and out on offense, the Vikes defense finally slows down the Rodgers train in the red zone. Only to have Crosby doink one in off the upright. I think the Vikings primary goal should be locating and destroying that horseshoe. After all, they are not spending any time scheming anything that resembles an offensive game plan.

Packers Roob:

What are you talking about?! Packers got screwed by another phantom holding call that erased another TD. Tough enough to win in this league when you are playing the team. But, it’s not fun having a twelfth man in the zebras to contend with as well! Just garbage.

Worst news is Jordy tweaked his hammy. Story of the season. Jennings returns, Jordy goes down.And here comes the Vikes’ direct-snap to AP offense

Vikings Rube:

Always right to the officials. Typical. Losing Jordy definitely helps the Vikes, but no one wants to wish for a guy to hurt. Hopefully he is okay.

In more exciting news, how about that direct-snap to AP offense!! Sprinkle in a little bootleg and an elite TE, bake at 350 for 14 minutes, and touchdown!!! All seriousness aside, that was definitely Dr. Ponder on that drive. He looked methodical, making most of the right decisions. And of course, the best RB on the planet did his thing too.

Now, following the three and out of the Packers offense, we get to see if it was all just a fluke…

Packers Roob:

Ugh. I hate the Kuhn handoff play. 2 times for 0 yards and a missed 3rd-and-1. Bag that play please!

Are the Packers cursed?!?! Lang just got his ankle rolled up on. Next man up… is there a next man left?!? Unreal.

Vikings Rube:

As I said before, no one likes to see guys get hurt. And you are right, Lang’s injury reaaaaally hurts. Hopefully he can come back later in the game.

That being said, what a brutal call on Griffen!! That was not a personal foul!!!!!! I cannot stop typing exclamation points. Takes an INT away from ole Ten Gallon. Despite the injuries, the horseshoe appears to be back.

Packers Roob:

I was right about this getting ugly. Just not what part. This O-line with Barclay will have Rodgers running for his life the entire game. I just want to thank Griffen for placing a lot of $$ on the Packers. What else would explain his three stupid penalties so far?!

I also want to thank the Vikes coaching staff for sidelining AP during their last possession of the second-half. A gift 3-and-out for the defense.

Vikings Rube:

The offsides penalties were legit, but that roughing the passer call was tewible. Not even close. And then Jared Allen takes a stupid penalty to give Crosby a chance?!?!? Thankfully there are not any uprights near the corner of the end zone. Just not a strong finish from the Vikes.

Packers Roob:

This is disgusting. Even without AP’s ridiculous run, Packers are getting manhandled right now. The quick start did not give way to a dominating effort. Instead, the injuries to the line has opened the flood-gates to Rodgers. And the run game has all but vanished. The result is an offense that can’t move the ball – even against this defense.

And, oh yeah, Crosby sucks. Time to bring in Kaeding.

2nd Half

Packers Roob:

Did I mention Crosby sucks?!?

Vikings Rube:

As if there were any lingering doubts, Mr. Ponder is back!!! Ponder loses his mind, thinks he is Joe Cool, and tries to throw across his body to THE Michael Jenkins in the back of the end zone. Tewible decision and Christmas comes early for Morgan Burnett. This could be the turning point of the game. Vikings looking to get another TD right out the gates and Mr. Ponder takes it away. Not good.

Packers Roob:

More great play-calling by the Vikes. AP is single-handedly winning this game for the Vikes. On short goal-to-go, Vikes get clever and go play-action. Mr. Ponder rewards them with a great pass to Morgan Burnett.

Rodgers is trying to take this game over. He willed them into FG range. And in a shock, Crosby split the uprights! Blind squirrel theory in play.

Cool play design on Cobb toss-back to Rodgers for deep bomb. INT is good as punt. But, if there was ever a need for further proof that the Packers play-action is non-existent, this play is Exhibit A. First time ever running a throw-back with Cobb and no one was open.

Vikings Rube:

Stop me if you heard this one, despite dominating for much of the first half, the Vikings have come out in the 2nd half with no adjustments or schemes to counter 15 guys in the box. Following the go-ahead TD by the Pack, the Vikes look primed for another 4 yards and a cloud of dust. Is Bill Cowher ready to come back to coaching??

Packers Roob:

Seriously, the Vikes should direct-snap it to AP every play!! Ponder is just awful. 5/13 for 36 yards and 2 INT’s. I’m actually worried we might see the re-start of the Joe Webb era.

Vikings Rube:

Remember in our prediction we talked about how Ponder needed to do just enough to get out of AP’s way. As it stands right now, he has been the Packers best way to stop Adrian. And if not for Ponder, Peterson might have 300 yards on the ground. Of course, that would require coaches that know when to run the ball and to pass it. Seems like asking a lot.

Packers Roob:

Like I said, Rodgers is willing this team to victory. And he did on this prolonged game-clinching drive – 11:00 minutes in fact. Multiple third-down conversions, many long distances too, and killed the clock and hopes of the Vikes. Crosby clutches up and nailed a 31-yarder – down the middle even – to apply the dagger (knock on wood)!

Vikings Rube:

There is no doubt. Rodgers was the difference. We agreed on that coming in and it could not have been more true. His ability to pick up 3rd downs against the Vikings base defense, because evidently Allan Williams thought we were not allowed to blitz, was clutch. Have to give him credit for that.

Packers Roob:

Blair Walsh evidently went to the Crosby school of kicking. And there, officially, is your dagger!

Final Score: Packers 23 Vikings 14

Closing Thoughts

Vikings Rube:

52-2. That was the record for teams who had a player run for more than 200 yards. Only the Vikes could find a way to add to that kind of record in a negative way. AP was a beast today. With even decent QB play, the Vikings win this game. Mr. Ponder throws two red zone picks killing two Vikings drive. That is at least 6 points and possible 14 points off the board. And those are just the direct examples of his tewibleness. Add in the fact that most college QBs could complete the downfield throw to AP when he had two steps on the linebacker – that is likely another 6.

Now, I know the Vikes were without Harvin. And you cannot overstate his importance to this team. But unless Mr. Ponder figures out how to limit the mistakes and make smart plays, this team will not challenge for the playoffs. They will only go as far as AP will take them. And 200+ yards is evidently not enough.

Packers Roob:

Rodgers simply willed this team to victory. The 11-minute game-clinching drive was clutch – an exhibit of elite QB play. He converted multiple third-and-longs on the way to a clinching FG.

Beyond Rodgers’ play, the running game showed up down the stretch. Packers amassed 152 yards against a decent run-stopping unit – and that’s behind an offensive line that is primarily a bunch of backups. And though the defense let AP go gangbusters – not sure any defense could contain him right now – it did what it had to do in forcing the critical turnovers. The poor tackling needs to be shored up.

As always, Packers fans will be watching injury reports closely this week. Pack can ill-afford another injury to a lineman. And Jordy’s hamstring injury basically puts the passing attack back in the same position it was in while Jennings was out. Next man up, as always, but we’re getting dangerously close to not having a next man up.