Tag Archives: NFC North

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.

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Would The Real Christian Ponder Please Stand Up?

If at the start of the 2012 season you had asked Vikings fans for their reaction to the squad being 5-3 at the halfway point, excitement would have been the resounding response. And we are not talking just regular ole, the drive-through guy gave me an extra burger excitement, we are talking just noticed my numbers match the Powerball numbers excitement. Considering that was our mind set, as fans, coming into this season, why are we all so disappointed about the team going into this Sunday’s game?

Ponder is the rock the team’s success is built on. As he goes, so goes the team.

The obvious answer is because of how good we looked through the first four games. In particular, how good Vikings QB Christian Ponder looked through the first four games. The quality of that play through the first four games has been even more apparent when contrasted with his less than quality play in the previous four games. Here are the splits:

First 4 Games:                                                                                                                                    Comp   Att    Yards    TD   INT    Rating                                                                                       84          123    824        4        0         96.5

Last 4 games:                                                                                                                                   Comp   Att    Yards    TD   INT    Rating                                                                                        87          139    919         6        7         70.3

At first glance, one thing jumps out immediately. Seven interceptions. Okay…so it does not hurt that I bolded the number. But, I am not sure you needed the help. It sticks out like Lindsey Lohan in a convent. What is worse, of those 7 INTs, more than half of them occurred in the red zones. INTs in those critical areas of the field sting even more. They either kill your drive or put your defense at a disadvantage. Worse yet, those kind of turnovers also usually result in points on the board for the wrong team.

What is probably most infuriating about Ponder’s INTs is that many of them are not bad decisions. The receivers he is targeting are usually open, but his execution (of late) has been less than stellar. And while the surprisingly strong Vikings defense has bailed him out in some of those games, think DET, TEN, and ARI games, the turnovers inside the 20s have killed the Vikings.

So where do we go from here?

With the Kitties potentially in Tom Petty mode, the Vikes need to lock up a big win at home in two weeks.

The schedule is about to get really hard. They have winnable games against the Kitties (who are in Tom Petty mode: “Yeah I am freeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…) and the Seachickens. Win those games and the rest of the season will be an enjoyable discussion about whether or not the Vikings can make the playoffs. Lose, or even split, those games and the rest of season will likely be spent gnashing teeth and wondering how soon the other shoe is going to drop.

In today’s NFL, the quarterback’s play is usually the factor that will swing the pendulum one way or the other. In Ponder’s case, which Ponder shows up will be the difference.

Now, there could be one saving grace regardless of how these next 8 games turn out: Ponder’s continued maturity. When you stack up last season’s numbers with Ponder’s numbers through the last 4 games, it really has not been as bad as you might think. That is promising. It has not been a true regression. More like a two steps forward and one step back. So, even though the remaining schedule is literally the most difficult in the league, there is room for continued improvement.

If Ponder can continue to demonstrate the leadership qualities and solid decision making abilities that he has shown through the first 8 games, even a losing record would not sting so bad. Another strong draft and a few key agent signings (come on down Dwayne Bowe), and the Vikes could be a real contender. But if Ponder regresses back to 2011, all bets are off.

Personally, I think the improvement will continue. I think the real Christian Ponder will stand up (including this weekend). And Vikings fans are in for a real treat.

Vikings 21 Seachickens 17

Come On In, The Water Is Not Freezing

The 4-1 Vikings are preparing for an important road test against a frisky Washington Redskins squad. No, seriously, the 4-1 Vikings. NFC North Division leader Vikings. This is an important game, to be sure.

The birdcage liners around the Twin Cities have been scouring game film from the past few games to find elements of the Vikings offense, defense, and special teams that need to improve. But, here is the thing, the Vikings are 4-1. Leaders of the NFC North Division. We, as fans, should be thrilled to be here. And I mean like Honey BooBoo staring down a Baconater with side of cheese curds thrilled.

Coming in to this season, expectations for this particular Vikings squad were low, to say the least. Most mic jockeys had the team finishing around 3-13. Only Minnesota Viking employee and resident rube, PA, had this squad with a winning record through the first eight games. But here we sit. 4-1. That includes quality wins against the royalty of the NFC, the 49ers, and a playoff team from last year, the Detroit Lions. In fact, if not for a dramatic loss against the NFC North Killer Colts, the Vikings would be undefeated going into this week’s tilt against the Skins.

Vikings fans should step back and enjoy the ride. We are playing with house money right now.

Cross the middle at your peril with the Golden Fundamental roaming.

Now, don’t get me wrong, could there be improvements? Sure. The Vikings have yet to face a premiere signal caller (sorry Fat Stafford and Andrew Horseshoe Up My Rear). The Vikings secondary still seems to lack the ball-hawking skills of a great defense. Though, the addition of the Golden Fundamental, save for last week’s Earl Weaver blow-up, has certainly steadied what was a very inconsistent unit. They still have a long way to go in terms of keeping up the Jones, aka da Bears, who have housed four defensive TDs in the last two weeks.

And I suppose, I cannot call you Busey for saying that the Vikings offense has been maddeningly inconsistent. They had four scoring drives of more than 60 yards against the Titans and 49ers but only two, one, and zero against Fat Stafford, Blaine “No I Am Not The Lead Singer Of Death Cab” Gabbert” and Senor Horseshoe Up My Rear, respectively. Without sustainable, and better yet, repeatable offensive game-planning, this team may suffer some defeats.

But again, 4-1 people. 4-1! I would have been thrilled with 2-3. Furthermore, considering the gut-breaking and heart-wrenching losses Vikings fans have endured over the years, stuff it Lord Favre, a 4-1 start when the doom and gloomers were predicting far worse is  winning all day. And yes, I am talking Chaz Sheen at the peak of his Busey, winning.

So come on in! There is plenty of room and the water is pretty damn warm. Skol Vikings.

Vikings 20 Redskins 17