The Minnesota Vikings are struggling mightily. They have not won on the road. They have not beaten a team that currently holds more than one win. Their defense cannot get a pass rush going, and their offense is struggling in large part because their quarterback has almost twice as many turnovers as touchdowns.
That is not all: The king of off-season retirement drama is not only battling two things. One is tendinitis in his throwing elbow, unless as Mark Schlereth suggested, he is using this as a distraction from his other battle-being involved in a sex scandal during the season-which I certainly would not put past him.
(Incidentally, I cannot stand the guy, and with two employees suggesting harassment and all of the childish and selfish accusations made about and by him, only a fool does not accept he is a lech. But it is a waste of the NFL's time to "investigate" the alleged misconduct given the prevalence of such behavior in the league and the lack of substance because one of the harassed refuses to cooperate.)
Meanwhile, the Packers are reeling, too. We have lost three of four, all by a field goal on one of the last two plays of the game. We have four starters out for the season, and an injury list that exceeds 20 players, including three safeties, three defensive linemen, and four linebackers. We have gone from the best turnover ratio in the league to coughing up the football two more times than we have seized it.
With all of those issues, the teams are focused on themselves more than even each other. They need to right their own ships before they can worry about what the other is doing and how to stop it.
That will make it like an old school football game, like the ones I had in high school: We knew our opponent's offense and defensive schemes, but we had to worry about running our systems because we had little idea how good they were this year...no one knows for sure whether the Packers' and Vikings' wheels have come off on their seasons or if these are early season struggles they will correct and contend as projected.
This makes a preview more of a crap-shoot, but here is an attempt to predict what to expect...
When the Packers have the ball:
For reasons it is hard to fathom given Green Bay backs have combined for about 300 yards and over five yards per carry in just over two games of football, Mike McCarthy simply refuses to call running plays. The Packers got results spreading out the Chicago Bears defense and using short passes in place of runs, but have not been able to duplicate this success.
Thus, expect the Packers to stubbornly do more of the same, particularly because it can be difficult to run the ball on Minnesota's front four. Mark Tauscher is questionable for the game, so even if he does play, it will not be at 100 percent-expect the Vikings pass rush to get on track once they know they do not have to honor the run.
However, the Packers will get some plays in the passing game because the Vikings secondary was not very good with in the lineup, and he will be out for this game. Donald Driver was hurt last week but is returning to the field, meaning that other than the absence of Jermichael Finley, the Packers stellar receiving corps is intact.
All of this will mean the Packers struggle to get a rhythm going
offensively, but be able to score some points. Aaron Rodgers has
averaged over 250 yards per game and will exceed that by a bit; Green
Bay has gotten just over 100 rushing yards per game, but will fall short
of the century mark Sunday night.
When the Vikings have the ball:
This offense has struggled, but they have established Adrian Peterson again and are averaging about 125 yards per game on the ground. They will find that tough going with the Packers stout run defense-one area virtually unaffected by the injuries on the line and linebacking corps.
Peterson will get his carries and is not fumbling this year, nor are the Packers causing them. But he will fall short of 100 yards, and the Packers are finally facing a quarterback who will not hurt them on scrambles; they should barely exceed 100 yards as a team.
In the passing game, the Old Guy has thrown more picks than touchdowns and has lost multiple fumbles. But Green Bay's injuries have killed them in the passing game, with starting ILBs Nick Barnett and Brandon Chillar being joined by OLBs Clay Matthews, III, and Brady Poppinga. Without Matthews, the Packers have gone to applying pressure on over 70 percent of passes to just 30 percent.
However, Matthews is expected to play, and the defense will be bolstered by other returning faces. Al Harris will likely play the nickel-back, and either Anthony Smith (who the team picked up in a trade with Jacksonville this week and was in camp in 2009) or Atari Bigby will fill a big void at safety. Mike Neal will probably still be out, but Ryan Pickett may be back on the defensive line.
However, even a hamstring-hampered Percy Harvin will give his quarterback enough targets to move the ball. More than making plays against the bolstered Packers defense, the Vikings will draw penalties on the Packers grabby secondary.
On special teams:
As every informed fan knows, the Packers special teams are bad. They
give up big returns, so they better hope Harvin cannot be back there to
receive kicks and punts. They also do not get touchdown returns and have
struggled with turnovers. Mason Crosby has played pretty well this
season, but on field goals he is no Ryan Longwell, and the Packers have a
similar disadvantage punting.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Packers 23 (record: 3-3, 3-3 vs. spread)
The Vikings' struggles are correctable while the Packers are not through their injuries. Green Bay's current talent does not match up, and we would need turnovers to win this game. Unfortunately, the Packers are not getting them this year, and should expect the gunslinger to be at his best, motivated by his ill-placed vendetta and his increasing rapport with Randy Moss.