Pre-Game Warm-Up: Vikings @ Packers

The Vikings begin their 2008 season at Lambeau Field against the Packers tonight at 6 CT on ESPN.  The Monday Night Football crew of Tirico, Kornheiser and Jaworski will no doubt beat the Favre is gone storyline to death – and will play up the whole new era in Green Bay thing with Aaron Rodgers.  There’s no question that Rodgers is the most intriguing figure participating in this game.  He is an almost completely unknown quantity at this point and he has more pressure on him than any single player in the league with the possible exception of new Patriots starting QB Matt Cassel.  So how do I expect Rodgers to perform?  I think he could have problems.  He will most likely be missing his starting center Scott Wells, who is listed as questionable with a back injury.  He will be facing what should be a fierce pass-rush led by Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.  He doesn’t have all that much experience with his receiver corps and can’t be said to have developed any real chemistry with them yet.  Plus the Packers could have problems supporting him with the run game, given how tough the Vikings rush defense is (notwithstanding the big game Ryan Grant had against them last year, with run-stuffing cornerback Antoine Winfield on the bench by the way).

Honesty compels me to admit that Vikings starter Tarvaris Jackson (listed as probable on the injury report with his sprained knee) is in much the same situation as Rodgers.  He didn’t get a chance to work enough with his new #1 receiver Bernard Berrian, leaving open the question of how well those two can perform together.  He still doesn’t have a reliable tight end and he’s missing his left tackle (a situation that’s mitigated somewhat tonight by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila not being at 100%).  And, as we’ve seen, Aaron Kampman tends to dominate whichever combination of Vikings is trying to block him, allowing him to menace the quarterback sometimes with abandon.  The Vikes will need to get the run game going to take pressure off Tarvaris who is not nearly up to speed physically or in terms of preparation.  I believe Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will be able to run against the Pack – but one can’t help harboring a tiny bit of doubt after the way the offensive line and backs performed in the preseason.

This all adds up to one thing:  A certain defensive battle.  Of course, every time you think there’s going to be a grinding, ugly, defensive kind of game, the teams end up in some kind of shoot-out.  I really think that’s not going to be the case tonight though.  These are both good defenses that should be able to exploit weakened offensive lines and inconsistent quarterbacks.  I’m thinking the score will be around 17-14 or in that area.  The game may come down to a field goal, in which case I always like Ryan Longwell, especially outside.  Things shouldn’t be too dicey weatherwise, though the forecast is calling for showers.  Wind should not be a factor nor should the temperature.

One game isn’t supposed to mean much in the grand scheme of course, but I think tonight’s tilt will tell us a lot about the Vikings.  Especially if Tarvaris Jackson struggles.  And if they can’t get anything at all going in the deep passing game and especially if the running game has problems again.  Preseason is preseason but when the issues carry over into the regular season they become real issues.  On the positive side though…if this team plays well?  If it dominates the Packers?  What a shot of confidence.  What a great thing to get a game up on your biggest division rival right off the bat, knowing your other match-up is at your place.  The Vikings could use a burst out of the gate, especially after the lukewarm early season they had last year.  I believe they will get it.  I’m calling this one for the Vikings.  But it will be close.

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Tags: Aaron Kampman Aaron Rodgers Adrian Peterson Antoine Winfield Bernard Berrian Chester Taylor Jared Allen Kabeer Gbaja-biamila Kevin Williams Lambeau Field Matt Cassel Minnesota Vikings Ryan Grant Ryan Longwell Scott Wells Tarvaris Jackson

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