The stars aligned perfectly for the Vikings in their two match-ups with the Packers in 2009. The Packer line couldn’t contend with the Viking pass rush, the Packer defense could get no pressure on Brett Favre…and, oh yeah, Favre himself had that whole sticking it to Ted Thompson thing motivating him. The result: 2 wins over Green Bay on the way to a 12-4 finish and a division title. Things may not line up so perfectly for the Vikings this year however. The pass protection has not been good, so it’s unlikely Favre will have the kind of time he did in those two games last season. And Aaron Rodgers will face a Vikings pass rush that has not lived up to its fearsome reputation so far. As for Favre himself…this year, he seems more frustrated than motivated. Of course, we expect Brett will be up for tonight’s game more than most, because it’s still the Packers, and he still wants to shove Ted Thompson’s face in it. Whether that lingering revenge-lust will translate into a more focused and effective Favre performance remains to be seen.
Injuries are a big part of the story for both teams going into the game. Favre, as we know, has been dealing with elbow tendinitis, though that issue seemed to bother him less in the Dallas game than it did a couple of weeks ago against the Jets. The losses of Cedric Griffin and Husain Abdullah leave the Vikings once again scrambling to cobble together a secondary; this week they will get limited use of Chris Cook, who is still coming back from a meniscus tear, and will re-activate Tyrell Johnson who hasn’t played in several weeks (though Jamarca Sanford is expected to start). On the offensive line, they will get back center John Sullivan, who may split time with Jon Cooper. For the Packers, the injury issues are more profound and troubling. They are without Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant, Nick Barnett, Brady Poppinga, Al Harris and Atari Bigby. The last two guys on that list were eligible to come off the PUP list this weekend but the Packers elected to keep them inactive. Their best pass rusher, Clay Matthews, is banged up but will play. Ryan Pickett and Mark Tauscher are also question marks. The Vikings, for all the health issues they’ve had the last few weeks, are in much better shape than the Packers for this game.
Tonight’s game will, among other things, be a match-up of two of the more disappointing offenses in the league. Both teams sported potent offenses last season, and were expected to come back this year with strong squads, but both Os have been derailed by a combination of injury and general inconsistency. The Vikings may be able to trace a lot of their offensive inadequacy back to Brett Favre’s lack of training camp; the Packers’ situation is a little more puzzling. Yes they’ve had injuries to key players, but they still have a Pro-Bowl quarterback and a formidable array of receivers. If you believe Aaron Rodgers, the weapons the Packers do still have are not being utilized correctly or enough. Rodgers himself has often been the problem, throwing interceptions in key spots, and generally not living up to the hype that has built around him ever since he took over for Favre. In Rodgers’ defense, his pass protection has not been good and he has had very little run support. However, if Rodgers is the MVP-caliber player some claim he can be, he needs to step up at some point and help the team overcome the injuries and spotty offensive line play. The same could perhaps be said for Brett Favre, who has at times compounded an already frustrating offensive situation, but at least Favre has a prior track record to lean on in reassuring fans that he knows what to do in big moments (Favre’s winning percentage in close games is slightly higher than Aaron Rodgers’ .083 mark).
Yes there are two entire teams playing tonight in Lambeau Field, but the story is the quarterbacks, the old grizzled warrior vs. the young turk who wants to prove himself by vanquishing the man who came before him. The last thing proud Favre wants is to let the upstart Rodgers get the better of him; the last thing Rodgers wants is to fall to 0-3 against Favre, especially amid the atmosphere of doubt that is beginning to accumulate around him and the team. If Rodgers does lose to Favre again, the legacy of #4 will only become a more haunting presence. But if Rodgers finally gets past the psychological hurdle represented by Favre, it could spur him and the Packers on to bigger things. For Favre, it’s all about picking himself up after a tough first five games and finally putting together a complete, solid, wire-to-wire Brett Favre performance – something closer to what he accomplished last year against the Packers. Playing Green Bay could be the perfect salve for what ails Favre, the thing that finally gets him back to where he needs to be psychologically and in executing the offense. If Favre struggles again though, Viking fans will have even more reason to worry that their leader has slipped too far physically and emotionally…and then they will have to wonder if there’s any hope at all of turning around what has thus far been a troubling season.