The Vikings take their second crack at the Packers today, this time in the ice-encrusted Metrodome. The first meeting turned into a Brett Favre turnoverfest; three interceptions in the second half scuttled any chance the Vikes had of going 3-0 against Green Bay in the Favre era. Now, Favre takes his last (we think) shot at beating his old team, this time with Sidney Rice in the line-up. We presume Favre will be as jacked for this game as any he has ever played – but then it’s hard to tell with Favre, whose moods rise and fall rather mysteriously. Whatever state-of-mind Favre is in, we know his body will not be anywhere near 100%. The ankle doesn’t seem that big an issue, nor does that inflamed elbow he battled a few weeks ago, but now there’s the right shoulder which he says started acting up before the Bears game. If Favre can’t get full velocity on the ball, it may not matter that he has his favorite deep receiver back.
Rice’s return has certainly been an occasion for fan happiness, just as Randy Moss‘ arrival was a few weeks ago. I don’t need to remind everyone how disappointing the Moss experience turned out to be, nor do I need to point out that Rice’s return is also unlikely to result in the Vikings’ offense being restored to its 2009 potency. The Vikings’ problems have gone much deeper than just the absence of Rice or the failure of Moss 2.0. The offensive line, when it hasn’t been hampered by injuries, has been inconsistent at best. Even when he’s had time to throw, Favre has not been accurate, and he has too often tried to make up for his weak play by forcing throws, which of course only compounds things. And then there’s the playcalling, which has sometimes been puzzling (like last week when they decided to hand off to Toby Gerhart three straight plays inside the 20). I love Sidney Rice, but his talents alone can’t compensate for everything that is wrong with this offense.
The only thing that’s really gone right this year offensively is the running of Adrian Peterson – yet even Adrian has reason to be frustrated. Last week against the Bears, Peterson had a couple of key gaffes, including a slip-down that resulted in a Favre interception. He has also continued to struggle at times in picking up pass rushers. Most frustrating of all for Peterson, however, is the way he’s sometimes been utilized by Brad Childress. Chilly’s habit of yanking Peterson, usually on the third or fourth possession of the first half, seems to be getting on Adrian’s nerves. Even more annoying is the way Peterson continues to be excluded from the game-plan in the second half. Granted, the Vikings are often behind in the second half – sometimes way behind – but it seems to me that a creative coaching staff would still find ways of getting their best weapon involved, even when the situation indicates that it’s time to scrap the run. The late-game surge against Arizona provided a tantalizing glimpse of what this Peterson-centric attack might look like: Peterson was involved in the passing game, and they found a chance to hand him the ball in the red zone for a touchdown (all that passing tends to open up chances for runs, the defense being back on its heels and all). Despite Peterson’s alleged poor pass protection skills, Favre was able to operate, and did not get killed. If the Vikings could only bottle the energy and rhythm they had in those four+ magical minutes…
But it’s sort of pointless hoping for that: we know this team just plays flat sometimes, and has become old and tired at key positions. The hope is that today, at home against a hated rival, with the extra motivation of wanting to get Favre one last win against the Pack, the Vikings will have one of their upticks. If ever the 2010 Vikings were going to put together a good game from start-to-finish, today would be the day. They’re on their comfortable turf (as opposed to the nasty wet grass of Soldier Field where they seemed about as at-home as a fish on a sidewalk), they’ve got the Favre emotion factor working for them, they’ve got Rice back, and they know from recent experience that they can get enough pressure on Aaron Rodgers to disrupt that vaunted Packer offense. Of course none of that guarantees that they will execute the plays, nor does it guarantee that Chilly won’t do something dumb during the course of the game. Yes they have a lot of things going for them today, but we’ve thought that in previous games too, and the wins just didn’t materialize. More than a sense of urgency or the lift provided by a returning star, they just need sharper execution and smarter play. If they can tighten up all those loose bolts and get a solid win against an apparent Super Bowl contender like the Packers…well, let’s not even bother talking playoffs. Let’s just get a win and see what happens.