It’s always big when the Vikings face the Packers. Here are five big questions on this massive rivalry game…
1. Would it be asking too much for the Vikings’ vaunted pass rush to show up this week?
According to some of the stat geeks Brian Robison and Jared Allen actually had pretty good games against the Bears. I watched the game and I didn’t really see it. Jared blew up a screen pass and got a couple hits but that was it. Supposedly Robison ate up Jonathan Scott but, if so, that domination didn’t translate into enough meaningful pressure. Credit Jay Cutler for handling the pressure well. And Mike Tice for dialing up some shorter passing plays. And Brandon Marshall for all the hard work he did against the Vikings’ corners who were trying to beat him up all day. There’s lots of different ways to break this down. But here’s what matters most I think. NO sacks against Jay Cutler that were actual sacks. The only sack credited to the Vikings was a cheap one for Fred Evans after Cutler tripped over his own lineman’s foot. I can hear the voices already saying “But the sack is an overrated stat!” I would agree that sometimes over the course of a season the sack can be an overrated means of measuring a pass rusher’s effectiveness. But we’re talking about a specific set of circumstances here. Given the O-line they were going up against, it’s just inexcusable that they didn’t get into Cutler more. Shorter drops. More chips. Whatever. We know how the Bears adjusted. That accounts for some of why the pass rush was reduced. But some of this is on the Vikings too. It’s on Alan Williams for not adjusting back. And frankly it’s on the men up front. No real sacks at all? What a weak effort. And yes, Allen and Robison may have graded out well. But what about Kevin Williams? What about Everson Griffen? Where’s the up-the-middle pressure? That was the big problem last year. Not enough push up the middle against the run or the pass. It’s a problem again this year. Clearly, eating up under-performing offensive tackles isn’t enough. You need contribution from your defensive tackles. And a well-timed blitz now and again would help. I know Alan Williams prefers not to blitz but in today’s NFL you need creative blitz packages. You don’t have to go crazy with it but it needs to be part of what you do. I thought they let Cutler off the hook by not bringing more pressure earlier in the game. Maybe he beats those blitzes but at least force him to do it. You can always back off later.
2. Why should I have faith in Christian Ponder after his showing last week?
Last week was Christian Ponder’s chance to prove himself by winning a big road game against a good defense. And he didn’t acquit himself very well under that pressure. Yes yes I know it’s not all on him. Don’t start with that. We all realize it’s a team game and sometimes QBs get too much of the heat. But the fact is Ponder didn’t play well against the Bears. The same stuff cropped up that always crops up with him. The footwork stuff and the lack of pocket presence and all that. Now I ask, what reason should I have to think those same issues won’t come up again vs. the Packers? It’s more or less the same set of circumstances as last week. Road game. Outdoors. Tough opponent that has owned you the last few years. Defense that likes taking the ball away. No Percy Harvin. Looks like the same set up to me. I’d be shocked if we get a different result. That makes me a hater I guess.
3. Yo Jerome Simpson, could you please hold onto the ball?
I’ve about seen enough from Jerome Simpson. Those drops last week were brutal. And him crying on the sidelines and having to be consoled? Well poor you. Hey, how about don’t drop the ball and then you don’t have to cry? And then your coach doesn’t have to lecture you about sulking? I can see why the Bengals let this guy go. Headcase. I would be shocked if he comes back with the Vikings next year. Actually, I’d be shocked if he comes back with any team next year. I guess he could still turn his fortunes around the rest of this season but I’m not optimistic. One more game like last week and he’ll be lucky to get off the bench the rest of the year. We’re trying to grow a young QB here. We don’t need pass-dropping crybabies.
4. What do we make of Jarius Wright?
Jarius was a man of mystery for much of the year. Because for some reason the coaching staff didn’t trust him enough to put him on the field. Then Percy got hurt and they had no choice. Well what has Wright done since coming in for Percy? In two games he has 10 catches for 114 yards and a TD. He didn’t get loose deep against the Bears like he did against Detroit but he still had a good game, leading the team with 7 catches. Yes he’s had drops but he’s also made some tough catches. And when he catches the screens he has a little bit of explosion, though clearly not as much as Percy. So what do we have here? Can this guy be a big part of the offense? The Vikings have indicated that they will expand his role this week. Maybe he takes some snaps away from Jerome Simpson, which is just fine with me.
5. Is it possible that we’re overestimating the Packers?
The Packers have whipped the Vikings so badly over the last couple years that it’s natural to just assume the same will happen again. But let’s slow down for a second and look at it. The 2012 Packers are not the 2011 Packers. They have problems. They have not had a consistent offense this year. They have had major issues on their O-line. They have had problems with guys dropping balls. And their defense is missing some key guys including Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson. So I’m just throwing this out there. Do the Vikes have a chance to go into Lambeau and pick one off? I think they can, but the Packers will have to help them out. If the Packers execute crisply then yeah, this one probably gets ugly. But that’s just it. They haven’t been executing crisply. They haven’t been dominating on offense. Not consistently. They do get Greg Jennings back this week but who knows how much action he’ll see. Even when he’s out there, the offense often flows away from him. The guy I worry about is Randall Cobb. He’s the X-factor guy now for the Packers. He’s the Percy factor. I think the Packers are trying to get him more and more involved as time goes on. I hope this doesn’t turn into one of those games where every screen pass and end-around is turning into a damn fifteen yard gain. I don’t need to remind how you the Vikings’ linebackers can sometimes get flowing one way and then everything’s running away from them and they’re screwed. They were okay against the Bears but the Bears didn’t really throw anything that funky at them. Cobb has that funky factor. He’s that sort of wrinkle player who can give teams fits if they don’t stay disciplined. But yeah, the Vikes have a chance. A little one. Unless Ponder starts chucking it to the wrong team. Then forget it.
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