ESPN Insider - tonight's game
Here is an article on the upcoming Vikings/Packers game tonight, by Scouts, Inc.:
Vikes face tough trip to Lambeau
By Scouts, Inc.
Why To Watch
The matchup leaves much to be desired, but Monday Night Football at Lambeau Field is always special. The Packers are all but eliminated from the playoffs, but that has not stopped QB Brett Favre and his injury-riddled supporting cast from showing up every week with intensity. Despite QB Daunte Culpepper's season-ending injury and a host of off-the-field distractions, the Vikings are only two games out of first place in the NFC North, following last week's impressive road victory over the Giants.
Veteran QB Brad Johnson will look for his third consecutive win as the Vikings starter on Monday night, but he will need help from his supporting cast. Minnesota became the first team ever to return a punt, kickoff and interception for touchdowns in one game last week. One thing is for certain; it will take a complete effort for the Vikings to make it three-straight in what could be Favre's last M.N.F. appearance at Lambeau.
When the Vikings have the ball
Rushing: The Vikings have won consecutive games with very different styles. The team rushed for 156 yards in its win over the Lions two weeks ago, but could only muster 12 rushing yards in the upset victory over the Giants last Sunday. RB Mewelde Moore remains a key cog in the passing game as a third-down back, and also has come up big in the return game recently, but no longer carries the rushing load for the Vikings. In fact, Moore did not have a single carry last week, as Michael Bennett took 19 of the team's 21 carries for only 16 net yards.
Bennett has shown flashes of burst this season, but is nowhere near as explosive or consistent as he once was. The Vikings' offensive line is also a big part of the problem, as the patchwork group is simply incapable of consistently opening holes for the backs to exploit on the ground. Rookie Ciatrick Fason only had one carry last week, but is the strongest north-south runner on the team. He could get more carries on Monday night, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations, with veteran Moe Williams ailing.
The Packers own one of the league's most underrated run defenses. The unit ranks in the middle of the pack statistically, but this is a classic example of statistics not telling the entire story. Thanks to a mediocre offense, the Packers' defense has spent a great deal of time on the field. As a result, the unit has surrendered a couple of big plays late in games. Also, because the Packers' defense is forced on the field in games that it trails, opponents are able to simply line up and pound away at them in order to wind down the clock in the second half. However, when all things have been equal, the Packers have been stout versus the run for most of this season.
When fresh, DTs Grady Jackson and Cullen Jenkins have been forces in the middle of the field. Their ability to take up space, occupy blockers and force backs to bounce runs to the outside, plays to the strengths of MLB Nick Barnett, who is at his best with clear pursuit lanes. The unit held the Falcons' No. 1 ranked rushing attack to just 133 net yards last week, including just 76 yards on 17 carries from RB Warrick Dunn. Against a far less imposing Vikings' run game, the Packers should fare just fine in this facet on Monday night -- assuming, of course, that Favre and the offense can keep costly mistakes to a minimum.
Passing: Johnson has a multitude of reliable short-to-intermediate receivers to spread the ball around, but the team's lack of a vertical-stretching, No. 1 option is blatant. With a versatile back in Moore, two H-back types in Jim Kleinsasser and Jermaine Wiggins, and four decent wide receivers in Travis Taylor, Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson and Koren Robinson, offensive coordinator Steve Loney realizes his units' biggest weapon is its diversity. As such, the Vikings have done a good job of varying their offensive alignments and looks by using several different personnel packages.
The biggest concern for the Vikings is the protection of aging and immobile QB Brad Johnson. With a patchwork interior offensive line just begging for stunts and blitzes, Loney simply cannot afford to put Johnson in many traditional seven-stop drop situations and ask him to wait for his slow corps of receivers to separate down the field. Instead, the Vikings are using a lot of three-and-five step drops and are attempting to establish consistency through the air, by spreading the ball around to all their different capable outlets.
The good news for the Vikings this week is that their best offensive lineman, LOT Bryant McKinnie, will be working one-on-one versus RDE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (3.5 sacks), who is far and away the Packers most explosive speed rusher. If McKinnie can keep Gbaja-Biamila under wraps without double-team help, it will give Loney the freedom to take more chances with Johnson throwing vertically.
The Vikings receivers do not boast much explosiveness on the perimeter, but Taylor continues to come up with one or two big plays per game, Michael Robinson has the size and experience to help move the chains, and Burleson and Koren Robinson have enough speed to exploit an inconsistent Packers' secondary. Packers LDC Ahmad Carroll had a key forced fumble in last week's upset win over the Falcons, but his gambling ways make him a target for opposing quarterbacks on a weekly basis. Burleson will spend the most time working opposite Carroll, so look for Johnson to target Burleson more often than usual on Monday night.
When the Packers have the ball
Rushing: The Packers were able to establish rookie RB Sam Gado on the ground last week, as he rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. However, don't look too far into that performance against a Falcons' run defense that ranks among the bottom half of the NFL. Gado showed good patience, quickness and toughness for a smaller back (5-11, 210), but is a marginal starter at best.
Big plays on defense and special teams allowed the Vikings to overcome entirely too many yards surrendered to the Giants last week. Their defense had been doing an impressive job of bottling up the run in previous weeks, but the Giants were able to gash the Vikings' hybrid 3-4/4-3 front for an average of 4.3 yards on the ground.
The good news for the Vikings this week is that they match up well in the trenches versus the Packers improving, but still patchwork offensive line. The Vikings have been using a lot more three-man fronts in recent weeks in order to beef up the middle of the defense, with Pat Williams at NT, Kevin Williams and Darrion Scott pinching in as DEs lined up opposite the guard-tackle gap.
There will be some times that the Vikings go to a four-man front on first or second downs, in order to test OGs William Whittiker and Scott Wells -- the weakest links of the unit -- in one-on-one situations versus Pat and Kevin Williams. But a three-man front should cause the Packers the most problems, as it will occupy OC Mike Flanagan in the middle and force Whittiker and Wells, who moved into the starting lineup just last week, to become more mobile as second-level blockers. It will also force them to make a lot of good decisions in terms of assignment calls versus blitzes and stunts.
Passing: The loss of Fred Smoot (broken collarbone) affects the Vikings' secondary depth, but it is not necessarily a crushing blow. Smoot has impressive natural cover skills and has been a shutdown man-to-man cover corner in previous seasons, but the newcomer was suffering through an inconsistent first campaign for the Vikings in 2005.
With Smoot out, Brian Williams moves into the starting role opposite Antoine Winfield, Ralph Brown is moved up to the nickel back position and rookie Dovonte Edwards is elevated to the dime package. Versus teams with great talent and depth at the wide receiver position, the Vikings will have trouble matching up across the board without being handcuffed into a lot of soft cover-two safety looks.
However, because of the rash of injuries at the wide receiver position for the Packers (Javon Walker, Robert Ferguson and Terrence Murphy), Favre simply does not have the weapons to exploit this weakness. WR Donald Driver remains a reliable target (10 catches for 114 yards last week), despite facing the attention of frequent double teams and/or rolled coverages. However, it is unlikely that Ferguson returns this week, and complementary WRs Antonio Chapman and Andrae Thurman simply will not strike fear into the Vikings' secondary.
Even when the Packers attempt to spread things out with three-receiver sets, the Vikings most often will be able to remain in their base personnel, with FS Darren Sharper taking on Thurman out of the slot. Sharper has clearly lost a half-step with age and makes more mistakes than he once did, but his instincts, savvy and ball skills have made him a valuable commodity to the Vikings' defense. If the Vikings can get consistent pressure on Favre and force him to throw the ball up for grabs a couple times in this game, Sharper could once again provide the big play.
Well, we shall see....
"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord, save us!"
-- From a monestary in Ireland.