Saturday, January 05, 2013

Packers vs. Vikings: two out of three isn't bad

When it comes to this regular season's games between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings, it's been a draw. Each team has won at home. Vikes' RB Adrian Peterson has been his superhuman self in both games, rushing for 409 yards combined...nearly as much as the Packers' leading rusher for the entire season. True (look it up!). Aaron Rodgers has been his stellar self in both games. His counterpart, Christian Ponder, was cold in the first game and quite good in the second, arguably accounting for the difference in that second game. (Well, that and the strip of Rodgers as he was attempting to throw which was eventually turned into 7 points for the Vikes. When the margin of victory is a last-second field goal to make the final margin 3 points...well, we all know turnovers can make the difference between a win and a loss.)

A view on the defensive needs
That's a very brief review of two hard-fought football games. What's on store for tonight's Wildcard game? Likely, more of the same. Figure Peterson to rack up big yards despite the Packers insistence that they will not let him run wild as in the first two games. Good luck with that. He may or may not get 200 yards. But if the Packers want to stay in control of this game, it needs to go more of the way of Game 1 in the series and less like Game 2. In the first, Peterson got big yards. But about 150 yards of his 210 yard total came on just three runs. In the second game, his 199 yards came on more than 30 carries. That difference allowed the Packers in the first game to put a lot of pressure on Ponder to win the game. He couldn't, and in fact had a very poor quarterback rating overall. In the second game, the Pack did not pressure Ponder and Ponder performed very well.

We're not sure which Ponder we'll see tonight or, in fact, how much of him we'll see tonight. The latest reports are that he's suffering elbow bursitis in his throwing arm from an injury sustained in last week's game, and might actually have to have it drained before the game. Reports say the team will work him out a few hours before the game to see how he looks. Given the temperature tonight, you can't imagine bursitis is going to help Ponder's passing game any. He has been performing better down the stretch than earlier in the season, but the Packers must get pressure on him if he plays. That pressure has to come from more than just LB Clay Matthews. With the Packers getting Charles Woodson back for this game, expect schemes to bring Woodson and others to pressure Ponder. It also has to be the case, unlike last week, that when the ViQueens are in third-and-long, that the Packers rush more than three linemen. Failure to do that last week burned the Pack on more than one occasion. They have to bring a rush or, given time, Ponder may again make plays...if he's able to play. If Ponder can't start or finish the game, back up Joe Webb was getting practice reps this week just in case. You can read more on Ponder's status here.

Pack needs to get up early
One of the real keys to this game will be a fast start by the Packers on offense. They need to get up on Minnesota early, by 10-14 points, and have the 'Queens play from behind. That will put the ball more in the hands of Ponder and not allow Minnesota to merely hand off every play to Peterson. If the Packers are able to do this, a victory should be in hand.

Getting up early should be possible especially considering that for the first time since Week 4 of the season all of the Pack's top four receivers will be available...and healthy. Combine the multiple wide receiver options with the rejuvenated play of TE Jermichael Finley and the steady running game being contributed by Alex Green, DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant, and the Packers have the advantage.

The Pack must avoid turnovers and giving up the big play. Tackling has to be an emphasis, something they have not excelled in when playing the Vikes. Special teams play also has to be as good as it has been for most of the season. Again, last week's game saw the return teams allow Minnesota to start in far too good field position most times; a short field is not something you want to hand to Adrian Peterson.

Packers' kicker Mason Crosby seems to have put his struggles aside; he's 4 for 4 the last two games. May that continue. Kicking conditions will not exactly be ideal tonight. But Crosby has to come through when called upon. Let's hope the game doesn't come down to a field goal. Because the ViQueens have a good young kicker on their side, as well.

The prediction
The Packers are favored by 7-1/2 points. The game is at home, outdoors. The ViQueens have not won an outdoor game all season long. Everything points to a tough game, but a Packers win. The Packers have to play as they are capable of playing and not just think they'll win because of the Lambeau Field advantage. In fact, when you look at those stats, the Packers are 2-4 at home in the last six playoff games held at Lambeau, including losses to two dome teams, the Falcons and the Vikings, during that stretch. It's time the Pack gets its Frozen Tundra mojo back. That starts tonight. The Packers will finish this series winning two out of three from Minnesota this season.

We're calling it 27-20 Packers.

Go Pack Go!!!