Saturday, November 23, 2013

Week 12: Packers vs. Vikings Preview and Prediction

Coming into Sundays's game against the 2-8 Vikings, the Green Bay Packers sit at 5-5 and on a three-game losing streak that coincidentally started with the injury loss of starting QB Aaron Rodgers. That's the standard view.

But the recent losing tone may well have also been set with the folding of the Packers' defense late in the game against the 'Queens in Minnesota -- the Pack's last win. It was in that game, after the Packers had the game well in hand, that the defense allowed the 'Queens to score 31 points in the final 19 minutes.

The offense has had a difficult time recovering, of course, from the loss of Rodgers. But it's the defense that has generally been accorded the overall blame for these last three losses.
So what can we expect Sunday?
Depending upon what source you're looking at, the Packers are currently favored by anywhere from 3 to 4.5 points over the ViQueens, courtesy of the home field advantage essentially. The over-under is set at 44 points at the time of this posting.

But aside from that take on things, what are we looking for?

One thing would be the first home start for QB Scott Tolzien. Tolzien has displayed a strong arm when he's been allowed to throw downfield. But he's also made young QB mistakes, as demonstrated by the five interceptions he's thrown in his first two games of significant action. To be fair, two of those were tips and another was an incredibly athletic snag at the line by NY Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The other two INTs were cases of Tolzien failing to spot the defender. It happens. Anyone remember the number of interceptioins Brett Favre threw up in his early days as a starter? Or his middle days...or last days, for that matter?

The Packers won't win or lose the game because of Tolzien, despite Minnesota stacking the line to stop the running game, as they are anticipated to do. That means the Packers offensive line -- which created little running room for RB Eddie Lacy last week against the Giants -- must do a much better job of moving the sticks on the ground.

A solid rushing game will take the pressure off Tolzien, as long as head coach Mike McCarthy's play-calling doesn't become as predictable as in last week's game: run-run-pass-punt. It will also help keep the 'Queens best offensive weapon, RB Adrian Peterson, on the sidelines. Granted, his groin injury may help do some of that, as well. But why even allow the possibility of him becoming a factor? Eat clock!

The status of the O-line has been an issue these last few games, as well. Starting right tackle Don Barclay has been out, and is listed as out again for this game. One-time starter and now backup, Marshall Newhouse, still struggles as Barclay's replacement. So, is it time Derek Sherrod, who hasn't played in a game since December 2011, gets his shot? He apparently and finally is ready to play. Whether or not he sees action tomorrow or anytime soon is still a question mark. But, really, could he be much worse at this point than Newhouse? Here's an interesting article about Sherrod if you want to read up on his possible return to action.

Defense, oh defense, where art thou?
Assuming the Packers offense can put up some points against Minnesota -- yours truly is willing to make that assumption -- can the Packers defense stop a rather dysfunctional Minnesota offense from doing likewise? Yes. But the question is: will they?

The Packers defense has a chance at restoring its good name. Somewhat. The quarterback situation for Minnesota is a disaster. Christian Ponder was the starter. But he was pulled last week and in came Matt Cassel. He wasn't much better, tossing an interception on his first possession. And Josh Freeman? Please. As of right now it's still not clear which quarterback will get the start for the 'Queens. But regardless of who it is, unless the Packers can generate some sense of a pass rush, tackle, not leave the middle open, and cover receivers, it could be a challenging day. These are all things the Packers' D has not done well over the last few weeks. Injuries in the defensive backfield may make that part of the game challenging for the Packers. CB Casey Hayward is out, CB Sam Shields is questionable and CB Micah Hyde is listed as probable. On the defensive front, Johnny Jolly is listed as doubtful and Ryan Pickett is listed as probable; that's a lot of beef missing from that front if they are unable to go. (You can view the complete injury list here.)

The defense will need to do to Minnesota what Minnesota hopes to do to the Packers: stop the run and force the pass. If that happens, the Packers should emerge with the victory.

If they do, it might be more likely that we see the return of Aaron Rodgers on Thanksgiving Thursday at Detroit. If the Packers lose at home against Minnesota, even shorthanded, the need to try to rush Rodgers back becomes less urgent. Why? Because the Packers would be sitting at 5-6 heading into Detroit, at least one and likely two games behind in the division to the Lions and possibly Da Bearz with five games remaining. Realistically, a playoff wild card team will not be coming out of the NFC North. That means the Packers must win the division. With a game each remaining against both Detroit and Chicago a win against Minnesota is key to getting this season back on track...and Rodgers behind center again.

But let's not worry about all that right now. First things first.

The Prediction
Let's do this: Packers 24 - ViQueens 20

Go Pack Go!!!