Call it anything you like, but let’s not sugarcoat this pickle. It will take a miracle for the underdog Minnesota Vikings to beat the Green Bay Packers on Saturday.
Listen, it’s great that Adrian Peterson rushed for 199 yards in last Sunday’s thrilling 37-34 win over Green Bay, but don’t forget, that game was inside Minnesota’s friendly Metrodome.
This Saturday night, in the NFC playoff opener, the Vikings have to face the Packers outdoors at Lambeau Field and even the oddsmakers know that a repeat of last Sunday’s big win at the Dome will be unlikely in this week’s January game on the not-so-frozen tundra.
As a result, the Packers are eight-point favorites and, as a Dome team, the Vikings are getting very little respect.
“I’d rather be at home, I think anybody would,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews told reporters on Wednesday. “I mean, that’s what you play for — you make teams come into your backyard — especially with us. We like to think living in this environment, playing in this environment, it plays to us well.”
At 7 p.m. (CST), the Vikings will head out onto a very unfriendly place. The Vikings haven’t won very often at Lambeau in recent years and while Peterson can run just as well outdoors as he can indoors, there is no proof that quarterback Christian Ponder can be as good in the cold as he is in the Dome.
Last Sunday, these two teams combined for 889 yards and 71 points. There is no reason to believe the Packers won’t put up a big number this week. But can the Vikings? This will be the third meeting of the year between the two teams and they’re 1-1. But both teams won at home and Green Bay’s victory at Lambeau was by nine points. The Vikings win at Mall of America Field was by three. Everything points to Green Bay being favored. And while they are — heavily — the Vikings still have a sliver of hope.
One thing Minnesota must do, is hang onto the football. The only way the Vikings defense can stop Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is to keep the ball away from him. The only way the Vikings can do that is to run the football and eat up the clock.
Sure the Vikes won last week, but they won 37-34. Rodgers is going to score. When you have people such as Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings on the other end of your passes, gaining yardage and scoring points becomes matter-of-fact.
Peterson was handed the ball 34 times last week. Noodle-armed Ponder must make sure he does that again. A month ago, Peterson ran for 210 yards IN Lambeau, but the Vikings lost 23-14. It’s not the number of yards Peterson accumulates so much as it’s the minutes he takes off the clock. Breaking an 82-yarder is great, but it takes eight seconds. The ball must be in Peterson’s hands, even if he only hits the line and gains a yard. This week, if the Vikings hope to win, ball control and clock management is just as important as making big plays.
If the Vikings intend to win this week, they can’t fumble, Ponder can’t throw interceptions and the Vikings have to grind it out. If they can do that, they won’t be as dynamic as they were last week, but they just might win.
After all, they have one huge advantage over the Packers – the prodigious right foot of Blair Walsh.
The Vikings kid kicker can pound 55-yard field goals. Perhaps not every time, but his numbers are pretty good. When you don’t have to get past the opponent’s 38-yard line to have a chance to come away with three points, you can win a game even if you don’t get inside the red zone.
Of course, to make that happen, the Vikings defense has to better than it was a month ago and a lot better than it was last Sunday. In the first meeting between these teams, Green Bay put up 23 points. Even though Minnesota’s offense caved in the second half, the Vikings are capable of scoring 24 points in Green Bay. However, if the Packers score 34 again this week, Minnesota can forget about it.
The Vikings must pressure Rodgers, must force him to make bad decision and must force him to throw on the run. If Minnesota lets Rodgers do the double check in the pocket, that poor purple defensive secondary will get shredded.
Listen, this will not be an easy trip into the heart of football darkness for the Vikings. The Packers have won five of the last six meetings, although the last time the two teams met in the playoffs, the Vikings won 31-17.
Trouble is, that was way back on Jan. 9, 2005, with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, Randy Moss at wideout (he caught two of Culpepper’s four TD passes that afternoon) and a defense that forced four turnovers that day. It was seven years ago, but it could have been a century ago.
But here are the keys to a Vikings win:
(1) Good weather. No blizzard and the Vikings are on an even playing field.
(2) No turnovers – Ponder has not thrown an interception in three games. That’s a good sign.
(3) A big ball-control day for A.P. 100 yards in three- and four-yard bursts would be wonderful.
(4) Score early. Quiet 70,000 Cheeseheads has long and as often as possible.
(5) Get pressure on Rodgers: Too much time will allow him to destroy that average-at-best secondary.
(6) Just get Blair Walsh close enough (and it’s not THAT close) to get three points every time down the field.
(7) Ponder needs to play with confidence, not be afraid to take the time to find Michael Jenkins and not wear out that weak right arm.
(8) Forget they’re playing at Lambeau Field where the Packers have won 13 championships and built a 29-17 playoff record, the best in NFL history.
This will either be the best game of the weekend or the worst. If Minnesota keeps it close and controls the football, it will be just as exciting as last week’s tour de force under the Teflon Dome. If the Packers score early and often, it will be a blowout.
Either way, the Vikings will, ultimately, need another miracle.