By Jake McCormick and Andy Weise
Depending on where you stand for Monday night’s impending ratings record-setting matchup between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, you will either be throwing up or cheering by halftime. Or both. This of course will stem from the Monday Night Football announcers breaking John Madden’s streak of constantly mentioning Brett Favre and all his clichés. But unfortunately, it is unstoppable and there is a reason to their full game, broken record talking points.
It will be the Bourne movies brought to life: A man left for dead, coming back to hunt down those who have (supposedly) done him wrong. Throw in a little Star Wars in that he was a pioneer in saving the Packers, only to flip sides like Anakin, and you have Monday night’s game. The 97th meeting between teams whose fans “love to hate” each other will be the most entertaining in Packer-Viking history just because of that storyline. Whatever side you’re on, just enjoy the fact that we will probably never see something like this again in the NFL (at least until Week 8).
In honor of this increasingly hyped matchup, TSB Packer fan Jake McCormick and Viking fan Andy Weise are resurrecting their working relationship from their days at UW-Eau Claire to answer questions, provided by the opposing writer, about their team heading into the game.
Since the Packers have more overall issues, they need to be addressed first:
Andy Weise: How have the Packers adjusted to the 3-4? (*Note, if you can get specific with players like Kampman and Hawk and the D-Line as a whole).Do they think it hurts them that a lot of teams the Vikings and Bears are playing this year also have the 3-4 (49ers, Steelers, Browns, Ravens etc)?
Jake McCormick: They’re coming along about as fast as you would expect at this point in the season, meaning there’s a lot of questions remaining that probably won’t be answered for a few more weeks or even until next season. I mentioned a quote from a Chicago sports radio host in a previous Packer article that said, “You don’t need the ‘right’ personnel for the 3-4 if you have smart enough players to run it.” I’m really not worried about the other NFC North teams playing 3-4 defenses, because as with the 4-3, every scheme is dependant on the coach. With Dom Capers, the Packers have one of the best 3-4 schemers in the game and he’ll definitely find a way to bring out a few surprises.
Aaron Kampman popped his linebacker cherry against St. Louis with a sack and knockout of QB Marc Bulger. He was consistently around the ball and looks like he’s growing into the position. The rest of the linebackers look like they’re taking a little more time to grasp the scheme.
I’m happy with the way the defensive line has been playing. Cullen Jenkins and Johnny Jolly have looked pretty good in spurts. The unit is very thin, and BJ Raji’s debut wasn’t show-stopping, but he should be much more of a factor against the Vikings.
AW: Is Aaron Rodgers the real deal? He seems to be but how good can he really get? Do the fans feel like they have another Favre, 15 more years as the starting QB or what are the expectations at this point?
JM: Aaron Rodgers will be an elite quarterback by season’s end. He already proved he can perform in pressure situations, and despite running for his life on every other play, he doesn’t make mistakes. As a Packer fan, when the offensive line has been suspect in the past, I would fully expect a forced throw and interception. Rodgers is extremely smart with the ball while still being able to make any throw he needs. Just like the Minnesota Twins and managers in baseball, the Packers look like they are set for quite a while with Rodgers under center. That is provided he doesn’t get severely injured, of course.
AW: Grade Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Are these guys safe if the Packers don’t make the playoffs? It seems like all the experts were pretty high on this team so if they disappoint, who does that fall on?
JM: I think it’s too early to grade any coach/GM for the season. I would guess that if the Packers don’t make the playoffs, both will be on the hot seat for next season, although in the NFL there is rarely such a thing as a “cold seat.” Why not this year? Mostly because they overhauled the entire defensive coaching staff and they are young enough where they don’t have a Vikings-like “win now” philosophy. The defense is expected to struggle, but if the offense doesn’t put up points and subsequently can’t win games or show some overall improvement, then the failure will rightfully be on McCarthy and Thompson. I’d give them another year, and then throw down the gauntlet after 2010 if Green Bay flops.
AW: Will Packers fans ever forgive Brett Favre for coming to the Vikings? I would think if he loses to them twice that would heal some of the wounds but I’m sure most will never forgive or forget. What’s your take?
JM: Short answer: Yes, but it will take time. To quote George Harrison: A whole lot of precious time. I know that in the grand scheme of things, this whole episode will be forgotten in about four years. Or if the Packers win a Super Bowl, Favre embarrasses himself again, or we sweep; whichever comes first. It’ll probably play our like Star Wars, where it took until the last possible second for Darth Vader to return to the light side. I wouldn’t count on Favre tossing Emperor Childress over a ledge, though. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll forgive the Fallen One, but I’m open to it at some point. Forgiving Brett Favre is to Packer fans as steroid users are to baseball fans. I will really enjoy cheering against him though. Like REALLY enjoy it, like you used to.
Halftime! Nipple slip by the Boss! Vikings ball:
JM: The Vikings have been a second half team so far this season. That bodes well against teams like Detroit and Cleveland, but are you concerned about their slow starts coming back to haunt them against better competition?
AW: Any team should be concerned if they start slow but with the Vikings because they rely heavily on the run, it’s always a concern when they get behind early. They started off better against the 49ers last week and because of the rare blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, they actually trailed going into the first half instead of leading by six or nine points. One thing is for sure, the Vikings and most of their fans are a lot more comfortable when the team has trailed this year because of that new quarterback they have.
JM: The Viking pass defense was its Achilles heel last year. Even though they are ranked fourth against the pass so far, I wouldn’t call Brady Quinn, Matt Stafford, or Shaun Hill anything other than projects. The Packer passing offense will definitely be a test, but is this secondary for real behind Antoine Winfield?
AW: There are more questions than answers at this point. I doubted Darren Sharper last year and so far I think the Vikings miss him a lot more than expected. The safeties in Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson are easily the weak point of the defense and they were exposed last week against the 49ers when Vernon Davis got into the endzone twice. Outside of Antoine Winfield, cornerbacks Cedric Griffin and Benny Sapp are solid players who hit hard but aren’t always reliable in coverage. Overall, the pass defense gets a huge boost when pressure is created by the front seven.
JM: Its no secret that the Packer offensive line has pass protection problems, giving up 12 sacks in three games. However, the Viking’s line has been less than stellar in that category as well, giving up 9 sacks. Is this a cause for concern, given the guy under center?
AW: I think there’s reason for concern but the new center John Sullivan has actually done very well. He got smoked in the first game by Shaun Rogers when they were one-on-one but otherwise he has done just fine. Most of the sacks have come off the ends when the tackles, Phil Loadholt and Bryant McKinnie have let their guys by them. Favre has probably held the ball too long at some points too but I think he’s taken some sacks at times when he probably could have thrown the ball away. It’s almost as if Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell have told him the best thing he can do at some points when the pressure comes is to go down with the ball. It’s no secret that Favre has been turnover prone during the course of his career and so far one turnover in three games has been pretty positive.
JM: Here’s my Favre question: it seems like the Vikings’ season will not be a success if they don’t make it to at least the NFC championship game. Are you at all worried about what the Vikings will look like in a year when he retires? I know this is a win now league, but are you just going to be happy with a playoff trip from a rental, a la CC Sabathia and the Brewers last year?
AW: Were the Brewers happy just to get to the playoffs? The answer is no for the Vikings. Is this season championship or bust? Probably.
The thing about Favre playing this year and maybe only this year is he improves the team. There’s no way that people have confidence in Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels to lead the team down the field with a 1:30 left and no timeouts like Favre did last weekend. Favre was an upgrade over the situation in the beginning of training camp and if he is here for one season, the Vikings still have Rosenfels, the draft and free agency to decide what they want to do next year.
Owner Zygi Wilf is clearly committed to winning and will bring in whatever it takes to put the best possible team on the field. The other thing that helps for the Vikings next year is there’s a lot of quarterbacks names floating around with the NFL draft next year. The success of Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and even Matthew Stafford (hey, he won a game right???) has to put confidence in teams drafting rookie quarterbacks. Ryan, Flacco and Sanchez all could be in the playoffs this year and that’s generally because they’re on teams with good veteran leadership and/or good coaching. So in long, the Vikings are clearly trying to win a Super Bowl and though I’m not convinced this early in the season, we are talking about Brett Favre here. As Kevin Garnett once said, “Anything is possibleeeeeeeeeeeeee!”
The game will be close. Vikings by a touchdown.
*Insert synonym for Andy’s first sentence.* I really hate to say it, but the Vikings are too good at this point in the season and will win by less than seven points. I hope I’m wrong.
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