It’s been an uneasy week for Packer fans, who are treading in unchartered waters, suddenly questioning everything about their football team. Funny what a home loss to the Lions will do for your psyche.
Clearly, the biggest issues this team is facing right now reside on the offensive side of the ball, where virtually every starter appears to be playing to less than their potential or to a lesser level than we’ve seen them play.
As long as #12 is around, the passing game should be what sets this team apart from most others. In today’s NFL, an average defense and mediocre special teams can be masked by a maestro at the controls of a high powered offense. Only, that offense has been grounded most of the season. Rodgers hasn’t looked right since early in the Denver game and his appearance on the injury report this week to his shoulder injury should not come as a surprise.
Add to that the fact that defenses are not respecting the Pack’s outside receivers, challenging them physically at the line to take away what Rodgers likes to do best: get rid of the ball quickly and let his receivers operate in space after the catch. It’s causing Rodgers to hold on to the ball too long, hoping to see some separation, and when he doesn’t, the play breaks down and drives stall.
The running game has also failed to get going, no matter who is getting the football. Before this three game skid, the team was eighth in the league in rushing. In these three losses they’ve ranked 28th. If the offense is to get untracked, it starts with running the football effectively and it won’t be easy this weekend at TCF Bank Stadium. But it won’t be impossible, either. The Vikings are middle of the pack against the run and the Pack needs to commit to running the ball. 61 pass attempts, 29 in the 4th quarter like last week and the Pack won’t have a chance.
The passing game will continue to be shorthanded, with Jared Abbrederis out for a few weeks and Ty Montgomery dropping out of practice on Thursday. If this isn’t the week Jeff Janis gets a shot, I don’t know what is. This guy must be one lousy practice player to not be given snaps during games. We’ve seen him shine bright in limited opportunities this season and in the last couple preseasons. It’s time to see if he can serve as a deep threat. Opposing defenses aren’t taking the deep pass seriously right now. Janis and Davante Adams present the only real options on the roster.
Defensively for Green Bay this week it obviously comes down to containing Adrian Peterson for four quarters. A month or so ago, they did a good job against Todd Gurley, holding him to three yards per carry until he busted open a 55 yarder late when the game was already decided. There were positive signs form this unit in the fourth quarter in Carolina and last weekend. The Vikings have been held under 20 points in regulation in their last two home games against the Chiefs and Rams. I think the Pack has a chance to keep them near that number on Sunday.
After watching their last three efforts, I find it difficult to see them rising up and playing at the level needed to beat a supremely confident Vikings team that smells blood in the water. But a couple of intangibles work in the Pack’s favor. They come in as the more desperate, angry, embarrassed, focused team. Their demeanor might give them a slight edge against a team suddenly being told how wonderful they are and one that’s wearing t-shirts this week exhorting them to beat the Pack.
Whatever happens on Sunday will not signal the beginning or the end of anything. A win by the Vikes gives them a two game lead in the North, a head of steam and a little breathing room with the Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals looming (a letdown next week would be very possible). A win by the Pack would slow the Viking love nationwide and right the Pack’s ship, in time for two straight Thursday night divisional games on tap.
We all know these two teams will meet again on January 3rd. I had hoped a month ago that game might mean nothing. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it looks like it might mean everything. For now, I expect the Vikes to grab the upper hand.
Vikings 20 Packers 19
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