I may be incommunicado for the next week, so here is the early take on next Sunday's playoff game at Lambeau. Predictably, the preview is brief. This is not because I have nothing to say about the game, but because I have already said it.
I have noted, for instance, that the Vikings have the personnel to defeat the Packers. Most teams do. I have also noted that the Vikings have the personnel to lose to the Packers. We have not seen the former package very often in recent weeks, but we have seen plenty of the latter--seven takes in the past ten weeks to be precise. And the show is becoming old, but I'll keep trying.
I cannot resist the temptation to point out that the Vikings could feast on the Packers' defense by employing a steady diet of screens, slants, shovel passes, Daunte roll-outs (and, preferably, roll-out running plays). And neither can I resist the urge to note that containment of Favre should be the goal on defense. That a 3-4 defense, despite the Vikings' lack of linebackers, is better when played with Spencer Johnson or Chris Hovan or some mobile body, than is any formulation of the 4-3 that the Vikings have tried to date.
I could state all this, but it would not matter. It would not matter, because, despite what we all see from week to week, the Vikings' coaches apparently see something else--I'll call it a mirage. And this mirage has compelled the Vikings to continue to do what they have been doing, to continue to beat a drum that long ago wore out.
The Vikings continue to draw up ridiculous plays (such as a play action pass with time running out and no time on the clock--Hello? Is anyone buying that a team will run in that situation? Anyone other than a "defender" in purple?). The Vikings also continue to rely on the bomb in an attempt to salvage poorly conceived game plans. They continue to enter the game with an apparent disinterest in the opponent and with an apparent absence of a game plan. They continue to speak of taking what the opponent gives them, only to proceed to attempt to pound square pegs into much smaller round holes. And they continue to show an inability to adjust and an astonishing ability to make the same mistakes over and over and over and over again.
But even with all that, even with all of the futility, the Vikings have played two close games against the Packers this season. And that would give some fans reason to predict a Vikings' victory on Sunday. Not me.
It would be overly optimistic to predict a Vikings' victory next Sunday for several reasons. First, the Packers have already beaten the Vikings twice this season. In previous playoff games involving a team beaten twice in the regular season by their playoff opponent, the team losing both regular season games has lost the playoff game 10 of 15 times. This looks like number 11.
The Packers have been running up the score on teams lately and that should continue against the Vikings, purveyors of the "run up the score" defense. If the Vikings do not eliminate the critical mistakes that have become endemic to the team's offense this season, they not only cannot win, they probably cannot even stay close. And there is no indication that the mistakes will cease in the near or distant future.
The Packers have another advantage over the Vikings in that the Packers play games with a sense of urgency, from beginning to end. Even though their game on Sunday was meaningless, the Packers played to win. And, as the Packers often do under Favre, they won big by striking early. Against a team that Minnesota recently lost to--big. And against a team that expected to win this week, at home.
The Packers win these games because they understand that plays are cumulative. A big play at the beginning is as big as a big play at the end of the game, possibly bigger given the momentum early big plays help to forge. The Vikings appear to lack awareness of this element of the game, causing them to start flat and to make errors throughout the game. As for the late big plays, well, I shall leave for now discussion of the atrocious two-minute (ten minute?) offense and the Vikings' constant failure in clutch situations.
At least one other decided advantage that the Packers have over the Vikings is that the Packers win games they are supposed to win. They also tend to pull out games that are supposed to be close. On Sunday, the Packers likely will do what the current Vikings' team is utterly incapable of doing. The Packers likely will beat a team that they are favored to beat. And if Sunday's game turned your stomach, don't bother watching the playoffs, because this game might be nowhere near as close as the regular-season games.
Up Next: Post Game.