This is the point in the season that Cheesehead Craig of Oracle of Cheese fame would contribute to this column offering up some way that the Green Bay Packers could steal won from the local team. Though I am certain that he would have offered a similar column this week, I'm saving him the trouble by writing such a column myself.
Prior to last week's appearance in San Francisco, the Minnesota Vikings mostly had played to form, yielding offensively to their opponents' defenses and holding their opponents' offenses to the Vikings' expected point yield (EPY). The Vikings' result against New England looked like a case of a struggling offense facing a solid defense and a young linebacking corps facing a sharp offense. The latter bears monitoring. The former appears true against all comers.
Green Bay is averaging 358 yards and 20 points per game this season. The 20 point return is approximately four points below the Packers' average EPT for the season and primarily is attributable to a horrendous start and recent turnovers.
On defense, the Packers are yielding 343 yards and 25 points per game. The 25 points is slightly higher than the Packers' EPY of 24 and suggests that the Packers have been losing the battle of field position this season.
The Vikings average 310 yards of offense and 16 points a game. Of those sixteen points, nearly five are accounted for by the defense. That gives the Vikings' offense a miserable average point total of 11 per game, well below the EPT of 22 per game.
With the exception of the New England game, the Vikings' defense remains consistently good, holding the opposition to 279 yards and 17 points per game. The point yield remains below the opponents' EPT by one or two points and offers the primary bright spot of this year's team.
In 2005, prior to adding Steve Hutchinson, Matt Birk (back from injury), Chester Taylor, and Artis Hicks, jettisoning Michael Bennett, Daunte Culpepper, Adam Goldberg, Chris Liewinski, and Mike Tice and staff, and purportedly stealing an offensive guru in new head coach Brad Childress, the Vikings averaged 290 yards of offense and 19 points per game.
Among the primary criticisms of former head coach Mike Tice was that his playcalling was too predictable. Tice, himself, was criticized for being overly stubborn and incapable of making the necessary in-game changes to meet changing circumstances.
In 2006, despite a defense that contributes nearly five points per game and a host of changes intended to shore up last year's offensive issues, the Vikings' offense clearly has regressed. And the contention that things "need time to gel" no longer carries any meaningful significance.
After scoring a mere three points last week against the NFL's worst offense, the Vikings need to change their offensive philosophy dramatically if they hope to compete again this season. Unfortunately, all signs suggest that Childress remains intent on showing that his way is the best way and that three-yard passes are the wave of the future in the NFL.
The Packers have a rejuvenated running game with the return of Ahmann Green and a respectable passing game led by Favre, Donald Driver, and rookie Greg Jennings. Despite the Vikings' strong run defense, the Packers should be able to generate enough of a rushing attack to keep the Vikings' already sluggish pass rush at bay. That will mean numerous slant passes and dump offs against the Vikings' young linebacking corps. That crippled the Vikings against New England and could hurt them as much this week.
Offensively, the Vikings appear to have no answers. Rather, they appear to have answers, just not any that Childress will employ. Mewelde Moore remains on the sidelines most of the game, despite his pass-catching ability and the Vikings remain intent on playing a pocket-passing game despite the constant collapse of the pocket. That means that the Vikings' defense will have to save the day yet again.
Barring a Brett Favre meltdown, something that is known to occur when the Packers play at the Metrodome, the Vikings are at risk of enduring a season-crippling loss today. There will be little pressure on Favre to force the issue today, which should mean smoother sailing than normal for the Packerland favorite.
Prediction: Packers 20 over Vikings 12.
Up Next: Postgame.