Sunday, December 30, 2012

Viking Fans' Rare Moment for Optimism in the Face of Optimism

Winter football.  Snow on the ground.  Playoff seeding in the balance.  A superior record.  A prior victory against the opponent.  One of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.  Facing one of the lesser quarterbacks in the NFL.

It all sounds too good to be true--too certain to result in a victory for a team accustomed to playing, and winning, big games in the Winter.

And it is too good to be true--or should be.

While Green Bay is dominant outdoors at home in the Winter, it is less dominant indoors, any time, particularly when the indoor facility is the Metrodome in Minneapolis.  Add to that the fact that Green Bay is playing merely for playoff seed against a team playing for a playoff spot and Minnesota will have not only home-field advantage but extra incentive against a division rival.

Barring a roof collapse, there will be no Winter weather inside the dome today.  There also will be no defensive patsy in the face of a strong pass, modest-to-weak run offense.  And that quarterback issue for the Vikings?  That will continue to be somewhat meaningless unless the Packers demonstrate an ability to stop Adrian Peterson.

On the season, the Vikings rank in the middle of the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns allowed.  Minnesota has achieved those statistics despite facing decent passing attacks for most of the season and only three truly brutal such offenses.  Moreover, they have accomplished this feat, in part, because they have defended well against the rush, ranking in the top third of the league in rushing touchdowns and rushing yards allowed, despite facing some of the league's leading rushing threats --Marshawn Lynch, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, Alfred Morris, Doug Martin, Frank Gore, and Robert Griffin III.

Green Bay does not offer the same rushing threat of any of Minnesota's staunchest 2012 opponents, ranking near the bottom third of the league in rushing, in spite of having a stout passing attack.  Last week, Ryan Grant showed some promise, rushing for 80 yards and two touchdowns.  But that was against Tennessee's silk defense, not against an NFL lineup.  Against the rest of the competition, Green Bay's leading rusher, Alex Green, has a supremely modest 458 yards rushing--approximately 1,500 yards fewer than Peterson.  If Minnesota can hold Aaron Rodgers in check (under 250 yards with two or fewer touchdowns), the game should be the Vikings' for the taking.

That puts the onus on the Vikings' offense, squarely where it has been the entire season.  Fortunately for Minnesota, the NFL is without a team capable of both stacking the box against Peterson and stopping the check-down lobs of Christian Ponder--and Green Bay certainly is no exception.

In the first meeting between the teams this year at Lambeau Field, Peterson rushed for 210 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.  The Vikings lost that game because they limited Peterson to 21 carries and Ponder made several brutal decisions, costing the team two critical turnovers and points on the board.  The final result was 23-14 in favor of Green Bay.

If the Vikings can remain within striking distance of Green Bay on the road when their quarterback essentially plays for the opponent, even a zero performance by Ponder should make for a close game.  A zero performance by Ponder and more carries for Peterson should make for a Vikings' victory.  And a modest plus performance by Ponder, combined with more carries for Peterson, should result in a comfortable margin of victory for Minnesota.

If ever Vikings' fans should feel optimistic in the face of optimism, today ought to be the day.  Facing a strong opponent, there will be no reason for over-optimism.  Facing a strong passing attack, there will be no reason for let down, should the Vikings gain a lead.  Possessing a strong-willed, unstoppable running back and a modest, at best, quarterback, there will be no illusion about what ought to be done on offense.  And, defensively and on special teams, the Vikings have reason to be confident.

If ever the stars and moon were aligned for a much needed Vikings' victory against a good opponent, today is the day.

Up Next:  Avoiding a Kahn Moment.

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