Border Battle: Fighting for the Playoffs

The intensity of the Packers-Vikings rivalry escalated to another level after Lord of the INT donned the purple.

Sunday will be the 103rd installment of what’s quickly become one of the best rivalries in football: Green Bay vs. Minnesota. Green Bay holds the series edge at 53-48-1. The Packers have won seven of the last ten, including the last four games. The current four-game streak started with the revenge game against Brent Favre in his second season donning the purple.With both teams fighting for a playoff spot, this match-up is a critical game for both teams. Out of respect to the visiting squad, we’ll let the Vikes Rube fire the first shot:

Vikes Rube:

First shot? Better be careful, after watching that vaunted Packers secondary against the G-Men last week, giving us the first shot likely means six, even if it is the spaghetti-armed Ponder going deep to one of our hands-challenged wide receivers.

The G-Men exposed a Packers secondary that is ranked 22nd overall and is considerably worse without Clay Matthews wreaking havoc up front. Now, Matthews might be back, so that means the Packers might at least generate a pass rush. But, there are still concerns, on both sides of the ball. Jennings is practicing but no one knows how he will return from injury. Bulaga is still out and the plan to replace him does not appear to be working. And that means Jared Allen might be throwing more lassos than a rodeo.

This Vikings squad, while inconsistent, is pesky. In terms of shared opponents, the Vikings actually stack up pretty well with the Packers. Both teams went 4-3 against SF, CHI, JAC, SEA (yes, we both get Ls here), NFC North Killers IND, ARI, and DET.

Packers Roob:

Please. You’re touting your cheap-shot artist as this Clay Matthews type. I’m worried about guys that actually get to the QB, not guys that have gone three games without a sack and tallied a total of 10 tackles (well 11 if you count the cheap shot that should have gotten him suspended this week). He couldn’t sniff Quitler last week, and that’s against the Bears’ high school-like offensive line. And even if he does touch Rodgers this week, that’d be one less play that doesn’t go for six. Need I remind you of last year’s 45-7 drubbing at Lambeau? I’m sure you know that score marks the biggest landslide in the 102-game-series.

And frankly, I did not even know Minnesota was starting a QB these past few games. I just thought you were direct-snapping it to AP every play. In all seriousness, what the hell has gotten into the “franchise” QB?! Even with AP going gangbusters and having the defense do everything it can to stop him, Ponder still looks worse than Mark Sanchez out there. I mean, 58 and 63 yards passing in two separate games. TOTAL! And he has (had) Randall Cobb-lite to bail him out. Question, what’s 35.5 and 37.3 mean to you?

Vikes Rube:

I dunno.

Packers Roob:

Ponder’s QB rating those two games. I’m no Mike Mayock, but I’m thinking the Christian Ponder experiment has run its course.

Vikes Rube:

Almost clever. That said, I agree that after that putrid performance versus an overrated Bears squad, there is little to be excited about in Vikings country. Without Colorado’s newest citizen, Cheech Harvin, in the line-up, the Vikings offense is  about as creative as Justin Bieber’s entire discography. Sprinkle in the return of All Day’s issues with holding the rock and now is not the greatest time to be a Vikings fans. If ever there was a team in need of a slump-buster, it is the Minnesota Vikings. Enter the Packers. Now, I know what you are thinking Packers Roob…brats with kraut…check that…I know what you will eventually be thinking…enter the Packers? Yep, that is right. Enter the Packers.

Packers Roob:

You cannot be serious? Not even PA would make such a preposterous statement. The last thing the Vikes need right now is a road game against a pissed off Packers team. Embarrassed after getting de-flowered on Sunday Night, the Packers will be looking to take out their aggression on an alleged division threat. And the Vikes have 3 combined road victories over the past two seasons. Save yourself the misery, it’s going to get ugly. Like you ain’t got no alibi ugly.

Vikes Rube:

Alright, so slump buster might be a bit of hyperbole, but only in the same way that guaranteeing it is going to be a one-sided Packers blowout. As an allegedly bright football mind (and I am beginning to have some concerns), if you actually think either team in this rivalry could ever be considered a runaway favorite, you have lost your mind. Has the game at the Dome last year already been erased from your memory? When a Ponder-led squad, with a worse defense, was a dropped TD pass away from upsetting your beloved Pack? These games are rarely blowouts. So let’s abandon the runaway favorite foolishness right now.

The current Vikings squad is clearly far from perfect. With the Mayor of Denver limping, the Viking WRs have been downright pathetic. Poor routes and dropped balls have plagued this unit. Jerius Wright’s semi-decent performances have been the lone bright spot. And even that might be best described as a flicker. However, Cheech is practicing and looks like he might give it a go this week and even at 80%, he is still better than we are trotting out there.

Perhaps a larger concern for Vikings fans is the return of AP’s recent fumblitis. After 6 lost fumbles in 2009, AP had gone 2 ½ seasons without a lost fumble. Now he has 2 in the last 4 games. Hopefully this is a blip and not a trend.

Vikings can ill-afford AP putting the ball on the turf.

Vikings can ill-afford AP putting the ball on the turf.

Lastly, there is Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder. After a solid performance against the Lions at home, we were treated to another lambastable performance against the Bears. Now, the Bears secondary is decent. Maybe not as good as Bears’ fans think they are, but they are decent. So there is a little room for forgiveness. But Ponder’s problem might be more than just about the quality of the defense he is facing. The guy who was supposed to be a mental giant, nailed the Wonderlic and was Mr. Joe Cool, looks frantic in the pocket. Does he still exhibit flashes? Sure. Hence Dr. Christian and Mr. Ponder. But Vikings fans will need him to be consistent if they are going to win on Sunday.

Packers Roob:

Ponder is THE reason the Vikes will struggle at Lambeau. The guy has not been simply inconsistent, he has been downright terrible the last several weeks. He’s lost all confidence and the WR’s, outside of Percy, have done little to help him. Further, the Packers have feasted on less-than-elite QBs. Even with last week’s debacle, the Packers are 9th in the league in the real defensive QB rating – which measures the QB’s total play, rather than just the QB’s passing efficiency – at 72.57. On the flip side, the Vikes’ real QB rating is 23rd in the league at 74.43. Stated more plainly, outside of Brees and Eli carving us up, the Packers have handled the non-elite QBs soundly. Consider the following QBs performances: Schaub (2 INT, 0 TD, and 56.6 passer rating (the commonly known passer rating)), Cutler (4 INT and 28.2 passer rating), and Stafford (2 INT, 1 TD, 54.0 passer rating). I just don’t see Ponder doing much damage against this defense. As a result, it’s going to take a Herculean-like effort from AP to keep this game close. Working in the Vikes’ favor is the fact that C.J. Wilson, a developing 3-4 end that was stout against the run, may be out for the season. You saw how Bradshaw exploited this. I’m not looking forward to seeing AP do the same. Still, AP alone hasn’t proven enough to date, and I don’t expect that to change.

And while we’re on the topic of defensive real QB rating, the Vikes are a paltry 25th in the league at 86.58. As you might expect, Packers are high up on the real QB ratings at 6th: 92.37. And this ranking dropped a few spots because of last week’s debacle. Point being, Rodgers is performing at an elite level.

My biggest concern is Rodgers’ protection. The injury that has hurt the Packers the most this season has been the loss of Bryan Bulaga. Lang, a developing guard, had to move outside and Dietrich-Smith stepped in at guard. Like you said, this has not been pretty. Both are significant downgrades from the original starting-5. The results have been rather ugly since then, culminating in last week’s 5-sacks and Rodgers running for his life on the plays he wasn’t sacked. But that’s the Giants defensive line, which is one of the best in the league. And breaking news – the Vikings defensive line is far from what it used to be. Allen can still dominate, but he’s been slowed these last few weeks as I have already pointed out. Kevin Williams is a shell of his former self – he only has 2 sacks. As a result, the Vikings defensive line won’t (knock on wood) dictate the game the way it needs to in order to slow the Packers.

Vikings Rube:

Wow, someone figured out how to navigate the world wide interweb. Impressive.

I am not going to continue beating a dead horse in regards to Ponder’s play. He needs to be consistent (read: limit the mistakes) or the Vikings lose on Sunday. I am a little surprised by the Packers’ alleged ownership of less-than-elite QBs considering the great Alex Smith diced up the entirely healthy Packers secondary in Week 1 and then NFC North-killer Andrew Luck did the same in Week 5. I am pretty certain Alex Smith made me my McMuffin this morning. And Luck, while a promising rookie, is still just a rookie. So let’s just back off the ravenous Packers defense against less-than-elite QBs bit.

11.5 sacks in 6 games. Clearly, Jared Allen is licking his chops to get after Rodgers again.

Instead, let’s focus on that offensive line you are right to be worried about. Losing Bulaga was a huge blow. Though, despite that, you think the Packers will get by because you continue to underestimate the Vikings defensive line. Yes, Kevin Williams does not get as many sacks as he did, but that is not really his job. His job is to try and occupy two interior linemen and keep help from sliding over to Allen and Robinson. He has done a good job of that. Allen may not be the force he was last year, but he is still solid. And he always brings his A-game against the Pack – 11.5 sacks in his last 6 games – only once was he shutout. The Vikings will get pressure with four guys, the question is whether that will matter. Unfortunately, seven guys in coverage might not be enough to stop Rodgers. Because at the end of it all, your green and gold foolishness aside, Rodgers is the difference in this rivalry.

Packer Roob:

It almost pains me to say this, but you are right. The biggest reason why the Packers are Super Bowl contenders and the Vikes will have a mid-round draft pick again is because of the Packers passing game (it also does not hurt the Vikes recent drafts have been less than stellar and haven’t shored up the secondary). Though Rodgers’s numbers are down and he has not been as sharp at times this season (he’s missed on a number of longer shots that he usually connects on), Rodgers is still putting up numbers that have him in the MVP-discussion. Yes, he won’t win it. But, he is part of the discussion.

John Abraham learned the hard way in the 2010 playoffs to what happens when you piss off Rodgers. Championship Belt mode!

Rodgers has thrown for 2,838 yards and owns a 28/7 TD-to-INT split. His QB rating is 105.6, good for second-best in his career. Most impressively, he’s done this without his top WR for most of the season, Jordy for 2 games, and a TE that taught Jerome Simpson how to catch. Still, in an alarming trend, Rodgers’ has not surpassed 250-yards in any of the last four games. And these have been against the likes of Jax and Detroit – secondaries that Danny O’Brien would be able to exploit! Nonetheless, it’s the Michael Jordan-esque inability to forget his critics and haters that makes Rodgers a threat to go into full-out Championship Belt mode – just ask Houston. Based on last week’s performance – remember he apologized for the way the team played – I expect Rodgers to be on point this week against a hapless secondary.

As far as our defense, it has the potential to be a championship-winning defense. The defense has suffered an exhaustive list of injuries at various points this season: Claymaker, Raji, Wilson, Worthy, Nick Perry, Bishop, D.J. Smith, Woodson, and Shields. But through these injuries, the Packers have been forced to break in younger talent that is starting to emerge. Casey “All I Do Is Intercept” Hayward is proving to be the SOD. He’s an absolute ball-hawk that has really lifted the defense’s play. McMillian and Jennings have had their fair share of growing pains, but have also learned from the same and continue to get better – evidenced by Jennings’ game-changing pick-six at Detroit. House has returned from injury and taken over the outside CB position due to his size and physicality. And Dezman Moses, an undrafted free agent, and Erik Walden have proven that they can supply pressure opposite Clay. So when the defense gets back Claymaker, Woodson, and Shields – three of its best/better playmakers – it has the potential to really take off and lead this team.

The Packers won the 2010 Super Bowl because of Rodgers’ unbelievable play and a dominant defense. This squad could shape up similarly when healthy.

Vikings Rube:

To delve into a discussion about the Packers’ secondary would be a fruitless endeavor. You are clearly so drunk on the Kool-Aid that you might even be over the limit in Wisco. Hayward is a good little player. But the rest of those mutts are just not good. McMillian, Jennings, and House looked like they needed a map last week. It looked like they thought they were in the wrong stadium. Now, that is not to say these guys will not be serviceable NFL players at some point, but classifying it as growing pains is an insult to Kirk Cameron fans everywhere.

If the Packers fate rests with Rodgers, the Vikings fate, especially sans Harvin, clearly rests with AP. Fresh off his 2011 knee surgery, AP has come back with a vengeance, leading the league in rushing with 1,254 yards and getting them at nearly 6 yards a pop. He has been a beast. And against the squad with the fifth worst run success rate, this could mean BIG things for AP.

Alright, enough is enough. Time for our predictions.

Vikings Rube:

Rodgers tries to do his thing, but is hog-tied  so often he has flashbacks to 2009. Ponder does just enough to allow a fumble-less AP to roll over the Packers run defense. The Kid Kicker puts it away.

Vikings 24 Packers 21

Packers Roob:

Wow. Just wow. You’re either on to something or on something. With my sanity clearly intact, I foresee the Packers starting their trek through the NFC North on a high-note. A game that will be close for a majority of the game due to AP’s dominance will eventually give way to the Rodgers’ show.

Packers 31 Vikings 17

One thing we both can agree upon: get your tickets to the game from Ticket King. A local company, you won’t find a better deal for the toughest tickets in town.

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