WHEN: Sunday, Sept. 30
WHERE: Metrodome, Minneapolis
TIME: Noon (CDT)
SERIES HISTORY: 93rd meeting. Packers lead series 46-45-1. Green Bay swept the season series between the division rivals last year. Minnesota had won the previous three meetings, including a 31-17 decision in an NFC wild-card playoff game during the 2004 season, the teams' only postseason encounter. Each of the last nine regular-season meetings, dating to 2002, has been decided by no more than six points -- the Packers won six of those.
GAME PLANS: Until a defense can consistently run legal interference with Green Bay's myriad slants, crosses, hitches and screens, the Packers won't be bashful to throw, throw, throw. They almost have no choice but to go liberal with the pass in this one because the Teflon roof coming unhinged off the Metrodome is more likely than Green Bay's league-worst rushing attack plowing through the Vikings' impenetrable middle of the line.
Likewise, it's no secret Minnesota will be trying to put the football in rookie back Adrian Peterson's hands with regularity. The Green Bay defense has had good training in targeting a versatile weapon and previously came out ahead against the Eagles' Brian Westbrook and the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson. With no big receiving threats to occupy their attention, the Packers figure to stack the box and turn up the pressure on immobile quarterback Kelly Holcomb.
Rare is the professional matchup when what an offense will initiate is utterly predictable for a defense. The latest installment of the Packers-Vikings rivalry, Sunday in Minneapolis, has the makings of being one of those unusually see-it-coming battles on the gridiron.
"We're not going to completely abandon the run game, but we're not stupid, either," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said Wednesday. "We're not just going to go out there and just pound it. It would be three-and-out every drive."
A tactical maneuver on Favre's part? Perhaps, but Green Bay isn't fooling itself into believing that THIS will be the game it finally gets its atrocious running game going.
The Packers all but abandoned the run last Sunday, limiting themselves to 12 carries to 47 pass plays, but they managed to rally past the Chargers late and stay unbeaten at 3-0.
Now, the NFL's worst rushing offense (average of 57 yards per game) must face the league's third-best rushing defense (67.3).
The Packers don't plan to be running themselves scared into an all-out passing attack, however.
"We want to run the football," right tackle Mark Tauscher said. "They're good, and we realize that they were the best in the NFL last year and they're right up there this year against the run. So, it's a huge challenge. I don't think many people expect us to be able to run the football there. That's just another challenge for us."
As much as head coach/play-caller Mike McCarthy has been turned off by the ineffectiveness of both his young halfbacks and the ragged zone blocking of the line to the extreme that he's called pass 70 percent of the time, a partial commitment to run the ball is imperative Sunday.
The Packers in recent years reversed earlier terrible fortunes amid the deafening din of the Metrodome by running the ball with some regularity. They had at least 23 running plays each of the last three times playing the Vikings on the road and won two of them.
The yardage produced wasn't fantastic, in some cases on par with this year's ugly numbers, but being anything but one-dimensional was critical to faring well. Having the ability to effectively run play action helped Favre post passer ratings in the 100s in the games at Minnesota the last four years, good for a 3-1 Packers record.
"In the games that we've won over there or had a chance to win, we ran the ball better," Favre said. "I think in games where we threw 50 or close to 50 times, we probably didn't have that much success, kind of playing into their hands. With that in mind, we may have to do that."
For now, the Packers are getting by with frequent spread formations and periodic empty backfields to advance the ball in a vintage West Coast passing scheme.
Favre, though, acknowledged the offense has become predictable and wonders when it will be stopped dead in its tracks if the great imbalance isn't resolved.
"It will continue to get harder if we don't get more people involved. I mean backs, tight ends," Favre said. "I think our tight ends are doing a great job, and there's only two of 'em (Donald Lee and Bubba Franks). Whether it be screens, dump-offs, different options with our tight ends, that's no secret to anyone. We can't keep throwing slant routes to Greg Jennings and a little pop route over the ball to Donald Driver. It's worked, but we have to broaden that because there's only so many short passes you can run to two, three guys."
Tauscher took a different perspective on the matter, however, essentially advocating the old adage "if it isn't broke, don't fix it."
"We're going to do what we feel is necessary to win football games. If that means we're going to throw for 350 (yards) and run for 50, that's fine," Tauscher said. "But, we realize that we need to run the ball better and we're going to be able to run the ball better. It's just going to come down to us imposing that on people. That's what we're looking to do."
PREDICTION: Packers 24, Vikings 21