Gameday Notebook: A Catch-22 in Favre Bowl

Packer Report publisher Bill Huber empties his tape recorder and notebook in time for tonight's game. Can the defense stop Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre? How do you stop Peterson? Don't forget the other quarterback. Plus much, much more as we count down the hours to this huge division showdown.

With Favre Bowl upon us, there are undoubtedly a few people within the Packers organization who would like to see Brett Favre suffer a four-interception meltdown similar to his first game against former mentor Mike Holmgren a decade ago.

The pinch on the shoulder to that dream scenario, however, is 217 pounds of hard-charging Adrian Peterson.

Simply put, the emphasis has to be on slowing Peterson. Al Harris took out Peterson in the November 2007 matchup, but in his other three games against the Packers, Peterson has rushed for 112, 103 and 192 yards. His average per carry is a ridiculous 6.7. He single-handedly drove the Vikings to victory in the final minutes of last year's game in the Metrodome.

So, any game plan with a goal of making Peterson's life more difficult comes with a Catch-22 caveat. Focus on stopping the run with either safety Derrick Martin in the box or Brandon Chillar playing safety in the "Big Okie," and Favre can put up the kind of numbers that will make the pro-Favre segment of Packer Nation howl in fury.

Play to make sure Favre doesn't get on the same page with Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe, and Peterson will be running through daylight against a run defense that has plunged to 23rd in the league after yielding 100-yard days to Cedric Benson and Steven Jackson.

"They're multidimensional," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said this week. "They've done a great job — Adrian Peterson, he's been productive, and now you go get Percy Harvin, he creates a totally different matchup issue because they'll have a number of ways to try to get the ball in his hands because he's so good with it, running after the catch and you see his return ability. The guy can cut and make all the plays. They've used him back there some in the Wildcat. They're a multidimensional offense now with Brett there, I think they can make any of the throws."

The one point in the Packers' favor tonight is that Favre certainly isn't playing like the Favre who led the Packers to the NFC championship game in 2007. While his 94.5 passer rating is impressive, he padded his completion percentage with a couple dozen dink-and-dunk completions in the first two games. Last week at San Francisco, even with the 49ers keeping Peterson in check, Favre was completing less than 50 percent of his passes until his electric game-winning drive.

"He's still winning games, and all you have to do is watch the last two-minute drive from last week and you can see the experience paying off," Capers said. "He uses his eyes very well, he'll pump fake a lot to try to get guys or throw rushers off. And he still has the quickness in the pocket to avoid the rush."

And how do you stop Peterson?


Adrian Peterson
Duane Burleson/AP Images
While the 49ers' version of the 3-4 is different than what Capers runs, San Francisco kept Peterson under control last week. Peterson rushed for 85 yards on 19 carries, good for a 4.5-yard average, but take away Peterson's 35-yard dash, and his other 18 carries averaged only 2.8 yards per pop. According to the Vikings' offensive coordinator, Darrell Bevell, the 49ers frequently used a safety and cornerback to provide extra run support.

"I think you're playing great gap control," Capers said of a 3-4 defense's success against the run. "To me, your run defense, everybody has to work together. It has to fit together like a glove. If one guy doesn't do his job, there's going to be some creases in there, and your good running backs will find those creases. We're still working towards that. I felt in the game last week we had some awful good plays in the run game, no-gain plays, 1, 2 yards, and yet we had too many where they did have a crease where they found, where they came out of there for 8- to 10-yard runs."

It also will be critical for outside linebackers Aaron Kampman and Brady Poppinga/Clay Matthews III to set the edge to prevent Peterson from getting around the corner. And then, everyone else has to swarm to the ball. If the Packers can accomplish that often enough, then they can turn their focus to Favre.

"The No. 1 lesson is, you'd better stop the run or it's going to be a long day," Capers said. "In terms of being able to be aggressive and attack and all those things, if people can run the ball effectively against you, then they neutralize a lot of that."

The other quarterback

The other quarterback tonight, of course, is Aaron Rodgers. You know, the one who, despite being saddled with 10 dropped passes, has a 97.2 passer rating with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

While Rodgers went with the "it's just another game this week" line, it's not just another game.

"We have probably talked more than most weeks about the expectations of the week, the things outside of the game that are going to be on his plate obviously more this week than other weeks," McCarthy said. "But the most important thing for Aaron is to play quarterback."

Working in Rodgers' favor is his California-cool demeanor. "I don't think he'll be throwing it in the stands on his first pass or anything like that," McCarthy said.

Receiver Greg Jennings, however, said this game means more than Rodgers might be letting on.

"That's his competitive nature," Jennings said. "I'm sure — he better. I wouldn't think otherwise. I probably would look at him kind of strange if he didn't. We want this game."

However, there's no reason for Rodgers to feel like he has to go above and beyond to win this game, Jennings said. It's up to the line to protect him and the receivers to make plays. If Rodgers' history against division rivals means anything, the Packers should be fine. For his career, he is 144-of-216 passing (66.7 percent) for 1,644 yards with 12 touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 104.0.

"He has 44 other guys that are going to bat with him, so hopefully he doesn't feel all the pressure weighing down on his own shoulders," he said. "We have shoulders, we can carry some of that weight, too."

Running Rodgers


Aaron Rodgers
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Rodgers, who entered the weekend as one of only three quarterbacks in the NFL with at least 50 pass attempts and no interceptions, led all quarterbacks with 88 rushing yards.

"It creates a lot of problems for your defense when he moves and makes plays on the move," Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "So, it's something that we are well aware of, and something that we will work hard on this week in practice, trying to contain him in the pocket. He's done a great job of extending plays and then making plays out of the pocket. Our defensive line, along with our secondary and linebackers, will have their hands full trying to contain him. Then everybody staying in coverage when he moves, because sometimes when he moves around, it's not just to run but he is looking to throw the football as well. So, we will really have to be disciplined in coverage."

Added Vikings coach Brad Childress: "Sometimes a key statistic is quarterback runs for first downs. Those are demoralizing things for a defense that's got everybody covered."

Division success

While Packers coach Mike McCarthy laments his squad's inability to be a dominant home team, one thing he has done is win the all-important division games.

During his tenure, McCarthy is 14-5 against the NFC North. Chicago is next at 13-7, followed by Minnesota at 10-9. Even last year, when the Packers finished 6-10, McCarthy split with Minnesota and Chicago and swept Detroit to go 4-2.

"I still can't get over some of the ones we've lost," McCarthy said. "But 14-5, it's a good record so far. We're really focused on the next one. We've won over there two out of the last three years and we're focused on making it three out of four. I think we're probably similar to most teams. Division games are very important. We spend time in the offseason on division games, we spend time in training camp on them. We put a big emphasis on it. We just try to play our best football."

Voice of reason


Greg Jennings
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
While the rest of the locker room seem well-coached about this being "just another game," Jennings had a couple interesting things to say this week.

— On catching Favre's record-setting touchdown pass at Minnesota in 2007, only to have Favre be the enemy now: "I would have never thought but that's the way the tables have turned and that's the case right now. Best of luck to him and their team. I'll pray that no one gets hurt, no one gets injured and everybody walks off the field healthy — and we leave victorious."

— On whether the players want to win this game for Rodgers rather than simply beat Favre: "Me, going even further than that, it was mixed feelings, definitely, from our fans and from the media perspective with what went down. Aaron, in my view, wasn't treated the best. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't like he kicked Brett out of here. He just was the guy who was taking his spot. Unfortunately, he didn't get welcomed by some. There's definitely that drive to want to win it for him, but that's been the whole mind-set from Day 1 he took the helm. ‘Let's play for A-Rod.' It's hard enough coming behind someone like that, and then having to go play against him in a rivalry game on Monday night, I can only imagine."

Quiet please

You can't talk about a trip to the Metrodome without talking about the noise and the challenge it presents to the opposing offense.

Daryn Colledge, who might be starting at left tackle for a second consecutive week, said it's so loud that he couldn't hear the signals when playing at guard when the ball was between the 30-yard line and the goal line. The tackles can't hear a thing with all the yelling and screaming.

"Obviously, it's a unique environment," Colledge said. "It's an extremely challenging place to play. We need to find a way to score. Rack up some points, and that's the easiest way to quiet crowds down when you're on the road. ... The problem is, we've got so many Packer fans there too, it's loud no matter what's going on. It's just a loud environment."

That means a heavy dose of silent count, but staring at the ball slows the linemen by just a tiny fraction of a second, which the Vikings' superb front seven uses to its advantage. That's especially true on passing downs, when defensive ends Jared Allen and Ray Edwards can race upfield to rush the passer.

"There's no magic formula to winning up there, but certainly, if you want to be in a third-and-11, third-and-12 game, you're making it awful tough on yourself," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said.

Quoteworthy

— Jennings, on watching Peterson: "He's an exciting back. Let me tell you, I watch him all the time. I love watching him, purple jersey or not. He's a player, I'm a player, I like exciting players. He's an exciting player to watch. Do I want him to be exciting on Monday? No. But, that's what he brings to the table. He brings that energy, that extra oomph."

— Nose tackle Ryan Pickett, on facing Favre: "This is a big game regularly. All the stuff just adds onto it that the players don't too much care about. It's not like we want to beat Minnesota because they've got Brett. We want to beat Minnesota because they're Minnesota."

Donald Driver, on going from seventh-round draft choice to being five receptions away from breaking Sterling Sharpe's franchise record of 595: "I was talking to Ron Wolf (this week) and we were just talking about how you would never expect that to happen. I told him I remembered him saying, ‘Hey, this is on you. I've got everything riding on you.' So, I went out there and just did what I had to do and made plays and ended up making the team. After that, I just wanted to stay here. Now, I've been here for a long time. To be close to all those great guys and surpass half of those guys, it's an honor."

— Favre, on wearing pink shoes because of the NFL's breast cancer awareness campaign: "It should be very intimidating. It's obviously a great cause. My wife had breast cancer and speaks out all the time, an advocate for awareness and things like that, so it goes without saying that it's very important. And I wouldn't wear pink shoes if it wasn't."

— Vikings coach Brad Childress, on whether bringing in Favre was a boom-or-bust move for his career: ""Obviously, if I was concerned, I wouldn't have done it. But I'm more focused on what's the best thing for this football team. That's the thing that I have to put my head on the pillow every night with. And I've been concerned every year of the 33 I've been in coaching, whether I was a graduate assistant or assistant coach or a coordinator. Just believing that I need to do the best job I needed to do and then next year, because the only thing about this job is the certainty of uncertainty, and that's from day to day when you walk in the door every day. No, I don't have any worries about that."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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