Better, But Good Enough To Beat the Vikings?

Were two blowout victories over inferior teams proof that these Packers are ready for a huge showdown on Sunday afternoon against Minnesota? After all, the Browns and Lions combined probably couldn't beat the Vikings.

If anybody thinks they have the definitive answer on these Green Bay Packers, they're kidding themselves.

After pulling off the NFL equivalent of the Florida Gators opening defense of their national championship by throttling the likes of Charleston Southern and Troy, the Packers appear to be riding high into the biggest Packers-Vikings showdown since the wild-card playoff game following the 2004 regular season.

By clobbering the injury-riddled, rebuilding Detroit Lions and flu-plagued, rudderless Cleveland Browns by a combined 57-3, the Packers appear to have solved some of the glaring problems that were so costly when they lost at the Metrodome 31-24 a few weeks ago.

The offensive line that gave up eight sacks during that Monday night in Minnesota? Aaron Rodgers wasn't sacked and got hit just once on Sunday at Cleveland, and Ryan Grant found some daylight for a change to the tune of 5.5 yards per carry.

The defensive breakdowns that Brett Favre feasted on? No Lions or Browns were receivers were running free through the Packers' secondary the last two weeks. Perhaps not coincidentally, safety Atari Bigby was back and healthy for those games after being on the sideline against the Vikings.

The impotent pass rush that allowed Favre to hum Minnesota's "Skol, Vikings" fight song? The Packers have seven sacks and 16 quarterback hits over the last two games, including a sack in each of them and a total of eight quarterback hits by Aaron Kampman.

"Our confidence is high," coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "It damned well should be. We've grown as a football team. We're coming forward with the targets we're trying to hit. I think from a preparation standpoint, it's looking the way you want it to look week in and week out. We feel like we're building, each week getting better, growing. Guys are stepping up with their opportunities. We feel very, very good about ourselves as a football team."

Showing just how fickle the stats can be, no team in the NFC has allowed fewer points than the Packers. Nobody in their right mind would say the Packers' defense is better than the Vikings' defense, but thanks to not allowing a touchdown for the last 145-plus minutes of game action, Green Bay is allowing merely 16.0 points per game compared to 21.1 for Minnesota.

But to state the obvious, the Lions and Browns aren't the Vikings. You could put their two rosters together and the Vikings would be a touchdown favorite.

The Browns' David Bowens, who didn't get anywhere against Packers rookie left tackle T.J. Lang on Sunday, isn't Jared Allen.

Jamal Lewis, whose 2,000-yard season of 2003 seems more like 16 years ago than six, isn't Adrian Peterson.

Without all-world Calvin Johnson, neither the Browns nor the Lions have a receiver who could break into Minnesota's top three.

The Vikings won't be forced to play a receiver at safety, like Cleveland did. If Donald Driver is running free, a Vikings safety won't jog in pursuit, like the Browns' Brodney Pool shamefully did on Driver's long touchdown.

Cleveland's Shaun Rogers is a tremendous nose tackle, but he's about half as good as the combined juggernaut that is Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.

The Vikings' Brad Childress is no Don Coryell or Bill Walsh when it comes to running an offense, but he wouldn't use his top offensive weapon once, see him get stopped and then stop giving him the ball.

Favre won't drop the snap on second-and-goal, like the Browns' Derek Anderson did. Nor would he not see a wide-open receiver on fourth-and-goal, like Anderson did in the fourth quarter.

None of this is to say the Packers don't have a prayer on Sunday afternoon. The Vikings aren't some unstoppable juggernaut. The same two teams the Packers just pluverized, the Vikings were trailing against at halftime. The Packers' Week 2 loss to Cincinnati doesn't seem so bad right now, does it, in light of the Bengals' victories over Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Chicago.

For as poorly as the Packers played at the Metrodome, just how different could that gave have been had Rodgers not turned it over twice to kill scoring drives and Donald Lee not dropped a pass in the end zone. That's at least 13 points the Packers left on the field in a seven-point loss in the hostile dome.

"I think there's definitely a lot of positives in the football game up there that we'll definitely take away from it and we'll definitely try to establish that again," McCarthy said. "There's definitely things you don't want to do again. They're a good football team. We're a good football team. I think it's going to be a hell of a game."

Are the Packers any better now than they were three weeks ago? Is the line better, or is that a byproduct of lousy competition? Are the defensive breakdowns solved, or is that a byproduct of facing teams without the personnel to actually put the defense to the test? Is the pass rush better, or is that a byproduct of facing subpar offensive lines and clueless quarterbacks?

"We're an improved football team," McCarthy said. "We've improved the last two weeks, and that's really what my focus is on. We're 4-2, we've won two games that we felt that we were the better team than our opponent, which you're supposed to do. But more importantly, you have to improve. Confidence is a big part of this business. Our confidence has definitely grown. It's a plan, a preparation, it's a perform and it's a correction mind-set, and I think our team's done a very good job with that."

We'll find out on Sunday. If the Packers have improved significantly over the last three weeks, the race is on for the NFC North title. If the Packers' lopsided wins were mere fool's gold, than the division race is over and the direction of this franchise needs to come under intense scrutiny.


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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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