Behind Enemy Lines: Part 1

Viking Update's Tim Yotter returns to lend his expertise on Sunday's Packers-Vikings showdown at Lambeau Field. Leading off, you might not have known it from the teams' first game, but Brett Favre has been sacked a lot this season.

Bill Huber: Watching Brett Favre lead the "Skol, Vikings" theme song while in the pocket in the first matchup gave the impression that he's got the greatest offensive line in NFL history. Turns out he's been sacked 18 times. What's the story of the sacks?

 Tim Yotter: While the Vikings have had more stability than the Packers on the offensive line this year, they still have some youth there. John Sullivan is the first-year starter replacing Matt Birk. Phil Loadholt is a rookie at right tackle, so they definitely have a couple of players learning on the fly. They've also come up against some aggressive defenses, like Baltimore and Pittsburgh, in the last couple of weeks. It seemed to me the Packers were so focused on stopping Adrian Peterson last time that they forgot that Favre can actually throw the ball. I've got to believe they'll dial up some more blitzes for Favre on Sunday, especially early while looking to get the crowd into the game. The Packers are the only team Favre has faced this year that didn't sack him (makes you feel good, right?), but this could be a very different flavor at Lambeau Field.

Bill: Outside of their inability to run, the Vikings did just about anything they wanted against the Packers in that first game. It was about the most lopsided seven-point game I'd ever seen. Is that about as good as the Vikings can play, and are they still playing at that high of a level?

Tim Yotter: They are still playing pretty well offensively. They got away from their running game a bit in Pittsburgh as they fell behind, but I've got to believe that they will try to get Peterson going early to help neutralize the Lambeau crowd. I'd also expect a lot of play-action fakes and double moves to try to take some of the aggressiveness out of the Green Bay defense. But it's been amazing the difference a talented quarterback has made for the Vikings. The receivers look so much better when they've got a quarterback making the right pre-snap reads and quick decisions. Favre has also done a great job of looking off safeties and coming back to an option that he was probably was interested in the whole time, just buying his receivers time to get open while the quarterback moves defenders with his eyes. You have to realize the Vikings haven't had that in a long, long time. Sidney Rice has been on fire with Favre the last two games and it's obvious Favre has a tremendous amount of confidence that the 6-foot-3 receiver will go up and get any ball near him.

Bill: How big is the drop-off from Antoine Winfield to Karl Paymah/Benny Sapp at cornerback? And how much is the passing game hurt if Bernard Berrian can't play?


Antoine Winfield, left, is superb against the run.
Tom Olmscheid/AP Images
Tim Yotter: The biggest question marks on offense are keeping Favre protected and wondering if Berrian (hamstring) will play. But the emergence of Percy Harvin gives the Vikings another solid deep threat if Berrian can't go. Without Harvin, I'd say the loss of Berrian would hurt a lot of the Vikings offense because the safeties would be able to support the run better without that deep threat. If Atari Bigby and Nick Collins get too comfortable playing close to the line of scrimmage, I'd expect to see a few deep passes to Harvin.

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings struggled two weeks ago when Winfield went down with his sprained foot. Last week, they were dramatically better in pass defense, probably because the backups knew their roles better and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier mixed up how he used them, with a mixture of Sapp and Paymah on the outside and rookie Asher Allen playing in the nickel occasionally. The biggest deficiency I saw was that it seemed Pittsburgh had success running wide to the side Winfield normally plays. Winfield is tremendous against the run and the Steelers seemed to want to test the Vikings' perimeter defenders without Winfield. Rashard Mendenhall had success doing that. I'd expect Ryan Grant and company to attempt that early as well.

Bill: Word on the street is any time Aaron Rodgers hears footsteps behind him, he thinks it's Jared Allen. No surprise, after the "Hillbilly," as Rodgers jokingly called him this week, rang up 4.5 sacks in Round 1. Is Allen just a turf guy or will the not-yet-Frozen Tundra be of no consequence?

Tim Yotter: Allen led the league in sacks in 2007 playing at Arrowhead Stadium, so he is effective on either surface. However, Chad Clifton has typically had solid success against Allen, so Clifton's availability will be one key to watch. There have been more teams trying to slow down Allen's pass rush by running end-arounds and other misdirection plays his way. It is probably an effective strategy on occasion, but in general Allen is pretty good against the running game.

Bill: Barring a key injury or two, are you covering a Super Bowl team?

Tim Yotter: I think they've got the capability to get there, but I'd like to see more consistency in a few areas before crowning them anything other than a good football team with a few flaws. The offensive line needs to continue to develop. Their communication in picking up stunts and blitzes seems to have improved since the beginning of the year, and that's to be expected with two first-year starters. But I still think they need to become better run blockers. Sounds strange to say that with Peterson running the ball, but a lot of his yards come after contract and the wall in front of him tends to become congested fairly often.

Secondly, the pass defense was solid against the Steelers, but I still think they are vulnerable there. A number of tight ends — the top being Jermichael Finley — have had impressive games against the Vikings, so they appear a little vulnerable there. Also, the personnel is largely the same as last year on defense, but the run defense hasn't been nearly as dominant. I think part of that is E.J. Henderson struggling with injuries, first a shoulder and now a knee. But their tackling has left a lot to be desired so far this year. I never would have thought that after the last three years of stellar run defense, but there is something missing this year, at least to this point.


Be sure to come back on Friday, when Bill answers five Packers-related questions from Tim.


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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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