This week's game against the Packers could define the season for the Vikings. Everything is against them going into the game – the Vikings had a short week, and Green Bay had a bye. The Packers are at home (I read that this is only the fifth time in NFL history that a team who played on the road on a Monday night has to travel to play at a team with a bye the previous week. I'm sure the Packers appreciate the gift). The Vikes are banged up, as they have been since the start of the season.
The Vikings' depth has really helped them so far. Many teams in the league have an abundance of injuries this year – Cleveland, San Francisco, and Chicago among them– but most of the teams who have a long injury list are not leading their divisions. The Vikings have persevered through losing two key starters for the season in Jim Kleinsasser (TE) and Mike Rosenthal (RT). Other top players have missed games – the Vikings have started or played third-stringers at both tight end and center this year, and discovered the talents of Mewelde Moore out of necessity as their fourth running back. Linebacker has been a disaster with injuries and inexperience, and that has shuffled the starters virtually every week so far this year. The team looks to get a little healthier this week with the possible return of Chris Claiborne, who hasn't stayed healthy since the middle of the 2003 season. Of course, the big injury is to Randy Moss, who draws so much attention for defensive schemes that it creates openings for the running game and the other receivers.
Nevertheless, the Vikings are in first place, and have a chance to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division over the next two weeks with games against the Packers and Lions. If the Vikings can win these next two games, they'll be at least two games up on both Green Bay and Detroit. It's a tough matchup this week at Lambeau, with the Pack well-rested and riding a three-game winning streak. But the Vikings have played well at Lambeau the last few years. The Vikes won 27-23 on opening day there last year, and the Pack had to score two late touchdowns to make it close. There have been some fluky losses there – a deflected pass in overtime landing in a Green Bay receiver's lap after being dropped by a Viking DB, and the hotly disputed comeback by the Packers in 2002; the NFL apologized to the Vikes for several blown calls that helped the Packers pull out the win.
How can they win without Moss? The way they seem to want to play road games is to control the ball and keep their defense off the field. This has been much more difficult this year, as the Vikings O-line is not as dominant this year as in the recent past; they really miss Kleinsasser at the point of attack, and they are starting a rookie at RT since Rosenthal went down. One of the reasons Daunte Culpepper threw so many TD passes early in the year is that the goal-line running game wasn't working. Daunte had a lot of short throws to Moss for scores.
They probably aren't going to overpower the Packers in the running game this week; but it would be interesting to see the Vikes use some two-back sets to get more out of the depth at RB, and try to get Onterrio Smith or Michael Bennett some passes out the backfield. Jermaine Wiggins also needs to be involved at TE. Improved special teams play would really help also, as the Vikes got two big returns last week from Kelly Campbell and Nate Burleson. They'll need more this week.
The defense is much maligned, but hasn't really been bad the last few games. The Giants got several turnovers they turned into scores, and the Colts are probably the best offense in the league. They seem to be coming together as a unit, and they usually play better against the Packers than most other teams.
The winning formula for this week is to control the ball with the passing game, get a play or two from special teams, and win the turnover battle. If the Vikes can do that, they'll be back in control of the NFC North.
Recent Lambeau History Good For Vikes
Viking Update Top Stories
Vikings sign 3 to practice squad, release 3The Minnesota Vikings shook up their practice squad on Tuesday, signing three – including an offensive lineman – and releasing three.
Viking Update1:34 PM
Long: No excusesJake Long was only on the field for 13 plays Sunday at Philadelphia, but two of those resulted in turnovers that cost the Minnesota Vikings offense from putting up points. On…
Viking Update12:55 PM
Did rotating tackles affect Vikings?The Minnesota Vikings took the unusual step of rotating their offensive tackles in the first half of Sunday’s loss. Did that affect their performance? Alex Boone reacted to that,…
Viking Update12:42 PM
Cutler’s back, drawing angry Vikings defenseThe Bears announced Monday that, in the midst of Chicago’s World Series frenzy, local goat Jay Cutler will be making his return to playing action. How will it go? The Minnesota…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 10:02 PM
Notebook: Problems extended beyond pass proThe Minnesota Vikings had obvious problems with pass protection, but there are other areas head coach Mike Zimmer is addressing, too.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:41 PM