Vikings-Packers Game Plan

The Vikings and Packers both have been preparing differently with the Vikings' move to Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. Plus, see the other big matchups to watch and the injury impact for Thursday night's game between the Vikings and Packers.

VIKINGS

The plan to start rookie Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback could cause the Packers plenty of headaches as they attempt to get ready in a short week. Jackson has appeared in two of the past three games, but the only real film the Packers can watch is from the fourth quarter of the Vikings' loss to the Jets on Sunday.

What they'll see is a young, mobile quarterback with a very strong arm who could create havoc if he's put in a situation to succeed.

That will be up to Vikings coach Brad Childress, who calls the plays. With Jackson running the show, the Vikings should have the ability to go vertical because his arm strength is far greater than that of veteran Brad Johnson.

But opponents also must respect Chester Taylor and the Vikings running game.

The Vikings defense, meanwhile, will have to rebound from being picked apart by Jets quarterback Chad Pennington to the tune of 339 gross yards against. The Jets were able to give the Vikings' pass defense problems by providing good protection for Pennington and finding the weaknesses in the Vikings' zone coverage.

The Packers are familiar with how to attack the Vikings. In Green Bay's 23-17 victory over Minnesota on Nov. 12 at the Metrodome, Brett Favre threw for a season-high 347 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Donald Driver had a career-high 191 receiving yards in the victory.

It's likely Green Bay will stick with this formula -- which includes spreading the Vikings out -- especially since it appears to remain a problem spot. The Packers also will be able to use some play-action pass with running back Ahman Green to keep the defense honest.

PACKERS

Both teams are in the same proverbial boat with little preparation time on a short week and facing a must-win situation as they cling to remote playoff prospects with an identical 6-8 record.

The Packers defense comes in with little knowledge of rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. He is the antithesis of the weak-armed, immobile Brad Johnson, whom Green Bay sacked four times in its win at Minnesota last month. So, Bob Sanders probably won't be as aggressive with his pressure packages as he was Sunday, when the Packers' relentless line piled up a season-high six sacks against Detroit.

The Green Bay offense, meanwhile, has a tough nut to try to crack with the Vikings' impenetrable run defense, which is yielding all of 55.1 yards per game. Mike McCarthy clearly thought he would have to win the first meeting through the air, as evidenced by pass calls on nine of the first 12 plays. The Packers did prevail with that mindset, thanks in part to a mistake-free performance by Brett Favre. Five weeks later, though, Favre is up to his 2005 tricks of throwing careless picks. For that, the running game has to be an emphasis in the rematch. Having speedy Vernand Morency available -- Ahman Green's understudy was out with a back injury in the first meeting -- is a plus.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

  • The big day by Donald Driver in the first meeting between these teams should mean the Viking pay special attention to the receiver. This could include trying to keep veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield matched up on him. If that's not the case, the Vikings certainly will want to provide rookie corner Cedric Griffin with consistent safety help, if he's healthy enough to play. The same goes for Fred Smoot, who plays right corner in nickel situations, and has had a miserable season.

  • Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson isn't afraid to run the football, meaning the Packers' linebackers will have to do their part to contain the rookie. Much of this assignment will fall to veteran middle linebacker Nick Barnett, who will have to keep an eye on Jackson at all times. Jackson, of course, could use this to his advantage.

  • Vikings rookie right tackle Ryan Cook played all but one series on Sunday against the Jets. He wasn't pleased with his performance but didn't get embarrassed. However, he will have to be much better against Packers left end Aaron Kampman. Kampman has an NFC-leading 12.5 sacks this season. The Vikings would be wise to get Cook plenty of help or they might want to think long and hard about getting veteran Mike Rosenthal back into the rotation.

  • Interior of Packers offensive line vs. Vikings DTs Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. After calling Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy and his offensive line "cowards" for its reliance on cut blocks in the run scheme, Pat Williams had a whale of a game in the heated rivals' first meeting last month. Williams had nine tackles, including eight stops of Ahman Green for gains of no more than 3 yards. The Packers were held to 47 yards on the ground but managed to get out of the Metrodome with a win. Kevin Williams, who typically has given Green Bay fits, was quiet in the first go-around. The effort from center Scott Wells and rookie guards Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz will have to better against the Williams' if Green is going to be able to finally break through the line. He hasn't rushed for 100 yards in the last four games against Minnesota. He comes in needing 54 for a 1,000-yard season and is 158 shy of Jim Taylor's franchise record of 8,207 career yards.

  • Packers WR Donald Driver vs. Vikings secondary. Driver was the difference maker in Round 1 of the season series, turning a modest pass play into an 82-yard touchdown in the closing minute of the first half and finishing with six catches for a career-high 191 yards. Minnesota's defensive backs, including safety and ex-Packer Darren Sharper, were out of sorts trying to match up with Driver in the Cover 2 scheme. The newly anointed Pro Bowler has three 100-yard games and five touchdowns in the last five meetings with Minnesota.

    INJURY IMPACT

    Vikings rookie corner Cedric Griffin likely will sit out Thursday because of a neck stinger, meaning Fred Smoot would move back into his old starting role. That would put Ronyell Whitaker into the nickel defense. The Vikings also could be without leading receiver Travis Taylor (ankle). If Taylor can't go, veteran Marcus Robison almost assuredly would be back in the lineup.

    The hot-and-cold running game could get a boost Thursday with the return of right tackle Mark Tauscher after a five-game absence because of a groin injury. Tauscher is listed as questionable, but all indications are he will start. Tauscher has only three practices under his belt in the past week, so it's probably going to take him at least a few series to get his blocking techniques down and get back in sync with his linemates. Tauscher, though, should be able to function with his guile from seven years of starting experience. ... Running back Ahman Green (knees) and cornerback Charles Woodson (shoulder), meanwhile, will try to bounce back after only three days of recovery from the last game. Both players have been accustomed the last several weeks to not practicing until the latter part of the week as they cope with chronic soreness. Neither was on the field Tuesday, which was the only full-scale practice for the team before the game, but both are probable to play. ... Wide receiver Donald Driver, likewise, should be ready for the game despite being held out Tuesday to rest a shoulder injury he aggravated in the last game. ... The team's depleted depth at receiver might be bolstered after Ruvell Martin practiced Tuesday. Martin had been out since suffering a bruised chest Dec. 10 at San Francisco. He is questionable for Thursday.


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