Reasons To Run

Between the weather, trends and injuries, the strategy for the Vikings entering Lambeau Field tonight seems clear — run the ball early.

It is supposed to be cold tonight at Lambeau Field tonight. That's hardly a shocker for Green Bay in December, but it is supposed to be well below the oft-cited 34-degree mark where Brett Favre seemingly becomes invincible at home.

So with cold weather comes frost in the ground, and with a heated field comes muck at times. And with a damp ball and cold hands comes an even greater chance for fumbles and misdirected passes, just what Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings don't need.

With a normally sure-handed Michael Bennett in the backfield, that would seem to indicate a strong running game. That is the weather aspect of this theory.

Onto the trends. Tight end Byron Chamberlain's role has been reduced in recent weeks, and if you ask offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, he believes Chamberlain is still fighting through his opening-game knee injury. If his role continues to be reduced and Hunter Goodwin is on the field with Jim Kleinsasser, there is a strong power running game to be had. Not to mention that Bennett is one of the hottest running backs in the league and coming home to his native Wisconsin. It would also help to avoid the season-long trend of interceptions and fumbles by Culpepper.

Then there are the injuries — to both teams.

First the Vikings. Wide receiver Randy Moss is healthy, but beyond that most of the other semi-experienced receivers are either down or out. D'Wayne Bates could play, but he will be a game-time decision. Kelly Campbell should play, but he isn't 100 percent. That would indicate a movement toward the running game, but guard David Dixon and short-yardage back Moe Williams' expected absences might counter the injury leanings toward the running game.

But the injuries to the Packers may be the greatest incentive for the Vikings to run the ball. Nose tackle Gilbert Brown, he of grave-digging fame, may not play because of an ankle injury, and defensive end Vonnie Holliday is also coming back from injury. In general, the Packers defensive line has struggled to field a formidable, consistent front.

The Packers didn't run the ball well against the Vikings in the Metrodome three weeks ago, and with Ahman Green looking more and more doubtful as the week wore on because of a knee injury, rookie Tony Fisher will almost surely see more field time this week. Depending on his effectiveness (and he was effective last week), without Green the Packers could become one-dimensional, likely making for touchdown-or-bust-type drives.

Still, with all those reasons, the biggest encouragement for the Vikings to run may be to simply limit Brett Favre's field time.

* Also on the Packers injury front is receiver Terry Glenn, suffering from a hip injury, who isn't likely to play.
* Green Bay is 6-0 at home this year and the Vikings are 0-5 on the road, but the streaks go longer than that. The Packers have won 10 straight home games dating back to Nov. 18, 2001, and the Vikings have lost 16 straight on the road dating back to Nov. 23, 2000.
* If the Packers win tonight, it will tie the all-time series between the teams. The Vikings currently lead the 82-game head-to-head series with a 41-40-1 record.
* The Vikings have been allowing 27.7 points a game this year.
* The Vikings led the Packers last year at Lambeau 13-10 with seven minutes to play in the game, but a TD by Ahman Green and an interception return for a TD by Mike McKenzie made the final 24-13 Green Bay.
* With 10 receiving yards, Randy Moss will become the first player in NFL history with 1,000 or more receiving yards in each of his first five seasons.
* Moss likes playing the Packers. He has six 100-yard games in nine games against them, and he is averaging more than 20 yards a catch against Green Bay. * With one touchdown, Moss and Daunte Culpepper will tie the franchise record for a tandem at 26. The current record is held by Warren Moon and Cris Carter.
* Culpepper needs only six yards passing to set the franchise mark for the most passing yardage in the first four years of a career — a mark of 9,409 held by Fran Tarkenton. Considering Culpepper didn't play his rookie year and missed five games last season, it's a pretty impressive mark.
* The Packers are 13-0 in games Ahman Green has rushed for 100 yards.
* You can't blame offensive production for all of the Vikings' problems. The team is first in the NFC in total first downs and rushing first downs, as well as total yards. But the team's 31 fumbles and 16 lost fumbles is by far the worst in the NFC. In contrast, San Francisco has fumbled just eight times and lost only three.

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