Sunday slant: Return of a different kind

The storylines will be dominated with Brett Favre's return, but it's another kind of return that could break open the game in an extremely tight series. And the Vikings have one of the best returners around.

So this is it? Favre vs. Lambeau … or Vikings vs. Packers.

Surely, it will all boil down to how Brett Favre – who has been labeled as Judas Iscariot or Benedict Arnold, among other things – handles the pressure of 60,000 of his former disciples turning on him. Will Bad Brett, the guy who has the NFL mark for interceptions, arise in an attempt to do too much? Or will it be Fantastic Favre, the superhero who could do little wrong among Packer Nation or Media Jackals for 16 years of "passion-filled" play and helped a franchise rekindle its fire and Titletown moniker in the 1990s?

But what if the unpredictable world of the NFL throws everyone for a loop and it really doesn't come down to Favre or Aaron Rodgers or Vikings superstar running back Adrian Peterson? They could all play to a stalemate. Considering the previous 24 matchups have resulted in only a 568-564 advantage for the Vikings, that's a very real possibility.

Green Bay and Minnesota features two of the top four teams in the league in turnover differential. The Packers are plus-10 and the Vikings are plus-7, but the Vikings entered last week leading the league in that category before two fourth-quarter turnovers melted their chances in Pittsburgh. Both turnovers last Sunday came with the Vikings in scoring position inside the Steelers red zone, and both resulted in returns for Pittsburgh touchdowns.

Last weekend, NFL teams that scored a defensive touchdown were 5-0, and for the season to date teams with a defensive touchdown are 17-8. The Packers were one of the teams on the second half of that statistic last time, as LB Clay Matthews stripped the ball away from Peterson and returned it for a touchdown in Green Bay's 30-23 loss at the Metrodome.

With no sacks on Favre in the last meeting, surely the Packers are looking to turn up the heat. However, guard Anthony Herrera believes the 3-4 defense his Vikings faced last week was one of the most aggressive of the season.

"Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh. They're like the grand-daddies of it. They're like Tampa with Tampa-2 (defense). They're really aggressive. That's all they know," Herrera said. "That's all they run so they're really good at it, whereas Green Bay is starting to get to that point. They're just not there yet."

"… They're still gaining confidence in their system. That's all. But they're going to be really good at it."

When the Packers hired Dom Capers as their defensive coordinator this offseason, he immediately made the switch to the 3-4 and moved their most effective pass rusher, former defensive end Aaron Kampman, to linebacker. But since that last meeting, Kampman has been playing more on the line of scrimmage and finding a pass-rush groove.

If it's not a defensive return for a touchdown, it could be a special-teams return that tilts the balance of the game in a series whose average score has been 23.7 to 23.5 since 1998.

That was the case in both games with the Packers last year. In the first meeting, the season opener, Will Blackmon returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and it was the difference in a 24-19 Packers win. The Vikings won the second meeting at the Metrodome 28-27, but Blackmon had a 65-yard punt return in that contest too.

This year, the Vikings appear more apt to do the returning, as rookie Percy Harvin has already returned two kickoffs for touchdowns – the first time a Viking had done that in a season. In fact, it's the first time a Viking has had two kickoff returns for a touchdown in a career. It's a courageous position, but Harvin seems to have the attitude to get north and south in a hurry and hits the hole with authority.

"He's not afraid to die. He can run up in there. Sometimes it's just a trust that the holes that open don't close. When it does, it's like running into a wall," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.

Last week, two teams scored touchdowns on special teams returns. They were 1-1, and the Vikings were on the losing end after Harvin's 88-yard kickoff return was followed by an interception return for a touchdown. Harvin is questionable after being ill during the week.

Punt returner Darius Reynaud is also questionable with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of action the last four weeks. He could return Sunday as well after racking up an impressive 17.3-yard average on punt returns in his first three games.

The storyline Sunday will certainly be on Favre's return, but it could be another kind of return that decides the fate, just like the Steelers' two returns sealed a loss for the Vikings last week. This week, they hope to be on the winning end.


  • The Vikings are facing their last 3-4 defense of the season after loading up against them in the first half of the schedule. "It was ironic that a couple of preseasons ago we faced three out of four 3-4 teams and then didn't real play one during the season," Childress said. "They are all different flavors."

  • Vikings players have been comparing the athletic quarterbacks they will have face over the last two games – Ben Roethlisberger last Sunday and Aaron Rodgers this Sunday. Rodgers is quicker and probably scrambles outside the pocket more.

    "He's definitely an athletic guy. He looks downfield while he's scrambling," safety Madieu Williams said of Rodgers. "It's something we have to be aware of, in terms of the pump fakes and things like that. But, in terms of comparison, they're both pretty good quarterbacks."

  • Last week, the combination of replacement cornerbacks Benny Sapp, Karl Paymah and Asher Allen held Roethlisberger under 200 yards passing. LB Ben Leber wasn't surprised, or even impressed with the job the backups did.

    "I wasn't necessarily impressed. I think it's the standard which we hold on defense and I wish we could have done more," Leber said. "There were some key plays that we certainly should have played better. We had a key, Asher's forced fumble, there toward the end of the game, we wish we could have fallen on the ball and gotten that ball back because that would have been a crucial play. So, yeah, there are certainly things we could have done better. I'm not surprised by it. It's just how our defense plays."

  • Guard Anthony Herrera on playing at Lambeau Field: "It's a beautiful atmosphere, something that you've got to love. It takes you straight back to college. Crowd never sits down. They're always hyped. Whether they're winning or losing, they're always hyped. They've got a beautiful fan base, so it's going to be extremely exciting, extremely loud. It's going to be one heck of a game."

  • Herrera said he believes there will be more cheering than booing for Favre.

    "I won't say he made Green Bay because they had great quarterbacks before that, especially Bart (Starr), but No. 4 is No. 4 any way you slice it or dice it," Herrera said.

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

  • Viking Update Top Stories