Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Packers, Part I

The Vikings and Packers know each well, but every year brings new twists and turns to one of the league's best rivalries. The Vikings won the division in 2009, but they still have plenty of questions – fumbles by a star running back, the loss of a third-down back and uncertainty in the secondary, to name a few. Packer Report's Bill Huber asks, Viking Update's Tim Yotter answers.

Bill Huber: I can't not ask about the quarterback. I think it's part of my contract, though I'm enjoying a Favre-free zone on my site. Anyway, I know the guys in the locker room only care about winning. And I know that winning soothes any and all problems. With that said, is it really true that nobody gives a rip that the quarterback gets to skip OTAs and minicamps and training camp? Or, in the unlikely scenario that the Vikings struggle to only seven or eight wins, does all of that ugly stuff come up, like it did in New York?

Tim Yotter: Only seven or eight wins? Blasphemy! In all seriousness, I haven't found one player that seems to be too upset about it. The players are probably more tired of answers questions about Favre's future. The other quarterbacks – Tarvaris Jackson, Sage Rosenfels and Joe Webb – will get more reps in training camp and the first preseason game or two without Favre, and that should only help them state their case for a roster spot. I'm sure there could be an underlying thought about why Favre can do it but not others, but deep down they all know he isn't going to learn much more at training camp. And after the way he played last year, saving the wear on tear on him early might be better than having him in the heat of two-a-days in Mankato.

BH: Adrian Peterson is one of really only a handful of guys in the entire NFL that you find yourself holding your breath for every time he gets the ball. There aren't many guys who can take it to the house every time he gets the ball. Is he so good that the Vikings can live with the fumbles? I realize it's a point of emphasis now, but at this point, his bouts of fumble-itis seem pretty well-entrenched.

TY: Yes, they do, but so did Tiki Barber's before he changed his technique for carrying the ball. I really don't believe that tweaking the way he carries the ball would have to alter his "running style" or "take away his spirit." I don't see any reason he can't run as hard as he already does but just carry the ball tighter to his body. It doesn't seem like a major adjustment, but he has to be willing to make it and realize how much the fumbles are costing him and his team. He's good enough that you put up with some of it, but if he really wants to be as good as he can, he needs to improve in that area. He fumbled seven times in the regular season, and it's probably somewhat of a fluke that six of those were lost, but he is still the one that put the ball on the ground. He needs to not only take responsibility for that, but correct it.

BH: The Vikings could have scored a million points in those games against the Packers last year. What a mismatch, the Vikings' receivers against a depleted Packers secondary. Seems like maybe the shoe is on the other foot. Is the prognosis good for Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin? Or are Lito Sheppard and Chris Cook legit answers?

TY: There are a number of different points to hit on there. I don't see any reason Winfield shouldn't be 100 percent to start the season. He said his foot was finally feeling good this summer, so he should be ready to go.

Griffin is probably a different story. He was making quick progress in his rehabilitation following surgery for his torn anterior cruciate ligament, but the season opener is only a little more than seven months after the injury and it's usually a nine- to 12-month recovery. I wouldn't expect him to be ready until after the Vikings' Week 4 bye.

Lito Sheppard seems like the most likely option to fill in for Griffin, given Sheppard's experience, including his familiarity with Leslie Frazier's concepts (the two were together in Philadelphia), but Sheppard isn't likely to just fall back into his Pro Bowl ways.

It's still too early to tell exactly how much Cook will be used since they haven't gone live with pads this offseason. He seems like more of a zone cornerback who can be physical, which is exactly what the Vikings want, but just how much he contributes early remains to be seen.

Just as likely are contributions from second-year cornerback Asher Allen, who is showing signs of ascending. And then there is Benny Sapp, who made the starts last year in Winfield's absence.

So, while a healthy Griffin is still likely the best option, they at least have capable backups to stem the tide while Griffin recovers. Besides Sapp, the issue with each of them is their lack of experience in this exact system.

BH: I wonder what the Vikings are going to do without Chester Taylor. I know they drafted Toby Gerhart, but he doesn't strike me as a third-down back.

TY: No, I would look for a completely different way of handling the running backs this year. Gerhart is more of a banger than Taylor was/is, so I expect to see the Vikings use him more on first and second downs to spell Peterson, and then look for Peterson to see more third-down action than he has up to this point in his career. Although I wouldn't say it's a strength of his yet, Peterson has improved his blocking and seems to do a little better with recognition of blocking assignments. However, after those two, it's a crapshoot who will win the third roster spot at the position – it's between Albert Young, Ryan Moats and longer shot Ian Johnson.

BH: The Saints are the champions, but it's pretty clear that the best team didn't win in the NFC title game. I realize camps won't start for another week, but are the Vikings the team to beat in the NFC or entire NFL? Or, what are the potential stumbling blocks?

TY: I think they have a major stumbling block with their neighbors to the east. As you pointed out, the Vikings put up a lot of points against the Packers last year, but they will need to be on their game this year for another sweep. Quite a few people seem to like the Packers in the division, and if they can figure out their offensive line, I think they are a legitimate threat. On the other hand, the Vikings should also be better with their offensive line, which should also be healthier and more experienced than last year. The other big issue for the Vikings is their schedule. They start out with the Saints and Dolphins, and after the Week 4 bye, they play five straight games against 2009 playoff teams with three of those on the road. Their November and December schedule seems a little more forgiving, but they can't dig too big of a hole out of the gate.

Bill Huber is the publisher of Packer Report and Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this hot topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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