The highs and lows of this season have been borderline insane.
When 2012 kicked off, even the most optimistic people said 8-8 would be a tremendous year.
So here we are again, back at the beginning. Expectations are lower but not gone completely because the team holds its own fate in its hands.
It's almost a long shot but it's not quite there yet—the Vikings are within spitting distance of the playoffs.
They've got several really tough games between them and a berth though—starting this week with the Green Bay Packers.
The good news is that the Packers could be without Clay Matthews again, will be without defensive end CJ Wilson and are having to deal with an offensive line in utter turmoil due to injury.
The bad news is, the Vikings are likely without Percy Harvin, have a quarterback who is struggling and the defense might be seeing the return of Packers receiver Greg Jennings.
It won't be easy, but if the Vikings come in focused—if they can recapture what they had when they beat the Niners way-back-when—they've got a shot.
When the Vikings are on Offense
This was already going to be the 'Adrian Peterson Show' and then two things happened. First, Percy Harvin didn't improve and then the Packers' CJ Wilson went down.
Wilson is the bigger factor—we know rookie Jarius Wright can play very well and even if he isn't as talented as Harvin, he's a fair shadow of him.
No, losing Wilson makes an already vulnerable Packers run defense extremely vulnerable.
You can bet the Packers will focus on Peterson quite a bit, but he's seen—and overcome—eight-man fronts since he was a rookie.
This, then, is nothing new to him.
While the Vikings do need to find out a little more about Christian Ponder and whether he is their quarterback of the future, they want to win games first and foremost. So given the lack of talent at the receiver position with Harvin out and the sometimes bad decision making Ponder displays, the team should try to keep the game out of the young quarterback's hands.
That might be damning him in the eyes of some, but it's simple math to me. You have one decent receiver, a streaky tight end, a bunch of uninspiring receivers and a young, raw quarterback.
And you have Adrian Peterson looking into the mouth of a battered run defense.
It's so simple a choice, it's not a choice.
This isn't to say don't throw the ball at all. Just lean on one of the best players in football and be judicious with the passing.
The team has to be super careful with tight end Kyle Rudolph as well. They need him involved, but the Packers have been very good at covering tight ends and limiting their impact.
Ponder loves to try and fit a pass to Rudolph even in the tightest of windows, and this is a secondary that could eat that up.
So they need to mix things up with some short passes to Wright, then some to Rudolph.
The long and short of it is getting Peterson going because on top of everything else, the less Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay receivers are on the field, the less chance they have to score and the less chance this becomes a shootout.
Frankly, a shootout is the end for the Vikings in this game because they don't have the weapons for it. It's not fair to expect Ponder, Wright and Rudolph to keep up with Rodgers, Nelson, Cobb, Jones and possibly Jennings.
If the Vikings fail to get the run going or if the defense collapses, it's going to get ugly, real early.
When the Vikings are on Defense
With Bryan Bulaga down for the count, the ripple effect actually sets up quite a bit of opportunity for the Packers.
TJ Lang moved to right tackle, where he is OK, but not fantastic. This left Marshall Newhouse on his own at left tackle, as Evan Dietrich-Smith isn't nearly as capable at left guard as Lang was and can't be counted upon to support Newhouse.
So bringing in Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson off the edge as often as possible has to be the plan.
Keep Rodgers running for his life and you dwindle his options down—and with the wide range of receivers he has, if you can cut the options down, you're already coming out ahead.
If they can pressure Rodgers and beat up on the offensive line, head coach Mike McCarthy has a tendency to go with a spread offense instead of bringing in extra tight ends and backs to help the tackles block.
The idea being, as far as I can tell, that it will spread the defense out and make it harder to push the edge of the offensive line or overwhelm it on a blitz.
This did not work against the Giants, but the Vikings front seven isn't really in the same class. They are very good, however, so if McCarthy chooses to spread things out, there is every chance that the Vikings can still bring the heat on Rodgers.
Of course, that requires the cornerbacks to step up in a big way. Antoine Winfield is having an incredible season and Chris Cook has played well, but they don't match up real well with the receivers Green Bay has.
The linebackers also face issues if Randall Cobb comes across the middle or Jermichael Finley remembers how to hold onto the ball.
So they have to pick up the level of play, even though it has been solid for the most part. That includes the safeties who need to make sure—first—they are in position to help and—second—they don't get baited into moving up and not holding their spot.
The Packers don't run the ball well, but when they ran and threw short passes early on against the New York Giants, they were able to bait in the linebackers and safeties and get Jordy Nelson and James Jones in single coverage.
If I'm the Packers, I will take that all day—even at the risk of the odd hit on Aaron Rodgers.
So the safeties have to resist getting pulled in too far so they can move over the top of a play to assist the corners in buttoning up the very dangerous receivers.
The defense has to be on point if they want to have a chance to keep things close and steal this game in Lambeau Field.
In the Metrodome, this is a difficult team to beat. In Lambeau, this is even more tough.
The Vikings have a lot of talent across the board, but also some pretty significant holes. They need to scheme in ways that will mitigate the holes as much as possible, be that overmatched corners, streaky quarterbacks or a lack of receiver talent.
More than anything else, they have to strike early on both sides of the ball, try to generate turnovers and not settle for field goals on too many drives.
They will want to score early and get the Packers into a one-dimensional offensive gameplan while also giving their offense the luxury of not having to heave the ball 40 times.
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