When the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings faced off earlier this season in the Metrodome, Brett Favre led the Vikings to a 30-23 victory over his former team with a signature performance. While Favre was nearly flawless, the Packers were anything but. Costly mistakes, missed opportunities and an overall lackluster effort marred a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated.
The Packers and Vikings meet again in week eight—this time at historic Lambeau Field in Green Bay. The Vikings look to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to the Steelers, while the Packers look to get back into the NFC North division race, building on back-to-back victories over the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns.
If the Packers are going to avenge their October 5th loss to the Vikings on Sunday, the team will have to answer the following burning questions:
1. Can the offensive line protect Aaron Rodgers?
Rookie left tackle T.J. Lang has exactly one NFL start to his credit—last week's 34-3 victory over the Browns. Barring any remote chance of Chad Clifton getting the start, Lang will be squaring off against six year veteran and two time pro bowler Jared Allen. Allen gave the Packers fits in week four, notching 4.5 of his team's appalling eight sacks against Aaron Rodgers in Minneapolis.
Encouraging news for the Packers: Jared Allen has only one sack in his last three games and Green Bay's offensive line shut out the Browns last weekend. To win Sunday, the Packers need to bring tight end and running back help to the left side to slow down Allen and counteract his explosiveness off the edge. To that end, Aaron Rodgers also needs to do his part and get rid of the ball quicker. If the offensive line can keep Rodgers' jersey clean, the Packers have a much better chance of success than in week four when he was battered all night.
2. Can Green Bay's defense get pressure on Brett Favre this time around?
Despite criticism from fans and from cornerback Charles Woodson for being too conservative following week 4's loss, Packer defensive coordinator Dom Capers has said there are no plans to get blitz happy in this week's rematch. If that's true, the Packers are going to need to generate pressure on Brett Favre with their front seven, which failed to register a sack and had only one quarterback pressure in the first matchup.
The defense seems much improved of late, but it's hard to tell if the surge is coming as a result of ball hawking linebacker play from Clay Matthews, a healthy Atari Bigby and an increased pass rush from Aaron Kampman, or if it's because the Packers have played two of the league's worst teams in the past two weeks. The Packers had better hope the answer is the former, or they're likely to see Brett Favre methodically pick them apart again.
3. Can Green Bay exploit Minnesota's secondary with a depleted receiving corps?
In their first matchup, tight end Jermichael Finley torched the Viking secondary with six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown while wide receiver Jordy Nelson hauled in three grabs for 47 yards and a score. Unfortunately for Green Bay, both players are sidelined for the rematch with injuries, as is fifth receiver Brett Swain, leaving the Packer receiving corps greatly depleted.
To shore up the group, the Packers elevated wide receiver Jake Allen from the practice squad to replace Swain. Reserve tight end (and part time linebacker) Spencer Havner will likely fill in for Finley. The Packers have to be encouraged by Havner, who came out of nowhere to score a 45 yard touchdown against the Browns, his first as a pro. Allen, Havner, and Donald Lee are going to have to bring their A games Sunday if the Packers hope to take advantage of a suspect Vikings secondary.
4. Can Green Bay's defense contain Adrian Peterson again?
The Packers held Adrian Peterson to 55 total yards and a touchdown on 25 carries—a lowly 2.2 yards per carry average—in their first meeting. The Packers chose to focus on shutting down Minnesota's star running back and Brett Favre made them pay for it with 270 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Because Favre has been so effective of late, the Packers can't just stack eight men in the box on every down to stop the run like they did in the first matchup.
Stopping Adrian Peterson cold is almost assuredly too much to ask of a front seven that's also being expected to put pressure on Favre with minimal blitzing. The key to winning this matchup is going to be avoiding giving up the big play. Peterson will undoubtedly get his yards—the Packers just need to make sure he's not getting them in huge chunks.
5. Can Green Bay avoid beating themselves with costly mistakes?
The Packers, since 2007, have been one of the most penalized teams in football. As a team they're averaging 8.5 penalties per game in 2009 and their 51 penalties is second only to the Buffalo Bills—a team that hasn't had its bye week yet. Green Bay was penalized seven times for 57 yards in week four vs. Minnesota. Two of those penalties were drive killers and one negated an interception in the end zone by Charles Woodson.
Green Bay turned the ball over twice against the Vikings last time as well—a fumble and an interception, both by Aaron Rodgers. How important is avoiding turnovers for the Packers? Since a week 12 loss to Dallas in 1996, Green Bay has won 35 of 37 games in which they didn't turn the ball over. Ironically, the two losses were both against Minnesota in the Metrodome.
Five burning questions—will the Packers have answers? Or will Brett Favre and the Vikings only leave them with more questions? We'll find out Sunday. The stage is set for 3:05pm CST on the not-yet-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. See you there!