As the Packers make their second journey to the evil, bird-killing, Darth Vader helmet-shaped monument to taxpayer plunder, it might be worth remembering the snowstorm that led to the lowering of the prior roof in downtown Minneapolis:
This happened in December of 2010, as the Packers were dropping to 8-6 on the season, and Brett Favre’s professional football career was ending on a frozen college field across the Mississippi River from downtown:
Just weeks prior, the Packers had—in consecutive weeks—given the Cowboys and then the Vikings their ninth losses of the season, and both of their head coaches were immediately fired as a result. The Packers then went on to win six games in a row including the Super Bowl, and now, seven years later, we face the Vikings the week after beating the Cowboys, again…
SCOUTING THE VIKINGS
Since Brad Childress got fired in 2010, the Vikings hired first Leslie Frazier and now Mike Zimmer. It pains me to say that both of those coaches have had success against the Packers in games that count. In 2012 the Packers had a chance, on the last game of the regular season, to eliminate the Vikings and clinch a bye for themselves. Instead, Adrian Peterson won the MVP that day.
Three years later, with the NFC North Division title on the line, and with David Bahktiari injured, left guard Josh Sitton tried to play left tackle, and the Packers were humiliated at Lambeau Field.
The very next year, they trudged west across the Big Muddy and, despite being the better team, could not win. That loss was just last year, and the current personnel on both teams is not that different. Here are the names and jersey numbers of Vikings to watch on Sunday:
For these Mike Zimmer coached plunderers, it starts (and mostly stops) with defense, and the first thing we’ll confront on defense is the line. The statistical leader is right end #97 Everson Griffen with six sacks already through five games and an incredible 27 quarterback hits. The 6’3″ 273-pounder isn’t just quick enough around the edge to get to the QB—he’s also big and strong enough to hold the edge against RBs.
Over on the left side, #99 Danielle Hunter and #96 Brian Robison (no relation to Paul Robeson) rotate in and harass the backfield.
One reason either end of the line has so much opportunity for sack and tackle stats is that the blockers always have to worry about the nose tackle, #98 Linval Joseph, 329 pounds of movement and fury. The second round 2010 draft pick of the New York Giants was on the open market four years ago when the Packers also needed inside help—and instead of signing him for the $12.5 million guaranteed the Vikings offered, the Packers picked up ex-Viking Letroy Guion for a bargain price in 2014. Both teams got what they paid for. The Vikings have since guaranteed Joesph another $30 million to keep terrorizing centers and guards, while the Packers cut Guion in August.
It isn’t just the well-compensated nosetackle that interior blockers have to fret about. Middle linebackers #54 Eric Kendricks and #55 Anthony Barr are young and frisky and like to blitz up the A gaps.
Zimmer can call those creative blitzes because he has confidence in the secondary, which is the positional strength of this defense. The Vikings have burned three first round draft choices in the last six years on pass defenders, and all of them have panned out: #29 Xavier Rhodes (2013) was the best cornerback in the league last year according to Pro Football Focus’s opposing QB rating stat. The other corner, #26 Trae Waynes (2015), is so fast it hurts your eyes to watch him move, and he grew up in Kenosha of all places. Behind them at free safety is #22 Harrison Smith (2012) who beat the Bears last Monday.
The other safety is undrafted #34 Andrew Senejo who, despite having barely enough speed to play in the UFL, is a seriously willing tackler that gets inside the running back’s lunchpail. Where things get dicey for the Vikings is at the nickel and dime back positions. #23 Terence Newman was once a great player, but he was drafted in the first round two years before Aaron Rodgers. If our QB can’t embarrass this 39-year-old slot defender on crossing routes like Big Ben did last month in Pittsburgh, then Father Time will no longer be undefeated.
On offense, the Vikings have been spending money and draft picks like drunken sailors lately, and the results are as prickly as a port party under deck. Both of their tackles are brand new and cost nearly $90 million over five years, with more than a third of that money guaranteed at signing. Packer fans will recognize the $58 million left tackle #71 Riley Reiff from his days as a Detroit Lion. For instance, there was that one time he tried to block Julius Peppers.
The $30 million right tackle, #74 Mike Remmers, was posterized and turnstiled two years ago by Denver’s Von Miller.
The backfield guys those expensive tackles are protecting are not who we thought they would be. 2014 first round draft pick QB Teddy Bridgewater is still in his second year of recovery from a nasty knee injury, and his 2016 replacement (at the cost of a 2017 first round pick), #8 Sam Bradford, is unlikely to play on Sunday because of a not so nasty—but still lingering—left knee injury. He tried to go on Monday at Soldier Field, but looked like he needed a nurse more than a football.
This year’s top draft pick (a second rounder because of last year’s trade for Bradford) was running back Dalvin Cook, who looked like a real NFL player for the first four games until his own left knee lost a ligament on a non-contact cut against the Lions. So that means it will be a third-choice QB, #7 Case Keenum, handing off to second-choice RBs #21 Jerick McKinnon and #25 Latavius Murray. McKinnon is quick and Murray is big, but neither is both and without Cook there isn’t much to worry about.
It’s the one premier position the Vikings haven’t invested in heavily—wide receiver—where the offense is strongest. Fifth round draft choice #14 Stefan Diggs is the heart and soul of this offense, lining up everywhere and running routes to every corner of the field, including end arounds through his own backfield. Undrafted #19 Adam Thielen isn’t as fast or versatile, but manages to be both a deep threat and a possession receiver. The two of them, through five games, are the best WR duo in the league statistically, despite being thrown to by terrible quarterbacks.
#82 Kyle Rudolf is a good tight end but it’s hard to notice because the quarterbacks are too inaccurate to find him in the seams. If he’s gonna catch it he has to be heroic:
HOW THE PACKERS MATCH UP
In terms of personnel, the marquee match-up is our offense vs. their defense. If David Bahktiari‘s hamstring can’t go then Lane Taylor will be matched up—out of position—with their best player, Everson Griffen. And their graying nickelback, Terence Newman, will be struggling to defend the strength of our scheme: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Marcellus Bennett in the slot.
But it’s when both teams struggle to patch weaker personnel together with clever schemes that the game might be won or lost: their offense vs. our defense.
The Vikings almost never line ’em up and just play. On every third down they bunch three receivers tight—usually to the right—and from this gimmick formation they throw pick plays, bubble screens, and sometimes even just run to the strong side.
Against the Saints, in the season opener, this trickery worked over and over:
Since then, only Tampa Bay has succumbed to the bunchy misdirection. If there’s another team in the league that is dumb enough and young enough in the secondary to fall for this nonsense, it might be the Packers. This will be a good test of our young cornerbacks and safeties—especially with Morgan Burnett likely out with a hamstring—to see if they can communicate with Dom Capers and with each other. The Vikings’ lack of a game-changing running back should make this test easier.
The Vikings’ second best player on offense is wide receiver Adam Thielen, and national TV announcers love to call him the “hometown favorite” since he was raised in western Minnesota and went to college at “Minnesota State”—a Division II small school about an hour south of the twin cites on a bend in the Minnesota River called Mankato.
Downtown Mankato is also where the Vikings have practiced every August since 1966. In the five seasons before that—while Coach Lombardi dominated the league from 400 miles east—the expansion Vikings trained way north in Bemidji.
Most modern Wisconsinites don’t know their Bemidji from your Mankato, but historically this was a crossing of the boundary from Ojibwa to Dakota, from Great Lake to Great Plain, from wild forest to fertile farm.
It was also, during Christmas in 1862, the unsacred site of the largest government-sanctioned execution in our country’s history. The local “authorities” in the state of Minnesota—just four years old at the time—wanted this crime against humanity to be almost ten time worse than it was.
Over 300 Dakotas were sentenced to death by the State of Minnesota. President Abraham Lincoln had his staff pore over the paltry and inaccurate investigative records, and then he pardoned all but 38 of the accused. It was still—and remains—the largest, simultaneous, government-sanctioned mass murder in the history of the United States.
38 necks were broken at once across the street from where the Vikings have always trained—many of them totally innocent—and even the “guilty” were illegally murdered by modern standards of international law.
Starting next August, the Vikings will train instead within the major metropolitan region, many miles downstream from Mankato. This move has upset the civic boosters of this small town, which straddles the banks of a river that shares a name with its state and football team.
That name—Minnesota—means”“place where the waters are so clear they reflect the clouds” in the language of the Dakota—or Sioux—ancestors. The name of the river that runs through downtown Minneapolis—the Mississippi—is from Ojibwa—or Algonquin—ancestors. It means “large, flowing water.”
These two languages—Dakota and Algonquin—have been distinct for thousands of years. The boundary between Great Lakes and Great Plains, between Wisconsin and Minnesota, between Green Bay and Minneapolis, has been real since long before the Packers joined the league in 1921, and the Vikings in 1960.
Tune in below to this week’s episode of the PackerVerse radio show, which features highlights of the Linneman’s live call from the Dallas game, plus commentary from Bob and Jeff up in Lake Wanna, Sonny calling on Double G’s phone, and Jim From the South Side.