Vikings vs. Packers: Leslie Frazier offers up a history lesson
By: By Ben Goessling, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Superior Telegram
As the Minnesota Vikings returned from a day off and gathered for a team meeting Wednesday coach Leslie Frazier asked his players if he should make a speech to explain the importance of this week’s game.
None was needed.
The Vikings know they can invigorate their playoff hopes with a win at Lambeau Field on Sunday. They can pull even with the Green Bay Packers for second place in the NFC North. But while a win would mean plenty to the Vikings’ chances of extending a surprise season, Frazier also has made sure they know it would turn around a rivalry that means more to their fans than any other.
“(When) you’ve got so many new guys on your team, like we do, and so many young players, they don’t know the implications of the rivalry,” said Frazier, who also took part in a heated rivalry with the Packers while he played for the Bears from 1981-85. “They don’t know the passion that our fans have for getting a win against Green Bay. I wanted them also to understand where we are in the standings and the importance of the game from that point of view, but also, the border rivalry. I think it’s important they understand the history of the rivalry.”
Lately, that history hasn’t been good to the Vikings. They’ve lost nine of 12 games against the Packers since Mike McCarthy took over as Green Bay’s coach in 2006, with their only wins coming on a missed Mason Crosby field goal in 2008 and a full steam of Brett Favre vengeance in 2009.
The rest of the recent ledger has been ugly. The Vikings lost 34-0 the last time they faced Favre in 2007, failed to beat Aaron Rodgers in his debut as a starter in 2008, fell 31-3 at the Metrodome in Brad Childress’ last game in 2010 and got pummeled 45-7 on “Monday Night Football” in their 2011 trip to Lambeau.
As the Packers battled the Bears for the 2011 NFC title and the Vikings sunk to the bottom of the division last year, the Packers-Vikings matchup lost some of its meaning. But the Vikings are competitive for the first time since 2009, and there’s real postseason significance attached to their meeting with the Packers on Sunday.
For the Vikings, a win would put some juice back into the rivalry.
“We know what this means to the state of Minnesota, what it means to this organization and what’s at stake for this season right now,” quarterback Christian Ponder said. “We’re excited. We’re 6-5 right now. We’re in a great position. We’re going into one of the biggest games of the year. We’re ready.”
Like they did in Chicago last week, the Vikings will face a Packers team that’s returning home after an embarrassing loss on national TV. They were beaten 38-10 on Sunday night by the New York Giants, who sacked Rodgers five times while taking away many of the reigning NFL MVP’s deep throws with the Cover-2 scheme many teams have used against the Packers this season.
The Vikings make extensive use of Cover-2 and will get a boost with safety Harrison Smith being cleared to return from a concussion. They typically have been able to generate pressure with a four-man rush against the Packers, as the Giants did last week, and they’ll face a battered offensive line that has given up more sacks than any in the league.
The Packers will get Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings back from abdominal surgery, and when they can group him with James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, they could spread out defenses that want to keep both safeties back.
But none of that works if Rodgers can’t get time to throw.
“There’s been some success with that method, so I wouldn’t expect a big change or deviation from that kind of strategy,” Rodgers said. “Because of that, we’ve got to shore up some of the protection issues, but adding Greg back into the mix would definitely give the defenses something else to think about.”
The Vikings have won just once at Lambeau Field since 2005, but with the Packers’ offensive line reeling and their defense still likely to be missing defensive back Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews this weekend, they could be vulnerable in a key division matchup.
And while the Vikings would be tied for the NFC’s top wild-card spot with a win, Frazier wants to make sure they take advantage of the chance to liven up a rivalry that’s been missing something lately.
“Just like the fans get fired up, we do, too,” linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. “We know how storied this rivalry is. We definitely want to go out there and get the win.”
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