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The Seven Good (and One Bad) of The Vikings After The Bye

The Minnesota Vikings are 7-1, and after this weekend’s results, they’re clearly in the driver’s seat in the NFC North.

So, the question is how’d they get there? Clearly, the massive upswing started one mid-August afternoon, when Brad Childress hopped into an SUV and finally delivered the Vikings a starting quarterback.

Nobody believes that Sage Rosenfels or Tarvaris Jackson would be sitting at 7-1, but Brett Favre isn’t the only reason why the Vikings in control of their own destiny this season.

Here’s a look at the seven things the Vikings have going right, and one thing they need to improve in the second half of the season.

1. The Favre Factor

Clearly the elephant in the room is Brett Favre. At 40 years old, Favre is having one of the best seasons of his career. His stat line, particularly 16 touchdowns against three interceptions, is practically unbelievable. Even when he was healthy and young, he didn’t often put up stats like that.

However, the greatest benefit that Favre brings to the table is faith. For all the talk of schisms and Favre’s prima donna status, every player in the Vikings locker room believes that Brett Favre can win any game on the schedule.

That’s not a benefit they’re willing to give a Tarvaris Jackson, as much as they may like him as an individual, or Sage Rosenfels. And so far, it’s something that’s borne itself out during the season.

Favre has built an instant rapport with his receivers, has developed his own audible and check down systems, and has put some flair into a very rough and generic offense in desperate need of some life.

2. Rookie Development

There’s little doubt, at least at the moment, that Percy Harvin will be the offensive rookie of the year. With all due respect to Baltimore’s Michael Oher, nobody has splashed onto the scene quite like Havin.

He’s picked up the offensive scheme faster than anyone imagined, and has become Favre’s favorite third down target. And while the “Percy-Cat” formation hasn’t delivered much fruit, Harvin has shown his versatility as a receiver, runner, and return man.

The Vikings’ other big draft pick, both figuratively and literally, was Phil Loadholt.

And while Loadholt has struggled at times, at least in part due to injury, he has made the right side of the Viking’s line infinitely better, and as he continues to develop this season, it’s clear that he will be a force in the running game.

Of the Viking’s other draft picks, Asher Allen has played well as the nickel back in Antoine Winfield’s absence, and linebacker Jasper Brinkley and safety Jamarca Sanford have both played very well in special teams coverage.

3. Cooking Rice

Sidney Rice flashed a lot of potential in two seasons, but injuries threatened to derail his talent. Last season, Rice only had 15 catches, with four touchdowns, but he never looked comfortable.

This season? Rice already has more than four times as many yards as he did last season. Part of that is due to his quarterback. But part of it is due to Rice elevating his play.

Working out with Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Carter this offseason has given Rice a shot of confidence. He’s running routes more effectively and efficiently, and as a result, he’s looking more and more like a number one receiver.

4. Jared Allen and the Williams Wall

Jared Allen is having a career year. 10.5 sacks at the midway point and three forced fumbles put him near the top of the league as a defensive lineman. Exactly what the Vikings had hoped he would be, even more so now that he’s playing healthy.

While Pat and Kevin Williams don’t have as gaudy numbers, what’s more important for the Vikings is that they’re playing. Their suspension is tied up in the court system, and Kevin, in particular, is making the most of the opportunity.

While Pat hasn’t been the dominant run stuffer he was in years past, he’s still doing a good job eating up space, and with Jimmie Kennedy playing well backing him up, he should be well rested down the stretch.

5.  Special Special Teams

The Viking’s special teams were among the worst in the league last season, setting the wrong kinds of records for points allowed. They looked lost and missed easy assignments and tackles, most notably against Reggie Bush last year.

This year, however, the unit looks much improved. Partially because new coordinator Brian Murphy has a more tight scheme in place, but also because of the new blood on the field this season.

Percy Harvin, of course, has provided the Vikings with a spectacular kick returner, but perhaps more important is the return of Heath Farwell.

The Vikings’ leading tackler in 2007 missed all of 2008 with a knee injury. It’s no shock that Farwell’s return to the squad has improved the tackling significantly. In addition, the Vikings added two big hitters in Jamarca Sanford and Jasper Brinkley in the draft, as well as Canadian stand out Kenny Onatalu to shore up the coverage teams.

6. Scheme Change

Throughout his tenure as head coach, Brad Childress has been under fire for having too simple a game plan. The Vikings’ playbook was smaller than the one for Tecmo Bowl. Run up the middle, run up the middle, three yard pass on 3rd-and-4. It didn’t matter what personnel grouping was on the field.

Now, however, Brad Childress has been able to launch his much vaunted “kick ass” offense. Which means shaking up the packages on first and second downs, trying to find ways to bounce Adrian Peterson off tackle, and, shock of all shocks, passes for more than three yards.

It’d be dumb to suggest this didn’t have something to do with Brett Favre, of course, but most of it has to do with trust in the players on the field at any given time.

Phil Loadholt isn’t going to waffle under pressure like Ryan Cook.

Visanthe Shiancoe can actually catch passes. Sidney Rice has more than one good knee. Harvin is just as reliable as Bobby Wade, but can actually make plays downfield. All things the Vikings can count on this season that they haven’t had in a long time.

7. Soft Schedule

Of course it’s worth noting that the Viking’s schedule isn’t exactly threatening. They’re not 7-1 by accident. Well…I guess that depends on how you feel about the 49ers game.

Of their first eight games, the Vikings beat Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis all among the league’s worst. As well as Green Bay and San Francisco, two young teams that are still finding their groove. So the only “quality” win was Baltimore in Week Six.

But consider the rest of the schedule. They’ve got Detroit again, an up and down Seattle team, slumping Chicago twice, and Carolina. The only truly competitive teams that the Vikings play before the Playoffs are Arizona, Cincinnati, and the Giants. The Giants game will be at the end of the season when the Vikings are likely to have clinched the division, at least.

More importantly, however, is that the schedule clearly favors Brett Favre, since only the Chicago game on Dec. 28th will be played in a cold weather climate, and isn’t likely to be of much consequence barring a disastrous second half. 

And consider that, unless the Giants suddenly charge and the Saints fall off, the Vikings are likely to be able to play every Playoff game in a dome or warm weather stadium, as well. This isn’t last season where he’s going to have to test his bicep in bad weather nearly every week.

-1. Missing Presence

There are a few negatives to the Vikings this season, of course, but one really glaring one. While many veterans are playing hard to keep the team in first place and try to secure a Playoff spot, many highly paid veterans haven’t shown up yet this year.

E.J. Henderson, who was the spark plug of the defense last season and was playing at Pro Bowl level before he got injured, hasn’t looked the same this year. He’s played decently as the Vikings’ middle linebacker, but he’s had a tendency to disappear in the second half when the team really needs him to make stops.

Bernard Berrian is another veteran who put up great numbers last year, and seemed well on his way to proving that he was worth his exorbitant contract. But since he missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, Berrian has not picked up the new Vikings playbook or any connection with Brett Favre at all.

Finally, the bane of the Vikings’ defense this season has been the poor tackling of safeties Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams.

And while I’m willing to give Johnson the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how it’s his first year as a true starter, Williams is a six year veteran who needs to start playing to the standards of his $33-million contract.

With everything that’s gone right for the team this season, and with luck seemingly falling their way more often than not, it’s not difficult to see the Vikings as Super Bowl contenders.

The real question, however, won’t be answered until after the bye, when we find out how many of those seven bye week positives, can actually be maintained for the rest of the year.

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Vikings-Packers: A Homer and a Hater Debate Minnesota’s Win

Four hours after watching the Vikings put away the Packers in the latest, greatest edition of the Aaron Rodgers whack-a-thon (nee: The Brett Favre Bowl), I still have no idea what I just saw.

I don’t know if I saw a juggernaut in action, or a team that can’t close to save its soul.

I don’t know if I saw three quarters of heart-stopping football, or one quarter of mind-numbing timidity.

And I don’t know if I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling like a Vikings homer or a Vikings hater.

So to sort things out, we’re going to hear a bit from both.

We teed up a handful of salient topics from the aftermath of Monday night’s game. My inner homer and inner hater lined up to take their best swings—the former waxing poetic about all that went right in Minnesota’s win, and the latter bemoaning all that went wrong.

Here’s what they had to say about:

Adrian Peterson

The Homer Says: Complain all you like about AP’s modest stat line—55 yards rushing on 25 carries—but Peterson did three things very, very right in this game:

1) He willed the Vikings down the field on their first possession. Peterson was responsible for seven of the 12 plays that made up Minnesota’s mammoth opening drive. He bullied his way to two first downs along the way, including a 4th-and-1 pickup, and set the stage for the game’s first score by hauling the rock to the Green Bay one-yard line.

2) He put the ball in the end zone. If you think that’s easy, just ask the Packers, whose inability to punch it in from a yard out in the fourth quarter wound up being mighty costly.

3) He got the Packers to commit about 14 guys to stopping the run. They stopped it all right, but effectively abandoned the pass rush in the process. Peterson may not have put up the kind of eye-popping numbers we’re used to seeing, but his loss was Brett Favre’s gain.

Peterson won’t get credit for what the offense did to the Packers, but his presence on the field was no small part of the end result.

 
The Hater Says: Somebody get the Bears on the phone—we need to find out how they managed to swap our Adrian Peterson for their own.

How else do you explain “All Day’s” all-night no-show?

The numbers were bad, especially when you figure that for a 6’1” back, 2.2 yards per carry is about as much as you’d gain if you simply ran up to the line of scrimmage, held the ball out, and fell forward.

The context was worse: In the previous two weeks, the Packers gave up 141 yards rushing to Cedric Benson, and 117 to Steven Jackson, even though Jackson was the only Ram who remotely resembled a playmaker.

This wasn’t exactly the Steel Curtain here. But Peterson got stuffed four times for negative yardage. He was stopped for no gain another four times.

And about that fumble…

As ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski asked, how does a man with such monstrously strong hands lose so many balls?

You’re better than that, AP, and you know it.


The Minnesota Defense

The Homer Says: Before the game, when Mike Tirico said the Vikings sport “the best defensive line in the NFL,” I thought he was going a little overboard.

Afterwards, I wondered why he didn’t use a few more superlatives.

Jared Allen spent most of the game doing things to Aaron Rodgers that are illegal in most states. The mulleted maniac racked up 4.5 of the team’s eight (eight!) sacks, delivered five quarterback hits, registered four tackles for loss, and nailed Rodgers in the end zone for a safety that stretched Minnesota’s lead to 30-14.

A little further back, Antoine Winfield led the Vikings with 10 tackles, including a vicious hit on Ryan Grant at the goal line to set up Allen’s safety. Winfield also snuck around Greg Jennings to pick off Rodgers and kill what would have been a go-ahead drive for the Packers in the second quarter.

And how about that goal-line stand to kill an eight-and-a-half-minute, 14-play Green Bay drive at the one?

Rodgers took the Pack 81 yards to set up 1st-and-goal from the Minnesota five-yard line. Spectacular stops from E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Ben Leber on the next three downs forced the Packers to throw on 4th-and-1, and a lucky drop by Donald Lee ended the threat.

If the Packers had any aspirations of matching Favre blow-for-blow, the Vikings snuffed them out right then and there.

The Hater Says: How do you terrorize a quarterback to a degree he’s never seen in his career, down multiple punts inside the five-yard line, force a safety, kill two scoring drives with turnovers, and still let the other guys put 23 points on the board?

By giving up a whole bunch of big plays in between.

The Vikings allowed Rodgers to complete six passes of 20 yards or more, including touchdown throws of 33 and 62 yards. In fact, when they weren’t busy giving the Packers QB turf burns, they were relatively powerless to stop him from picking their secondary apart to the tune of 384 yards passing in a 26-of-37 performance.

Tight end Jermichael Finley came into the game with 11 career receptions for 136 yards. He caught six passes for 128 yards on the night. Donald Driver chipped in four catches for 55 yards and way too many first downs. Jordy “Doofy White Guy” Nelson caught three balls for 47 yards and a score.

Even with Greg Jennings limited to 31 yards on three catches, the Green Bay passing attack was in business.

Ryan Grant led a running game that banged out a surprisingly potent 82 yards on 17 attempts, for 4.8 yards per carry. If the Packers hadn’t been playing from behind for most of the night, he might have posed a legitimate problem.

At the end of the night, the Vikings let the Packers collect 19 first downs, including seven third-down conversions in 13 tries. If Green Bay hadn’t blown a chance at points on the goal line, Rodgers’ fervent drive in the game’s final two minutes might have cost Minnesota dearly.


Brett Favre and the Passing Game

The Homer Says: This was one of those nights when you’d love to spend a little quality time with one of those Packer fans who insists on calling his fallen idol “Brent.”

Through three quarters, Favre was 20-of-24 with three touchdowns. If the Vikings hadn’t put the passing game on ice in the final period, he almost certainly would have topped 300 yards passing for the second straight week, and would have been a decent bet to pick up another score or two.

As it was, he had to settle for 271 yards, a 135.3 passer rating, and the satisfaction of being the best quarterback on the field.

Bernard Berrian looked like a legitimate weapon for the first time all season, catching six balls for 75 yards and a touchdown. When Sidney Rice wasn’t busy plucking on-side kicks out of the air, he managed to haul in five passes for 70 yards and find the end zone himself. Visanthe Shiancoe delivered in the red zone.

The best part of the passing attack? The Packers didn’t lay a finger on Favre all night. At one point in the third quarter, Green Bay brought just three rushers, giving Favre seven eternal seconds to sit back in the pocket as the defenders bounced haplessly off the O-Line. He hit tight end Jeff Dugan for a cool 25-yard pickup on the play.

Favre insists tonight wasn’t about sticking it to the Pack. But if it was, well, consider it stuck.

The Vikings beat a division rival in their first real showdown of the year. They looked fantastic at times in doing so. They’re 4-0. You can’t ask for much more than that.

The Hater Says: Favre was indeed unstoppable for much of the game—until the Minnesota coaching staff decided to stop him.

He was throwing to whomever he wanted, whenever he wanted—until Brad Childress decided to stop throwing.

Bold move there, Chilly.

Listen, we get that you had a 16-point lead and wanted to run down the clock. We get that you didn’t want to put Favre in a position to commit a game-changing turnover.

We get that part of being an NFL head coach these days means checking your cojones at the door, and that in choosing to kneecap your heretofore-dazzling offense in the fourth quarter, you were just living up to that expectation.

But how many zero-yard runs was it going to take before you figured out you weren’t fooling anybody out there? How many times did you plan to run a minute and a half off the clock via three-and-out in the closing stanza, anyway?

For that matter, how many times did you see the Packers stop Favre and the passing offense in the first three quarters? I’ll field that one for you: Once. They stopped him once. Your other five possessions during that stretch ended in one bizarre turnover and four touchdowns. 

This bears repeating: Your quarterback was 20-of-freaking-24. He had more time to throw than Usain Bolt needs to run the 100-meter-dash. He was shredding the Green Bay secondary like an Enron intern on a Friday.

So why take your foot off the gas? Why leave points on the field and let the Packers make a few desperate plays to claw their way back into the game? Why not go for the kill?

They used to say the only person who could stop Michael Jordan in college was Dean Smith. On Monday night, the only person who could stop Brett Favre was Brad Childress.

And people wonder why I don’t trust this team.
 

This article is also featured on Purple Reign, a part of MTR Media. For more on the NFL, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.

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The Greatest Minnesota Vikings-Green Bay Packers Games of the Past Decade

If you’re an ESPN executive, the most exciting sentence in the English language right now probably goes a little something like this:

Brett Favre takes on the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.

Combine a bitter rivalry with a hugely polarizing star, stick it in the most popular timeslot of the most popular sport in America, and what do you get?

One seriously popular product, that’s what. Dolphins-Colts drew nearly 15 million viewers a few weeks ago on Monday night. It’s hard to imagine Vikings-Packers won’t blow that number out of the water. Whatever the final score, the “Worldwide Leader” is poised to put up some seriously crooked numbers.

The craziest part? Monday night’s game isn’t even the most exciting showdown between the two teams this season. That won’t come until Nov. 1, when Favre takes the stage in front of 72,000 of his scorned admirers at Lambeau Field. As Samuel L. Jackson might tell us, “Hold on to your butts.”

On the eve of the opening act of one of most riveting regular-season dramas we can remember, we’re compelled to look back at a handful of the classic Minnesota-Green Bay clashes that have paved the way.

Here, we highlight four such games. Our guess is that before the season is over, we’ll have a strong candidate to round out the top five.

 

Oct. 5, 1998, Lambeau Field: Vikings 37, Packers 24

Between Sept. 3, 1995 and Oct. 5, 1998, the Packers played 25 regular-season games at Lambeau.

They won all of them.

That’s a three-year stretch of dominance that rivals the length of the average NFL career. In other words, a whole generation of players came and went without seeing the Packers lose at home.

Then Randy Moss made his way into the league, and everything changed.

Moss made an impact from Week One of his rookie campaign, but this game served as his coming-out party: Five catches, 190 yards, two touchdowns, and one shattered winning streak.

Randall Cunningham threw for 442 yards and four scores on the day. Favre tossed three picks before getting the hook in favor of Doug Pederson, and a young Ryan Longwell kicked a field goal and three PATs in a losing effort.

Some Packer fans will tell you this game was the beginning of the end of the Holmgren era. For Vikings fans getting caught up in the magical 1998 season, it was the beginning of something special.


Nov. 6, 2000, Lambeau Field: Packers 26, Vikings 20 (OT)

If you read the box score, it looked simple: Antonio Freeman caught a 43-yard pass from Brett Favre to win the game.

If you remember the play that went down as “The Improbable Bobble,” it was anything but.

On a messy night in Green Bay, Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings spent four quarters matching the Pack blow-for-blow. Both offenses were pass-happy, and neither moved the ball well in the rain. 

The Vikings nearly won the game in regulation, but as Gary Anderson lined up for a 33-yard field goal with seven seconds to play, Mitch Berger muffed the snap, then chucked up an ill-advised pass attempt that was picked off to send the game into overtime.

On 3rd-and-4 during Green Bay’s first possession of OT, Minnesota pressured Favre into a long lob to Antonio Freeman. Vikings corner Chris Dishman broke it up.

Or so he thought.

Dishman whacked the ball out of the air and off of his body. Freeman, face-down on the ground, somehow came up with the ricochet on the fly.

Dishman didn’t notice that Freeman wasn’t down, and Freeman waltzed Scot-free into the endzone for the win.

As Favre tells it, he mobbed Freeman during the ensuing celebration before asking in a whisper, “Did you catch it?”

Freeman’s reply: “Hell yeah, I got it.”


Jan. 9, 2005, Lambeau Field: Vikings 31, Packers 14

In many respects, Minnesota’s 2004 season was an affair to forget.

The Vikings started 5-1 and finished 8-8. Mike Tice was nailed for running a Super Bowl ticket scalping operation a few months after the season ended. Randy Moss ruffled plenty of feathers when he headed to the locker room with a few seconds left on the clock at the end of a Week 17 loss in Washington.

But this particular night in Green Bay was one to remember.

The first and only playoff meeting between the Vikings and Packers was a tale of two quarterbacks. Culpepper racked up 284 yards passing and two touchdowns; Favre threw for 216 yards, a touchdown, and four interceptions.

Moss, allegedly nursing a hamstring injury, caught four balls for 70 yards and two scores. He punctuated his second trip to the end zone by giving Packer fans—notorious for mooning the visiting team’s bus as it approaches and leaves the stadium—a little taste of their own medicine.

If you ask me, the league’s $10,000 fine for the stunt was a small price to pay for making the ever-obnoxious Joe Buck freak out on the air about an act he deemed “disgusting.” Evidently, Buck was unaware that Moss had in fact kept his pants on.

The Vikings went on to get pasted by the Eagles the following week, but if there was ever a win to validate a long, ugly season, this was it.


Nov. 9, 2008, the Metrodome: Minnesota Vikings 28, Green Bay Packers 27

When Lovie Smith took over as the Bears head coach, his first stated goal was clear: Beat the Packers.

When Brad Childress took the Vikings job, he never went public with a similar intention. Considering Minnesota kicked off his tenure with an 0-5 skid against Green Bay, that’s probably a good thing.

Heading into this game, Childress had plenty to worry about besides that streak. The Vikings were 4-4 and a tied for third place. In their last divisional game, they’d turned the ball over five times and given up 48 points in a loss to the Bears. The high-profile acquisitions they’d made in the offseason (Jared Allen, Bernard Berrian) hadn’t vaulted them into contention.

In other words, they needed a win here.

To get one, Childress put the ball in the hands of Adrian Peterson.

As Sam Adams would say, always a good decision.

Peterson ripped off 192 yards rushing on 30 carries, including a 29-yard rumble for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to stop a 17-0 Green Bay run. The PAT gave the Vikings a one-point lead with a little more than two minutes to play.

Aaron Rodgers brought the Pack to the outskirts of field goal range, but Mason Crosby pushed the go-ahead kick a few feet wide of the upright from 52 yards out, giving Childress his first win over his biggest rival.

Vikings fans can only hope that it won’t be his last.

 

This article is also featured on Purple Reign, a part of MTR Media. For more on the NFL, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.

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Catch Him If You Can: Brett Favre and His Receivers Still Have Issues

If you’re a defensive coordinator taking on the Vikings these days, your game plan isn’t complicated:

Take away Adrian Peterson, and make Brett Favre throw big to beat you.

It didn’t work for Cleveland or Detroit. Peterson rushed for 272 yards through Minnesota’s first two games, at a clip of 6.8 yards per carry. Favre was content to dink and dunk his way around the field to the tune of 133 yards per game.

It almost worked for San Francisco. The 49ers held Peterson to 85 yards on 19 carries in Week Three, forcing to Favre shoulder a heavier burden in Week Three than he had in the previous two weeks combined.

His pass attempts leapt from 48 to 95. His yardage spiked from 265 to 606. Frankly, he did more work than the Vikings would prefer him to do.

In the end, Minnesota got the job done, but the win was neither pretty nor probable. Sunday’s win was a thrill, but if Greg Lewis’ foot had come down a few centimeters further back, Favre would have completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws on the day, and we’d be discussing his performance in a far more critical light this week.

The Niners won’t be the last team to put Favre on the spot this season, and if the Vikings don’t smooth over a few wrinkles in the passing game, it’s going to cost them one of these days.

The biggest problem? Favre and his wide receivers still aren’t quite on the same page.

They’ve made strides since training camp, to be sure. Given that Favre is still a bit of a Johnny-come-lately in Minnesota, maybe they’re as far along as we can expect. 

But through three weeks, the team’s No. 1 pass-catcher is still a backup running back. Chester Taylor leads all Vikings in both receptions (15) and targets (18). He caught seven balls against the Niners; nobody else on the team caught more than four.

We’re not knocking Taylor’s production, but we’re also hard-pressed to envision an endless stream of checkdown throws as the lynchpin of Brad Childress’ “kick-ass offense.”

Four-yard lobs behind the line of scrimmage are great for Favre’s QB rating, but they’re not going to keep defenses honest about loading up on Peterson. If the Vikings want to win a couple games through the air, they need to their receivers.

They certainly tried against San Francisco: Favre directed a total of 25 throws to Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, and Sidney Rice. But those three came down with just 12 catches.

Berrian looked lost at times. He misfired badly on a few routes, dropped at least one first-down catch, and lost a handle on another that bounced into Shawntae Spencer’s arms for an interception.

Harvin let a few third-down passes slip away himself. And between the end of the first half and the final drive of the game, Rice didn’t catch a pass.

Meanwhile, Visanthe Shiancoe, who was supposed to benefit big-time from Favre’s fondness of the tight end, remains missing in action. Shiancoe caught two of the five balls thrown his way on Sunday, raising his reception total on the season to six.

After watching the receiving corps carve up the Browns and Lions with ease, perhaps we’ve set the bar too high. But coming through against a shaky opponent when the running game in working is one thing. Coming through against a contender when the running game stalls is something else altogether.

Truth be told, we’re more likely to see the former than the latter this week. After bottling up Matt Forte in Week One, Green Bay has coughed up 141 yards rushing to Cedric Benson and 127 to Steven Jackson. If Minnesota has to rely on the passing game to move the ball Monday night, I’ll be surprised.

But sooner or later, somebody—Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York—is going to make the Vikings throw to win. If Favre and his receivers want to hold up their end of the bargain, they’ve got some work to do.

 

This article is also featured on Purple Reign, a part of MTR Media. For more on the NFL, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.

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