It's a pretty stark possibility that the Packers could be outmatched in this game against the Vikings, a team that is undefeated and seems to have an edge at nearly every critical matchup. That stated, this is the NFL and every team can beat any other on any given Monday, so I offer my strategies I would go with if I were the head coach.
1) Tinker with Big Okie and contain Adrian Peterson. The 3-5 formation that we were suprised with last week played to mixed reviews. Yes, Steven Jackson got his 100-yard game and Brandon Chillar admitted he was "playing like a linebacker instead of like a safety" on the two touchdowns given up to the tight end. But, Jackson could have really lit the Packers up like Cedric Benson did, and for the most part, he was contained and held out of the end zone.
If Dom Capers can tighten up the Big Okie and put Chillar in a position to make plays rather than give them up, the Packers can even the playing field. Face it. Peterson is perhaps the greatest back in football and is going to get his 100 yards. And he's probably going to break one long one during this game for a score. But if the Packers can limit those other 19 carries or so to average gains that put the Vikings in third-down situations, the balance shifts to a conservative passing game against a ball-hawking pass defense, one of our few edges in the matchup.
The critical part is hoping our corners can essentially cover the Viking receivers with limited help. The Vikes don't have any Pro Bowl receivers on the roster, and their big-play threat is playing hurt (Percy Harvin). It's a risk, but you have to force the Viking offense to beat you through the air. Fill every gap you can on the line and look for Favre to throw picks.
2) Carefully choose how to put pressure on Favre. Favre is older and his touch isn't what it used to be, but his strength is the one he's had for years...he can still avoid the rush with expert pressure awareness. While many may still criticize his game-winning pass as lucky or credit it more to Greg Lewis, just go watch how Favre moves his pocket around without taking his eyes off his receivers. There was a good rush on that play, and Favre kept it alive.
The weakness of Favre's game is his accuracy, and can be baited into some bad throws. But just throwing bodies at the Vikings decent offensive line haphazardly will just allow Favre to move around and avoid them. The pressure will be most effective when brought straight up the middle and force Favre to the edges, where is accuracy to the sidelines is more scattershot. You do not want to allow Favre to move around and be able to throw the ball directly up the middle of the field, where he can put his body into the throw and has a bit more accuracy.
3) Take chances early. This is always a risk, but it is critical for the Packers to get an early lead in a hostile and emotional environment. Conventional wisdom says punt on 4th and short on the road, but in this case, the Packers cannot afford to allow the Vikings to protect a lead with Adrian Peterson and a short passing game.
If that means pulling out a trick play or a fake punt, so be it. If it means going for it on 4th and 3 at midfield, why not? The risk is giving the Vikings momentum early, but it also will keep them guessing later on in the game. And, if it works, and the Packers can put up a couple touchdowns on their first two drives, it will set a tone for the rest of the game.
Figuratively speaking, the Packers have played "not to lose" with the whole FavreGate effort the past year and a half, trying desperately to avoid having to play this game. Time to play to win. Early.
4) Despite what Rodgers says, go max protect versus five wide. The Vikings will offer the Packers the best defensive challenge they've had this season. St. Louis has the 29th ranked defense, the Bengals have the 16th, and the Bears the 9th. The Vikings chime in at 4th overall and will dramatically challenge the Packers' air and ground attacks.
While the Packers are wise to establish the run, Grant proved last week that he is far more effective when protecting a lead; and in order to get that lead, Aaron Rodgers is going to need to pass. The Packers offensive line has given up 12 sacks this season, leading the NFL, and Rodgers has to establish the pass in order to make the rather inconsistent run game any kind of threat. I am going to assume that without a lead, Ryan Grant is going to be bottled up for minimal impact.
Rodgers asked for more receivers last week, and he got it against the pathetic Rams. The Vikings, however, are not the Rams. The Vikings will put pressure up the middle and we have seen some very disturbing patterns in Rodgers in these first few games when he's gotten hit and rattled early. He's been hanging onto the ball too long and has been off on his throws. He gets frustrated.
Keeping seven or eight blockers in may only send two or three receivers out there, but he has to be able to have time to throw to them. It is imperative to not only keep Rodgers healthy, but to give him success early. Play-action, screens to the fullback, draw plays will keep the defense off-balance and give Rodgers that extra second to wait for his receivers to get open. Rodgers can kill a defense if given time.
5) Involve Jermichael Finley. The kid has been the toast of the town this past preseason, and has yet to establish himself in the regular season. Time to let him have his breakout game on national television. The Vikings, like the Packers, are weakest at safety right now, and taking an athletic tight end and running him up the seam will not only give us some great Mark Chmura-esque gains, but force the Vikings to keep some linebackers in coverage instead of in Aaron Rodgers' grill.
6) Remove the emotion, add urgency. It's going to be very easy, especially with all the media attention, for the Packers to make Favre the focal point of this game. Right now, Favre is the furthest thing from the Packers' worst enemy. Each Packer needs to look deeply at their own performances and execution and play like their job is on the line. Naturally, it would help if Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson would make the players feel like that is actually the case.
Emotions bring you up and down very quickly, and this game can go south in a hurry if the emotion overshadows the focus the players need to beat what appears to be a superior team. Yes, everyone else's focus will be on the quarterback for the other team, but win or lose, he is still going to be more likely to lose the game for the Vikings rather than win it for them.
The Packers need the focus and, somehow, need to actually learn the fundamentals they were supposed to have learned several seasons ago and execute them consistently. The Packers have lived and died by the "Big Play", both last year and this year. Big Plays aren't going to beat the Vikings this week. It is going to be consistent and methodical execution, play after play, that is going to put the W in the win-loss column.
Favre? The more the Packers think about him, the more they've already lost the game. Think about beating the guy in front of you, and the game should take care of itself.