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Louis Villaume

Hamel, Minn.

Villaume: Cheese Era Melting?

There is no more contentious, bitter rivalry for Minnesotans than the Vikings and the Packers. Certainly the University of Minnesota has longer standing rivalries, including the longest continuous in the NCAA Football history with Wisconsin, but it does not have same intensity. The Twins have had a few rivalries built, but hating the Yankees does not make a rivalry. Our hockey and basketball teams at the University level have some wonderful rivalries with North Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa... But they pale comparatively to Green Bay and Minnesota.

We do not like each other.

I am fortunate to have grown up following the Vikings in the late 1960s. The early 1960s were expansion years for the Vikings, and they took a few years to build a winning program. I do not remember them. I am told Green Bay was great, and won many championships and a pair of Super Bowls, but I do not care to keep that a part of my memories.

My memory's introduction to the rivalry was a stretch where Minnesota went 19-3-1 from 1968 to 1979. The Packers were patsies. We beat on them with a defense that had them switching quarterbacks like coffee filters at the office. In the 1970s alone the Packers had a dozen different quarterbacks start games. For comparison, from 1993 to 2012 Green Bay started three different QBs. I sometimes felt sorry for guys like John Hadl, David Whitehurst, Jerry Tagge, or Scott Hunter. They were bad. And we hurt them. The Vikings went to four Super Bowls in an eight year frame.

Thus I will always remember Minnesota as the stronger team.

The Packers nearly dominated in the 1980s as easily as we dominated the 1970s. Green Bay went 14-5-1 in the 80s, led mostly by Lynn Dickey and Don Majkowski. But most do not recall this as the Chicago Bears seemed to upstage the rivalry with their ultimate Super Bowl win in 1986. Jim McMahon, the Fridge, Mike Ditka, the "46" defense...

The 1990s saw a return to power for Minnesota. Minnesota won the series 12-8, the 1998 sweep with the 15-1 team being the warmest memory. Unfortunately, smack dab in the middle of our success, Green Bay went to two Super Bowls and won one in the 1996-97 seasons. And Brett Favre was the reason.

Still, Minnesota split their series with the Packers the year they won their Super Bowl. Sure they were the best team in the NFL, but they did not beat us. The following year the Packers swept Minnesota. But then they lost that Super Bowl to Denver. As great as Green Bay was with Favre, Minnesota found ways to beat them enough to win the decade.

No real damage.

In the 2000s Green Bay won the head-to-head series 12-9. Favre gave way to Aaron Rodgers in 2008. While Favre went 11-6 versus the Vikings in the decade, Rodgers lost three of his first four games against the Purple. Those 2009 games where Favre wore purple for the first time against the Packers will be a memory that makes he smile when I turn ninety, god-willing. That was probably the greatest two games of the rivalry... and we won them both. With their Hall-of-Famer.

As if God came down and said you may hurt the Packers' fans feelings as much as you want in 2009.

And we did.

Of course the story sours as we enter the 2010s. Green Bay goes 9-1-1, blah, blah, blah. They somehow get to the Super Bowl and win in 2011 with their new star QB, blah, blah. Minnesota has not won in the rivalry since Adrian Peterson nearly beat them single-handedly in 2012 with Christian Ponder at the helm. There was hope for another playoff win against our hated rival, but Ponder's injury kept him out of the most important game to Vikings' fans in years. 

And then we turned on him.

Luckily, this decade is not quite over. Green Bay, three weeks ago, was the class of the NFL. They were undefeated, Aaron Rodgers was in his usual fight with Tom Brady/Peyton Manning for MVP, and only Carolina looked to stand in the way of possibly a second trip to a Super Bowl for Rodgers and this latest Packers' team. 

But then things started to change. Nay, melt.

Aaron Rodgers had a rough game at Denver. Minnesota had just played the Broncos to a close 23-20 loss earlier that was in doubt until the end. Green Bay lost 29-10 and Rodgers finished with 77 yards passing. The Pack fell to 6-1, but were ahead of Minnesota at a surprising 5-2. It was easy to rationalize losing to a powerhouse like Denver.

The following week Green Bay faced Carolina, in Carolina. The Panthers proved tough and looked the stronger throughout the game. Rodgers helped Green Bay fight back in the end and they nearly pulled off a great comeback against a very good team. A loss dropped them to 6-2, but again it was to one of the best the NFL had to offer. Meanwhile, the Vikings continued to face non-winning teams like the Rams. They were also 6-2.

Last week Green Bay sank like a block of cheese in a pizza oven. They lost for the first time in Green Bay to the Lions in 25 years. Rodgers threw 61 passes, and was seen limping at the end of the game, Eddie Lacy, and all his extra self, watched from the sidelines. Never did the team look like they missed Jordy Nelson more than last Sunday. They fell to 6-3, and now own a three game losing streak as well as suffered an important divisional loss for potential tiebreaker sake. Minnesota, beat another .500 team and looked good doing it.

Now Minnesota is a game up in the division. The Packers are reeling.

This 111th meeting has a different feeling. For the last few years Vikings fans entered this game knowing that Aaron Rodgers had too many weapons for our defense. Green Bay spread the field and picked apart our weak defensive backs. Our quarterbacks made mistakes when we had to pass to catch up.

Things are different.

Minnesota boasts an aggressive defense that hits hard and keeps points off the board, even against strong passing offenses. Adrian Peterson is revving up like the starting cars on a raceway. The only concerns of late seem to be a tight end who dropped a sure TD, and a young quarterback who will have some growing pains. Injuries could have been an issue, but Coach Mike Zimmer has found adequate replacements all over the field so far.

No, things are definitely not the same.

I fully expect Minnesota to deliver us from the hands of the green and gold. The recent stretch of badness needs to go away. The Purple need to relive times when we struck fear in them.

And when those Cheesheads shut up at work. Or school. Or the bars. Or churches..

They are everywhere.

Please Purple, for the love of all things Minnesota, give us ammo to strengthen our battle in this, the greatest of all rivalries.

Watch it melt: Minnesota 31, Green Bay 17


Villaume: Joseph and the Amazing Purple Defense

We Vikings' fans know a good defensive tackle when we see one. From Alan Page, Gary Larsen, and Doug Sutherland in the Purple People Eaters days, to Keith Millard, Henry Thomas, John Randle, Kevin and Pat Williams, the Purple faithful have been spoiled over the years. Defensive tackles are us. We are a breeding ground for Hall of Fame tackles.

It might be time to add Linval Joseph to that list.

Joseph received NFC Defensive player of the week recognition last week for his ten tackle, three tackle for loss, two quarterback pressure, and half sack week. Todd Gurley was the recipient of six of the tackles, and Joseph's jarring hits certainly slowed the great rookie back down a little. Joseph had six first half tackles, two more on the opening drive of the second half for St. Louis, and then a key six yard tackle for loss on Gurley in overtime, helping force a three and out which led to a game winning field goal for Blair Walsh.

Minnesota heads into another tough game this Sunday versus the Oakland Raiders. Oakland is 4-4 after a tough loss in Pittsburgh 38-35 last week. They had won the two previous games beating the Chargers on the road and the Jets at home; averaging 35 points a game the last three. Derek Carr has nineteen touchdown passes to four interceptions. He has only been sacked eight times all season, the second fewest in the NFL. Wide receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are both in the Top-25 among receivers. The Oakland offense is ranked in the Top-10.

They're pretty good on offense. Minnesota, on the other hand, is not.

Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing, though he did fumble twice last week in an otherwise Herculean effort. He certainly is not why Minnesota is ranked 30th of the 32 NFL teams in offense. No that designation falls on the rest.

Teddy Bridgewater has not put up numbers like his young counterpart Carr. Carr is ranked sixth among NFL quarterbacks with a passer rating of 104.3. Bridgewater is 22nd among starters with an 83.4 rating. Minnesota's top receiver this year is Stefon Diggs, who has seventeen less receptions than Oakland's 2nd best receiver: Michael Crabtree. The offensive line, tight ends and running backs have surrendered 20 sacks of Teddy at the halfway point. Teddy has had to duck and run more than a few times.

At present rate he may not make it the rest of the way. Last week we learned that even if Teddy is not playing like Tom Brady, he helps us more than he hurts us. And we reason he is quite young. He will improve with experience.

But the story is not all sour this week, whether it is Bridgewater or Sean Hill at the helm. While Oakland is very good at offense, their defense is the opposite. Antonio Brown last week nearly set league record in multi-categories as he ran wild against the Raiders. Presently the Silver and Black are 30th among defenses. They give up nearly 27 points a game, and surrender 3rd down conversions at 44 percent. That is not good. They average yielding over 400 yards a game. That is bad.

Remember those types of defenses? 

Minnesota enters with the 7th ranked defense. But they are 2nd in points allowed with 17.5 a game. They are 2nd in stopping third down conversions at 30% allowed. Only the Broncos at home have scored more than 21 points against this defense, and they topped out at 23 points. Those are some impressive numbers.

Without inside-linebackers Kendricks and Audie Cole last week, old veteran Chad Greenway stepped up and added ten tackles. With Sharrif Floyd out, Tom Johnson has been more than adequate. Danielle Hunter has filled in and been effective at defensive end for Everson Griffen. The older guys in the secondary (Munnerlyn and Terrance Newman) have been steady. Xavier Rhodes is becoming a shut-down corner. Andrew Sendejo played solidly at safety last week.

A very good defense. Maybe a dream defense?

This dream story grew when Linval Joseph came to Minnesota via free agency in 2014. He was drafted in the 2nd round out of East Carolina by the New York Giants. Vikings fans may remember we sandwiched Chris Cook (35) and Toby Gerhart (51) around Joseph's 46th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft. His 2nd year he was a starter on a Super Bowl winning team.

Mike Zimmer was hired in January of 2014. Six weeks later Joseph was signed.

It is not a coincidence that Minnesota's defense is rapidly improving since Linval's arrival. He has exceptional quickness for a large man. At East Carolina he dropped a lot of weight and became much more than a run-plugging big and strong man. Now he reminds fans of the days when Alan Page would beat snap counts, or when Kevin Williams would strong arm his way into a backfield.

Big and Quick. And Strong. Together.

Furthering the story, Oakland's excellent center Rodney Houston is hurt and unlikely to play. Houston will probably be replaced by Tony Bergstrom, who has one NFL start to his name. Meanwhile, Latavius Murray, the speedy running back, is trying to recover from a previous week's concussion. He would prefer not to be hit real hard. That is the one thing Minnesota seems to be doing the best, hitting people very hard. Legal, but near lethal.

Minnesota and their 30th ranked offense are about a three point underdog for the game vs. Oakland. But the odds makers have underestimated just how much Linval Joseph has changed this defense. And with Kendricks, Barr, maybe even Floyd back to play this Sunday, Minnesota should not even be an underdog. Not as long as Joseph and this Amazing Purple Defense keep putting on a similar show. This defense may remind Oakland fans of their recent home loss vs. the Broncos 16-10.

They may even think we are better.

Prediction: Minnesota 24-16, Joseph repeats as NFC defensive player of the week. 

A dream?