In any given season, there are schedule anomalies that are head-scratchers. Among them is a scenario under which the Vikings and Packers play two of three games against each other in the middle of the season.
The Vikings and Packers played at the Metrodome in Week 7. Since then, both teams have played one game and had their bye week. All the preparation, film study and game planning for the Packers was done just two weeks previously, so it begs the question if there is an advantage to playing a division rival twice in the span of three games.
The answer to that question was neither black nor white. The responses were, but the resulting differentiation leaves that question largely unanswered. In many respects, it depends who you ask.
Going up against a pass-happy Packers offense led by Aaron Rodgers, safety Tyrell Johnson said the film study the team did on the Packers three games prior to the first meeting is still fresh in everyone’s mind and that is an inherent advantage in their preparation this week.
“There’s definitely an advantage,” Johnson said. “You already know how they’re going to attack and what they’re looking for. So little time has gone by in between games that they aren’t going to change things up like they could if you played them in September and not again until December.”
Kicker Ryan Longwell said that the scenario being played out this year isn’t that unusual in the Vikings-Packers rivalry. Having been on both sides of the border war, Longwell said it seems to him that the Vikings and Packers have had similar scenarios play out often in their recent history.
“It seems like it always works that way with the Packers – we tend to play play them twice in a short period of time,” Longwell said. “There’s a familiarity there with them and playing a division rival twice in three games can lead to some pretty high intensity.”
Center John Sullivan pointed out that just because a team showed you something the first time you play doesn’t necessarily mean they will go back to that well again the next time. The Vikings have to prepare as though they’re coming in cold and not let what the Packers did at the Metrodome become the expectation of what will happen at Lambeau Field.
“The big thing is to go off your breakdowns of what you’ve seen from them,” Sullivan said. “You can’t go simply off the last game you played them. If you go in expecting the same thing, you may get fooled badly. You also can’t ignore what they did in the first game, because teams tend to stick with what works for them. You have to look at it as a brand new game and go off your keys.”
For the receivers, the knowledge of the defensive tendencies can be a distinct advantage. For the in-game battles they have with defensive backs from the other team, knowing their tendencies and having first-hand experience gives them food for the thought the second time around.
“I think there is an advantage because you don’t have to go back and re-learn everybody you’re facing,” receiver Greg Camarillo said. “We’re fresh in their minds and they’re fresh in our minds. It just adds to the competitive nature that is so much a part of being NFL players. Especially when you lose like we did, you can’t wait to get another shot at them.”
Joining in the belief of fellow offensive lineman Sullivan was offensive tackle Charlie Johnson, who said playing a team so recently is actually a disadvantage the second time around – preferring to get a longer look at what his opponent does in hopes of seeing more tendencies from the first meeting to the second.
“There’s no advantage,” Johnson said. “You still have to game plan as if it’s the first time you’re playing them. I think there is more of an advantage if you have five or six games in between, because you have a bigger body of work to see trends they have. We don’t have that because we both have played just one game since.”
One thing the players would admit is that the film study work the coaches did on the Packers the first time is expedited this time around because, since they met, both teams have only played one game– shortening the amount of background information that needs to be gathered in the preparation process.
“It kind of is an advantage as far as film study goes,” Loadholt said. “But in this league adjustments are made series to series. By no means can you look at the last game and think you have it all figured out, even though we’ve played just once game since then. We’ll make our adjustments. They’ll make theirs. Each game is on its own merit.”
In the end, however, defensive leader Jared Allen may have summed it up best. Both teams know what the other had planned when it has the ball. The Packers are expecting a steady dose of Adrian Peterson and the Vikings are expecting Rodgers to air it out all night. Whether you have one week to prepare or two months, in the end, teams tend to do what they do best and don’t change it up to tailor to an opponent.
“They’re going to learn from the last game they played against us and we’re going learn,” Allen said. “We’re going to go out there and try to use those things to stop each other. Eventually, everybody gets back to what they do well. They’re going to put the ball in Aaron Rodgers’ hands and expect him to make plays and his receivers to make plays.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.