Revisiting our Prediction: Game 5 vs Vikings

Obviously, the sports world is awash with the news of the re-un-retirement of He Whose Name Need Not Be Spoken. Generally speaking, we would let the Vikings and their fans have their own little lollapalooza over the news and pay it no mind. But as a part of our look ahead to this season’s matchups, we predicted a win over the Vikings in Week 5. As a major part of our argument, we quoted the Vikings Throne’s own top concern about their team:

This Vikings team has a chance to do something special… if they only had a Quarterback.

Well, arguably, now they do. But how much difference will football’s most famous face, this “capital-Q Quarterback,” make? To find out, let’s look at recent Rams history and Spagnuolo history against #4.

Week 5, 2006: Rams win 23-20 at Lambeau
The game was decided in the final drive, as the greybearded one dropped back looking for that miracle throw… and the Rams’ pass rush finally caught up with him. Leonard Little forced a fumble with 36 seconds left, with the Pack already in game-tying field goal range.

The Rams defense essentially gave Favre the middle of the field, hoping he would get bored with dinking and dunking and force a mistake or two. Uncharacteristically, though, he threw no picks, and was rarely pressured. The run defense was gashed by a little-known back named Noah Herron, for 106 yards on 20 carries, but in the old Haslett “bend but don’t break” mode, the yards got harder to get in the red zone. Only a coverage breakdown on deep threat Greg Jennings, leading to a 46-yard TD, kept the game close as the Rams had taken a 10-point lead with disciplined play, consistent running — 30 rushes for 118 yards — and a long-lost ability to convert red zone opportunities into passing touchdowns.

The lesson learned in this game was that the Rams could play conservative and limit Favre’s deep chances — but they were nearly burned. It took an all-out rush, and good fortune, to make this strategy pay off.

Week 2, 2007: NY Giants lose 35-13 at home

The Giants committed to stuffing the Packers’ run game — allowing 38 yards on one carry and 1.6 yards per on the 28 others — but Favre was allowed to complete 75% of his nearly 40 passes, three for touchdowns in a fourth-quarter romp. He was sacked just once, by the then-unknown Justin Tuck.

The Giants were still struggling to absorb Spagnuolo’s defensive scheme, and this was the second consecutive pounding that the team took to open the season. Outsiders were openly concerned about this defensive collapse, but Spagnuolo insisted on patiently bringing his players along. It helped that their personality was suited to his attacking style of defense. This game was a loss, but ironically it was a kind of turning point for the team.

Week 15, 2007: Rams lose 33-14 at home

Where the Rams played mistake-free in ’06, they completely fell apart in ’07, as the Pack waltzed in this one in front of a very pro-Green Bay crowd at the dome. While Bulger led the team on two long early scoring drives to keep the first half close, a series of terrible plays gave the Packers four scoring drives for 16 points that totaled a mere 120 yards on the field. Haslett’s conservative “bend but don’t break” defense got broken.

This will be a legitimate concern against Leslie Frazier’s aggressive and talented defense, one of the best in the game. And our defense played on its heels all game long — Favre was never sacked nor worried much. A game that was deceptively close at the half turned into the rout that it deserved to be.

2007 NFC Conference Championship: Giants win 23-20 (OT) at Lambeau

This was supposed to be Favre’s swan song, his last home game en route to his last Super Bowl, and a crowning moment of glory. As it turns out, this loss may be the reason for Favre’s continuing sense of unfulfillment.

Again, the Giants absolutely mauled the Packers’ ballcarriers, holding them to a measly 28 yards on 14 carries, placing the onus of winning the game squarely in Favre’s hands. And this time, the Giants’ linemen pinned their ears back and got after him. However, he kept play-faking, kept delivering balls before he could get sacked, including a brilliant 71-yard touchdown to Donald Driver. However, the Giants’ much-maligned secondary did not give up anything else deep. Most importantly, the Giants picked off two INTs, the second of which set up the game-winning field goal in OT. In a close hard-fought game with everything on the line, ultimately Favre gambled and lost.

Favre is now battling a torn labrum in his shoulder, one that sapped much of the zip from his ball as he and the Jets crumbled in November and December. While his play-fake ability and instincts may still be sharp, his throws may not be. To quote from my original prediction:

If the Rams have a hope of beating the Vikings, it will be in coercing #7 to give the game away. With the pounding Adrian Peterson and the slashing Percy Harvin, one would think that the Vikings could likely win the game by simply handing off on every play. But NFL coaching hubris demands that the QB drop back under center and complete forward passes, and so the Rams’ opportunistic defensive backfield will get their chances.

In this case, the hubris gets bigger, and the opportunities for ball-hawking players like OJ Atogwe get better. I see no reason to back off my prediction. If we play to our ability, Rams win.