Minnesota Head Coach Leslie Frazier has given a high appraisal of backup quarterback Joe Webb’s ability, making it no secret that he feels Webb can be an NFL starter. So it was faith in Christian Ponder, rather than the sense he lacked depth at the QB position, that prompted Frazier to stick with Ponder through his mid-season struggles. Ponder rewarded his coach with a 234 yard 3 td performance in Week 17 at home that capped a 4-game winning streak, in which Ponder was picked off only once, and launched Minnesota into this week’s re-match at Lambeau. Ponder’s ability to relocate his early season efficiency in conjunction with Frazier’s guile and Adrian Peterson’s historic comeback season have turned around a franchise that bottomed out at 3-13 just a season ago.
For Green Bay, 2012 was more of the same from a franchise that has taken on a level of consistency and success in the McCarthy-Rodgers era. Aaron Rodgers overcame the lack of a marquee running attack and injuries to both Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb to post MVP caliber numbers. Green Bay overcame a 2-3 start, albeit a controversial loss to Seattle thrown into that mix, to win 11 of their final 13 games. Saturday brings round three of the Vikings-Packer series back to Lambeau where the Packers overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit against Minnesota on Dec. 2 and have not lost since opening day.
The Keys for Minnesota
It was Ponder’s 2 interceptions thrown to Morgan Burnett that sunk the Vikings on Dec 2nd and rendered Adrian Peterson’s 210 yard performance for naught. Fast forward to Week 17 when Peterson rushed for 199 yards but Ponder avoided turnovers and passed for three scores in the wild card clinching victory. Ponder will need to be equally as efficient if Minnesota is to win the rubber match. Additionally—it almost goes without saying—Peterson needs to continue his dominance against the Packer defense.
If Minnesota did one thing right on the other side of the ball in Week 17 it was in the pass rush where they were able to register 5 sacks. Unfortunately, the back end of the defense did not fare as well—giving up 365 yards and 34 points. Greg Jennings seems to be returning to form while Randall Cobb is likely to be available for Rodgers this week. Minnesota will need to slow down Green Bay in the secondary if they are to move on.
The Keys for the Packers
The Green Bay defense proved more than proficient at getting to the quarterback this season—ranking inside the top 5 in sacks. However, they have not fared well against the Vikings pass protections schemes and have sacked Ponder once in two games this season. Green Bay will need to put more pressure on Ponder in the second year quarterbacks playoff debut. The Packers can withstand another big performance by the NFL rushing champion as long as they make the Vikings offense one dimensional.
On the offensive side of the ball Aaron Rodgers will need to produce like Aaron Rodgers typically does. The Vikings defensive line has been able to find Rodgers, who has been able to overcome 7 sacks in the two meetings to produce stellar numbers. One has to wonder if Rodgers overcome back-to-back 5 sack performances? The Packers would be served best not to find out and would likely benefit from better pass protection and a better performance by the running game. They rushed for 72 yards in the week 17 loss versus 137 in their victory on Dec. 2nd. DuJuan Harris will likely get the chance to lead the Packers rushing attack.
It can be argued that Minnesota has outplayed Green Bay in 6 of the 8 quarters the teams have played. Two things have held true through the two meetings: Green Bay cannot stop Peterson and Aaron Rodgers has been able to overcome Minnesota’s pressure to exploit the Vikings’ secondary. The “Wild Card” here is Ponder and whether or not he has the ability to build the performance of last week when he not only took care of the ball but he made big plays when needed. Similarly to the Colts and the Redskins, Minnesota getting to this point marks a dramatic resurrection from where they were a year ago. Win or lose, the Vikings are headed in the right direction. However, this week that direction is a return flight to Minneapolis where they can begin an off-season with designs on building on the success of 2012. Green Bay 35 – Minnesota 21