Gameday Notebook: Powering Peterson
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Gameday Notebook: Powering Peterson

Adrian Peterson gets the hype but the Vikings' remarkably stable offensive line stands in stark contrast to Green Bay's line. Plus, a look at the quarterbacks, why the 2012 offense is better than the record-setting 2011 unit, and 17 more gems in what we guarantee is the biggest and best preview in the world.

When Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the offensive lines would be an X-factor in Saturday night's wild-card game against the Minnesota Vikings, chances are he was right on the money.

Not to take anything away from Adrian Peterson, but the Vikings' offensive line is an experienced group that has a season's worth of chemistry at its disposal. According to the play counts kept by ProFootballFocus.com, right tackle Phil Loadholt, left tackle Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan haven't missed any of the offense's 1,056 snaps and guard Charlie Johnson has played all but three. At the other guard spot, Brandon Fusco has played 899 snaps. Those five have started every game together.

For the Packers, they'll be going into their third game with Evan Dietrich-Smith at center, T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton at guards, and Marshall Newhouse and Don Barclay at tackles. Sitton and Newhouse have played all 1,128 snaps, Lang has played 1,021, Dietrich-Smith 475 and Barclay 331.

Despite the relative lack of continuity, the Packers think they've found a winning formula up front, and they can point to Sunday's loss as evidence. Rodgers was sacked five times but one was a scramble and he appeared to trip and fall on another, and DuJuan Harris averaged 5.0 yards on his 14 carries with no negative runs. The offense piled up 393 yards and 34 points after the first quarter.

"I would say we have (chemistry)," Newhouse said. "Offensive-line play, it's usually a pretty dirty thing. It's what we take pride in. It's never looked really great, but the ultimate goal is to get our running backs' holes and keep the guys off of Aaron, so if we can do that, I'll call it a success."

Offensive line coach James Campen said his unit "played well" but knows they must play even better if the Packers are to play past this weekend.

"We have to clean up a few of those sacks that we were accounted for and we certainly have to extend a few more of those runs," Campen said. "(Harris) could have come out on a couple. We need to do a better job of finishing and extending some of those runs but, overall, they did a pretty good job. We have to be better this week. You know how it is, it's the playoffs. All of that stuff is a foundation for improvement going forward but we have to be better to beat this group because they are a good pass-rushing team and they have good players."

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings have what the Packers have lacked: continuity. Not only has the starting offensive line not missed a game, but Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton and tight end Kyle Rudolph have played in every game, as well.

"To me, that's what you want," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "Normally, your teams there at the end are the teams that have been able to stay pretty healthy. The continuity of having a group work together is so much better than if you have to mix and match and place new guys in there. This group's played together."

Rodgers: Playoff veteran

Standing in one quarterback corner is Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP of two years ago and statistically the best passer in NFL playoff history.

In six career playoff games, he's completed 144-of-220 passes for 1,781 yards, with 15 touchdowns, four interceptions and a record passer rating of 105.5. Bart Starr, at 104.8, is second, and only Drew Brees and Kurt Warner join them with career postseason passer ratings of 100 (based on 150 career attempts). Only Warner and Rodgers have completed better than 65 percent of their passes with an average of 8.0 yards per attempt. Brees, Starr and Rodgers have the lowest career postseason interception rates.

Rodgers said he and his teammates must draw upon their experience.

"Even when you win the Super Bowl," Rodgers told ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde on his weekly radio show, "it's a weird feeling where you go from, you're with these guys and this organization every day. You're coming in, you're not really getting any days off except your bye and then it's the offseason. It's a long process, because we're here in April and we put a lot of time in — in the meeting rooms, in the weight room, on the field, OTAs, training camp, preseason, a long 16-game, 17-week season — and then it's one and done. I mean, you either win or you go home. That's the nature of our business.

"I think it's important for us to call on some of the experience we have and what that run felt like in 2010, when we were excited to get into the playoffs and knowing if we just got in, anything could happen. Much like I'm sure Minnesota last week was thinking: If we just get in, anything can happen. So, we got to have that mentality that we got to take care of business at home and anything can happen, and if we can do that, (have) that sense of urgency that was slightly lacking last year, I think we will be OK."

Ponder: Playoff rookie

In the other corner is Christian Ponder, the 2011 first-round pick who is getting his first taste of the NFL playoffs.

A month ago, Ponder's long-term future in Minnesota was on shaky ground. He threw two killer interceptions, taking no less than six points off the board as the Vikings lost 23-14 at Green Bay.

"He looked defeated," Peterson told reporters in Minnesota this week. "We'll just be real: It was pretty obvious that the two interceptions cost us the game. It definitely showed on his face. So, I just did what I felt I needed to do to help him get over that, because this is the guy that we're rolling with and we need him to continue to improve each week. So, I just walked up to him and told him, ‘Hey, it is what it is. You take those two interceptions away …' And some other plays, too. There were things I could have did better and we were coming out on the winning end of this game. So, I told him the passion that you played with, that I seen you play with, I loved that. You can win with that."

The Vikings have won with that. They enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak. Ponder hasn't been great, but he's been good enough — especially on Sunday, when the Vikings earned a must-win victory over the Packers as Ponder converted six third-down plays through the air.

The spotlight will be brighter on Saturday night.

"Playoff games are different," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I think the fact that Aaron's played in, what, seven now, it's definitely an experience that we're going to draw from. It doesn't keep us away from anything as far as the way we're game-planning. He's played in cold weather, he's played on the road. I think it definitely helps you. This is obviously the first time for Christian Ponder but football, to me, is still football. We have to go out and play very well in all three phases, our quarterback has to play well just because of the way we're designed and we're built on offense."

Better than 2011?

With 560 points, the Packers scored the second-most points in NFL history last season. With 433 points this season, their production was down almost 8.0 points per game.

So, perhaps it's ludicrous to say this, but an argument could be made that the Packers' offense right now is better than their offense at this point a year ago.

Over the last four games, the Packers have scored 34.3 points per game. Over the last four games of last season — including Matt Flynn's six-touchdown game against Detroit — they averaged 35.0.


Brace Hemmelgarn - USA Today Sports

Over his final three starts of this season, Rodgers completed 78-of-114 for 998 yards, with 10 touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 124.8. Over his final three starts of last season, he completed 55-of-94 for 799 yards, with eight touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 110.1.

Moreover, the Packers have a running game. They have Randall Cobb. And they have Jermichael Finley, who hasn't played this good since his injury-ruined 2010.

"We want to be playing the right way, obviously," Rodgers said at his locker on Tuesday. "We had a good stretch there. We won nine out of 11 games and played a lot of really good opponents, tough opponents, tough games on the road. I like the way we're playing. I think we have the right mind-set, good group of leaders in this locker room and a lot of guys who've won a lot of regular season, a lot of postseason games. We're excited about our team and excited about our opportunity in front of us."

Key numbers

— When the Packers beat the Vikings at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, they forced two turnovers. Over the last four regular seasons, the Packers have forced at least two turnovers in 23 of 32 home games. Green Bay is 22-1 in those contests.

— Rodgers is the highest-rated quarterback in NFL history, and a major reason why is how well he takes care of the ball. His 1.76 interception percentage and 3.72-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio both are league records by a wide margin. Tom Brady is second in both categories with a 2.06 interception percentage and 2.72-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Rodgers hasn't had a two-interception game in 39 consecutive games. Neil O'Donnell held the old record at merely 27 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"I have great confidence in Aaron Rodgers handling the football and I think that's illustrated in the way we play," McCarthy said. "We're wide open in the things we do. And more important, it's something we spend a little more time on when we're on the practice field. Handling the football is very, very important and it will be a focus for us."

— The Packers finished third in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, with touchdowns on 68.1 percent of their trips inside the 20. The Packers are the only team in the league to finish in the top 10 in each of the last five seasons. Minnesota's defense ranked 27th with 60.8 percent touchdowns.

— The Packers finished ninth in third-down efficiency, moving the chains 42.3 percent of the time. Rodgers deserves much of the credit. He led the league with a passer rating of 110.8 and 9.01 yards per attempt, and had nine touchdowns against just one interception. Minnesota's third-down defense finished 27th, with opponents converting 41.3 percent of the time.

History lessons

— The Packers are 4-1 against division foes in playoff games, though that one loss was to Minnesota at Lambeau Field following the 2004 season. This marks the third time the Packers have faced the same team to close the regular season and again the following weekend in the playoffs. In 2009, the Packers beat the Cardinals in the regular season but lost in the playoffs. In 1993, the Packers lost to the Lions in the regular season but beat them in the playoffs.

— Since the NFL went to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, the Packers are: 3-1 as the No. 1 seed, 3-2 as the No. 2, 2-3 as the No. 3, 3-3 as the No. 4, 0-2 as the No. 5 and 5-1 as the No. 6.

— Green Bay owns the best playoff winning percentage of all-time, with its 29-17 mark equating to .630. Minnesota is 24th, with its 19-26 equating to .422. The Packers have won 13 championships. The rest of the field has combined to win 20 (San Francisco and Washington with five, Indianapolis with four, New England with three, Denver with two and Baltimore with one).

— The Packers wanted a bye but it's hardly the end of the world. Five of the last seven Super Bowl champions played on Wild Card Weekend, including the Packers two years ago, and at least one Super Bowl participant in six of the last seven seasons reached the Super Bowl.

The other sideline

— With 2,097 rushing yards, Peterson ran for more yardage than 24 full teams. Over his six-year career, he's rushed for 8,849 yards – almost 2,000 more than anyone in the league. On the other hand, Peterson's been rather ordinary in the playoffs. In three career games, he's rushed 71 times for 268 yards (3.8 average) and five touchdowns. In his last playoff game, the NFC Championship at New Orleans on Jan. 24, 2010, Peterson rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns. He fumbled twice but didn't have any turnovers.

"Man, that was the last one? Wow. Well, it definitely wasn't good memories," Peterson told reporters in Minnesota this week. "One game away from the Super Bowl and you lose. So, I don't ever want to have to relive that feeling again."

— While he fell 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, Peterson this week said his goal is to rush for 2,400 or 2,500 yards next season. Think that's laughable? After a "slow" start while returning from a torn ACL and MCL, Peterson averaged 159.8 yards in his last 10 games. For 16 games, that would equate to 2,557 yards. He had seven games of 150-plus yards, which tied Earl Campbell's single-season record.

"Just considering everything that I know, when I try to track back on different games that I had early on in the season and sitting out the third and fourth quarters in one or two games, 35 carries more (Dickerson) had than I had, it would have been nice to get it but I'm not too bummed about it because I'm able to factor all of those things in," Peterson said in a conference call. "It will just give me something else to shoot for next year. My goal won't be to break Eric Dickerson's single-season record. It's going to be trying to get 2,400, 2,500 yards. That's just how I look at things. With me setting it that high, then, obviously, breaking his record will happen."

— Like the Packers have been perplexed by Peterson, the Vikings have had no answers for Rodgers' movement skills. "All the times. Not time," defensive coordinator Alan Williams said of talking to his players. "He stays alive. He makes that offense go. We have to stay alive. We have to keep hustling, plaster down the field and make sure you don't turn receivers loose. They do a fantastic job of the deep guys working short, the short guys working deep. It seems like, if you look at it, it's choreographed, because he always finds an open guy, so you have to be on your P's and Q's in terms of getting after him first, being disciplined about how you rush and making sure in the back end, you keep the top on the defense. You don't let guys get behind you."

— The Vikings have seized control of games during their four-game winning streak. The last four weeks, the Vikings have opened touchdown-touchdown vs. Chicago, touchdown-punt vs. St. Louis, touchdown-punt vs. Houston and field goal-touchdown vs. Green Bay. That's four consecutive games with first-drive scores and a total of 38 points in their first two drives of the last four games.

Four-point stance

— Over the last three seasons, the Packers have a league-best 22 home victories. This season, the Vikings are 0-4 outdoors, though none of those losses were to slouches (Green Bay, Chicago, Seattle and Washington). They had two giveaways in each game and a total turnover margin of minus-4.

— Against winning teams, the Packers went 4-5 (two wins over Chicago and also Houston and Minnesota; losses to Indianapolis, Minnesota, N.Y. Giants, San Francisco and Seattle). Minnesota also went 4-5 (wins over San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Green Bay; losses to Indianapolis, Washington, Seattle, Chicago and Green Bay).

— Rodgers has gone four games without an interception while Ponder has gone three consecutive games. In Minnesota's four-game winning streak, it is plus-5 in turnovers (seven takeaways, two giveaways). In Green Bay's final five games, it is plus-2 – including plus-1 in beating the Vikings on Dec. 2 and minus-1 in Sunday's loss.

— According to STATS, Packers players have a combined 217 games of postseason experience, led by Jeff Saturday (19), Charles Woodson (15), Donald Driver (14) and Ryan Pickett (14). Vikings players have played in a combined 68 playoff games, led by left guard Charlie Johnson's 10, including two Super Bowls while with Indianapolis. At quarterback, The Packers' total is the most in the 12-team field; the Vikings' total is the second-fewest (Seattle, 61).

Quote of the week

Or, the best quote that we couldn't work into a story …

Rodgers, on how the offense can help the defense stop Peterson: "I think two parts. One, starting fast; we spot them 13 points and we had three really poor drives to start the game. Then, getting the crowd into it. I think we're counting on our fans this week to be that 12th man and to be really loud from the get-go. It's going to be a cold night game, but the reason you win your division and want to do that is to get a home playoff game, so we need our fans to be really loud on Saturday night and give us that advantage."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.