Vikings' reasons for optimism vs. Packers

The records say the 2-6 Vikings have little chance at Lambeau Field against the undefeated Packers, but the statistics and progress of the Vikings allow for a glimmer of hope. We spotlight five reasons why an upset is possible, with reaction from coaches and players.

For at least the next three days, Vikings players and coaches will be hearing from the media about how good the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are. They are the defending Super Bowl champions, undefeated halfway through the season, and talk is turning to the possibilities for an undefeated season.

But, like a saying on a plaque sitting atop an office credenza, let's think of a few reasons why the Vikings can beat the Packers, as long as those odds might seem (the Packers are favored by 14 points).

1. Vikings are healthier after the bye

Maybe the bye week wasn't the best thing for a rookie quarterback looking to continue the momentum he gained with a road win at Carolina, but at least his biggest threat in the passing game will be feeling better. Receiver Percy Harvin has struggled with a rib injury since his initial training camp injury, but two weeks off has him talking as if the ribs won't be an issue.

On the other side of the ball, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is also hoping to get back at least a portion of his explosiveness that has been sapped because of swelling in the knee. In the first meeting with the Packers on Nov. 14, Henderson was beaten by tight end Jermichael Finley for a touchdown. Injured or not, Henderson covering Finley is tough duty, but Henderson might have had a better chance on rested knees, which he has following the bye.

Henderson is keeping the faith that beating the Packers in Lambeau is possible.

"Definitely. That's a little motivation for us. We're going to focus on this game, we're going to watch the film, make the corrections and try to come back, and like I say, get that win," Henderson said.

2. Vikings can control the clock

With Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have the running back that is widely considered the best in the league. The Packers are no slouch against the run, ranking eighth in the league for rushing yards surrendered per game (100), but they also have the benefit of teams trying to play catch-up on the league's second-highest scoring offense.

In theory, having Peterson helps to keep the Packers offense off the field.

"Everybody tries that, but those guys score so often," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "They get seven possessions and score six times. It's a good strategy and it's a good thought when you sit down and strategize, but you have to, short of keeping the football for 15 minutes a quarter, you have to find a way to slow them down. You have to find a way."

Actually, the Vikings found a way to do that somewhat in their meeting at Mall of America Field. The Packers were only 2-for-8 converting third downs. For the season, the Packers are converting first downs at a 50-percent clip.

"I said going into the game a couple of weeks ago their offense is probably the best in the league so you want to keep the ball away from them as much as possible," guard Steve Hutchinson said. "So if we can run the ball, control the clock and keep their offense from having the ball and as an offense we want to eliminate turnovers, I think that's how you want to start drawing it up."

3. Ponder is settling in

Christian Ponder's first NFL start came against the Packers. He started warming up about three hours before the game and threw hundreds of extra passes prior to the game to try to calm his nerves. Now …

"I think I'm getting a lot more comfortable, a lot less butterflies than that first week of practice," Ponder said. "I'm just confident in what I'm doing. I'm comfortable with making pre-snap reads and knowing where everybody is going to go and I think that's the difference."

Ponder's overall statistics in that first meeting weren't anything to brag about – 13-for-32 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions – and he hasn't. In fact, he's been up front about needing a better completion percentage, but he showed a knack for converting third downs (at a clip of 56 percent in that game) and continued that success in his last game, converting 7 of 14 third downs.

If Ponder can avoid the costly interceptions that contributed to an abysmal third quarter in the first Packers meeting, the Vikings should have a chance.

4. Packers are showing vulnerabilities

Despite all of their success in the win column, the Packers have struggled to defend the pass. They are ranked 31st against the pass, giving up an average of 300 passing yards per game.

"That's kind of what their defense is, bend but don't break. They've given up some yards but not a lot of scoring," Ponder said. "Obviously my two mistakes I had last game, you've got to be careful with the ball but capitalize with the opportunities were given. I think, as an offense, if we do things right we can be pretty good."

The Packers are 19th in points allowed, giving up 172 this season, but their defense has mainly thrived off of timely turnovers, like the two interceptions Ponder threw to Charles Woodson in the first meeting. The Vikings are hardly alone in losing the turnover battle to Green Bay. The Packer are plus-11 in turnover ratio, third in the league.

"Certainly against us, the two picks in the second half slowed us down and they were able to jump on top of us. You saw it against San Diego with the back-to-back interceptions, the pick six. They're getting points off of turnovers," tackle Charlie Johnson said. "They're doing a good job of stopping people. People may move the ball up and down, but they're keeping people out of the end zone. I think with every team it's different. With them, they give up yards but they're still good. They're still challenging."

5. It's still a division rivalry

The Vikings-Packers rivalry has been lined with upsets. Maybe the biggest was the only playoff battle between the two teams, a 2004 wild card matchup in which the underdog Vikings went to Lambeau Field and beat the Packers 31-17.

"(Vikings-Packers) is always special, regardless of the records," Hutchinson said. "They're a really good football team, if not the best team in the league right now."

Despite the records, this game will have a little more juice because of the prime-time matchup on Monday Night Football. It will be Ponder's first appearance in a prime-time game.

"Growing up as a kid you're always watching Monday night football. It's always a dream to get out and play," he said. "For this to happen is awesome, against an undefeated team against the defending world champions. We played pretty well last time. I'm pretty excited about our chances and obviously we know it's going to be tough. You hear nothing but good things about playing at Lambeau Field and how awesome an experience it's going to be. It's just exciting, an exciting time right now."

This will be the sixth time in the last seven seasons that the Vikings and Packers have met in prime time and the fourth time in the last seven seasons that it's been on Monday Night Football. The matchup sells. Now it will be up to the teams to provide fans their money's worth.


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.



CowboysHQ Top Stories

\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"For at least the next three days, Vikings players and coaches will be hearing from the media about how good the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers are. They are the defending Super Bowl champions, undefeated halfway through the season, and talk is turning to the possibilities for an undefeated season. But, like a saying on a plaque sitting atop an office credenza, let's think of a few reasons why the Vikings can beat the Packers, as long as those odds might seem (the Packers are favored by 14 points). Maybe the bye week wasn't the best thing for a rookie quarterback looking to continue the momentum he gained with a road win at Carolina, but at least his biggest threat in the passing game will be feeling better. Receiver Percy Harvin has struggled with a rib injury since his initial training camp injury, but two weeks off has him talking as if the ribs won't be an issue. On the other side of the ball, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is also hoping to get back at least a portion of his explosiveness that has been sapped because of swelling in the knee. In the first meeting with the Packers on Nov. 14, Henderson was beaten by tight end Jermichael Finley for a touchdown. Injured or not, Henderson covering Finley is tough duty, but Henderson might have had a better chance on rested knees, which he has following the bye. Henderson is keeping the faith that beating the Packers in Lambeau is possible. \"Definitely. That's a little motivation for us. We're going to focus on this game, we're going to watch the film, make the corrections and try to come back, and like I say, get that win,\" Henderson said. With Adrian Peterson, the Vikings have the running back that is widely considered the best in the league. The Packers are no slouch against the run, ranking eighth in the league for rushing yards surrendered per game (100), but they also have the benefit of teams trying to play catch-up on the league's second-highest scoring offense. In theory, having Peterson helps to keep the Packers offense off the field. \"Everybody tries that, but those guys score so often,\" Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. \"They get seven possessions and score six times. It's a good strategy and it's a good thought when you sit down and strategize, but you have to, short of keeping the football for 15 minutes a quarter, you have to find a way to slow them down. You have to find a way.\" Actually, the Vikings found a way to do that somewhat in their meeting at Mall of America Field. The Packers were only 2-for-8 converting third downs. For the season, the Packers are converting first downs at a 50-percent clip. \"I said going into the game a couple of weeks ago their offense is probably the best in the league so you want to keep the ball away from them as much as possible,\" guard Steve Hutchinson said. \"So if we can run the ball, control the clock and keep their offense from having the ball and as an offense we want to eliminate turnovers, I think that's how you want to start drawing it up.\" Christian Ponder's first NFL start came against the Packers. He started warming up about three hours before the game and threw hundreds of extra passes prior to the game to try to calm his nerves. Now … \"I think I'm getting a lot more comfortable, a lot less butterflies than that first week of practice,\" Ponder said. \"I'm just confident in what I'm doing. I'm comfortable with making pre-snap reads and knowing where everybody is going to go and I think that's the difference.\" Ponder's overall statistics in that first meeting weren't anything to brag about – 13-for-32 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions – and he hasn't. In fact, he's been up front about needing a better completion percentage, but he showed a knack for converting third downs (at a clip of 56 percent in that game) and continued that success in his last game, converting 7 of 14 third downs. If Ponder can avoid the costly interceptions that contributed to an abysmal third quarter in the first Packers meeting, the Vikings should have a chance. Despite all of their success in the win column, the Packers have struggled to defend the pass. They are ranked 31st against the pass, giving up an average of 300 passing yards per game. \"That's kind of what their defense is, bend but don't break. They've given up some yards but not a lot of scoring,\" Ponder said. \"Obviously my two mistakes I had last game, you've got to be careful with the ball but capitalize with the opportunities were given. I think, as an offense, if we do things right we can be pretty good.\" The Packers are 19th in points allowed, giving up 172 this season, but their defense has mainly thrived off of timely turnovers, like the two interceptions Ponder threw to Charles Woodson in the first meeting. The Vikings are hardly alone in losing the turnover battle to Green Bay. The Packer are plus-11 in turnover ratio, third in the league. \"Certainly against us, the two picks in the second half slowed us down and they were able to jump on top of us. You saw it against San Diego with the back-to-back interceptions, the pick six. They're getting points off of turnovers,\" tackle Charlie Johnson said. \"They're doing a good job of stopping people. People may move the ball up and down, but they're keeping people out of the end zone. I think with every team it's different. With them, they give up yards but they're still good. They're still challenging.\" The Vikings-Packers rivalry has been lined with upsets. Maybe the biggest was the only playoff battle between the two teams, a 2004 wild card matchup in which the underdog Vikings went to Lambeau Field and beat the Packers 31-17. \"(Vikings-Packers) is always special, regardless of the records,\" Hutchinson said. \"They're a really good football team, if not the best team in the league right now.\" Despite the records, this game will have a little more juice because of the prime-time matchup on Monday Night Football. It will be Ponder's first appearance in a prime-time game. \"Growing up as a kid you're always watching Monday night football. It's always a dream to get out and play,\" he said. \"For this to happen is awesome, against an undefeated team against the defending world champions. We played pretty well last time. I'm pretty excited about our chances and obviously we know it's going to be tough. You hear nothing but good things about playing at Lambeau Field and how awesome an experience it's going to be. It's just exciting, an exciting time right now.\" This will be the sixth time in the last seven seasons that the Vikings and Packers have met in prime time and the fourth time in the last seven seasons that it's been on Monday Night Football. The matchup sells. Now it will be up to the teams to provide fans their money's worth. 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