Game Preview Notes: 21 Things You Don't Know

At the time, maybe it made sense for the Vikings to have gone with Michael Jenkins rather than James Jones in free agency. But not now. Plus, confusing Christian Ponder, stopping Adrian Peterson, lots of receiving nuggets and much more in the best game preview in the world.

When the Green Bay Packers visit the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, James Jones will be on the visiting sideline.

It almost didn't work out that way.

As a free agent after the lockout, Jones was courted by the Vikings, who had lost Sidney Rice to Seattle. Instead, the Vikings signed Michael Jenkins away from the Atlanta Falcons. The 29-year-old Jenkins, an underachieving former first-round pick by Atlanta in 2004, made sense for the Vikings. Their new offensive coordinator, Bill Musgrave, coached in Atlanta from 2006 through 2010. So, given the lack of an offseason because of the lockout, Jenkins would be the one and only member of the Vikings' offense who knew the playbook.

Jones wound up re-signing with the Packers — with a little prodding to general manager Ted Thompson by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his fellow receivers. After catching just one pass for 1 yard in the season opener, Jones is fourth on the team with 15 catches for 263 yards, second with a 17.5-yard average and tied for third with three touchdown receptions. His only catch last week went for a 35-yard touchdown.

Jenkins, meanwhile, has 24 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns.

"As a competitor, you want to be on the field," Jones said. "It's never been about the ball to me. I've been here, I've been in games where I played a lot and didn't get any opportunities and I didn't complain. It wasn't about the ball. I just want to be on the field helping us win. And lately, I've been on the field, so I have no complaints. If the ball like last week only comes my way one time, you do what you've got to do with it. We know going into the game that it could be your day, or it could not be your day with all the weapons we have. But just be ready when that time comes. We all wish we could go into the game saying, ‘You're going to get five catches, and you're going to get five catches …' but it's not going to happen."

One reason why Jones found the free-agent market to be tepid was his numerous dropped passes the last two seasons. This season, according to STATS, Jones has just one drop among his 21 targeted passes.

"I'm glad he's here," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "When you watch the tape and evaluated his performance from a year ago — everybody wanted to get on him because he had a couple of drops on deep balls — but I thought he played well last year, I really did. Glad he's here."

Hey, Rookie

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' game plan is the same most weeks: Stop the run and make the opposing offense have to rely on the pass.

That's especially true considering where Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder are in their careers. Peterson is one of the NFL's all-time great running backs. Ponder is a first-round pick making his first NFL start at quarterback.

"It's no secret," defensive end Ryan Pickett said. "You have to put the game in (Ponder's) hand and say, ‘Can you win the game or can you not?' That's our plan."

The multiplicity of Capers' defense will be a major test for a rookie with just one quarter of game action and really not many practice reps after the end of training camp. Thus, the Packers will try to get in his head.

"You always want to disguise stuff and don't let him see what you're in and make him second-guess himself," Pickett said. "The main thing you want to do is play the chains. You want to keep him third-and-long. You don't want to give him third-and-2, third-and-3, where he has a short distance and easy passes to make."

Outside linebacker Erik Walden said Ponder is an athletic player who can make all the throws. That was the knock on Donovan McNabb, who refused to push the ball downfield. So, while McNabb was fine in terms of completion percentage (60.3) and turnovers (two interceptions, no fumbles), the Vikings' offense bogged down. Of the four players with at least 10 receptions, Percy Harvin had the best average at merely 10.4 yards per catch.

"Christian had some attributes that we really liked when we drafted him and when we went down to visit with him and watched him on tape," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said of the team's thoughts before the draft. "He'll get a chance now to develop over these next few weeks but also hopefully lead us to some wins, and part of that will be throwing the ball downfield, throwing the ball on outs, slants, whatever we ask him to do."

Peterson: Public Enemy No. 1

Interestingly, the Packers swept last season's games, even though Peterson had games of 131 yards (one touchdown) and 72 yards with a two-game average per carry of 4.8.

On the other hand, the Packers were swept in 2009's games, when Peterson had games of 55 yards (one touchdown) and 97 yards (one touchdown) with a two-game average per carry of 3.0.

Capers said Peterson and the Rams' Steven Jackson are similar players in that both are able to explode through a hole and finish with violence. Pickett said Peterson and Jackson are "1A and 1B" on the list of the NFL's most dangerous backs. Last week, Jackson gained 96 yards on 18 carries with an average of 5.3 against Green Bay's fourth-ranked run defense. Jackson had three carries of at least 10 yards and was stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage twice.

"We didn't want him to come out there with the big run," Capers said. "Hopefully, we can improve on that. We'll have to improve on that against Peterson. It wasn't bad but it wasn't up to where our standards are."

Going deep

Entering this season, Jordy Nelson had averaged 12.7 yards on his 100 career receptions. Even with an 80-yard touchdown late last season, he averaged just 12.9 yards per grab in 2010.

So, how do you explain this season? His 20 catches have averaged an eye-popping 20.7 yards. Only Carolina's Steve Smith (21.1) has been more explosive, thanks to a record-setting run of big plays. Nelson is the first player since the 1970 merger to have three 80-yard touchdown catches in the space of just eight games. Along with the 80-yarder against the Giants in Week 16, he had an 84-yarder against Carolina in Week 2 and a 93-yarder against St. Louis last week.

"Some of it is right place, right time, right coverage, right play call," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Obviously, he's doing a great job. He's got very good breakaway speed and can finish a play off. I'm not sure he's doing anything totally different than what he was doing before. He's always been a high-effort player, a detail-oriented player. You hope as a player matures that he gets better and improves. That being said, I think he's applying his fundamentals and has been fortunate, to a certain degree, that he's been in the right place at the right time a couple of times."

Receiving threats

By Philbin's count, the Packers have dropped 10 passes over the last two games after dropping "five or six" in the first four. Still, the receiving group has been highly productive.

The Packers' receivers have an NFL-high 1,481 yards, led by Greg Jennings' 540, Nelson's 413 and Jones' 263. They also lead the league with 10 touchdowns. All five have at least one, with Jennings and Nelson tied for the team lead with four apiece.

YAC attack

Between receivers, tight ends and running backs, the Packers are third in the NFL with 1,000 yards after the catch. That's right on the heels of the Patriots' league-leading 1,016 and the Saints' 1,013.

Among receivers only, Nelson ranks fourth in the league with 229 yards after the catch and Jennings is 11th with 161. New England's Wes Welker is in a league of his own, as he leads all players with 397 yards after the catch. That's 143 more than the second-leading wide receiver, the Colts' Pierre Garcon.

Kicking his way to a record

Perhaps it'd be appropriate that Mason Crosby sets the franchise record for consecutive successful field goals at Minnesota.

After all, that's where the Packers' all-time scoring leader, Ryan Longwell, has been splitting uprights at an 87.2 percent clip since defecting from Green Bay after the 2005 season.

Crosby, a sixth-round draft pick in 2007, will be linked forever to Longwell, who kicked in Green Bay for nine seasons. Entering this season, Crosby had made just 78.1 percent of his field goals. While Longwell made at least 80 percent of his field goals in seven of his nine seasons with the Packers, Crosby's career-best season came as a rookie, when he hit 79.5 percent.

Finally, it appears Crosby has put it all together. He enters Sunday's game with 17 consecutive made field goals, which is tied with Chris Jacke for the team record.

"It'll be special," Crosby said. "You want to keep stringing them together. As long as it means getting us the win, that's all I care about is going 7-0 before this bye. I'm looking forward to this game and getting that first opportunity. Just got to put it through. It's going to be cool. It's been five years being here. There's been some rough spots but I feel like I'm a groove right now. Just got to get that next one."

Why the turnaround? Chalk it up to continuity in the "operation," in special teams lingo. For the first time, he's had the same holder in consecutive seasons with the return of punter Tim Masthay. Brett Goode has been the snapper since 2008.

"I think that helps, for sure," Crosby said. "It's the detail and the hard work for the past couple years. That's definitely one of the biggest factors. It's just a mind-set and seeing how important each kick is. I know what my role is and I know I need to make kicks to help this team win."

On the offensive

— The Packers have scored at least 24 points in each of their first six games, a first in franchise history. They haven't scored 24-plus points in six consecutive games at any point in a season since 2007. Moreover, the Packers and Lions are the only teams to score at least 24 in every game this season.

— Green Bay is the only team in the league with 390-plus yards in every game, and it's on pace for 6,779 yards for the season, which would obliterate the team record of 6,357 set in 2004. The best season for the Mike McCarthy-led Packers came in 2009, with the 6,065 yards ranking third in team history.

Vikings hot reads

— While Jared Allen is the headliner, bookend defensive end Brian Robison is no slouch. He has two sacks apiece in the Vikings' past two home games. His 4.5 sacks rank second on the team. Nobody on the Packers' has more than three (Desmond Bishop and Jarius Wynn). Moreover, he has a team-high 20 quarterback hurries.

— Peterson ranks third in NFL history with 95.2 rushing yards per game, behind only Jim Brown's 104.3 and Barry Sanders' 99.8. Not surprisingly, Peterson leads the NFL in rushing since he entered the league in 2007. The margin, however, is what's incredible. He has 6,319 rushing yards in the last four-plus seasons. Next on the list is St. Louis' Steven Jackson — and that's a distant second with 4,921 yards. He also leads with 59 rushing touchdowns, 15 ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson's 44. Of his 26 career 100-yard games, four have come against Green Bay.

— The Vikings stick out like a sore thumb in the NFL's giveaway-takeaway race. Detroit (plus-9) is 5-1, Buffalo (plus-9) is 4-2, San Francisco (plus-8) is 5-1, Green Bay (plus-7) is 6-0, Baltimore (plus-5) is 4-1, New York Giants (plus-4) are 4-2), Houston (plus-4) is 3-3 and Minnesota (plus-4) is 1-5. So, of the top eight teams in turnover margin, four are first place, three are in second place and Minnesota is in last place.

— The Vikings are struggling but one area in which they'll challenge Rodgers and Co. is in the red zone. After allowing the Chargers to score three touchdowns on six treks inside the 20 in Week 1, they've allowed just five touchdowns on 16 red-zone possessions over the last five games. All told, they allow touchdowns 36.4 percent of the time, good for second in the NFL.

History lessons

— This will be the 100th meeting in the series, with Green Bay leading 51-48-1. The Vikings are 25-24 at home. Where the Vikings have a big edge is in overtime games, with a 4-1-1 mark. Green Bay's only overtime win against Minnesota was Antonio Freeman's "improbable bobble" in 2000 at Lambeau Field.

— The Packers are off to their seventh 6-0 start in franchise history and their first since 1965. Their previous six such seasons resulted in championships in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1944, 1962 and 1965. You might have known that. But did you know the Packers are the seventh defending Super Bowl champion to win their first six games? The others are the 1986 Bears, 1990 49ers, 1998 Broncos, 2000 Rams, 2004 Patriots and 2007 Colts. Only the Broncos and Patriots won Super Bowls among those teams.

— The Packers have won 12 consecutive games, matching the team record compiled by Vince Lombardi's first two championship teams in 1961 and 1962. In this streak, the Packers have won by an average of 13.6 points. In the Glory Years streak, the winning margin was 23.3.

— How good have the Packers been on the road under McCarthy? Try this: They're 10-6 in NFC North road games. McCarthy is 3-2 at Minnesota, including last year's 31-3 thrashing of the Vikings. In that game, the Packers were guilty of just one penalty, and the three points allowed tied the team record in the rivalry, matching a 3-0 loss in 1971.

Four-point stance

— Rodgers is the second quarterback in NFL history to have posted six games of 110-plus passer ratings in three consecutive seasons. Steve Young did it in 1992 through 1994. Rodgers is the only quarterback in NFL history to have started a season with six consecutive games with 110-plus ratings. In fact, no other quarterback has started a season with more than four.

— If this trend continues, Green Bay will improve to 7-0: The Packers rank fourth in the league by converting third down into first down 51.3 percent of the time. On the other hand, the Vikings' defense ranks 27th by allowing conversions 44.2 percent of the time.

— Through six weeks, 19 teams have rallied from 10-point deficits to win games. That's the second-most in league history behind the 23 of 1987. The Packers have contributed twice, recovering from a 13-0 deficit at Carolina and 14-0 at Atlanta.

— The last word goes to Pickett: "The way we're preparing, the way Coach McCarthy is on us, it's just like the Vikings of old. There's no love between the two teams. Practice has been real intense, meetings have been real intense. The rivalry is as hot as ever. It's like this is our biggest game of the year."

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

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