Tim Yotter: There are a lot of them. Primary among the differences is accuracy. While McNabb still has a better completion percentage (60.3) than Ponder (51.9) to this point, McNabb was much more cautious with his passes and still missed numerous easy throws. Ponder struggled with his accuracy in his first start against the Packers, but after a terrible third quarter that included two interceptions, he calmed down and showed poise under pressure in the fourth quarter.
The second facet is Ponder's knack for converting third downs. He admits he needs to do a better job on first and second downs, but against the Packers he converted 56 percent of his third downs and the next week in Carolina it was a 50-percent conversion rate. Five of the six starts for McNabb featured third-down conversion rates of 40 percent or less.
Finally, Ponder is simply more athletic than McNabb. While McNabb used to be the guy that could roll out and connect with receivers on the run, he isn't fast enough to get outside the defensive ends this year. Ponder is quick enough to do that and keeps his eyes down the field and runs only when he can't find an open receiver.
Christian Ponder has shown poise in the pocket.
Tom Dahlin/Viking Update
Yotter: Not yet. He has spread the ball around pretty well. In his two starts, he has targeted Harvin eight times for six receptions, Michael Jenkins 10 times for five receptions, and Visanthe Shiancoe 12 times for seven completions. Ponder is good friends with rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph off the field and in the last game Rudolph was targeted five times, but the biggest different against Carolina was that Ponder got Adrian Peterson involved in the passing game, as the running back caught a season-high five passes.
Huber: You've seen Adrian Peterson throughout his career. Have you ever seen him play better? And just how impressive has he been considering the lack of a passing game and that he's probably run behind better offensive lines during his time there?
Yotter: The offensive lines have never been great during Peterson's time with the Vikings, but they have had more talented lines than he has this year. However, with a new offensive scheme that includes a new offensive line coach, the feeling here is that the new scheme is coming along and could eventually be pretty good, especially if they add talent in the offseason. As far as Peterson's play, he seems to be more consistent than in season's past. I don't see as many stuffs behind the line of scrimmage, and you have to think that as Ponder gets better and experiences more success in the passing game that it will open up the running lanes even more for Peterson. He's not on pace for his 1,760-yard season of 2008, but I could see him approaching 2,000 yards if Ponder keeps improving and the offensive adds a starter next year.
Huber: Aaron Rodgers threw one incompletion in these teams' first meeting, once you eliminate the clock-killing spike, two throwaways and two drops. The Vikings didn't have Antoine Winfield in that game. How big of a difference will he make?
Yotter: The Packers certainly caught the Vikings secondary at its low point without Winfield and Chris Cook, who was arrested the day before the game, but let's face it: If Rodgers continues to play at the level he is right now, there are very few cornerbacks that can stop him. Winfield even admitted as much Thursday. Ponder called Rodgers the league MVP. Winfield said he's never seen a quarterback as hot as Rodgers is right now and said there isn't much a cornerback can do to defend against the back-shoulder throws like the one Rodgers completed to Jordy Nelson Sunday. While the Vikings say they found some things to clean up during their bye week and maintain that it is about how they are playing, in reality I'd say it's more about how Rodgers is playing than any great magical performance the cornerbacks are going to be able to come up with.
Huber: The playoffs are a long shot at this point, but that doesn't mean the Vikings can't play the role of spoiler during the second half of the season. What is your forecast for the team over these next eight games?
Yotter: They've got a tough road ahead of them, no doubt about it. All but one of their final eight games will be against teams currently in playoff contention. If they could play .500 ball the rest of the season, it would be an improvement, but what they really need to see is Ponder continue to progress and become a consistent threat, both physically with his throws and his scrambling ability and mentally by continuing to make good decisions before and after the snap. If his play continues to ascend they might even be able to play winning football in the second half of the season, but there are other holes they need to fill from a personnel standpoint before they can get back to consistent playoff contention. Still, finding a long-term solution at quarterback has been the biggest need for this team since the departure of Daunte Culpepper in 2006, and Ponder has given them reasons to believe he can be better than Culpepper in a few years.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update magazine and VikingUpdate.com.