Behind Enemy Lines: Vikings-Packers, Part I

How did new quarterback Christian Ponder look during training camp and the preseason? Does Ponder have enough weapons to exploit the Packers' defense? Can the Vikings match up with the Packers' receivers? Viking Update's Tim Yotter provides his insight.

Let's start with the obvious: Christian Ponder is the new starting quarterback. Is he ready for it? Did the first-round pick look like a starting-caliber guy during camp and preseason?

He looked more like a starting-caliber quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears than he did in the preseason, when he was a little more inconsistent. It didn't appear that the Bears backed off trying to pressure him, but I would still expect him to have the typical rookie ups and downs. For me, the most impressive aspect of his performance was his ability to feel pressure, move away from it and still look for receivers downfield. And then when he saw a target, he was decisive in going to him. You'd still like to see a little more consistent accuracy, but the fact that he looked like an upgrade already over a 13-year veteran is encouraging.

Does it matter who's the quarterback? Percy Harvin is obviously a top-shelf receiver and Visanthe Shiancoe is a quality tight end, but do the Vikings have any other targets who can threaten a so-so Packers defense?


Percy Harvin
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images
This might fall under the chicken and egg argument: Were the receivers worse because of McNabb's inaccuracy or was McNabb bad because the receivers couldn't get enough separation? As with most things, the blame can be shared. It was clear the inaccuracies were frustrating for some of the receivers, and there is no question that some of the off-target throws kept the receivers from gaining any yards after the catch. But if you are looking for another receiver to emerge, I'd put my money on rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph. I view him as a future star because of his tremendous hands and decent speed. He and Ponder established a great rapport on and off the field during the offseason, as they both worked out at IMG Academies in Florida, and Ponder even stayed with Rudolph in Minnesota when the quarterback was looking for a home. I see Rudolph as a 50-catch tight end in the coming years, and I think Ponder will look for the tight ends more than McNabb did.

I remember watching some Vikings games when Brad Childress was coach and amused/confused in how he used Adrian Peterson. It was like, "You've got the best running back on the planet and you didn't give him the ball in (fill-in-the-blank situation)." Has that changed under Leslie Frazier? And has Peterson found it tough sledding considering the limitations in the passing game?

There is still a confusing lack of Peterson at times. Earlier in the year, the Vikings had a fourth-and-1 and elected to use Toby Gerhart and Peterson in the same backfield and handed it to Gerhart, who was stuffed for no gain. But there is also little doubt that Peterson's production is hurt by the lack of a passing game — see the eight- and nine-man boxes constructed by the Bears last Sunday night. It was incomprehensible to me that McNabb didn't take more shots downfield considering how many times the Bears played single-high safety. Harvin's tender ribs might have had something to do with that. But Peterson is also hindered by an offensive line that is below average. I've maintained for years that if Peterson had a solid offensive line scheme under Childress, the perennial Pro Bowler might have had a couple 2,000-yard seasons. Now the issue is more personnel than scheme. Bryant McKinnie is gone and Steve Hutchinson is showing signs of age.

I recall the Vikings having put some resources into the secondary over the years, but is that group capable of matching up with the Packers' multiple threats in the passing game?


Cedric Griffin gives up a key catch in overtime against Detroit.
Hannah Folsien/Getty Images
Not to the extent of depth the Packers roll out. Whether the Vikings get Antoine Winfield (neck) back this week or not, it could be a long afternoon trying to defend the many options the Packers trot out with regularity. Cedric Griffin struggled badly last week, but Chris Cook, who looked terrible last year while trying to play on two bad knees at Lambeau Field, has been much better this year. Still, the secondary as a whole could be in for a hurting against Aaron Rodgers if he's able to read and react before the rush gets to him.

Personally, are you surprised that the Vikings are 1-5? Peterson, Harvin, Antoine Winfield and Jared Allen are tremendous starting points. Where have things gone wrong for a team that's been really good for a really long time?

Yes, I'm surprised they've lost five of six games. I figured this to be about a .500 team, but there have been so many issues converging at once. Age is one of them, but there are other reasons: No offseason with a new quarterback (McNabb at first, now Ponder) and a new offensive scheme. No solid backup plan upon the release of McKinnie. E.J. Henderson's struggles to have the necessary speed with a sore knee. No real answers at safety. And, of course, McNabb's consistent inaccuracy. The Vikings showed they have the talent to be good enough to compete with some of the league's top teams – building double-digit leads against the Chargers, Bucs and Lions — but ultimately their warts are exposed. If the Packers are willing to throw 70 percent of the time — why wouldn't they? — and stack the box on Peterson on defense, they should continue their unbeaten ways.


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.



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He looked more like a starting-caliber quarterback in the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears than he did in the preseason, when he was a little more inconsistent. It didn't appear that the Bears backed off trying to pressure him, but I would still expect him to have the typical rookie ups and downs. For me, the most impressive aspect of his performance was his ability to feel pressure, move away from it and still look for receivers downfield. And then when he saw a target, he was decisive in going to him. You'd still like to see a little more consistent accuracy, but the fact that he looked like an upgrade already over a 13-year veteran is encouraging.

This might fall under the chicken and egg argument: Were the receivers worse because of McNabb's inaccuracy or was McNabb bad because the receivers couldn't get enough separation? As with most things, the blame can be shared. It was clear the inaccuracies were frustrating for some of the receivers, and there is no question that some of the off-target throws kept the receivers from gaining any yards after the catch. But if you are looking for another receiver to emerge, I'd put my money on rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph. I view him as a future star because of his tremendous hands and decent speed. He and Ponder established a great rapport on and off the field during the offseason, as they both worked out at IMG Academies in Florida, and Ponder even stayed with Rudolph in Minnesota when the quarterback was looking for a home. I see Rudolph as a 50-catch tight end in the coming years, and I think Ponder will look for the tight ends more than McNabb did.

There is still a confusing lack of Peterson at times. Earlier in the year, the Vikings had a fourth-and-1 and elected to use Toby Gerhart and Peterson in the same backfield and handed it to Gerhart, who was stuffed for no gain. But there is also little doubt that Peterson's production is hurt by the lack of a passing game — see the eight- and nine-man boxes constructed by the Bears last Sunday night. It was incomprehensible to me that McNabb didn't take more shots downfield considering how many times the Bears played single-high safety. Harvin's tender ribs might have had something to do with that. But Peterson is also hindered by an offensive line that is below average. I've maintained for years that if Peterson had a solid offensive line scheme under Childress, the perennial Pro Bowler might have had a couple 2,000-yard seasons. Now the issue is more personnel than scheme. Bryant McKinnie is gone and Steve Hutchinson is showing signs of age.

Not to the extent of depth the Packers roll out. Whether the Vikings get Antoine Winfield (neck) back this week or not, it could be a long afternoon trying to defend the many options the Packers trot out with regularity. Cedric Griffin struggled badly last week, but Chris Cook, who looked terrible last year while trying to play on two bad knees at Lambeau Field, has been much better this year. Still, the secondary as a whole could be in for a hurting against Aaron Rodgers if he's able to read and react before the rush gets to him.

Yes, I'm surprised they've lost five of six games. I figured this to be about a .500 team, but there have been so many issues converging at once. Age is one of them, but there are other reasons: No offseason with a new quarterback (McNabb at first, now Ponder) and a new offensive scheme. No solid backup plan upon the release of McKinnie. E.J. Henderson's struggles to have the necessary speed with a sore knee. No real answers at safety. And, of course, McNabb's consistent inaccuracy. The Vikings showed they have the talent to be good enough to compete with some of the league's top teams – building double-digit leads against the Chargers, Bucs and Lions — but ultimately their warts are exposed. If the Packers are willing to throw 70 percent of the time — why wouldn't they? — and stack the box on Peterson on defense, they should continue their unbeaten ways.

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