Although the Green Bay Packers are the lone unbeaten team in the NFL, coach Mike McCarthy sees areas where they must improve.
One of those is pass defense, but that unit could be in for a better performance against a Minnesota Vikings team giving rookie Christian Ponder his first career start.
The Packers look to open with seven straight wins for the first time in nearly 50 years Sunday as they visit Ponder and the Vikings, who are trying to avoid their worst start in more than two decades.
With a 24-3 win over St. Louis on Sunday coupled with NFC North rival Detroit losing, Green Bay is the last undefeated team this season. However, that's small consolation for the defending champions after a somewhat unsatisfying performance.
The Packers, averaging an NFL-best 32.8 points, didn't score in the second half and allowed the winless Rams to pile up 424 yards.
"It's a feeling of minor disappointment," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Despite the less-than-dominant effort, Green Bay is 6-0 for the first time since 1965 and won its 12th straight game to match a franchise record set in 1961-62. The 1962 team opened 10-0, the last time the Packers won their first seven games.
"We've put good numbers up, but we have to get better," McCarthy said. "You have to be running on all cylinders and we're not there, yet. Yes, we put up big numbers, but we're not at the level we feel we can be at."
Green Bay has been quite vulnerable against the pass, ranking 31st with 299.7 yards allowed per game. It will have a chance to shore up some of those problems against Ponder, whom coach Leslie Frazier hopes can give his Vikings a much-needed spark.
Minnesota lost 39-10 to Chicago last Sunday to fall to 1-5. With veteran Donovan McNabb struggling to find consistency in a new offense, Ponder was named the starter Wednesday.
Ponder, the 12th pick in this year's draft, made his debut in the fourth quarter Sunday. In two series, he went 9 of 17 for 99 yards against a Bears team playing with a 29-point lead.
He impressed Frazier with some elusiveness against a defense that sacked McNabb five times.
"For a guy who gets limited reps in practice, it seems he had a good grasp, like we thought he would, of our offense,'' Frazier said.
Frazier says the decision to go with Ponder was based solely on giving the team the best chance to win. The Vikings are trying to avoid their first 1-6 start since 1990, but they're not viewing the season as a rebuilding effort.
"Here's the way I look at it. We're still in 2011. We've got Green Bay. If you're looking forward to 2012, then I say you leave this locker room and you come back in 2012," defensive end Brian Robison said.
Ponder might be playing behind a banged-up offensive line, as center John Sullivan left Sunday's game with a concussion and right tackle Phil Loadholt came out because of inflammation in his knee. Their status is uncertain.
Ponder does have the advantage of being joined in the backfield by Adrian Peterson. The four-time All-Pro rushed for 203 yards with a touchdown in two losses to Green Bay last season.
While the Vikings are unsure of what they're going to get from their quarterback, the Packers don't have such concerns.
Rodgers is putting together an MVP-caliber season, leading the league with 17 touchdown passes, a 70.2 completion percentage and a 122.5 passer rating. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to post a rating of at least 110.0 in each of his first six games.
In his last game against the Vikings on Nov. 21, Rodgers put up a 141.3 rating - the second highest of his career - while passing for 301 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-3 win at the Metrodome. He threw for 295 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in a 28-24 home victory over Minnesota on Oct. 24.
The Packers' pass-heavy attack will face a depleted Vikings secondary, with cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion) listed as doubtful.
Cornerback Chris Cook, who had started the past three games, definitely won't play after he was arrested Saturday on domestic battery charges.
"We take this matter very seriously and are still gathering all the details of the incident," the Vikings said through spokesman Bob Hagan.
Passing games key for Vikings, Packers
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