The Vikings ended the 12-game NFC North winning streak of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, as well Aaron Rodgers' five-game winning streak over the Vikings, but now Minnesota is faced with breaking its own five-game losing streak in outdoor games.
The Vikings head to Lambeau Field Saturday for the opening round of the playoffs, but Minnesota hasn't won a game outdoors this year. Their last win outdoors came at FedEx Field last December, when Adrian Peterson was pounding the turf after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament on Christmas Eve.
In some ways, the Vikings would seem to be the perfectly built team for the outdoors – they have the league's best running back and a defense adept at stopping the opposition's running game. That hasn't proven to be the case this year, however, and the Vikings may have to commit more heavily to their running game for their best chance of winning at Lambeau Field.
"It can't hurt. Obviously we don't know what the elements are going to be like. January up here tends to be pretty cold. It may snow. We may get some rain," guard Charlie Johnson said. "If you have a running game that you can lean on, it can help. But somewhere along the line you're going to have to make plays in the passing game. We'll see what happens."
The Vikings have losses this year at Seattle's CenturyLink Field, Washington's FedEx Field, Lambeau Field, Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium (which had the retractable roof open) and Chicago's Soldier Field.
Peterson said he prefers to play outdoors on natural grass, and his numbers this year bear that out. He is averaging 7.18 yards per carry in his five outdoors games. Conversely, he is averaging 5.6 yards in his eight games at Mall of America Field.
The difference, however, is that he hasn't been getting the ball as much during those outdoor games, likely because the Vikings were losing and needed to play catch-up. He has averaged 17.8 carries per game outdoors, compared to 23.6 indoors.
"For us, where we are, (running the ball often) is the best thing for our football team. It gives us the best chance to win. It's a formula we believe in, our players believe in. And it has worked," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "When you have the best running back in the National Football League, from our vantage point, why wouldn't you focus your offense around him? Build the offense around him. It's proven to be a successful plan for us."
The Vikings have been more willing to do that lately, with Peterson getting a career-high 34 carries Sunday.
But while Peterson has a better average per carry during outdoor games, quarterback Christian Ponder has been better at Mall of America Field than in outdoor games in all the key categories – 60.5 completion percentage on the road, 63.7 at home; 188 yards per game vs. 198; 5.2 yards per attempt vs. 7.0; six touchdowns to six interceptions on the road vs. 11-to-6 TDs-to-INTs at home. And, finally, a 71.7 rating on the road compared to 89.5 at home.
The turnovers may be the biggest reason for the outdoor losses.
"That's probably the biggest part, not taking care of the ball, not being able to maybe get stops defensively," Johnson said. "But outside, inside, the recipe for success is the same, no matter what it is. If you take care of the football and you play your game, you're going to be successful."
The forecast in Green Bay for Saturday calls for a high of 25 degrees and low of 17, with a light breeze. Kickoff is at 7 p.m., but Frazier said Monday he wasn't sure if the Vikings would have any of their practices this week outdoors to prepare for the road trip.
"We'll talk it through and figure out what we think is best so we can get quality work, whether it's outside or here," he said.
Either way, making sure Peterson gets the ball enough and Ponder limits his mistakes will be two of the biggest keys as they try to secure their first outdoor win of the season on the biggest stage they've faced in years.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Ponder, more than Peterson, key to next game
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