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Souhan: At QB, Packers try to be great while Vikings would settle for good

  • August 31, 2013 - 6:17 PM

The differences between the Vikings and Packers extend beyond color schemes and stadia, hometown skylines and Super Bowl results.

The differences stem from and have led to discrepancies at the most important position in sports. Last year, the Vikings and Packers both made the playoffs and they split their regular-season meetings, yet they were as different as two teams can be. As the 2013 season begins, their differences at quarterback are as marked and important as ever.

The Packers win because of Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings try to win despite Christian Ponder. And the presence of both in their current position is due to the man who made himself the modern linchpin of the rivalry, Brett Favre.

The Packers assume Rodgers’ mobility and accuracy will diminish their offensive line problems, elevate any competent receiver and obscure defensive weaknesses. They’ve won without a running game, and without investing heavily in free agents.

The Vikings assume that Ponder needs all the help they can give him. They have built a superior roster featuring defensive line depth, excellent first-round draft picks, an outstanding offensive line and the best player in the game.

The Packers rely on a new-age, West Coast passing game intended to stretch defenses to the breaking point, the Vikings on an old-school, power-rushing offense intended to wear down defenses and control the ball.

There are differences in personality as well as approach. Rodgers is so cocky he has angered current and former receivers who should feel blessed to play with him. Ponder lacks athletic arrogance. You want a guy with Ponder’s personality to date your daughter; you want a guy with Rodgers’ personality to run your business.

Rodgers’ presence in Green Bay is the result of luck and foresight. When he slipped to the 24th spot in the first round of the 2005 draft, Packers General Manager Ted Thompson had the prescience to recognize that you don’t pass on a talented quarterback even though your starting quarterback at the time was one of the most durable players in NFL history.

Ponder’s presence in Minnesota is the result of need and quarterback fatigue. With the 12th pick in the 2011 draft, Rick Spielman, weary of a procession of temps at quarterback, chose the most mature, NFL-ready, major-program quarterback available, choosing Ponder over TCU’s Andy Dalton and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick. The choice made sense because Ponder is athletic and mature; it also reeked of desperation, because Ponder’s college career did not suggest he was worthy of the 12th pick in any draft.

Chad Greenway, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Ponder, Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson. What do those names have in common? They’re the Vikings first-round picks since 2005. All but Ponder either has brought or promises to bring excellent value relative to his draft position.

Rodgers and Ponder are linked by two former Packers turned Vikings.

Favre’s presence in Green Bay enabled Rodgers to learn the NFL from the bench. Favre’s presence in Minnesota led to the Vikings craving their own version of Rodgers, a high draft pick they could nurture.

Greg Jennings’ departure from Green Bay in free agency stemmed from his desire to become something more than one of Rodgers’ handful of productive receivers. He and Ponder have yet to look comfortable together. Jennings might have traded in a quarterback who could get him the ball frequently but not exclusively for a quarterback who might not be able to get him the ball.

The NFL cliché holds that quarterbacks receive too much credit and blame. This is false. Quarterbacks receive exactly the right amount of credit and blame. No other player possesses as much power to turn bad plays into good plays, or good into bad.

The Packers chose a quarterback when they didn’t need one, and he became perhaps the most valuable player in the game over the past four seasons.

The Vikings chose a quarterback when they desperately needed one, and he played well enough for a talented roster to make the playoffs last season.

In 2012, the Packers won 11 regular-season games. The Vikings won 10. Rodgers won regardless of his supporting cast; Ponder because of his.

Maybe Rodgers isn’t all that cocky and Ponder isn’t all that humble. Maybe they’re both just realists.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com

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