Boy, how times have changed. At least on this side of the border battle.
Yes, Christian Ponder is back in the lineup. The guy who had no turnovers and a career-high 120.2 passer rating in that 37-34 victory last season is being given a second chance after starting the year with seven turnovers and an 0-3 record. But that’s only because Freeman, the former Buccaneers quarterback signed Oct. 6, is out because of a concussion.
So, as usual, the Packers head east with the better quarterback, former MVP Aaron Rodgers, whose 116.4 passer rating in 10 regular-season games against the Vikings is the highest by one player against an opponent since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. But what’s not usual by any stretch is this:
The Packers also come in with the superior running game. Their No. 2-ranked offense is bolstered by a sixth-ranked running attack that is averaging 134.7 yards per game compared to the Vikings’ 102-yard average. Throw in the fact Green Bay is also No. 3 in run defense (79.0) while the Vikings are No. 14 (102.3) and, well, this has the potential of being not only an aerial mismatch but a physical one as well.
Dissecting the Vikings’ problems in the running game is difficult. It’s the same running back, the same five offensive linemen, the same tight ends and the same fullback since Jerome Felton returned from his three-game suspension. Yet so much has changed.
Peterson threw X’s and O’s out the MetLife Stadium window Monday night when asked to explain the difference between past and present.
“We were more physical last year, and that’s what stands out this year,” he said. “The group as a whole, offensively, we just need to start hitting guys in the mouth.”
Left tackle Matt Kalil was asked how it feels when a teammate says you’re not physical enough.
“You know,” he said, “that’s the MVP of the NFL. So I’m going to take his advice.”
Time to feast
You want an amazing statistic from Peterson’s final 10 games in 2012? Try this: Of Peterson’s 235 carries during that stretch, 57 of them (24.3 percent) went for no gain or a loss, and 98 of them (41.7 percent) went for 3 yards or fewer.
Few remember that Peterson’s best game last year — a 212-yard outing against the Rams — began with five tackles for loss in Peterson’s first seven carries. His first seven carries produced zero yards. His eighth carry went 8 yards.
What about his ninth carry, you ask? An 82-yard touchdown blast up the middle. Of Peterson’s 24 carries that day, 13 produced 2 yards or fewer for a grand total of minus-3. The other nine carries were good for 215 yards (23.9).
Now consider the two regular-season games against the Packers. Of his 55 carries, 29 of them (52.7 percent) went for 3 yards or fewer for a total of 33 yards (1.1). However, the other 26 carries went for 376 yards (14.5).
“Up there at the Dome in the final, I think we overpursued at different levels as far as gap control,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He has great vision and running ability. He makes you pay when you’re out of position. And the second, and probably most important, part is you got to tackle him. He broke a lot of tackles against us.”
As the focus this week shifts away from the future of the quarterback position to the present running back, it’s fitting to note how many carries Peterson had last week (13) and what happened on his 14th carry in last year’s first meeting with the Packers.