Player in the spotlight

Christian Ponder, Vikings

Ponder’s performance against the Packers in the final regular-season game last year (career-high 120.2 quarterback rating) spawned optimism he was set for a consistently strong 2013. Three shaky performances, a fractured rib and a one-game benching later, he returns to start because Josh Freeman had concussion-like symptoms.

“I was playing with a lot of pressure on myself before, and never felt in sync,” said Ponder, admitting he was stung by the benching. “Now is the opportunity to take that deep breath and go out and have fun again.”

Fun would be a repeat of that 37-34 victory Dec. 30 that earned the Vikings a playoff berth. Fun would not be what happened four weeks earlier, when a 23-14 loss at Green Bay was punctuated by two costly interceptions.

Keep an eye on

The Vikings defensive backfield is without safety Harrison Smith (turf toe), but coach Leslie Frazier and defensive coordinator Alan Williams both thought the backfield acquitted itself well in Monday’s 23-7 loss to the Giants.

The question is, can the Vikings get turnovers against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers? Safety Andrew Sendejo and cornerback Marcus Sherels — both normally backups — dropped fairly easy picks Monday, and four other passes batted into the air by defensive linemen fell harmlessly.

The Vikings had seven interceptions in their first four games, turnovers that were key to keeping them in the game. They haven’t had a pick in their past two games, both lopsided losses. And Rodgers, whose career QB rating of 104.9 is best in NFL history, is not prone to pickoffs.

Most pressing question

What’s wrong with the Vikings’ running game?

Trying to catch up in the past two losses, the Vikings have thrown a whopping 97 passes, and run only 27 times.

Seems logical to think that Adrian Peterson is more likely to break off a long run when he gets the ball more, right? Pro Football Focus reported Peterson had 40 runs of 15 yards or longer last year. This season, he has four. The Vikings average 4.4 yards per carry; in 2012 they averaged 5.4.

“It’s more than the offensive line,” Frazier said Friday. “They are a major part of our run offense, without question. But our tight ends … those guys are a big part of our offense as well. Along with our wide receivers the way we do it. We count on those guys getting a good block on safeties and corners as well to help us spring runs.”


• The Vikings will be without Freeman, Smith, running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) and tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle). Defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee) and safety Jamarca Sanford (ankle) are questionable.

• The Packers are missing tight end Jermichael Finley (neck) and linebacker Clay Matthews (thumb). Wideout James Jones (knee) is doubtful.