1

December

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Key Matchups

Jordy Nelson scores against the Minnesota Vikings

The Packers are hoping to see this familiar scene on Sunday versus the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field and face the Green Bay Packers for just the first time this season.  The two teams will square off again in week 17 in Minnesota.  Both teams are coming off of a big loss and are fighting to keep postseason hopes alive.

The Packers were handed their worst loss in years at the hands of the New York football Giants while the Vikings were soundly defeated by the first-place Chicago Bears.  Both teams will likely be fired up and looking to get back on track.  At least they should be in a divisional game this late in the season.

Let’s take a look at the key matchups that will manifest themselves this Sunday.

Vikings Defensive Line vs. Packers Offensive Line

In the number one slot is the matchup most critical to Green Bay’s success this week.  As is likely to be the case for the rest of this season, the Packers have to find a way to protect Aaron Rodgers and start winning their matchups up front.

Minnesota features Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, who will square up on Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse.  Last season, Allen had three total sacks on Rodgers in the two games and that was when the Green Bay offensive line was playing better than they are now.  Allen is athletic and can get after the ball so Rodgers and the offense need to be mindful of where he is at all times.

My guess is that Green Bay is going to need to provide some extra help on the blind side with either a chip block by the back and release for check down or a straight up double team.

On the right side is Vikings defensive end Brian Robison.  You may recall an incident last season when, after a play, Robison gave TJ Lang a foot shove a la Ndamukong Suh (couldn’t resist the reference) right to the mid section.  Whatever Lang needs to do to find his motivation this week, he needs to do it in a big way.  True, he’s filling in for the injured Bryan Bulaga and is out of position.  But he still has to find a way to neutralize the rush.  Rodgers rolls out right more often than he does left and this matchup will be key.

28

November

Around the NFC North in Week 13

Around the NFC North

Around the NFC North in week 13

With just five weeks remaining in the 2012 NFL season, we take a look around the NFC North at the matchups and storylines.

In week 13, a bit of Luck visits the Detroit Lions in the form of the Indianapolis Colts while the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears tangle for the third time in as many straight seasons.  The Green Bay Packers come home to host their neighbors to the west, the Minnesota Vikings for the first time in 2012.

This divisional race is starting to take shape with the Bears in first place and the Packers breathing down their necks, a close second.  The Vikings are still alive, to the surprise of many, while the Detroit Lions have made their road to a repeat playoff appearance very difficult.

Here’s the breakdown:

Indianapolis Colts (7-4) at Detroit Lions (4-7)

The surprising Indianapolis Colts come into Detroit to face the struggling Lions.  The Colts find themselves in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race.  While many knew Andrew Luck would eventually turn into a solid NFL quarterback, few would have foreseen the success that this team has had so far in 2012.

With that said, let’s also consider that only one of Indianapolis’ wins have come against a team that would currently be in this year’s playoffs (Packers in week 5).  But they are taking steps in the right direction after having won only two games last season.  At least they’re beating the teams that are struggling (Detroit falls into this category) or just plain bad.

While the Lions took the Houston Texans to overtime last week, they were unable to get the elusive Thanksgiving Day win and fell to 4-7.

Detroit’s biggest advantage in this game is that it’s at home.  While much has been made of Detroit’s offensive output this season, Indianapolis isn’t far behind.  The Lions rank 2nd in total yards while the Colts are 5th.  I expect this game to be a shootout.  An indoor game featuring two top offenses and two good quarterbacks.

Each team has had their issues on defense that have prevented them from winning some of their close games.  Both teams also have negative give/take ratios heading into this one. Detroit is at (-7) while Indianapolis is at (-14).

24

October

Packers vs. Vikings: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 33-27 Win in Minnesota

Photo: Tom Lynn, Journal Sentinel

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was near perfect in throwing for 335 yards and three touchdowns, and his defense made just enough plays to keep Vikings rookie Christian Ponder from pulling off one of the more improbable upsets in the history of the rivalry as Green Bay beat Minnesota, 33-27, Sunday at the Metrodome.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Minnesota has their QB

The final stats (13-for-32, 219 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) were far from Rodgers-like, but it certainly looks like the Vikings have found themselves a young, franchise-type quarterback in Christian Ponder. Unlike most rookies making their first NFL start, Ponder kept his poise, made plays with his legs and converted 9-of-16 third downs.

His first touchdown throw was more a result of blown coverage from the Packers than an elite play from Ponder, but credit the Vikings for opening the playbook right out of the gates and catching the Packers sleeping. He made the throw rolling to his left and without his feet set. Ponder looked his best early on rolling out outside on bootlegs, but he made plenty of big throws from the pocket, including a 24-yard TD strike to Michael Jenkins that cut the Packers lead to just seven points with 7:49 left. He also had third down completions to Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe and Greg Camarillo that extended drives. The two interceptions he threw were rookie mistakes and directly contributed to Minnesota falling down 16 points. But the Vikings’ brass has to feel good about their decision to take Ponder with the 12th overall pick last April. At the very least, he gives the Vikings a chance to compete in a division that has three established starting quarterbacks.

2. Same story

“Adversity football” is a term that coach Mike McCarthy loves throwing around, but it was needed again Sunday. With just 1:02 gone from the first quarter clock, the Vikings had already taken a 7-0 lead and given their crowd something to be loud about.  The offense didn’t blink on its ensuing possession, as Rodgers hit six different receivers and led the Packers on a 9-play, 91-yard drive that tied the game. It was the kind of drive we’ve come to expect from the Packers offense no matter what the score or venue.

23

October

Packers vs. Vikings: 5 Things to Watch

The Minnesota Vikings (1-5) will start rookie quarterback Christian Ponder Sunday when they take on the undefeated Green Bay Packers (6-0) at the Metrodome.

The basics 

When: 3:15 CDT; Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011.

Where: Mall of America Field at the Metrodome; Minneapolis, MN.

TV: FOX; Thom Brennaman and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio).

Series: Packers lead, 51-48-1 (Packers won the last regular season game, 31-3, in Minnesota on Nov. 21, 2010).

Five things to watch

1. A new era in Minnesota

The Vikings will be ushering in a new era at quarterback Sunday, as rookie Christian Ponder makes his first NFL start in place of veteran Donovan McNabb. Say what you want about Tarvaris Jackson, but Ponder represents the Vikings first attempt at developing a young quarterback since Daunte Culpepper in 2002. It’s been nothing but stop-gap options for Minnesota since Culpepper was traded to the Miami Dolphins before the 2006 season. At 6-2, 230 pounds, Ponder is a smart, athletic quarterback whom the Vikings liked enough to draft with the 12th overall pick last April. The majority of draft pundits said that the pick was a reach for Minnesota. But the Vikings absolutely needed to address the quarterback position and most of those same draft pundits called Ponder the most ready quarterback in the draft to play right away. While starting Ponder for the first time against the defending Super Bowl champions probably wasn’t how the Vikings envisioned their quarterback situation shaking out in 2011, McNabb simply didn’t play well enough to continue keeping Ponder on the bench. Starting Ponder is what the fans wanted. They got it. The Ponder era begins Sunday.

2. His toughest test

Packers second-year tackle Marshall Newhouse has taken on each and every challenge put in front of him this season, but he faces his toughest test of 2011 Sunday in Minnesota. Will he be up to the task?

21

October

Know Your Packers Enemy: Previewing Packers – Vikings with Max Ginsberg

In this week’s installment of “Know Your Packers Enemy,” I talked with Max Ginsberg of Purple Pants, Green Jersey, a blog dedicated to news and information about both the Vikings and Packers. Max also writes on occasion for Cheesehead TV. He’s a great follow on Twitter (@MaxGinsberg) for news and opinions on both franchises.

Enough with the intros, let’s get to some Packers-Vikings talk.

ZACH KRUSE: The big news this week is the transition from Donovan McNabb to Christian Ponder at quarterback. McNabb has historically done well against the Packers, but I think we could all see that this move needed to happen sooner rather than later. What are some of the pros and cons of the Vikings’ decision to start the rookie this week?

MAX GINSBERG: I don’t see much of a negative side to this one. The worst-case scenario entails Ponder falling flat on his face and the Vikings completely tanking; in which case, the Vikings would secure a top pick in next year’s quarterback-heavy draft. On the other hand, the move to Ponder has a lot of benefits. It satisfies a fan base that (aside from one golden year with Favre) has suffered through mediocrity at the quarterback position for a long time, and it could also reenergize a team that could use a lift. The Metrodome is a crazy place where anything can happen; why not turn to a rookie quarterback and give the Vikings coaching staff a chance to see what he can do? And while one player is not going to make-or-break the team’s chances on a new stadium, the move to Ponder shows the state of Minnesota that the Vikings are looking to the future. In return, the Vikings are hoping the state ensures that future is in Minnesota by building the team a new stadium.

ZK: C John Sullivan was a no show at practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, and T Phil Loadholt missed Wednesday and was limited Thursday. Their injury statuses could be something to watch with a rookie quarterback preparing to make his first start. How big of losses would those two be if they can’t go?