Dissecting Most Crucial Matchups in Vikings' Week 12 Contest with Packers

Matthew StensrudContributor IIINovember 22, 2013

Christian Ponder ran for a touchdown in the last meeting between the Vikings and Packers.
Christian Ponder ran for a touchdown in the last meeting between the Vikings and Packers.Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The border battle is on this weekend between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.

While 2013 has proven to be a lost season for the Vikings in terms of postseason play, fans typically circle two games in red each year, focused squarely on their loathed division rival.

The Packers won't look the same on Sunday, as they have found out quickly how important a strong starting quarterback is in the NFL.

Since Aaron Rodgers was sidelined in Week 9 with a fractured collarbone, Green Bay has lost three straight games. It has trotted out Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien in an attempt to find success, but the team has come up empty each time.

Welcome to the perils of playing three different quarterbacks in one season, except that one of those signal-callers for the Packers is pretty good. He's just unable to play.

The Vikings, on the other hand, have their pick at mediocrity in selecting this week's starting quarterback, and the winner is... Christian Ponder.

Leslie Frazier provided a typical response when addressing questions on the decision, via Marc Sessler of NFL.com. "We are looking forward to him leading our team to victory, and other guys around him stepping up," Frazier said.

The decision seems to speak less about the long-term future or trust in Ponder and more about the ongoing view that Matt Cassel is and will always be a backup quarterback, and that the signing of Josh Freeman was the equivalent of throwing $2 million from the roof of any high-rise building in Minneapolis.

Excuse me—$2,000,001.

But in the spirit of Frazier's robotic optimism, let's take a look at some of those matchups where other guys could step up and help the Vikings sneak away with a win at Lambeau Field.


John Carlson vs. A.J. Hawk

John Carlson has 190 yards and a touchdown in the last three games for the Vikings.
John Carlson has 190 yards and a touchdown in the last three games for the Vikings.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The performance of tight end John Carlson has improved dramatically over the past few weeks, due in part to the increase in playing time with Kyle Rudolph suffering a fractured foot.

Carlson has been targeted a total of 20 times in the last three games, including a near 100-yard showing against Washington on seven catches. He also tallied his first touchdown of the season in that contest.

Even in last week's debacle against the Seattle Seahawks, Carlson pulled in five grabs for 69 yards. With Ponder still lacking the ability to consistently attack defenses down the field, Minnesota's tight end becomes a reliable mainstay in the team's offense.

For the Packers, A.J. Hawk will be tasked with leading an effort to stop the run in Green Bay's 3-4 defense, while also having to drop pack into pass coverage. Play-action passes will keep the inside linebacker on his toes, with Carlson routinely entering his coverage area.  


Chad Greenway vs. Eddie Lacy

Chad Greenway will try to limit the production of Eddie Lacy in Week 12.
Chad Greenway will try to limit the production of Eddie Lacy in Week 12.Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

This may be the first season in six years that Chad Greenway doesn't walk away with the most tackles for the Vikings, having secured the title in five consecutive years.

He currently trails middle linebacker Erin Henderson by seven tackles headed into Sunday's game against the Packers.

However, the high tackling numbers have not been an indication of a great individual performance by Greenway. The strong-side linebacker ranks dead last in both coverage and run defense among all outside linebackers in a 4-3 scheme, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

The matchup against Eddie Lacy will be particularly important, considering the limited quarterback play of third-stringer Scott Tolzien. Green Bay's running back exploded for 150 yards against the Chicago Bears three weeks ago, although he has been held in check his last two games.

The Vikings, as a team, have fared well against the run in total rushing yards allowed, ranking 14th with 111.6 yard per game. However, they've given up a total of 11 rushing touchdowns on the season, which is tied for 25th in the NFL.

Greenway will need to step up his game this week, especially on the goal line, if the Vikings hope to contain Lacy. The entire defense is banged up for Minnesota, and a heavy workload will fall on the veteran's shoulders.


Cordarrelle Patterson vs. Micah Hyde (or insert warm body)

Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted nine times at wide receiver last week.
Cordarrelle Patterson was targeted nine times at wide receiver last week.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Packers secondary is extremely depleted at the moment, with cornerbacks Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and James Nixon all listed as questionable.

Although Micah Hyde did not practice on Thursday, he plans to practice Friday and is expected to play in Week 12 against the Vikings.

That presents an interesting matchup for Sunday, pitting two rookies from the same draft class against each other. While Cordarrelle Patterson made a big splash as Minnesota's third first-round pick this past April, many had their eyes on Hyde as a possible late-round prospect (myself included).

Instead, the rival Packers swiped up the former Iowa Hawkeye in the fifth round of the draft, dashing any chance of the promising cornerback and kick/punt returner joining the Vikings.

For Patterson, he has seen increased opportunities in the second half of the season, receiving 26 targets in the last five games. The Vikings receiver scored his first touchdown against Washington two weeks ago and was a larger part of the team's game plan last week.

With former Packer Greg Jennings still fighting an Achilles injury, expect Patterson to line up in several formations on Sunday. This could be the first game that the raw-talent receiver records more than three receptions in a game. 


All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted. 

Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.