Packers vs. Vikings: 4 Takeaways from Minnesota's Week 7 Loss to Green Bay
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With the dust settled from the Minnesota Vikings’ latest loss, it’s time to reflect upon the game that was.
On Sunday afternoon Minnesota (1-6) nearly etched out its second win of the season in a 33-27 loss to the Green Bay Packers (7-0) at home.
It was another blown first-half lead, with Minnesota up 17-13 at the break. But it was the first one with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder starting and the first one in which the Minnesota offense showed signs of life in both facets of the game.
It was a game that the young quarterback can build upon and a game that pushes Minnesota closer to a certified Top-Five pick in the 2012 NFL Draft—which may not be the worst thing.
With that said, here are the four takeaways from Minnesota's latest loss.
The Run-Defense Cost Minnesota a Chance
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, once a force for Minnesota's run defense, hasn't recorded over two tackles through the first five games of his 2011 season.
With the game on, the Vikings were in the exact position they wanted to be: They had the Packers in a position in which they had to run the ball.
With 2:30 on the clock Green Bay was in a position where it had to run the ball to eat up the clock after Vikings coach Leslie Frazier opted to punt on 4th-and-10 from Minnesota's 39-yard line.
The Packers entered the game as the 24th-best rushing offense (97.5 yards per game). Minnesota entered as the No. 5 run-defense (83.5 yards per game).
This was an ideal scenario. It couldn’t have gotten any better—but it turned into a nightmare.
Running back James Starks went off for 55 yards in the final 2:30 of regulation. Minnesota had all three timeouts, but could not stop Starks and the Packers.
Green Bay finished the game with 114 yards on the ground.
Good teams find a way to get it done with the game on the line, especially when its what the team does (for Minnesota, it's stopping the run).
It's also on the veterans to make sure that the team steps up. Defensive tackle Kevin Williams, who took offense when coach Leslie Frazier called out the defensive line, wasn’t anywhere to be seen Sunday afternoon (he had only two tackles).
As a nine-year veteran and Pro Bowl-caliber player, Williams needs to do more. He needs to be more of a disruptive force inside. He needs to be a leader.
Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson and outside linebacker Chad Greenway also do too. They are the three run-stopping leaders of this team, and they should have led the charge to get Minnesota the ball back.
Greenway at least was productive throughout the game, posting 11 tackles (five solo), but Henderson had three tackles all game. That's an unacceptable total from the middle linebacker.
It's not that this run defense isn’t poor, but it choked with the game on the line and made its coach look bad for not going for it on fourth down.
The Pass-Defense Was and Is Still Weak, but Depleted
Minnesota missed cornerback Antoine Winfield against the Green Bay Packers Sunday. He is the leader of the secondary and missed his third straight game with a neck injury.
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The first half was atrocious for the Vikings' secondary as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers had whatever he wanted: 17-of-20 for 197 yards and a touchdown.
In the second half it looked like more of the same, until Rodgers and the Packers created self-inflicted wounds.
Minnesota’s secondary can only be saved from itself by the talented pass-rush, but that's been the case even since 2009 when Minnesota went to the NFC Championship game. The pass-rush has to compensate for the unimpressive safety play Minnesota has had and still does have.
Rodgers finished the day with 335 yards on 24-of-30 passing (80 percent completed) and three touchdowns. His passer rating finished at 146.5—150 or greater is considered a “perfect” rating.
But the statistical damage would have been worse had Green Bay not have gone in to relax mode after it bolstered its lead to 33-17 with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.
Had Green Bay been pedal to the medal, it would have been worse.
The secondary was without its leader, cornerback Antoine Winfield, and its No. 3 cornerback, Chris Cook. It was a daunting task to battle the Green Bay Packers—the No. 3 passing offense (325.2 yards per game) and No. 1 scoring offense (32.8 points per game)—while healthy, let alone with two of the best three cornerbacks inactive.
Minnesota's pass-defense has been a liability all season and continued to be one Sunday.
Christian Ponder Will Be Fun to Watch
Quarterback Christian Ponder did many things well Sunday, like avoid the pass rush, but still made rookie mistakes.
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It started with a 74-yard bang and was a roller coaster ride the entire way.
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder looked amazing in the first half of his first NFL start with a 111 passer rating and one touchdown pass on 8-of-14 passing (57.1 percent completed) for 126 yards.
Then he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives to Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson—both plays where Ponder made good reads on where to throw the ball, but made poor ball placement on both.
And in the fourth quarter he nearly led Minnesota to putting the first blemish on Green Bay’s record.
Ponder finished the game 13-of-32 for 219 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a lowly 59.2 passer rating (not overly impressive numbers).
But it was the manner in which he played that impressed, especially on the final two drives.
He went 5-of-11 for 93 yards and rushed twice for 15 yards. The completion percentage doesn't impress, but this was a quarterback in his NFL debut as a starter, and it was against the defending Super Bowl champions. The numbers may not show it, but Ponder had the Green Bay defense on its heels at the end of the game.
Ponder made plenty of rookie mistakes, like throwing across the field and showing himself to be too scramble-happy, and had two interceptions to back it up. But he showed poise under pressure and avoided the pass-rush well all game.
The kid looks ready to go and will give Vikings fans a reason to watch this team as it pushes through a season with no playoffs.
The Offense Isn't Dead
Wide receiver Michael Jenkins posted the first 100-yard receiving game for a Vikings receiver Sunday (111 yards).
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It took a rookie to do a veteran’s job—at least, that was the case after Sunday’s game.
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder brought life into a Minnesota offense that looked dead through six games under Donovan McNabb. The offense only scored more than 23 points once under McNabb and that came when the defense put the offense in Arizona territory off two turnovers.
Without McNabb, Ponder and running back Adrian Peterson guided Minnesota to its best offensive performance of the season. It scored 27 points, the second-most all year, and no points came off a turnover.
The offense showed balance for the first time all season: 217 yards passing mixed with 219 yards rushing.
Minnesota had a receiver go over the 100-yard mark for the first time this season (wide receiver Michael Jenkins had one touchdown and 111 yards receiving on three catches).
It showed that while Minnesota lacks a talented corps of wide receivers, it still is a talented enough group to help the offense drive up and down the field. It showed that it can make plays for its quarterback, even without wide receiver Percy Harvin, who sat out the second half after re-injuring his bruised ribs.
Ponder needs to complete more passes and show more patience in the pocket. But with Peterson in the backfield, Ponder should continuously be in a position to succeed as defenses focus on Peterson.