Murmurs about an undefeated season are getting louder and louder, but the Green Bay Packers are tuning out all the outside noise. Instead, a week after manhandling the St. Louis Rams in a 24-3 shellacking, they’ll shift their focus to the new-look Minnesota Vikings in what promises to be an interesting divisional showdown.
On the surface, it’s hard to make the case that the 1-5 Vikings will have anything substantive to throw at the defending champs over the weekend. Sure, they’re opting to officially replace Donovan McNabb with Christian Ponder and, yes, the Packers haven’t begun a season with seven straight wins since before Brett Favre was born. That being said, this is going to be Ponder’s first career start the chances of him being able to out-gun the best offense in the league (32 points per game, No. 1 in the NFL) are slim to none.
There is a sliver of hope, though. If, if Ponder can get his act together in a hurry and utilize the receivers that McNabb found in spurts, Minnesota might be able to take advantage of Green Bay’s most notable weakness – pass defense. As it stands, the Packers are giving up nearly 300 yards per game -- good for 31st in the league -- to opponents. In their last game versus the Rams, specifically, they allowed that completely disheveled bunch to rack up 424 total yards. Granted, they only mustered up three points in the process – but the yardage total is still mildly troubling.
In the early going of this one, the Packers will undoubtedly stack the box against Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson and dare Ponder, the 12th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, to beat them. And while Ponder did manage to rack up 99 yards in just two series when he subbed in for McNabb last week, this week he might be forced to play a full game without right tackle Phil Loadholt and center John Sullivan who were injured last week.
Ponder looked fine or, at least as fine as you can look when you’re on your way to a 29-point defeat, but he didn’t look dramatically different from McNabb. The veteran clearly isn’t as quick on his feet as the youngster and is more sack-prone, however, the quarterback position is not Minnesota’s major weakness. McNabb didn’t win them too many games, but you’d be hard-pressed to point to the games he lost for them too.
The quarterback position, for what it’s worth, isn’t a weakness for Green Bay either as Aaron Rodgers continues to make his case for early-season MVP. With a league-leading 17 touchdowns on 70 percent efficiency, the Packers passer is looking every bit the Super Bowl MVP he was crowned as last season in 2011. Given the defense’s notable woes, there is something to be said for the Rodgers legitimately making the Packers look better than they actually are in the early going.
For the season, Rodgers’ only stumble came in the second half of that Rams game when he and his offense were held scoreless. Even still, most (read: everyone) attributed that to the offense cooling down during halftime and being unable to find its groove in the third and fourth quarter. Sure, if the problem persists against Minnesota’s woeful defense then it can be dubbed an official cause for concern but, for now, given how productive the unit has been to date, it’s just an outlier.
All in all, it’s hard to envision the Vikings stealing this one with their new quarterback, but stranger things have happened. The fact that they’re playing at home, coupled with the odds of the Packers losing increasing with every passing game, means that there’s a chance. A small chance but, nevertheless, a chance.