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What We Learned: Vikings vs. Packers Storylines

Posted Oct 25, 2013

The week of practice is over and the Vikings will host Border Battle 106 on Sunday night as they host the Green Bay Packers at Mall of America Field for the last time. Here’s what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared to face the Packers…

Vikings

Ponder will start
It was a short week at Winter Park with the team returning from New York in the early hours of Tuesday morning and then jumping right into Packers prep on Wednesday. As that on-field prep began for the Green Bay game, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier disclosed at his customary Wednesday press conference that Christian Ponder would likely be the team’s starter on Sunday night after last week’s starter, Josh Freeman, came down with concussion-like symptoms in the aftermath of the Giants game.

While uncertainty and change at the quarterback position is not a team wants, the fact that Ponder is starting actually conjures up some positive momentum because the last time the Vikings and Packers met in the regular season Ponder had the best game of his career while leading the Vikings to victory and to a playoff berth.

Red zone, 3rd downs key to that performance
Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was quite specific during his weekly press conference when he was asked the key to Ponder’s performance in that huge Week 17 win. Musgrave pointed to performance in the red zone, where the Vikings scored touchdowns on four of six drives, and performance on 3rd downs, where the Vikings were 50% for the game and logged the play of the game on a 3rd and 11 late in the 4th quarter to setup the game-winning field goal by Blair Walsh.

The Packers have the NFL’s worst red zone defense so far this season, having surrendered touchdowns on 13 of 18 (72.2%) opponent’s red zone drives, but they’ve been better on 3rd downs and are allowing opponents to convert on 36.8% of their tries, which is 14th-best in the NFL. The Vikings must capitalize in the red zone and find a way to make plays on 3rd downs.

Four Vikings already ruled out, two more defenders questionable
The Vikings issued one of the more lengthy injury reports we’ve seen in a while on Friday. The bad news is 14 names appeared on Friday’s report, the final report of the week, but the good news is that just four of them have been ruled out already – RB Matt Asiata, TE Rhett Ellison, QB Josh Freeman and WR Rodney Smith. Listed as questionable are DT Fred Evans and S Jamarca Sanford. Frazier didn’t sound too concerned about Evans and Sanford, so hopefully the Vikings will have both of them for Sunday night.

Everyone else on the report is listed as probable, meaning there’s a “virtual certainty” they will play.

Vikings

The Packers can run the ball effectively
Both Frazier and Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said this week that Green Bay has a productive ground game and that they have remained committed to running the ball this season. And they are right, the Packers have the sixth-best rushing attack in the NFL and only seven teams have fewer passing attempts. Those are odd stats for an offense that, in the past, has been so run-heavy.

“They are a lot more balanced than they were the past year,” Williams said. “They’ve been running the ball very effectively, even though they haven’t had a ton of home run hits from the running back, they keep the chains moving.”

Chad Greenway is closing in on a career milestone
Linebacker Chad Greenway has been a stalwart on the Vikings defense since he recovered from a knee injury that occurred early in his rookie season. Greenway has led the Vikings in tackles in each of the past five seasons, and if he does so again he will tie Scott Studwell for consecutive seasons leading the team in tackles (six).

But Greenway may reach a different milestone as soon as Sunday night. He is nine tackles shy of recording his 1,000th, which would make him just the seventh Vikings defender to accomplish the feat.

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