The defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers escaped with a win against the Minnesota Vikings to remain undefeated at 7-0. The game seemed lopsided on paper, but Minnesota hung tough until the very end when Green Bay was able to run out the clock.
As a result the Packers head into their bye week on top of the world, while the Vikings will continue to break in their rookie QB Christian Ponder. It may only have been one game, but Ponder flashed enough to excite even the most critical of Viking fans, making this transition year worth watching, but their spirited display was more than about one man. I’ll get to that, but right now, let’s follow protocol with our visiting performances of note.
Three Performances of Note – Green Bay Packers
QB Aaron Rodgers (+7.1) continued his torrid pace with his fourth straight game rating at +7.0 or better. The throws he pulls off on a weekly basis are simply unmatched around the league. Early in the first quarter, Rodgers rolls to his right and while on the run, throws a pinpoint laser to WR Greg Jennings for a 26 yard gain. Even on his 79 yard touchdown to Jennings where there was no defender within 15 yards, Rodgers moved defenders with a pump fake and maneuvered around the pocket to get to the wide open throw. The physical attributes Rodgers brings to the table are fairly obvious, but he continues to get better at the mental side of the game. When you combine his arm strength, ability to avoid pressure, and improving presnap recognition, you get the best QB in the league.
All Around Player
LB Clay Matthews (+2.8) makes Nathan Jahnke look good by coming through with another complete game. Matthews is obviously known as an elite pass rusher, and he did his part with one sack, three pressures and one batted pass. However, his most impressive plays occurred in the running game. Early in the first quarter, on the goal line, he was able to slither past TE Jim Kleinsasser to help blow up a play for a loss. More of the same on the first play of the fourth quarter as Matthews is so fast off the ball, that the pulling guard Steve Hutchinson barely gets out of his stance before Matthews is tackling RB Adrian Peterson in the backfield. Matthews showed he is not all speed as he bullrushed 350-pound RT Phil Loadholt into the backfield on another goal line running play. The only real negative to Matthews’ game on Sunday was a questionable roughing the passer penalty.
As the LT going up against our top rated DE Jared Allen, Marshall Newhouse (-5.0) probably worried most about protecting Rodgers. Other than a particularly bad sack in the first quarter, Newhouse held his own in pass protection, but Allen, like Matthews, proved difficult to block in the run game on Sunday. He beat Newhouse on a number of plays, including blowing past him on a draw play before tackling RB James Starks for a three yard loss. DT Kevin Williams also beat Newhouse to the inside on a play as he made a diving tackle on FB John Kuhn. The rest of the offensive line played well and Newhouse was the only one to grade in the red. Drawing the most difficult assignment will have that effect.
Three Performances of Note – Minnesota Vikings
Hand it to Him All Day
With Ponder making his first ever start at QB, there was a sense of urgency to get Adrian Peterson (+4.6) into the flow of the offense. Peterson responded by putting together his best game of the season with 175 yards on 24 carries. 103 of those yards came after contact and he also forced five missed tackles. Peterson had three carries of 25 or more yards, the longest of which was went for 54. It was a thing of beauty as he found a small crease, sidestepped CB Charles Woodson, and broke safety Morgan Burnett’s tackle on his way through the secondary. With Ponder entrenched as the starter, Peterson’s role may be more important than ever.
Lost on the Left?
After only lining up there on 28 snaps all season, CB Asher Allen (-4.4) got the start at LCB in place of the recently arrested Chris Cook. Allen had played predominantly in the slot this season and he had a tough time keeping up with the depth at WR for the Packers. Five different receivers beat him for nine receptions on 10 attempts for 108 yards. While he avoided the big play, the number of receptions and targets on throws Allen’s way are alarming. Cook has only given up 15 receptions for 187 yards on the season in a little over four games. With Cook’s status up in the air and CB Antoine Winfield still injured, Allen will continue to get tested in the coming weeks.
Rookie Debut: Mixed Results
Christian Ponder’s (+1.1) game started with a bang with a 72 yard pass to WR Michael Jenkins which was inches from being ruled a touchdown. That proved to be the highlight of the game which had some positives on which to build, as well as some typical rookie growing pains. Overall the game plan was pretty solid and it played to Ponder’s strengths. He does a nice job of throwing on the run and there were a lot of designed rollouts and bootlegs. Some of Ponder’s best throws came on precision passes on out routes to TE Visanthe Shiancoe and Jenkins working out of the slot. Unfortunately though, Charles Woodson made an adjustment in the second half, undercutting those types of routes, leading to two interceptions. It wasn’t all bad in the second half, with back to back plays in the fourth quarter showing what Ponder is capable of. On 3rd-and-13 he stepped up in the pocket before rolling right and squeezing a throw into WR Greg Camarillo for a first down, and he followed it up on the next play by stepping up in the pocket and making a well placed throw to Jenkins, allowing him to use his height to make a play on the ball and get into the end zone. If the Vikings continue to move the pocket and work the middle of the field, Ponder will have a chance to succeed in the league.
– Excluding spikes and balls thrown away, Rodgers was 24 for 27 with two dropped passes
– Ponder was 6 for 18 on balls thrown outside the numbers and 5 for 20 when blitzed.
– James Starks gained six yards on five carries to the left of center; he gained 69 yards on eight carries to the right of center
PFF Game Ball
The Green Bay QB was supremely accurate and careful with the football. Aaron Rodgers may have held the ball a little long on occasion, but that couldn’t detract from a near-perfect outing.
Follow our main Twitter feed: @ProFootbalFocus