Border war: first-place Packers plan to add to Vikings' woes
(SportsNetwork.com) - Life has a way of accentuating your flaws just as you're struggling the most.
Perhaps that's why the NFL's model of stability is on the Minnesota Vikings schedule this week.
The hapless Vikes are in disarray and seemingly fumbling for answers just as Aaron Rodgers and the well-structured Green Bay Packers make the short trip west for the latest installment of this storied border war rivalry.
No one really knows if the Vikings hit rock bottom last Monday against the previously winless New York Giants but one thing is certain, they really can't fall that much further.
Originally Josh Freeman was going to get every chance to embarrass himself on the national stage for the second time in a week on Sunday night until the Vikings suddenly claimed the ex-Tampa Bay signal caller suffered a concussion during the team's ugly 23-7 loss to the Giants.
There wasn't even a sniff of Freeman's injury after the contest or at Leslie Frazier's press conference on Tuesday. But, by Wednesday Frazier was back at the podium declaring Christian Ponder will start if Freeman can't go, a result that is almost a fait accompli during a short week.
"We have to move forward as if (Freeman) is not playing on Sunday night," Frazier said.
Whether you believe Freeman is injured or not, we do know he was a dismal 20- of-53 for 190 yards with an interception in his Vikings debut with a mind- numbing 15 overthrows as Minnesota fell to an 0-6 club.
The Giants had allowed at least 27 points in each of its games, averaged a paltry 2.0 yards a rush Monday with a guy who was volunteering as a high school football coach the prior week (Peyton Hillis), and managed all of 4.9 yards per pass play yet still ran away with it.
Adrian Peterson, the reigning MVP and 2,000-yard rusher last season, was held to 28 yards rushing five days after the funeral of his 2-year-old son.
"It was tough sledding. We couldn't get anything established up front," Peterson said.
That's an understatement.
"This is the worst sporting event ever broadcasted," former Vikings All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson countered on Twitter.
Nearly everyone likes Frazier as a person, so most of the blame was slanted toward GM Rick Spielman at least by the "insiders" on hand in East Rutherford. Whispers say Freeman was unjustifiably forced on Frazier, who would have preferred to stick with Ponder at quarterback, something the coach denied at first.
"If I had to do it over again, I don't think I'd do it any differently under the circumstances," Frazier said on Tuesday while toeing the company line. "I knew exactly why we made the decision. I felt very confident going into the ballgame with the decision. It didn't work out for us this time."
Now it looks as if Frazier is standing up to Spileman and wants to go down his way and that means going back to Ponder, who was 0-3 as a starter before breaking a rib against Cleveland on Sept. 22.
Controversy is not something the Packers have experience in because perhaps the best player in all of football plays quarterback for them, Rodgers.
And A-Rod refused to let a diminished receiving corps hamper his performance in Week 7, as the Green Bay quarterback threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Packers to an easy 31-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.
After losing star receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones to injuries in the prior week's win, Rodgers was forced to rely heavily on second-year wideout Jarrett Boykin, who entered the tilt with just six career catches for 70 yards.
Boykin rose to the occasion, however, racking up a game-high eight receptions for 103 yards and a score, while Rodgers finished an efficient 25- of-36 passing for the Packers, who notched their 10th consecutive home victory.
"The challenge of injury has brought opportunity to a lot of young players," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.
Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley each added a touchdown grab, while Eddie Lacy rushed for 82 yards and a score on 22 carries in the win. Finley, however, went down with a scary injury after taking a hard shot to the head from Cleveland safety Tashuan Gipson.
The dynamic tight end remained motionless on the turf while the training staff attended to him. He was eventually taken off the field on a stretcher and placed in an Intensive Care Unit at a local hospital.
By late Monday Finley was finally released from the ICU after being diagnosed with a bruised spinal cord, something that will keep him on the sidelines indefinitely.
Green Bay leads the all-time regular season series by a 55-49-1 margin thanks to a spike in recent years, winning nine of the past 11 matchups in the rivalry.
Last year the teams split the regular season series with the Vikings earning a postseason berth with a thrilling Week 17 37-34 home win, highlighted by a 199-yard rushing performance by Peterson.
A week later Ponder was out with a triceps injury when Minnesota fell 24-10 at Green Bay in a wild-card game.
Peterson rushed for 409 yards in his two regular-seasons outing versus Green bay a season ago and another 99 yards on 22 carries in the playoff encounter.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Jon Gruden, a great television analyst when not shilling for his friends in the coaching fraternity, was quick to jump on the sword for Frazier on Monday by pointing out again and again how scaled down the Vikings offense was with Freeman because the ex- Tampa Bay starter was unable to audible or make adjustments.
Fair enough, but let's invoke the equal time rule here. What Gruden didn't tell you was Freeman didn't audible or make any adjustments because Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave wouldn't allow him to, leaning on the crutch that Freeman was only with the team for two weeks so he couldn't have possibly ingested enough of Minnesota's offense.
You know the same one that uses the dual-read, cut-off-the-field waggle play for the overmatched Ponder five to 10 times a game.
It's more than fair to call Freeman's play egregious against the Giants and his mechanics were downright unprofessional, but insinuating he couldn't have at least used a simple automatic at the line of scrimmage in this offense is laughable and another example of the hubris that is all to prevalent in the NFL's coaching ranks.
"His footwork wasn't ideal," Frazier understated when discussing Freeman's bowling shoe ugly performance. "His shoulders weren't square all the time. So it was more technical stuff. But the mental part, he was sharp. He did a great job of running our offense throughout the night."
Not sharp enough evidently and Ponder will now get one final chance to prove he is not a bust after being drafted 12th overall in 2011.
"It's an opportunity to get back in the saddle and be more vocal and take hold of this position because I don't want to give it back," Ponder said. "I think I was playing with a lot of pressure on myself before and never felt in sync. Now is the opportunity to take that deep breath and go out and have fun again."
Don't expect much improvement, though. Ponder has always been adept at verbalizing his weaknesses, pointing to shoddy footwork and a tendency to slide out of the pocket instead of stepping up in the past. That verbalization has never translated into results, however.
The fact he has also played with little self-confidence and has been a shrinking violet on the field is hardly news to his teammates.
"It's not just about your quarterback play, it's about how you lead off the field as well, and on the field," receiver Greg Jennings, a former Packer, said. "How you command the huddle. How you demand things of your teammates. I think (Ponder's) had an opportunity to see that."
Jennings believes the benching could have helped.
"Anytime you have to take a back seat, anytime you have to sit down for a minute, it gives you time to reflect and I think he's done that," Jennings said.
Of course Jennings, who combined with Rodgers for 425 receptions and 53 touchdowns in the previous seven seasons before joining Minnesota as a free agent, has also offered up some bulletin-board material for Rodgers, criticizing the All-Pro's leadership skills in an offseason interview.
"If Aaron knows me like he's known me the past seven years, then he knows I'm not one of those guys that wishes ill on anyone or just tries to stand out and be apart from the team," Jennings said. "Hopefully, he knows that."
Hope may be all Minnesota has because, along with all its QB troubles, the Vikings sport one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.
The one issue that could derail Green Bay is health. The Packers played without linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Brad Jones as well as Cobb and Jones last week. Jones is the only one who could return this time but now Finley is sidelined.
"We're going to have 46 guys lined up against the Minnesota Vikings and we're going to the Metrodome to win," McCarthy said.
In Minnesota right now the players don't believe in the coaches, the coaches think the players aren't executing their schemes, and everyone believes the GM is hamstringing them with bad personnel decisions.
It's a toxic environment and many have already speculated that Spielman and the Vikings coaching staff will ultimately lose their jobs but for now the Vikings will try to turn things around by going back to a quarterback they had already given up on in Ponder.
"Like I said before, it's getting out there and relaxing and having fun. I think these first three games I wasn't having fun and I think guys noticed that. Obviously, I played poorly," Ponder said.
Rodgers, on the other hand, has a career passer rating of 116.4 against the Vikings, connecting on 232-of-328 passes (70.7 percent) for 2,840 yards and 24 TDs with only four INTs. The 116.4 rating is No.1 in NFL history for any QB against a single opponent.
This one is too easy for the Packers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 34, Vikings 10
10/25 09:38:43 ET