NFC North standings
Green Bay Packers: 5-2
Detroit Lions: 5-3
Chicago Bears: 4-3
Minnesota Vikings: 1-6
I am going to switch things up a little bit this week considering the only NFC North action outside of Detroit took place between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. The "Black and Blue Division" rivals squared off on Sunday Night Football in Minneapolis and the Packers left with a 44-31 win.
Both the Vikings and Packers came into this matchup with serious roster concerns. The Packers' well-documented injury issues meant that quarterback Aaron Rodgers was without three of his leading receivers and the defense was without several key starters. The Vikings, on the other hand, are reeling from poor quarterback play and cannot find an answer. This game marked the return of quarterback Christian Ponder after the one-game Josh Freeman experiment ended in embarrassment and a concussion on national television last week.
Despite being the heavy underdogs in this game, the Vikings shot out of the gate thanks to an incredible 109-yard touchdown return by Cordarrelle Patterson. However, the Packers, in true Rodgers form, responded with a 14-play touchdown drive that ate up over 7 minutes of the first quarter. This was an omen of things to come, as the Packers' offense was perfect on the day with scores on every drive.
Despite the Packers' offensive efficiency, the Vikings actually hung with them for a while thanks to running back Adrian Peterson and a couple very timely Packers penalties. The Packers struggled with penalties all game and ended up with 6 on the day for 120 free Vikings yards. None of these penalties was bigger than a 26-yard pass interference call at the end of the first half that set up a bruising 8-yard Peterson touchdown run to cut the Packers' lead to 7 at halftime.
However, the Vikings are not built to compete in a shootout with the Packers. The Packers completely controlled the tempo of the game and effectively ate up over 40 minutes of the game clock. This kept the Vikings offense off of the field and helped limit Peterson to only 13 carries. The final score reflected "only" a 13-point win for the Packers, but this game was over by the time Rodgers polished off his first drive.
Green Bay Packers
Offensive Balance - A big part of the reason the Packers could own such a huge advantage in their time of possession was their offensive balance. Halfway through the season, it is safe to say this is not the same Packers team that could only air the ball out. In this game, running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 36 carries for 151 yards and 2 touchdowns. Rodgers dropped back for a pass 37 times, but ended up scrambling on six of those plays. This nearly even split between rushes and passes was brutally effective against the hapless Vikings defense.
Efficiency - Offensively, the Packers converted on 13 of 18 third downs and 2 of 2 fourth downs. This included a couple of ridiculous conversions, such as a third-and-16 deep in Packers territory where Rodgers was forced from the pocket but found a wide open Myles White, who then fell down and rolled his way to a first down.
Penalties - As mentioned, the Packers committed 6 penalties for 120 yards on Sunday. I'll really take any excuse to point out discipline problems for the Packers given their annoying soapboxing against the Lions, so here is exhibit A.
Next Week: At home against the Chicago Bears (4-3) on Monday Night Football
Running game - This game featured the return of the Adrian Peterson we all know and mildly tolerate. Peterson was quick and punishing to defenders while racking up 60 yards and a touchdown on only 13 carries. His most impressive run of the day was his touchdown, in which he carried several defenders into the end zone. Quarterback Christian Ponder also showed off his athleticism by scrambling 5 times for 38 yards, and backup running back Toby Gerhart chipped in a 13-yard touchdown run on his only touch. It is too bad for the Vikings that they had to abandon the running game to stick with the Packers offense.
Any Vikings quarterback - Ponder was not bad on Sunday, but he wasn't good. He was more of a nonentity, which is depressingly an upgrade from the Vikings' quarterback play over the past few weeks. None of the Vikings' quarterbacks are a long-term option.
Ball control - It's hard to win many games when you only control the ball for 19 minutes. It seemed to me that the Vikings panicked early on and decided to try to hang with the Packers' offense rather than play their game and pound the ball on the ground. Peterson was running well and the ground game was effective, but the Vikings abandoned it and couldn't sustain any drives.
Next week: At the Dallas Cowboys (4-4)