Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 11/7/11
At first glance, the Minnesota Vikings face a monumental task Monday night at Lambeau Field against the 8-0 Green Bay Packers. At second glance, that's still the case, but at least there are some reasons for hope for the Vikings. Despite a 2-6 record,Minnesota has been playing better, especially on offense, of late, and one of those recent games was against the Packers at home, a33-27 loss for Minnesota. That was the first start for rookie quarterback Christian Ponder and it featured a season-high third-down conversionrate of 56 percent for the Vikings offense. The Vikings also haveracked up22 first downs in each of Ponder's two starts after having more than 20 only once in their first six games with Donovan McNabb as the starter. "Christian has done an excellent job against two very good teams, receiver Devin Aromashodu said. "First Green Bay at home and then going on the road and doing what he did (against Carolina), that was exceptional. While Green Bay's offense remains on a record-setting pace, the Packers have proven to be vulnerable on defense. They have been especially challenged to defend the pass and now have the league's 31st-ranked pass defense. Philip Rivers brought that deficiency into the spotlight Sunday when the Chargers completed seven passes that went for 20 or more yards and two more that were for 19 yards. All told, the Packers gave up 229 passing yardson nine explosive plays alone. On Oct. 23, the Vikings hung right with Green Bay the entire game. They were either tied or led the entire first half and tooka 17-13 lead into halftime before allowing a quick touchdown less than a minute into the third quarter on a blown coverage by safety Husain Abdullah. The Packers mounted a 33-17 lead off that momentum, but the Vikings battled back to a 33-27 deficit midway through the fourth quarter before their normally stout run defense let them down and allowed the Packers to run out the clock. "The biggest thing is we kept it close, which should give us the confidence that we can hang in with those guys, quarterback Christian Ponder said. "Completion percent around 40 percent's not good. Two turnovers isn't good. So, there's a lot to fix there. But still, with a 40 percent completion rating with two interceptions and we still had the ability to win the game, I think that's a good sign. Ponder finished that game, his first NFL start, completing 13 of 32 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns, two sacks and a 59.2 pass rating. Of course, for as much yardage as the Packers have given up on defense, they have the ultimate equalizer in quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is having an all-timer of an NFL season. Just how good has he been? He had a 146.5 quarterback rating (158.3 is perfect) against the Vikings, but they aren't alone in struggling to stop the runaway Rodgers. Sunday in San Diego, he posted a 145.8, his eighth straight game above 110, an ongoing NFL record streak for a single season. He is also the first player with more than 2,600 passing yards and 24 touchdown passesthrough a team's first eight games. To complicate matters for the Vikings, their pass defense is only one spot ahead of Green Bay's in the rankings 30th. At least the Vikings can hope their extra week of rest (and preparation for those players who dared to open their film study on iPads while away from Winter Park) will help coming off their bye week. "You try to take advantage of it. You've got an extra week to prepare. It's not very often that you get that. Usually only once a season that you get that extra time to get out there and check out a couple more things and pick up a couple more infos, a couple tips here and there, linebacker Erin Henderson said. "You try to take advantage of it to the best of your ability without overdoing it. You still kind of need that break from football, that time, let your family enjoy you and you enjoy them. Just be there and be present. But you also have to keep in mind that we have to go back to work before you know it." Despite Rodgers' success, the Packers tried to keep a balanced attack during their first meeting in Minnesota. The Vikings did a good job limiting the Packers' third-down conversions they were only 2-for-8 but Green Bay still held a 4-minute time-of-possession advantage. The Packers are only the third defending Super Bowl champion to start the season 8-0 and the fifth defending Super Bowl champ to start the season by scoring 20 or more points in each of its first eight games. In addition to piling up numbers, Rodgers is the best in the game atlimiting mistakes. He has thrown only three interceptions all season, but the Packers' defense has been a turnover-generating machine. As a unit, the Green Bay defense has forced 16 interceptions, including five from Charles Woodson, who picked both of Ponder interceptions against Green Bay and had other opportunities he didn't capitalize upon. Safety Charlie Peprah, who had two interceptions against San Diego on Sunday, has four on the season. Vikings wide receiver Michael Jenkins said Ponder is a lot like a young quarterback in Atlanta from whom the receiver used to catch passes, Matt Ryan. Jenkins said both are good at learning from their mistakes, and if Ponder can do that, the 2-6 Vikings might just have a chance against the white-hot 8-0 Packers.
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