GREEN BAY – Preparing for a new Vikings quarterback is old hat to Mike McCarthy.
Whether Minnesota starts Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium – and all indications are it’s going to be Bradford – McCarthy and his coaching staff have been through this many times before.
Either way, the starter will be the 10th different QB employed by the Vikings against a McCarthy-coached Packers team.
For comparison’s sake, that’s almost as many starting QBs as Green Bay’s other NFC North foes have combined to use in the McCarthy era. Dating back to 2006, Detroit has employed six, with Matt Stafford starting the last 10 times in a row. For Chicago it’s just five, with Jay Cutler starting 11 of the last 13 Packers-Bears clashes.
There’s been no such continuity against the Vikings in this rivalry, though there’s been more in recent years.
No Minnesota QB has ever started more than four games in a row against McCarthy. Brett Favre (2009-10) and Christian Ponder (2011-12) both hit that mark, with Ponder having the most total starts (seven), his streak interrupted by the surprise substitution of Joe Webb in the 2012 wild-card game.
Teddy Bridgewater would have been starting his fourth straight against the Packers on Sunday night if all had gone according to plan for the Vikings.
Instead, it’ll be another new face (or an old face if it’s Hill, who started one game for Detroit vs. Green Bay back in 2010).
All this doesn’t mean a whit to the Packers. They’ve talked all week about how it doesn’t matter whether the Vikings go with Bradford or Hill, because Minnesota’s offense starts with running back Adrian Peterson.
Conventional wisdom says the 31-year-old Peterson is due to begin a decline, and some are pointing to his lackluster 31-yard effort on 19 carries in Week 1 at Tennessee as the first sign.
But there’s been nothing conventional about Peterson’s career. He came back in record time from a torn ACL and racked up 2,097 rushing yards the following year. Then he returned from what became a 15-game suspension in 2014 to rush for 1,485 yards last season.
If the pundits are selling decline, the Packers aren’t buying.
“He’s not going to have a 100-yard game every game he plays,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “I’m sure he’d like to, but this is also the same guy who was a couple yards away from the rushing record and has continued to play at a high level at a position where I’m sure the career average is three to five years.
“He’s still one of the best. It’s going to start with him, and we’re going to have our hands full with him.”
Despite a thin depth chart numbers-wise on the defensive line, the Packers’ run defense got off to a strong start in Week 1, limiting Jacksonville as a team to just 48 yards on 26 attempts.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers studied the run defense from a year ago and felt it should have been better than its No. 21 overall league ranking. Capers said the Packers “won” a high percentage of the run downs but suffered statistically due to allowing too many long runs, often when a runner would break a tackle and not enough other defenders were in position with the proper leverage to limit the gain.
The “pursuit, leverage and finish,” as the coaches say, was evident against the Jaguars, and not just on the game-winning fourth-and-1 stop late. T.J. Yeldon’s long run on 21 attempts was just seven yards.
“I felt like our front seven did a great job of mixing it up and just playing with a different, disruptive attitude, as opposed to just fitting and doing our jobs,” Matthews said. “You saw a number of times guys in the backfield who, if they didn’t make the play, they were setting it up for somebody else.”
Pursuit combined with discipline is always a key against Peterson, because of his ability to bust runs where they weren’t originally intended to go.
For all the necessary focus on Peterson, though, his performance against the Packers is not the determining factor as often as assumed.
In 17 career games against Green Bay (16 regular season, one playoff), he has averaged a healthy 109 rushing yards per contest. Using that average as a benchmark, he’s gone over 109 yards seven times, and the Vikings are 2-4-1 in those contests. They’re 3-7 when he’s been held under 109, a similar winning percentage (.357 vs. .300).
Contrast that with the impact of the Vikings’ quarterback play. In those same 17 games, Minnesota’s average passer rating has been 75.4. With a QB rating above that average, the Vikings are 3-2-1. Below that average, they’re 2-9.
It might come down to Bradford (or Hill) after all.
Minnesota’s starting QBs in McCarthy era
2006: Brad Johnson, Tarvaris Jackson
2007: Kelly Holcomb, Brooks Bollinger
2008: Jackson, Gus Frerotte
2009: Brett Favre (2)
2010: Favre (2)
2011: Christian Ponder (2)
2012: Ponder (2), Joe Webb (playoffs)
2013: Ponder (2)
2014: Ponder, Teddy Bridgewater
2015: Bridgewater (2)