The Packers’ bye week is on the horizon, which has given the team a very specific target this week in preparing to face division-rival Minnesota.
Get to the break undefeated, and then come back primed to get it rolling again.
“We need to take care of business this game and get some guys rested up,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “You have to clear your mind and get away from football for a while. We’ll come back ready to go and try to finish the second half the way we did last year.”
Minnesota, at 1-5, will be trying to hand the 6-0 Packers their first loss with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder making his first career start.
The last time Green Bay faced an opposing QB in his first start, Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman and the winless Buccaneers stunned the Packers, 38-28, in Week 9 of 2009.
Ponder actually becomes the sixth quarterback in the last 30 years to make his first start against the Packers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and the second in the last six seasons. Minnesota’s Tarvaris Jackson lost at Lambeau Field late in the 2006 season.
Freeman is the only one of the previous five to chalk up a victory. Detroit’s Joey Harrington (2002), Dallas’ Steve Walsh (1989) and New Orleans’ Bobby Hebert (1985) all came up short.
Truth be told, however, Ponder isn’t the biggest concern for the Packers’ defense.
“Before we can even talk about Ponder, the first thing we have to do is stop Adrian Peterson,” said defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, who is “questionable” on the injury report after sustaining a concussion in practice on Thursday. “That’s a task nobody has been up to this year. He can just hand the ball off to ‘AP’ 40 times, and if we don’t stop him, we can have a long day.
“Our focus is stopping Adrian, making it third-and-long for (Ponder). That will make life rough on any quarterback, a veteran or a rookie.”
Peterson leads the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns, and he ranks sixth with 537 yards, an average of 89.5 per game. He has posted a pair of 120-yard efforts at home.
Against the Packers in his career, Peterson has topped 100 rushing yards four times in eight games (with a high of 192 in 2008), and a streak of five straight games with a rushing touchdown vs. Green Bay was snapped in the second meeting last year.
The Vikings possess the third-ranked rushing offense in the league, while the Packers bring the fifth-ranked run-defense, so the matchup is intriguing statistically, too.
Turnovers also fall in the something’s-got-to-give category for this game. Minnesota has turned the ball over just four times, tied for the lowest total in the league, while Green Bay has 14 takeaways on defense, tied for second most in the league.
The game could hinge on red-zone defense, too. Both the Vikings and Packers are among the best at keeping teams out of the end zone when they get close. Minnesota has allowed only eight touchdowns in 22 red-zone possessions (36.4 percent), which ranks second. The Packers have allowed eight TDs in 21 drives (38.1 percent), tied for fourth.
The Packers are seeking their 13th straight win overall, dating back to last December. That would set a new franchise record for longest winning streak, breaking the current tie at 12 with the 1961-62 team.
“Those records I think are things you maybe look back on and have some pride in at the end of your career, maybe at the end of the season, but it’s not something we’re really focused on at this point,” Rodgers said. “Thankfully, we’re creatures of habit and we’re so focused on the preparation for that week.”
The focus is to get to 7-0 at the bye, and go from there.
“I think we definitely haven’t played our best football yet,” center Scott Wells said. “We know that. We’ve been able to win some games, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
For more Packers-Vikings stories from the past week, click here.