GREEN BAY—Don't blindly assume that Adrian Peterson's performance will determine who wins Sunday's Packers-Vikings showdown at the Metrodome.
For as singular a talent as Peterson is – and as Mike McCarthy said this week, "Their offense starts with Adrian Peterson, and I think that'll be evident come Sunday" – there's an argument to be made that the performance of Minnesota's quarterback has had a larger bearing on the final results in this NFC North rivalry (see charts below).
The Packers have owned a clear edge in this series, going 9-4 since Peterson came into the NFL in 2007. But consider this: Peterson has compiled rushing totals of 112, 103, 131, 175, 210 and 99 yards in games the Packers won. He also was once held to 55 yards in a game the Packers lost.
The difference in those games as far as Minnesota's offense was concerned was quarterback play. The Vikings have started seven different quarterbacks against the Packers in the Peterson era, and in the six aforementioned Green Bay wins when Peterson rushed for 99 or more yards, the best passer rating by a Vikings signal caller was 72.4, by Kelly Holcomb in Peterson's rookie year of 2007.
In the other five games, started by Tarvaris Jackson, Brett Favre, Christian Ponder (twice) and Joe Webb (in last year's playoffs), all the passer ratings were below 60. The worst was Ponder's 41.9 in the first meeting last year, when Peterson rambled for 210 yards at Lambeau Field but Ponder's two crucial interceptions undermined the effort.
Meanwhile, in the four games the Vikings have beaten the Packers with Peterson, Minnesota's passer rating has been above 120 three times – Favre twice in 2009 (one of those Peterson's 55-yard outing) and Ponder in Week 17 last year, when Peterson's 199 yards and Ponder's career day edged the Packers on a walk-off field goal.
The only time the Vikings with Peterson beat the Packers despite a poor QB performance was in the second meeting in 2008, a 28-27 decision during which Peterson rushed for 192 yards and Gus Frerotte's three interceptions produced a 53.4 rating. Mason Crosby missed a 52-yard field goal in the final minute or the Packers would have spoiled yet another monster day by Peterson.
The point is this: Recent history reveals that the Packers are more likely to overcome a big game from Peterson than the Vikings are to overcome shoddy QB play.
All of which puts the spotlight Sunday night squarely on Ponder, who will start in place of Josh Freeman due to Freeman's concussion.
Over the past two seasons, Ponder has started four games against the Packers. In losing the first three, which included two Peterson rushing totals of 175 and 210 yards, his cumulative passer rating was just 51.9 (41 of 91, 528 yards, three TDs, five INTs).
His career-best 120.2 rating in the regular-season finale last year (16 of 28, 234 yards, three TDs, zero INTs) saw him complete more than 50 percent of his throws for the first time against Green Bay, throw for more yards against the Packers than he ever had, and match his TD-pass total from the first three contests combined. Ponder was the difference in the game.
This isn't to say the Packers can relax against Peterson, who mentioned this week he's been nagged by hamstring troubles. That would be foolish. But one key to victory will be to keep enough of a burden on Ponder throughout the game that he'll have to play above his norm for the Vikings to succeed.
That requires a couple of things – keeping Peterson at least moderately in check, and perhaps more importantly, starting fast to make the Vikings play from behind.
That's not what happened in Week 17 last year at the Metrodome, as the Vikings jumped on top by scores of 13-0 and 20-7. Minnesota's entire offense – Peterson and Ponder – was in sync, playing from ahead. The Packers tied the game twice in the fourth quarter but never led, and Minnesota broke a five-game losing streak to Green Bay.
As the Packers prepared for their final visit to the 31-year-old dome this week, Aaron Rodgers spoke about the effect of "that horn noise," while McCarthy referred to "the edge that's created in that building."
All signs point to the need to dull that edge, and quiet that horn, with a fast start, but keep this in mind as well: History shows that Peterson, for all his greatness, isn't likely to beat the Packers by his lonesome. He's going to need help from the quarterback, and his performance will matter just as much, if not moreso, than Peterson's.