Christian Ponder preparing for wild Lambeau: 'The crowd's not playing'
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Christian Ponder has played in enough new stadiums to have his pregame routine established, as most quarterbacks do.
Find the play clock. Get a feel for the end zone. Straighten out your depth perception. Walk the field and adjust to the surface.
But Ponder knows his first game at Lambeau Field against the unbeaten Green Bay Packers -- in prime time on national TV, no less -- may be just a little bit different.
"Undefeated team, at their house, in Lambeau, historic Lambeau on Monday night," the Minnesota Vikings' rookie quarterback said on Thursday. "There's a lot of things to get excited about. But you've got to treat it as any other game.
"It'll be fine. The crowd will be into it. It'll be an electrifying atmosphere. But the crowd's not playing. They're not playing on the field, and once the game gets underway, you kind of zone that stuff out."
It's been less than three weeks since Ponder made his first NFL start against the Packers, completing 13 of 32 passes (40.6%) for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two costly interceptions as the Vikings crumbled in the third quarter of a 33-27 loss at the Metrodome.
Ponder reduced his mistakes a week later against Carolina, finishing 18-of-28 for 236 yards, a touchdown and a 102.7 rating in a 24-21 win.
"There's a lot to learn," Ponder said of his Oct. 23 start against the Packers, the NFL's last remaining unbeaten at 8-0.
"Going back and watching that film, I could have done so many things better. I realize that I'm a rookie and there's going to be growing pains and a lot to learn from. But it was good to get that experience under the belt and learn from those situations and there's a lot of room for improvement for me."
As most teams have against the Vikings this season, the Packers ganged up to stop the run in the first meeting, dropping a safety into the box 45 times in 66 snaps (68.2%).
It didn't work -- Adrian Peterson ran for 175 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (7.3 average) -- but Ponder didn't do much damage downfield after Michael Jenkins double-moved Tramon Williams for a 72-yard reception on the opening snap.
"I don't know if they're going to do much different," Ponder said. "I think they're still and going to play a lot of man to man, a lot of single high (safety). I think their biggest fear is stopping the run. When you have Adrian Peterson back there, I think that's the first thing they've got to stop.
"That's going to make me have to throw the ball and win in the air, and that's going to put a lot of pressure on the passing game, but we have the guys to do it."
Coordinator Dom Capers' creative deployment of veteran cornerback Charles Woodson paid dividends in the first meeting, too, with Woodson undercutting two Ponder throws for interceptions -- the first a poor decision for tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, the second a poor throw that needed more air to Jenkins.
At times, the Packers line up Woodson as an extra shallow safety in the middle of the field. At other times, he lines up in the slot and can either play press-man or drop off in zone, enhancing the disguise of Capers' defenses.
"We're sure there are going to be a few new wrinkles that he may not have seen on tape that they may show in this next game," coach Leslie Frazier said. "But I get the impression from being around him and the way he played in that first game versus them that he'll be able to handle those looks if there are some new looks that they may bring."
The Packers rank 31st in pass defense but also are tied for second with 20 takeaways, including a league-leading 16 interceptions.
They're coming off another uneven defensive performance against San Diego and quarterback Philip Rivers, who threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns -- two of them on blown coverages -- as well as three interceptions as the Packers held on to win 45-38.
"They looked confused at times, but there's not really much weight you can put in that," Ponder said. "They're going to fix all that and I don't expect them to bust many coverages."
Ponder said he's looking forward to a "second go-round with these Packers, these Cheeseheads" and he's not concerned about weather he rarely saw growing up near Dallas or at Florida State.
Early forecasts for Monday night call for low temperatures in the mid-30s and a 30% chance of rain. It was around 40 degrees on Thursday when Ponder took the field for practice in short sleeves and mesh shorts.
"There's not a whole lot that intimidates him or frightens him," Frazier said. "I think he's really looking forward to this opportunity."