What We Learned: Vikings vs. Packers Storylines

Posted Nov 22, 2013

The week of practice is over and the Vikings are set to travel to Green Bay tomorrow to battle the Packers on Sunday. Here’s what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared to face border and division rival Green Bay…

Christian Ponder will start, and so will Audie Cole
Leslie Frazier confirmed on Wednesday that Christian Ponder will remain the Vikings starting quarterback for Sunday. Ponder entered last week’s game in Seattle coming off two good showings against Dallas and in a win against Washington, and then he was playing well through three quarters against the Seahawks, too. But a pair of interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown – early in the 4th quarter sealed the Vikings fate and Ponder was replaced by Matt Cassel. That series of events called into question Ponder’s status for this Sunday. It didn’t cost Ponder the job, though, as he’ll look to channel his inner Week 17 of 2012 to upend the Packers on their home turf.

Another development this week was the absence of middle linebacker Erin Henderson from practice. He was listed all week on the injury report as a non-participant with the “not injury related” designation, opening the door for second-year linebacker Audie Cole to get the start at middle linebacker. Cole was a standout in the 2012 preseason because of his back-to-back pick-six effort against the Buffalo Bills, and since then he’s been a reserve on defense and a contributor on special teams.

Other injuries of note for both teams
Speaking of injuries, this week’s injury report for both the Vikings and Packers is a star-studded list. We already know Green Bay will be without receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Jermichael Finley and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but starting lineman Don Barclay’s status is also in question. On defense, the Packers saw cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Sam Shields, defensive tackles Johnny Jolly and Ryan Picket, and linebacker Nick Perry miss much of the week’s practice.

For the Vikings, Henderson didn’t practice all week and Adrian Peterson participated in limited fashion on Wednesday. Receiver Greg Jennings and defensive linemen Jared Allen and Brian Robison were limited for much of the week, and other starters such as Ponder, linebacker Chad Greenway and defensive tackle Letroy Guion were also listed. John Sullivan participated on Friday after missing Wednesday and Thursday and is listed as questionable.

 Green Bay’s offense remains aggressive even with Scott Tolzien starting
Don’t expect Green Bay’s offense to be a shell of itself just because Rodgers isn’t playing. Even with the inexperienced Scott Tolzien under center, the Packers will remain aggressive.

“That’s what type of team they are,” Vikings Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams said. “I think every team in the NFL has the ‘Next man up’ mentality, and they are no different. He’s a NFL quarterback and he’s quite capable of making those plays, which shows up on tape. If he’s making them, I fully expect them to keep doing it. Their receivers are making big plays for him.”

Why wouldn’t Green Bay remain aggressive? They did so last week against the Giants, as Tolzien used play-action fakes and seven-step drops to find receivers open downfield. Regardless of who plays quarterback, the Packers do have a talented group of pass catchers and they’re going against a defense that has allowed more touchdowns than any other team.

Yes, I do expect a heavy dose of running back Eddie Lacy early in the game. But I also expect the Packers to remain aggressive through the air.

Vikings kickoff coverage will be interesting to watch
While Blair Walsh has demonstrated the ability to blast kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks almost on command (he had a team record 53 touchbacks last season), don’t be surprised if the Vikings intentionally kick to Green Bay’s return game on Sunday. The weather may be adverse to kicking touchbacks anyway, plus Green Bay ranks last in the NFL in average kickoff return (17.4 yards). By using high-hang time kickoffs to allow the coverage team time to converge on Green Bay’s return team, the Vikings may be able to force the Packers offense into long fields and, hopefully, short possessions, which will setup the Vikings offense with good field position.

Jared Allen’s streak to double-digit sacks should start on Sunday
For six straight seasons dating back to his final season with the Kansas City Chiefs and including every season in Minnesota, defensive end Jared Allen has registered a double-digit sack total. Through the first 10 games of this season, though, Allen is at 5.0, meaning he has six games to get another 5.0 sacks to extend his streak.

That might seem like a tall task for some defenders, but it’s a mountain Allen can climb in a hurry. This is a guy who collected a sack in 11 straight games at one point and a guy who had 22.0 sacks in 2011. Furthermore, Allen has had success playing the packers, with 17.0 sacks in 13 career games against Green Bay.

Will he get there? Only time will tell. But I won’t be surprised to see him get there with a week to spare. And, if it does come down to the final week, we know he’s good for last-second drama. He tallied 3.5 sacks in the 2011 season finale to reach 22.0 and set a new Vikings single-season record.