Fresh off a 41-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, the Vikings turn it around quickly this week to travel to Green Bay for a date with the Packers on Thursday night. This will be the Vikings first division game of the season and it will be the third game in the last four meetings between these teams that has been played in prime time.
Let's take a look at five storylines to watch this week as the Vikings and Packers prepare to battle.
1. Will Bridgewater Play?Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his first career start last week and was impressive in the debut, throwing for 317 yards and rushing for a touchdown while helping the Vikings to victory. Bridgewater injured his ankle in the 4th quarter, though, and was forced from the game. Christian Ponder came on to finish as Bridgewater had his ankle evaluated. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said on Monday that Bridgewater was improving and also said he was hopeful the rookie would be able to suit up to make his second career start on Thursday night, but the ankle injury does leave Bridgewater's status up in the air for now.
2. After Overpowering Atlanta, Vikings Rushing Attack Eyes PackersWhile much attention will be paid this week to who will be under center for the Vikings, you can be sure the Packers will be as concerned about the Vikings rushing game as they prepare for Thursday night's contest. The Vikings rushing offense overpowered Atlanta's defense, rushing for 241 yards and four touchdowns on 44 carries (5.5/att.), while the Packers surrendered 235 yards on 41 carries (5.7/att.) to the Bears. Green Bay has traditionally struggled trying to contain Adrian Peterson, and while they won't have that problem this week they will have to stop the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, who paced the Vikings ground game last week. Asiata scored three touchdowns and McKinnon led the team in rushing with 135 yards, including a 55-yard dash. Perhaps more importantly, the Packers will be tasked with confronting a fullback in Jerome Felton who looks to be in his Pro Bowl form and an offensive line that regrouped impressively last week after losing starting right guard Brandon Fusco to injury two weeks ago in New Orleans.
3. Talented Pass Rushers Loom LargeThis week's Vikings-Packers matchup features a bunch of talented pass rushers on each side who will look to key defensive performances that will neutralize the opposing offense. This will be particularly important for the Vikings, who will face one of the NFL's best quarterbacks – Aaron Rodgers. Coming off a four-touchdown game, Rodgers and his receivers – Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are the primary targets – are clicking on all cylinders. The Vikings have 8 sacks through four games and have three tied with a team-lead 2.0 sacks – LB Anthony Barr, DE Everson Griffen and DT Tom Johnson. Barr's sack of Falcons QB Matt Ryan was one of the more impressive plays in last week's win and speaks to the rookie's explosive combination of speed and body control along with great instincts.
While Green Bay will prioritize stopping the Vikings rushing attack, they will also be well-equipped to rush the passer when that time comes. LB Clay Matthews and DEs Mike Daniels and Datone Jones pace a Packers pass rush that can be dangerous and this season added Julius Peppers to the mix. While none of them have more than 1.0 sack this season, the above-mentioned group is a talented pack of pass rushers capable of shutting down a passing game.
Look back at photos through the years featuring games between the Vikings and Packers.
4. Special Teams Set to Factor into OutcomeThe Vikings and Packers have historically played in a lot of close games, and in close games every play counts. This will likely set the stage for special teams to play a major role in the outcome of Thursday's game, and if that is indeed the case the Vikings should feel good about their chances. Special teams played a major role in the Vikings win last week, as Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels put the offense in good field position with their returns, Devin Hester was neutralized in the return game by both P Jeff Locke and K Blair Walsh, and then Walsh put the game on ice when he nailed a 55-yarder late in the 4th quarter. Last season, Patterson returned the opening kickoff of the Vikings-Packers game at Mall of America Field 109 yards for a score, so it will be interesting to see what kind of approach the Packers take to kickoffs on Thursday night.
5. Vikings Must Overcome Challenge of a Short Week on the RoadNot only are the Vikings in the midst of preparing for a game on a short week, but they are doing so knowing one day of preparation will be interrupted by travel time to Green Bay. This is not an insurmountable challenge by any stretch – just last week the NY Giants won a road Thursday night game at the Washington Redskins – but it does require careful planning and the proper mindset. Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has plenty of experience playing in Thursday games after spending more than a decade with the Dallas Cowboys, who play every year on Thanksgiving, so he knows all about instilling the proper mindset for this kind of game.