The week of practice is over and the Vikings are set for their game this Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared for Week 11.
Rudolph's return probable Sunday
TE Kyle Rudolph was listed as probable on the week's final injury report, meaning it's a virtual certainty the Vikings will have one of their best pass-catching weapons back in the lineup when they take the field in Chicago on Sunday. Rudolph has been missing since Week 4 with an abdomen/groin injury. OT Mike Harris (ankle) and DE Scott Crichton (hip) are listed as questionable while TE Chase Ford (foot) and RB Jerick McKinnon (low back) are also probable.
For the Bears, starting RT Jordan Mills (ribs) is listed as doubtful and WR Josh Morgan (shoulder) was listed as questionable. Three players (OL Eben Britton, DE Trevor Scott and LB Daryl Sharpton) are listed as doubtful and everyone else on the report is probable.
To practice in the backyard, the Vikings went international
An early snowfall and subsequent run of cold temperatures prevented the Vikings from practicing outside this week. Reinforcement is on the way, though, and the Vikings have gone international to help battle the inclement weather that has descended upon Minnesota.
"We're working on getting a heated field, but it's still on the boat coming over from Europe, they didn't expect the snow quite this soon, but we will get it," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said earlier in the week.
An actual field is not being shipped over, but equipment that will heat the Vikings practice field outside of Winter Park is set to arrive next week. If all goes according to plan, the Vikings may be able to practice outside, something Zimmer would like to accomplish as his team prepares for three consecutive home games after this weekend's game in Chicago.
"I want that to be our mindset," Zimmer said. "It doesn't matter what it's like outside. It's time to go, so they aren't asking, 'Are we going outside today? Are we going inside?' They can assume we are going outside unless I tell them differently."
Overconfidence isn't a problem
The Vikings have won two consecutive games and are coming off a bye. Next up is a Bears team that has lost three straight by a combined 83 points and hasn't won a home game yet this season. A quick glance at the matchup may reveal that the Vikings are going the right direction while the Bears are going the wrong direction. But it's clear the Vikings have gone beyond a quick glance and aren't about to let overconfidence set the stage for them to underestimate their fierce division rival.
"Who? Us? No, no definitely not," LB Jasper Brinkley responded when asked if he thought players had to guard against overconfidence. "We're gonna keep a level head going in and play football the way it's supposed to be played defensively. We're going to continue to try to get the offense the ball as many times as possible."
Zimmer dismissed any notion of overconfidence, as well.
"Our team over-confident? No, I don't think so," he said with a chuckle. "We really haven't done enough to get over-confident. I just continue to talk to them about the same things I talked to them when we lost, I guess it was three in a row – hard work, paying attention to detail, doing the things we need to do, trying not to change the message."
Rhett Ellison "playing at a high level"
TE Kyle Rudolph has been out of action since Week 4 but is on track to return soon, potentially as soon as this week. In his absence, Chase Ford has stepped up and even scored his first career touchdown two weeks ago against the Washington Redskins.
Somewhat lost in all of that, though, has been the performance of Rhett Ellison. He's the Vikings version of a Swiss Army knife – one of the team's best blockers, a core special teams member and even a reliable pass catcher.
A four-catch game heading into the bye resulted in both Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner being asked about Ellison this week. Zimmer was quite complementary of Ellison, and this is what Turner had to say:
"Rhett has been playing about 50 plays a game and still playing on special teams, he's kind of been an unsung guy for us in terms of what he's done in the run game, in protection and then being able to contribute like he did last week with the catches he did, particularly in the red zone, that all adds up. He is really playing at a high level."
Turner not worried about Bridgewater's deep-ball accuracy
If there was anything to pick at from the Vikings offense's final performance before entering the bye, it was a few misfires with the downfield passing game. On the first snap of the game, in fact, QB Teddy Bridgewater was unable to connect with Greg Jennings, who was trying to fun away from single coverage by a linebacker. Later in the game, Cordarrelle Patterson broke open on a busted coverage by the defense but Bridgewater's offering once again was not hauled in down the field.
Turner pointed out that while Bridgewater could have made better throws in both instances, Jennings also could've produced a better angle on his route and there may have been a communication issue on the incompletion to Patterson. Those explanations aside, Turner said ultimately he has no concerns with Bridgewater's deep-pass accuracy and indicated practice over time will smooth out the inconsistencies.
"I don't worry about Teddy's ability to throw the ball deep, I see it every day and I think he is capable of being an outstanding deep-ball thrower," Turner explained. "There are a lot of things involved to it. Early, we didn't get a lot of opportunities to throw the ball deep in games. We're doing a little bit more now. I think in time we will not have to have this conversation."