On Thursday, the Green Bay Packers welcome the Minnesota Vikings and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to Lambeau Field. Ted Glover of Daily Norseman was kind enough to answer some questions about the Vikings and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater made his first NFL start last Sunday, completing 19 of his 30 passes for 317 yards. While he exited the game with an ankle injury, reports indicate that he will play against the Packers. How do you evaluate Bridgewater's performance?
Is there any grade above A+ you can hand out? No? Well, then A+. Look, when you're a quarterback-starved franchise, you hold on to anything that looks like it can fog a mirror. Bridgewater looked like that and much more coming out of the draft, and a lot of us thought we might have finally found a franchise quarterback. When you add in the draft night trade that got him here, and then the solid pre-season, and then the New Orleans and Atlanta games, Bridgewater has brought a level of hope here that was desperately needed. The last time we had good QB play was 2009 with Brett Favre, (is that still a swear word around these parts? Asking for a friend) and before THAT was 2004 with Daunte Culpepper.
So with that backdrop, maybe I'm grading on a pretty steep curve, but I don't think so. Bridgewater played like a guy that's been in the league five or six years already. He was audibling out of plays and into better ones, had very good accuracy, and his pocket presence and ability to avoid the rush was uncanny, almost like a sixth sense. I get that the Falcons defense isn't anything to write home about, but still you need to make the throws and finish drives, and Bridgewater did that.
It's early, but the Vikings might have finally found a quarterback that can go toe to toe with the rest of the NFC North golden arms. At least I hope so.
APC: In the absence of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' ground game has centered on Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. What are the strengths and weaknesses of these running backs, and which do you expect to see more work against Green Bay?
Matt Asiata is a between the tackles guy who can get you three or four yards at a crack, although he did break a couple of double digit runs against Atlanta. He's a plodding guy compared to most other backs, and short yardage seems to be his specialty. Jerick McKinnon is the outside speedster who is a legitimate home run threat. He's really fast, and if he can make the first guy miss, your defense just gave up a big play. They're both decent to above average at catching a pass out of the backfield.
The Vikings struggled to incorporate McKinnon in the first two games after the Adrian Peterson situation, but against Atlanta they were very good at utilizing both McKinnon and Asiata; Asiata had 20 carries for 78 yards and three TD's while McKinnon had 17 for 135, including a 55 yarder that was the second or third longest run the Falcons had ever allowed.
APC: Two years ago, it seemed the Vikings were assembling one of the NFL's best offensive lines with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt as bookend tackles and Charlie Johnson and John Sullivan working along the interior. However, the unit has come under heavy criticism in 2014. How do you feel the line has performed, and do you expect to see it improve or degrade over the course of the season?
Most of the criticism is focused on Kalil, but let's break it down. They took a big blow when RG Brandon Fusco, the best player on the unit, suffered a torn pectoral muscle and was put on season ending IR. Loadholt and Sullivan are solid, and after a rough game in New Orleans Vlad Ducasse, Fusco's replacement, rebounded nicely against the Falcons. Charlie Johnson, the LG, is a vet and probably the weak link, but he can hold his own.
So, that leaves Matt Kalil. Kalil has really regressed since his rookie season in 2012, and at some point you wonder if he's this anchor LT, or one of the statistically worst LT's in the league. Three games in he was horrid, but he rebounded nicely against the Falcons and had a very good, even dominant game. So which Matt Kalil shows up against Julius Peppers? We'll know pretty early, I would think, and that's probably going to be the key matchup in the game.
APC: If you were game planning against the Vikings, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
If I'm on offense, I go after their secondary, and yeah... the Packers have the weapons to do that. Captain Munnerlyn, the big free agent acquisition, has surprisingly been the weak link early on, so I'd find who's matched up with him and get after it. If you're going to run the ball, run away from SLB Anthony Barr, so go to your right. The Falcons got a 48 yard TD run going to that side, and seemed to get most of their damage on the ground going that way.
On defense, get after Teddy Bridgewater. He's very poised for a rookie, but a rookie nonetheless. Mix up looks and coverage schemes, and don't give him a clean pocket to throw from or he'll kill you. Green Bay has a hard time stopping the run, so blitzes up the middle might be the best way to either stop the run or collapse the pocket, depending on what the Vikings are doing.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Thursday and why?
You know, two weeks ago I was staring into another 4-12 lost season, but one week can make a world of difference. I wanted to see how Teddy played, and like I mentioned, he exceeded all my expectations. Great quarterback play makes the entire unit better, as you guys well know, and I really think the Vikes are on to something with this kid.
I know it sounds crazy, given the recent history between the teams, but the Packers can be had. Minnesota's secondary is better than Chicago's, and the Vikings now have a legitimate quarterback running the offense. I think the Legend of Teddy Bridgewater grows Thursday night, and the Vikings win a wild 31-27 shootout.
We'd like to thank Ted and Daily Norseman for answering our questions. Be sure to check out our Q&A session over there as well as their fantastic coverage of all things Vikings. As always, keep your internet machines tuned to Acme Packing Company this Thursday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Vikings vs. Packers.