On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers return to division play to face off against the Minnesota Vikings. Eric Thompson of Daily Norseman was kind enough to answer some questions about the Vikings and provide insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
APC: Sam Bradford looked severely limited during his brief outing last Monday before the Vikings pulled him in favor of Case Keenum, who finished the game completing 17 of his 21 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Which quarterback do you anticipate starting against the Packers, and how will that affect the Minnesota offense?
At this point I'd be shocked to see Sam Bradford playing on Sunday. He hasn't practiced yet this week and there don't to be any signs pointing to him coming back this week. On Monday we saw a quarterback that was nowhere near 100%--Bradford literally just fell down to avoid contact multiple times before the coaches mercifully benched him.
Sadly, I think Bradford's return is much more week to week or month to month than day to day. While it has been reported that there is no additional structural damage to his twice-repaired left knee, it doesn't seem to be getting any better either. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if we see Teddy Bridgewater return before Bradford does.
The only bright spot in this otherwise grim situation is that the game plan doesn't change much with Case Keenum. The Vikings' third choice quarterback has been surprisingly competent through most of his first three and a half games as a member of the Vikings. He won't be confused with his counterpart in Green Bay anytime soon, but the Vikings can definitely still win with Keenum under center.
APC: Stefon Diggs left last week's game with a groin injury, though he did return afterward. How much has he participated in practice this week, and do you expect him to deal with any limitations come Sunday?
Like Bradford, he has yet to practice this week. Unlike Bradford, his situation is more hopeful for Sunday. It sounds like Diggs is being held out more as a precautionary measure. He was quoted on Thursday saying that he feels pretty good and likes his chances to play. Diggs claims the groin injury that cost him time last year was worse than what he's going through now. That said, there's still a good chance that Diggs is limited to a certain degree. He has been a crucial part of the early success the Vikings offense has enjoyed this season; having him on the field in such an important game could make a big difference.
If Diggs is limited or can't go, I'd expect the newly un-suspended Michael Floyd to get more looks. He only had one target in his Vikings debut last week. I suppose Laquon Treadwell could get more involved too, but let's just say Vikings fans aren't holding their breath on last year's first round pick.
APC: What has changed about the Vikings since the last time they faced the Packers on Christmas Eve of last year?
For starters, a lot of the starters. The Vikings will have at least five new faces on offense compared to their game at Lambeau 9 1/2 months ago. Most of those changes are on the offensive line, which is a much improved unit compared to last year's dumpster fire. They aren't perfect by any means, but they have allowed time for the quarterbacks to make some throws down the field. I'd like to tell you about this awesome new running back the Vikings have, but unfortunately you'll have to wait until next year to see how dynamic Dalvin Cook is.
On defense, the cast of characters should look much more similar. The only big changes are rookie Ben Gedeon in for the retired Chad Greenway and second-year corner Mackensie Alexander taking over most of the nickel corner duties after Captain Munnerlyn rejoined the Panthers. Zimmer's defense has been able to slow down the Packers in the past, especially in Minnesota. Let's hope their performance is more like Week 2 of last year than that Week 16 debacle where they apparently stopped taking orders from Zimmer.
APC: If tasked with game planning against the Vikings, how would you attack them on offense? On defense?
The Vikings' pass rush is no joke--Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are consistently pressuring the quarterback on a weekly basis. Even with Rodgers' penchant for magically evading the rush, it would be wise for Green Bay to make some quick-hit passes early to keep their quarterback upright. Establishing a balance with the run and staying out of third and long should be a high priority since the Vikings defense leads the league in third down conversion percentage. However, running the ball on Minnesota is easier said than done. They're allowing only 3.3 yards per carry thanks to Linval Joseph clogging up the middle and Anthony Barr having a great bounce-back season so far.
Personally I would attack the Vikings largely through the air using a simple method--look at where Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes are lined up before the snap. If Rhodes is on Jordy Nelson, throw it to Davante Adams. If Rhodes is on Adams, throw it to Nelson. If the first five games have been any indication, there's a good chance you're completing the pass or drawing a penalty on Waynes.
On defense I'd try to bring pressure from lots of different places to keep the Vikings' offensive line guessing. You can't simply speed rush past both of the Vikings' tackles these days, but the line has run into trouble a few times when they have failed to properly diagnose blitzes. Center Pat Elflein has done a solid job as the day 1 starter. He is still a rookie though. If you don't consistently get pressure, Diggs and Adam Thielen can and will get open for big chunks of yards.
Against the run, Jerick McKinnon is at his best when he's in open space, so I'd try to keep him between the tackles as much as possible and make sure he doesn't slip out of coverage on screens and wheel routes. Right now, I don't think you really have to do anything special to keep Latavius Murray in check. He still doesn't look like he's 100% after his offseason ankle surgery. Just make sure you're tackling well and Murray won't be much of a threat.
APC: Finally, it's prediction time. Which team wins on Sunday and why?
I already posted my weekly preview article on Thursday afternoon so I suppose I should stick with that prediction. I think it will be a close game between two evenly matched teams. It could definitely go either way depending on which team executes better and makes fewer crucial mistakes. If the Vikings offense was at full strength, I'd like their chances a little better. But in the end, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and the Vikings don't. Minnesota's defense will make it tough on him, but more often than not Rodgers can make enough plays to win. I'll say 24-17 Green Bay.
We'd like to thank Eric 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 Sunday for our comprehensive game-day coverage of Packer vs. Vikings.