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Vikings-Packers Preview: Five Things to Watch For on Thursday Night

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Are you ready for some ice baths?!

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Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings head to Lambeau Field this Thursday for what might as well be called the "Pray Nobody Gets Injured Bowl". Thursday games are already stupid, but divisional games that have an added level of physicality? Morgan Burnett may actually be turned into a pile of dust by the time this one's over.

As for the teams themselves, both come in with a bit of wind in their sails following a rocky start. Remember, it was just a few weeks ago the Vikings were sock-puppeting their GM to the media in the midst of the Adrian Peterson debacle. Now they find themselves coming off a convincing win versus Atlanta led by their promising rookie quarterback. The Packers meanwhile, eased concerns that their offense had flamed out by eviscerating the Bears to the tune of 38-17 on Sunday. Which team will carry that momentum into Week 6? Here are five things that will come into play:

Run defense

At this point in the season, Adrian Peterson facing the Packers run defense would have made Thursday's game Rated R. Seriously, your children could not watch that game. Fortunately for the Packers, that's not the case. It doesn't mean they should relax though, either. The Bears came in averaging just 64 yards on the ground per game and mauled the Packers front line repeatedly on Sunday. And while Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon are no Matt Forte, they're still capable - as they proved against Atlanta - of doing damage versus a porous defense.

Kick Returns

Thursday games tend to be sloppy affairs, which means unless the defenses once again play like they're at the Pro Bowl, field position should be an important factor. What makes that a scary proposition for the Packers is the guy they'll be kicking to - Cordarrelle Patterson.  He hasn't broken out as a receiver quite yet, but he's got time-shrinking levels of speed and can bust a game open in a hurry. And while the Packers have been improved this year in their kickoff coverage, they ranked as one of the league's worst just a year ago, meaning they'll have to stay on their toes.


Here are two sets of numbers from receivers in their first four career games:

9 catches, 79 yards, 1 TD
10 catches, 116 yards, 1 TD

Not hugely different, right? Receiver #1 is Davante Adams. Receiver #2? Jordy Nelson. But Davante Adams doesn't have a touchdown!

You shut your mouth, yes he does. It may not "appear on the stat sheet", but that catch from Aaron Rodgers that got called back on Sunday counts in my book. And while it's hard to project Jordy-like production from just four games, Davante Adams seems like the kind of receiver that GM's will eventually kick themselves over not drafting. Let's hope he gives the Vikings that feeling this Thursday.

Defending Teddy

That sounds like the title of a bad Lifetime movie, but if last Sunday is any indication, Teddy Bridgewater is going to be a very good thing for Vikings fans. Of course, that all depends on him playing and as of this writing, he's listed as questi....what's that? Christian Ponder is the backup? Yeah, Bridgewater's playing. Now, the schools of thought on how to defend against rookie quarterbacks vary, but it's a pretty widely accepted idea that putting a helmet in his chest works pretty well. (Editor's note: DON'T TAKE THIS LITERALLY, PACKERS PASS RUSHERS, LEST YOU BE CALLED FOR DUMB PENALTIES.) With that said, I'd love to see Capers dial up some Charles Woodsian corner blitzes. Remember those? They were neat. And they worked! Woodson currently plays for the CFL's Oakland Raiders, but the Packers have plenty of solid tacklers between their DB's. And considering how little pressure they've gotten with their front seven, maybe more corner blitzes is just what they need.

McCarthy's Chess Game

McCarthy did two exciting things versus the Bears. First, he finally mixed up some of the receiver formations, moving Jordy Nelson from side-to-side, playing Cobb outside the slot, and generally being a little less predictable. The other thing he did was ride the hot hand. Paul Noonan explained it perfectly in this fantastic piece, but before Sunday, McCarthy seemed to value balance for the sake of balance, which is never a good idea unless you consider "Stubborn SOB" something you'd put on your resume. Obviously, letting Rodgers pass 5 times in a row is easy when you're playing the Bears defense. This Thursday however, they face a legitimately good defensive mind in head coach Mike Zimmer. Will McCarthy keep with his newfound flexibility in the face of more resistance? We shall see.

Enjoy the game, folks.

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