Access Vikings

Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


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Behind Enemy Lines: talking Rodgers, Lacy and run defense with beat writer Tyler Dunne

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 2nd at 10:04am 277891021

For this (short) week, wreached out to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel beat writer Tyler Dunne for this week’s edition of “Behind Enemy Lines.” Here are five questions we asked the Packers beat writer about Thursday’s matchup between the Vikings and Packers.

1. Was Sunday’s performance against the Bears about as efficient as the offense has looked?

TD: That’s about as efficient as it’s been. They didn’t punt. The only time they didn’t score was a blocked kick. There’s definitely some problems with the team right now on both sides of the ball but the fact that [quarterback] Aaron Rodgers and the passing game starting clicking again and moved the ball well, I think that kind of cooled a lot of worries from fans. The fact that Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers.

2. Why is the Packers run game averaging just 73 yards a game with running back Eddie Lacy?

TD: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. The offensive line isn’t blameless itself, but Eddie Lacy just hasn’t been the same back. He seems like he’s hesitant. Lacy and the coaches kind of deny that, and Lacy says he’s not thinking about the two concussions he’s had in a 17-game span. Whatever it is, he’s not the same player four games into the season.

I think what surprised a lot of people is that James Starks is averaging two yards per carry more but just hasn’t been used more. [Mike] McCarthy kind of regretted it himself. He talked about it this week, and he really should’ve got James Starks the ball. He didn’t touch the ball at all against the Bears. They want to get the attempts up as a whole to 25-30 attempts in the run game. I think it could be even a 50-50 split with Lacy and Starks. They’re both going to be involved Thursday night.

3. Is the absence of defensive tackle B.J. Raji the main reason why the Packers have the worst run defense?

TD: It’s a big reason. They had a big philosophical change in the offseason that they wanted to move away from the wide bodies, the big boys up front. You think back to that Super Bowl team in 2010, and they had Ryan Pickett, Howard Green and B.J. Raji up front. The biggest front three in the NFL of all 3-4 defenses so that’s how they won then.

But trying to keep up with the trends and looking around at how teams utilize defensive lines by rotating guys in, they went to the athletic, taller, longer defensive linemen. Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, they’re going to disrupt. They’re going to create problems and wreck some havoc but against the run, it’s been a harder goal. They haven’t been able to stop the run. …I think we’ll probably see Mike Pennel more at nose tackle, an undrafted rookie out of Colorado State-Pueblo, and will start taking snaps away from Letroy Guion.

4. Despite the run defense, how has the Packers secondary fared?

TD: Their cornerback position is really deep. They resigned Sam Shields. Tramon Williams, at 31, is still in his prime. He plays 100 percent of the snaps whether outside or inside over slot receivers in nickel. Devon House comes on; he’s their physical corner they like to matchup with bigger wideouts. He covered [Brandon] Marshall at Chicago. And they’ve got Casey Hayward, who led the team in interceptions and pass breakups in 2012. …They feel really good about the cornerback position. That’s where they’ve really invested the money, the draft picks.

5. What do the Packers need to do to win on Thursday?

TD: They’re probably hoping to see Christian Ponder instead of Teddy Bridgewater, but they’ve got to stop the run. If they’re going to do anything long-term this season, if they want to be a Super Bowl team, at some point this run defense has to make a turnaround. They got gashed for 235 [rushing yards] against Chicago. The Vikings are going to come in with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon, and they had 200-plus against the Falcons. It’s going to be a good test.

It’s funny, [linebackers] Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers couldn’t even say the names of the Vikings running backs. They didn’t know their names just that they’re good. I think if people know their names after Thursday night then the Vikings are probably going to be feeling good about themselves.

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Bridgewater questionable, Captain vs. Cobb and much more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated October 2nd at 8:47am 277868811

Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— QB Teddy Bridgewater practiced yesterday and is officially questionable for tonight.

— The Vikings paid CB Captain Munnerlyn to match up with slot receivers like Randall Cobb.

— Breaking down rookie RB Jerick McKinnon’s 55-yard run against the Falcons.

— Does Bridgewater have a little bit of Derek Jeter in him?

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— Packers wide receiver Jarrett Boykin is out for tonight’s game.

— Rookie Richard Rogers is getting opportunities at tight end.

— The Packers are still trying to run (the ball) in high gear.

— The shotgun isn’t what is slowing Packers RB Eddie Lacy down.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings are already in Green Bay, where they play the Packers at Lambeau Field at 7:25 p.m.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

The Vikings haven’t won a game at Lambeau Field since 2009, when Brett Favre was in his first season as their quarterback. If Bridgewater starts tonight, he will be the third Vikings QB since to start at Lambeau Field. Favre lost his final game there and Christian Ponder is 0-2-1 in Green Bay.

Vikings' Bridgewater questionable; Greenway out

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 1st at 11:11pm 277789491

Teddy Bridgewater is listed as questionable for Thursday’s game against the Packers at Lambeau Field.

The Vikings rookie quarterback participated in practice for the first time Wednesday, though he was limited. Bridgewater said on Tuesday he planned to run for the first time since spraining the ankle in Sunday’s 41-28 against the Falcons. Until that point, the rookie has only done flexibility exercises during rehab.

If Bridgewater is unable to play, Christian Ponder would start. He got first team reps in Bridgewater’s absence this week at practice and finished Sunday’s game after Bridgewater suffered the injury.

Linebacker Chad Greenway will miss his second consecutive game because of a broken rib. He snapped a streak of 90 consecutive starts against the Falcons and did not practice with the quick turnaround against the Packers. Gerald Hodges will start in Greenway’s place once again.

Cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn (illness) and Josh Robinson (hamstring) and running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) were all full participants after being limited on Tuesday. They’re all listed as probable.

For the Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews (groin) is listed as probable after participating fully on Tuesday and Wednesday. Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin (groin) is listed as out, while linebacker Sam Barrington (hamstring) and defensive tackle Josh Boyd (knee) are doubtful.

Guard T.J. Lang (not injury related), linebacker/defensive end Mike Neal (hip) and linebacker Brad Jones (quad) are all listed as probable.

Vikings Rewind: Jerick McKinnon's 55-yard run

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated October 1st at 1:52pm 277751911

The situation: Up 14-7 with 13:07 left in the second quarter, the Vikings start their third offensive series at their own 8. They hand the ball off to rookie running back Jerick McKinnon.

The reason: The Vikings are pinned deep in their own end zone and need some room to work with. They design a draw play in this situation, hoping it’ll do the trick.

The result: McKinnon breaks off a career-long 55-yard run on his first carry to the Falcons 37 to put the Vikings in scoring position.

“I was messing with him a little bit,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “I was wondering when I was going to see it, so it’s good to finally see. It’s all good to talk about his speed and everything else, but you’ve got to show it on Sundays. And he did that.”

How it happened:

IMG_0109The Vikings are lined up in an offset “I” formation, with Felton lined up to the right of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, in a 21 personnel (two backs and one tight end). It’d be considered “strong right” because of Felton’s alignment and tight end Rhett Ellison also lined up on the right side of the line of scrimmage. With McKinnon (circled in yellow) in the backfield, the Falcons stack the box with six near the line of scrimmage. They’re sensing run with the Vikings personnel.

IMG_0111They’re fooled. Well, at least initially they’re tricked. Bridgewater immediately sets his feet after receiving the snap and looks to wide receiver Greg Jennings (circled in yellow), who has about eight yards of separation from safety Dwight Lowery (circled in red) in the slot. Bridgewater pump fakes to Jennings, causing the Falcons to believe it’s a pass play.

IMG_0114Instead, it’s a delayed “iso draw” with McKinnon receiving the hand off after Bridgewater sells the pump fake. The Vikings did a great job blocking, particularly Felton (circled in yellow on the left) and center John Sullivan (circled in yellow on the right). They clear the entire “A” gap for McKinnon by sealing linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow.

“You want to fool the defense and have the linebackers think we’re about to pass the ball with the defensive line going to their pass rush techniques,” Felton said. “That usually opens up a big hole.”

IMG_0115Here’s another angle on how great the blocking was all around on that play by the offensive line, Ellison and Felton. McKinnon wisely opts to cut left, with two unblocked defenders to his right and Jennings and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson to his left.

What goes unnoticed on this play is McKinnon’s patience before he even receives the hand off.

“We talked about it all week just being patient and letting the quarterback bring the ball to him,” Felton said. “He did a good job of that and that allows them to get in their pass rush stuff with the linebackers thinking it’s pass. That was important to have patience there and you can see he’s really developed as a runner Sunday.”

IMG_0116After McKinnon cuts left, his eyes must’ve lit up from all the open space he had. Jennings had a nice block on Lowery to allow McKinnon to bounce outside, then Patterson (circled in yellow) also had a good block down field to allow for more yards on the explosive play.

“I just followed Jerome, and he had a great block – a knockdown as a matter of fact – on the ‘Mike,’” McKinnon said. “I made a cut off of him just ran in space.”

Felton’s block was definitely the most notable on that play, allowing McKinnon to play off the fullback. That first carry set up a breakout performance for McKinnon, who had 18 carries for 135 yards. In the first three games, the rookie had just five carries for seven yards.

“Usually if you’re downhill, the linebacker is going to be downhill,” Felton said. “But if you take a draw set, they’re think you’re about to release into the flat. It kind of keeps them off base and on their heels, and they really don’t know what to expect. I like it. It’s one of my favorite plays, so I’m glad we got that run.”

Access Vikings morning walkthrough: Bridgewater sidelined again, Robinson playing well and more

Posted by: Matt Vensel Updated October 1st at 7:04am 277724331

Every weekday, our Vikings reporters walk you through what’s happening with the team that day.

WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

— Rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater missed practice for a second straight day.

— Packers QB Aaron Rodgers might not recognize this Vikings defense.

— CB Josh Robinson might be the most improved player under head coach Mike Zimmer.

— CB Captain Munnerlyn was back at practice after a bout with food poisoning.

— Here are five Vikings stats that stand out this week.

TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY

BEHIND ENEMY LINES

— Packers WR Randall Cobb is showing how dangerous he can be.

— RB Eddie Lacy and the Packers’ running game is still stuck in neutral.

— Packers head coach Mike McCarthy wants RB James Starks to be more involved.

— Vikings WR Greg Jennings’ latest comments might not sit well with Packers fans.

TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE

The Vikings have, in Zimmer’s words, “a jog-through” today before heading to Green Bay tomorrow.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

The Vikings have gained 10 yards or more on 63.6 percent of Bridgewater’s completions this season. That is the highest rate in the league. The next highest among starters is 55.7 percent and the league average is 46.5 percent. So yeah, Teddy has done OK so far.

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