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.
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.
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:
The 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.
They’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.
Instead, 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.”
Here’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.”
After 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.”
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
Zimmer on Rodgers: “We’re going on our 3rd first-ballot Hall of Famer in 4 weeks. They’re all pretty dang good.” So no HOF for Shaun Hill?
— Mark Craig (@markcraignfl) September 30, 2014
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.
The way NFL quarterbacks are groomed — specifically the timetables on which that grooming takes place — has drastically changed since the Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the first round in 2005.
Not that you need the history lesson, but Rodgers was considered to be candidate to be the top pick during the draft process but fell into the back end of the first round, much like Teddy Bridgewater did this past spring. The Packers had Brett Favre, but decided Rodgers was too good to pass up.
Seeing a first-round QB sit and watch for three years before starting was a rare occurrence even then, but about a decade later, it has become a question of when and not if they start as a rookie.
All nine of the quarterbacks selected in the first round from 2011 and 2013 started at least five games as rookies. And in 2014, two of the three first-round quarterbacks were starting by Week 4.
On a conference call with Minnesota media, Rodgers, while admitting he hasn’t seen Bridgewater play a single NFL snap, said he would not have been as prepared to start right away back in 2005.
“Definitely not as prepared as the guys are now,” the 30-year-old said. “The guys coming out now are a lot more prepared than maybe myself and Alex Smith and Jason Campbell, the three guys who went in the first round in 2005; we’re all still in the league and still playing. But definitely, you look at some of the guys who have been starting the past few years, they’re a lot more prepared.”
Rodgers figures the reason is that offensive schemes at the high-school and college levels have become more advanced and young quarterbacks are asked to read more at the line of scrimmage.
“And, obviously, we’ve seen some guys step in the past few years and really play well in their first, second and third years,” said Rodgers, who is now in his seventh season as the Packers’ starter.
So far, so good for Bridgewater, who has yet to show any rookie jitters in his young NFL career.
Despite saying earlier today that he feels much better than he did on Sunday, rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater sat out practice for a second straight day due to a sprained left ankle.
Head coach Mike Zimmer hinted that Bridgewater might be at practice tomorrow.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who came down with a bout of food poisoning Sunday night, returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out yesterday. He said earlier that he feels fine now.
Running back Jerick McKinnon, who was limited by an ankle injury yesterday, was limited again at today’s workout. Cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) was also limited for a second straight day.
Outside linebacker Chad Greenway (ribs) missed another practice and could sit out a second straight game. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (sports hernia surgery) was also absent from practice, of course.
Outside linebackers Michael Mauti (foot) and Brandon Watts (knee), fullback Jerome Felton (knee) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) were all listed as full participants on the injury report.
|San Francisco - WP: M. Bumgarner||8||FINAL|
|Pittsburgh - LP: E. Volquez||0|
|Buffalo||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Chicago||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Cleveland||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|St. Louis||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Atlanta||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Houston||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Baltimore||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Pittsburgh||10/5/14 12:00 PM|
|Arizona||10/5/14 3:05 PM|
|Kansas City||10/5/14 3:25 PM|
|NY Jets||10/5/14 3:25 PM|
|Cincinnati||10/5/14 7:30 PM|
|Seattle||10/6/14 7:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||6:00 PM|
|Louisville||10/3/14 6:00 PM|
|San Diego St||10/3/14 9:00 PM|
|Utah State||10/3/14 9:15 PM|
|(6) Texas A&M||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(12) Miss State|
|Ball State||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Iowa State||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(21) Oklahoma State|
|Marshall||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Southern Miss||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(20) Ohio State||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Purdue||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|Florida||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|SMU||10/4/14 11:00 AM|
|(22) East Carolina|
|Virginia Tech||10/4/14 11:30 AM|
|Eastern Mich||10/4/14 1:00 PM|
|North Texas||10/4/14 1:30 PM|
|Massachusetts||10/4/14 1:30 PM|
|Tulsa||10/4/14 2:00 PM|
|New Mexico||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(3) Alabama||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(11) Ole Miss|
|(14) Stanford||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(9) Notre Dame|
|(17) Wisconsin||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Navy||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(7) Baylor||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(4) Oklahoma||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Wake Forest||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|(1) Florida State|
|NC State||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Buffalo||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Ohio U||10/4/14 2:30 PM|
|Oregon State||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Vanderbilt||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Kansas||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Kent State||10/4/14 4:00 PM|
|South Alabama||10/4/14 5:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|(15) LSU||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|UAB||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Texas Tech||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|(23) Kansas State|
|Michigan||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Hawaii||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Toledo||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|ULM||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Georgia State||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Idaho||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Memphis||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Arizona State||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|So Carolina||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|Pittsburgh||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|Miami-Florida||10/4/14 6:30 PM|
|(19) Nebraska||10/4/14 7:00 PM|
|(10) Michigan State|
|UNLV||10/4/14 7:00 PM|
|San Jose St|
|Ga Southern||10/4/14 7:00 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|California||10/4/14 9:30 PM|
|Utah||10/4/14 9:30 PM|
|Boise State||10/4/14 9:30 PM|
|Winnipeg||10/3/14 6:00 PM|
|Calgary||10/3/14 9:00 PM|
|Edmonton||10/4/14 3:00 PM|
|Brt Columbia||10/4/14 6:00 PM|
|Hamilton||10/10/14 6:00 PM|
|Ottawa||10/11/14 9:00 PM|