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.
Each week, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
12 — passes completed beyond 10 yards for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
One of the biggest differences between Bridgewater and Matt Cassel has been Bridgewater’s ability to push the ball down the field. According to ESPN, Cassel completed just one of his 11 attempts thrown beyond 10 yards with three interceptions before breaking his foot in Week 3. Bridgewater, meanwhile, has completed 12 of 17 such attempts for 231 yards with no picks and hit on two of his five passes beyond 20 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Sure, those numbers are inflated by his 8-for-12 showing against a poor Falcons pass defense. But still, Bridgewater has impressed.
135 — rushing yards for the Vikings through the “A” gaps during Sunday’s win.
The Vikings rushed for a season-high 241 yards and four touchdowns on 44 carries Sunday, and they did more than half of that damage running behind center John Sullivan, who is quietly having another steady season. The Vikings rushed for 135 yards on 16 carries through the “A” gaps on either side of Sullivan, including rookie running back Jerick McKinnon’s 55-yard gain in the second quarter. The Vikings averaged 8.4 yards per carry behind Sullivan and 3.8 running it anywhere else.
six — completions allowed by cornerback Josh Robinson so far this season.
After a finicky hamstring flared up throughout training camp, Robinson drew the ire of head coach Mike Zimmer. But surprisingly, Robinson has gone from being “the other guy” to playing like “the man,” at least through four games. Robinson, the team’s third cornerback, has allowed just six receptions for 68 yards in coverage on 14 targets, according to Pro Football Focus. He has a pair of interceptions, too. Quarterbacks have a paltry passer rating of 18.5 when targeting Robinson.
one — quarterback hits surrendered by the Vikings offensive line on Sunday.
The play of left tackle Matt Kalil and the Vikings offensive line was scrutinized — including in this space — after the Week 3 loss to the Saints. But that group rebounded with its best performance of 2014 against the Falcons. Not only did the Vikings get their ground game going for the first time this season, they did not allow a sack. Bridgewater was pressured on just eight of his 34 dropbacks and hit only once, according to Pro Football Focus. Kalil allowed just two hurries.
67 — defensive snaps for outside linebacker Gerald Hodges against the Falcons.
Veteran outside linebacker Chad Greenway sat out the 41-28 win with a broken rib and a busted left hand, giving Gerald Hodges an opportunity to make his first NFL start. Hodges ended up playing every single defensive snap for the Vikings and his 67 snaps were 27 more than he had played in his career before Sunday. So how did Hodges do? He made three tackles and recorded one QB hit. With it being a short week, look for Hodges to again have a large role against the Packers.
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 yesterday with an ankle injury.
— Head coach Mike Zimmer prefers the committee approach at running back.
— Injured TE Kyle Rudolph can’t wait to get back on the field.
— CB Josh Robinson was far from questionable against the Falcons.
TWEET OF THE (YESTER)DAY
For 5yrs I’ve dedicated myself to being a pro. I want to thank the Vikings, fans & my teammates for embracing me during that time. #muchlove
— TreyTrey (@sanford33) September 29, 2014
BEHIND ENEMY LINES
— Packers OLB Clay Matthews should be good to go Thursday night.
— The Packers defense is really struggling to stop the run right now.
— How will the Packers deal with the short practice week?
TODAY’S VIKINGS SCHEDULE
We will hear from both Bridgewater and Zimmer this morning at 11 a.m. Then the Vikings will switch back to a more normal practice schedule with a 12:50 p.m. practice at Winter Park.
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
RT Phil Loadholt, at 6-foot-8 and 343 pounds, is the biggest player on the Vikings and one of the biggest men in the NFL period. To put that into perspective, he weighs nearly twice as much as the smallest Vikings player. That would be CB Marcus Sherels, who is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds.
Vikings rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was not at practice on Monday. He’s nursing an ankle injury suffered in the 41-28 victory over the Falcons on Sunday.
Quarterback Christian Ponder received first team reps in Bridgewater’s absence with practice squad quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson serving as his backup. Head coach Mike Zimmer said he was hopeful Bridgewater would play on Thursday against the Packers.
Along with Bridgewater, linebacker Chad Greenway and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn were not at practice. Greenway missed Sunday’s game with broken hand and a rib injury. Munnerlyn missed practice due to an illness.
Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) and cornerback Josh Robinson (hamstring) were limited.
Linebacker Michael Mauti (foot), wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring), linebacker Brandon Watts (knee) and fullback Jerome Felton (knee) were listed on the injury report but were full participants.
Rookie running back Jerick McKinnon had a break-out game yesterday, showing off his wheels while rushing for 135 yards in a 41-28 win over the Falcons. But today, head coach Mike Zimmer pumped the breaks a little bit on the notion that McKinnon is ready to be an every-down back.
Zimmer said that as a defensive-minded coach, he likes the challenge that a committee approach can pose to defenses. Besides, there are only a handful of true all-situation backs in today’s NFL.
Starter Matt Asiata is more of a physical, between-the-tackles runner. Meanwhile, McKinnon, a third-round pick in May’s NFL draft, has the quickness needed to get around the edge and the speed and shiftiness to be a big-play threat when he gets into the open field. But while McKinnon has some pass-catching skills, he is not polished when it comes to things like pass protection.
“I think he’s a change-of-pace back for us,” Zimmer said. “We’ll worry about next year [then]. I hope we can continue to grow his role but I don’t think he’s going to be an every-down player right now.”
Asiata got the first six carries of the game yesterday and scored goal-line touchdowns on two of them. McKinnon got his first carry on the team’s third offensive drive and took off for 55 yards.
On 18 carries, McKinnon nearly doubled the rushing production of Asiata, who had 78 yards on 20 carries. But Asiata got the call at the goal line, and rewarded the Vikings with three touchdowns.
Zimmer said the offensive play calls won’t necessarily change when they switch running backs. But he suggested that Asiata and McKinnon might read the plays and run the ball different ways.
McKinnon is comfortable sharing the backfield with Asiata, but he does have greater aspirations for the future, which may or may not include Adrian Peterson, whose status here is up in the air.
“I’ve been improving in pass protection and other things besides running the ball,” he said. “I think I can develop into an all-down running back. That’s something that I have my eyes set on.”
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph said he’s making progress after sports hernia surgery last week. He was in the Vikings locker room on Monday, a week into the recovery process after sitting out on Sunday in the team’s 41-28 victory over the Falcons at TCF Bank Stadium.
Rudolph said the injury initially bothered him during the first week of training camp. There was a tear in the abdominal muscle away from the pelvis, Rudolph said, that he felt on the right side. During the procedure, Rudolph said they went ahead and fixed both sides.
“I’m glad that I was able to get them fixed, move forward and be healthy for this push to the playoffs,” Rudolph said. “I think everybody saw that we have something special going on here yesterday. Me personally watching on TV, I want to get back as soon as possible because I want to be a part of this.”
The Vikings training staff exhausted all their options before deciding on surgery. Rudolph said he’d received treatment throughout the week but felt it wasn’t getting any better on Mondays after games. The Vikings opted not to place him on injured reserve with a designation to return, sidelining him for eight weeks. Rudolph said the training staff believes he can return in five weeks.
It’s the second straight season Rudolph will miss a considerable amount of time due to injury. He was placed on injured reserve last year, playing just eight games after breaking his foot.
“There’s nothing worse than being hurt,” Rudolph said. “When you’re not able to be out there with your teammates, and you’re either watching from the side or watching on tv, it’s hard. At the same time, I knew this was necessary because we tried everything we could to avoid it. I had to get it fixed.
Rudolph received a five-year extension worth $36.5 million in August.
|Oakland - J. Lester||7:07 PM|
|Kansas City - J. Shields|
|Minnesota||10/2/14 7:25 PM|
|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|
|NY Islanders||6:00 PM|
|NY Rangers||6:00 PM|
|Tampa Bay||7:30 PM|
|Los Angeles||9:30 PM|
|Fla Atlantic||10/2/14 6:00 PM|
|UCF||10/2/14 6:00 PM|
|Arizona||10/2/14 9:30 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|