NFL Preview - Minnesota (2-2) at Green Bay (2-2) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - It's rare when Packers superstar Aaron Rodgers isn't the focal point coming into a football game but all eyes leading up to Thursday night's affair between Green Bay and Minnesota are on Vikings rookie signal caller Teddy Bridgewater.
Or to be more specific, Bridgewater's left ankle.
The first-round pick out of Louisville had a spectacular starting debut last week during a 41-28 win over Atlanta but injured the ankle in the fourth quarter, putting his availability on a short week into question.
Bridgewater did not practice Tuesday but believes he has a chance to play in Green Bay, saying he was feeling "much better" than he did Sunday when he threw for 317 yards in his inaugural NFL start.
With Matt Cassel already out for the year, third-stringer Christian Ponder took the first-team reps at practice on Tuesday as Bridgewater spent his time on conditioning and flexibility exercises.
"We have a long time until Thursday," Bridgewater said. "I just want to continue to rehab, do a little exercising today and see where I am these next couple of days."
Bridgewater out-gunned another star QB last week, Atlanta's Matt Ryan, just four days after Cassel went on season-ending injured reserve with a broken foot.
"I don't want to prematurely put the crown on his head already," said Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings when talking about his new QB, "but he definitely has everything that it takes. The No. 1 thing that I noticed right out of the gate was his poise, his demeanor within the huddle in crucial situations. That's Teddy all day, every day."
Besides piling up over 300 passing yards, the rookie ran for a touchdown before getting hurt in the fourth quarter on a drive that ended with the Vikings taking a gamble on fourth down at the 1-yard line.
It worked, with Matt Asiata's touchdown giving the Vikings the lead for good with 10:50 remaining.
Asiata, the team's power back, scored three times and speed threat Jerick McKinnon rushed for 135 yards as the Vikings won for the first time in three games since star running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on child-abuse charges and deactivated.
"Being a defensive coach, when you have two different types of backs come in there it changes your mindset on some of your calls," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of his two-pronged rushing attack without Peterson. "They have to think a little bit differently. It's not necessarily different plays all of the time - it's one guy can get to the perimeter faster, one guy can be a little bit more physical."
The Packers and Rodgers, meanwhile, are coming off a 38-17 rout of their other main rival, the Chicago Bears.
After telling his fan base to relax during the week, Rodgers threw for 302 yards and four touchdowns -- two each to Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb -- and amassed a gaudy 151.2 passer rating as the Packers ran away from the Bears in the second half en route to the easy victory, the 700th in the storied history of the franchise.
"Big win. It's always nice to be part of history. I feel very good about what was accomplished today," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said following the win.
The Packers scored on their first six possessions of the game while piling up 358 yards of offense versus the paltry 223, their lowest total in five years, a week earlier in a 19-7 loss at Detroit.
"We produced. We scored points. We were very basic in our approach. The pass protection was very good," McCarthy continued. "Aaron (Rodgers) was excellent throwing to the open guy. We wanted to come in here and play fast."
Cobb finished with seven receptions for 113 yards and Nelson had 10 for 108 as the Packers won by three TDs despite surrendering 496 yards thanks in large part to the errors of Rodgers' counterpart with the Bears, Jay Cutler.
"It's different every week," Nelson said. "There is nothing guaranteed each week. It's the difference between executing one week and not the week before. We know what we can do. We have to go out and execute."
Eddie Lacy finished with 48 yards on the ground with a rushing touchdown for the Packers, who avoided their first 0-3 start on the road since dropping their first four in 2005.
The Packers lead their all-time series with Minnesota by a 55-48-2 margin and they have dominated the Vikings at Lambeau in the Brett Favre/Rodgers years, amassing a 15-4-1 home record over the last 20 campaigns.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Rodgers has generally destroyed the Vikings over the years, feasting on Minnesota's old cover-2 philosophy and winning seven of his past eight starts against them. In 12 career starts against Minnesota, Rodgers has amassed 27 touchdown passes versus just four interceptions with a gaudy 116.8 passer rating.
This time around, however, he'll be facing a much different group under first- year Vikings coach Zimmer, who preaches controlled aggression with the keys being getting after the passer but doing it in a disciplined manner, a necessity against Rodgers, who is one of the best ever at extending plays with his mobility.
Zimmer-coached defenses have had more success against Rodgers than most. The All-Pro was 0-2 against Zimmer's defenses in Cincinnati with a less-than- stellar 57 percent completion percentage.
Zimmer's defense in Minnesota is still a work in progress, though, and the Vikings third-down defense, long a staple of all his units, has been awful over the past two weeks, letting opponents convert 19-of-28 opportunities. Minnesota is now giving up third-down conversions at a 50 percent clip, 31st in the NFL.
It's terrible," Zimmer said. "We've got a lot of work to do. I'm extremely disappointed in that. We'll put a lot more time and effort into it than what we have."
Improving against Rodgers in Lambeau is a tall order, however. something Vikings nickel back Josh Robinson spoke to.
"Don't look at Medusa, because he's going to turn you to stone," the cornerback said when talking about Rodgers' ability to move around in the pocket.
Of course the only defense worse than Minnesota's on third down has been Green Bay's stop unit, which is allowing a 52.6 conversion rate.
That number is likely to improve dramatically, though, if Bridgewater is unable to go. The Vikings showed no confidence in Ponder last week when he was pressed into action and the former first-round pick out of Florida State has shown even less confidence in himself over the years.
"I'm preparing to play, but we're hoping for the best with Teddy," said Ponder, who took first-team reps on both Monday and Tuesday. "I've talked with Teddy, he's doing everything he can to get ready and play."
With Ponder under center, Minnesota will try to shorten the game and rely heavily on a running game that is still without Peterson. On paper, that sounds like a good formula because the Vikings' 134.8 rushing yards per game ranks fourth in the NFC and Green Bay allows 176.0 yards on the ground, dead last in the NFL.
"I'm aware what the numbers are. Nobody likes it," McCarthy said. ""We're very critical of ourselves and our players are very accountable. Giving up that much yardage, that's no excuse for that. We understand that. There are things we can definitely work on and improve on."
Bridgewater is talking a good game.
"It'll be very exciting to be out there on Thursday," the rookie said. "You talk about Lambeau Field, the history and the tradition behind that stadium. It's going to be a great feeling just being able to play in that facility."
The problem is Bridgewater is the Vikings' future and rushing him back into action on a short week of preparation doesn't make a lot of sense long-term. Minnesota offensive coordinator Norv Turner even mentioned how difficult it is to get a QB ready to play on a short week when they are practicing.
That could telegraph Ponder starts and that alone will decide this one.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Packers 34, Vikings 13