All eyes on Bridgewater as Vikings get ready to invade Green Bay

(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.”

OVERALL ANALYSIS

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