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.
For this week's edition of "Behind Enemy Lines," we reached out to Tyler Dunne, Packers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Here are five questions we posed to Tyler in advance of Sunday's Vikings-Packers game at Lambeau Field:
1.The Packers had 55 rushing yards against the Giants. How has quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ absence affected the run offense?
That’s been really a huge adjustment for this offense. This time last year, they were trying to get teams out of those two-deep looks. They wanted the safety to come into the box to help the passing game and now they can’t get that safety out of the box. They’re getting eight, nine guys in the box trying to stop [Packers running back] Eddie Lacy. The rookie hasn’t been able to find much running room these past couple weeks.
Without Rodgers in there, it makes a huge difference. And Aaron Rodgers is really good at audibling to certain run plays. [Packers quarterback] Scott Tolzien has got just so much on his plate. It’s really difficult for him to do that right now. I think that’s really what the team’s challenge is right now is trying to run the ball against teams that know they’re going to run.
2.Tolzien started calling audibles in the third quarter of the Giants game. Was there a noticeable difference that he started on Sunday compared to replacing quarterback Jason Campbell against the Eagles?
I think it was a big difference in that they definitely had a conservative game plan to run to set up the pass. They didn’t put too much on his plate in terms of changing plays and going no huddle, but he did more as the game progressed. A lot of those deep passes did open up. [Packers head coach] Mike McCarthy said that he’s never had a quarterback complete that many deep balls in the game, all his deep balls in the game. It worked.
It’s just the turnovers. That’s really been his issue right now. In both games, he had a huge interception that just changed the complexion of the game.
3.Do you recommend bringing earplugs for Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings’ reception when he returns to Lambeau Field?
I think Greg Jennings kind of benefits from all the other craziness going on in Green Bay right now with everything at quarterback, the injuries and the significance of this game. Nobody has really been talking about Greg Jennings, or at least as much as they were before the game going into Minneapolis. But Packers’ fans can be a pretty fickle bunch. They’re not going to forget the offseason. Personally, I don’t think Greg Jennings did anything to abrasive, but this team is a religion for fans. Anytime a player crosses the border to Minnesota or anytime a player speaks out against their team, they don’t forgive and they don’t forget. I imagine it’ll be pretty loud.
4.Linebacker Clay Matthews has played the last two games with a club after missing four weeks due to a broken right thumb. How has he looked while playing with a club?
He looked better this past game. He did have movement in his four fingers, but it was still difficult for him to grab, clutch and clutch. He had a sack, but he’s still not the Clay Matthews he wants to be. He has figured out a way to play with the cast as it gets smaller and smaller but a broken thumb, it’s not like you can just cut loose and do everything you want to do regardless of the cast.
It’s still an adjustment for him but really they need him out there. They don’t have a lot of better options. I’d understand if they had somebody else in there that can play, but Nick Perry has been injured. He was coming out before he broke his foot earlier this season. Mike Neal, a converted defensive end, was really good for a while but his body has kind of worn out a little bit. They’ve been given him rest at practice.
5.Four defensive backs on the injury report this week. Is there a concern of depth at the position for Sunday’s game?
I remember [Packers defensive back] Tramon Williams just a couple weeks ago telling me this was the deepest cornerback group he’s ever been around. This is a guy who played with Charles Woodson and Al Harris too. And so he kind of chuckled and said, ‘Yeah, I guess we’re going to find out exactly how deep we are.'
Sam Shields (hamstring) has really been shutting guys down this season. Casey Hayward (hamstring) might be done for the season. The injury list just keeps getting bigger and bigger and longer and longer [Packers defensive backs James Nixon (knee) and Micah Hyde (groin)]. It’ll be interesting to see who’s healthy out there.
I think luckily they play [Vikings quarterback] Christian Ponder instead of Drew Brees, but Ponder still might be able to take advantage of some things if he’s got a healthy receiving core.
Prediction: Packers 24, Vikings 16. They win, but I don’t think it’ll be a pretty game.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't come out and say Christian Ponder will start on Sunday at Seattle. But he did admit that's the likely scenario, barring an unforeseen change in Ponder's progress from a separated left [non-throwing] shoulder on Saturday.
"Christian is better," Frazier said after today's practice. "We gave him a little bit more today in practice, so that was encouraging. We'll see how he feels tomorrow with the extended work he got today and then we'll make a determination based on where he is tomorrow. We want to make sure that he feels comfortable as well as our medical staff as well.
"The way he moved around today, he looked pretty good. Hopefully, he'll wake up tomorrow without any residual effects, negative effects from the workload that we gave him. But you never know."
Frazier wouldn't say whether Matt Cassell or Josh Freeman would serve as the backup, although Cassel looks to be the No. 2. Frazier also said it's possible the team will keep all three quarterbacks active against Seattle.
In other news:
We'll have the official injury report up soon, but it appears Christian Ponder's left shoulder is making steady progress.
Ponder left the practice field before reporters were allowed into the team's indoor practice facility. But Josh Freeman talked to the media after spending extra time working with quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson after practice.
Asked who took the majority of snaps at quarterback with the first-team offense, Freeman said, "I’m not exactly sure who took the most. Christian probably got the majority [of first-team reps]. Glad to see he’s feeling better. I’m just continuing to whatever they give me, gobble it up and try to be as efficient as possible."
Earlier, Frazier had said the coaches still need to talk about who would start Sunday if Ponder isn't able to play. Ponder separated his non-throwing shoulder in a collision at the goal-line in last week's win over the Redskins. He left the game with 1:12 left in the third quarter and did not return.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier announced Christian Ponder will start against the Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
Frazier made the decision public on Friday, although he knew Ponder would start earlier in the week. Ponder took first team reps throughout the week during the open portion of practice and did not participate after practice in team sessions with the second team.
Frazier said he chose Ponder because he felt the Dallas native would give the Vikings the best chance to win, but he didn’t commit to Ponder at quarterback beyond Sunday’s game. Ponder played at Colleyville Heritage High in Colleyville, Texas, about 20 minutes away from AT&T Stadium.
“You’re hoping that a guy will have a great game and you don’t have to have these conversations going forward,” Frazier said. “I’m hoping he has a great game on Sunday, and can lead us to victory and move on from there. It’s just like the rest of our season, it’s one game at a time for us right now.”
Frazier said he has an idea on who will back up Ponder, but he didn’t make it official. Matt Cassel was the backup last week against the Packers while Josh Freeman, recovering from post-concussion symptoms, was inactive for the 44-31 loss.
“I told them earlier in the week how we were going to approach it and we talked about it rep-wise as well, so they have an idea but I want to confirm it after this practice,” Frazier said.
Running back Matt Asiata (shoulder), cornerback Chris Cook (hip muscle), tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle), safety Jamarca Sanford (groin) and defensive tackle Fred Evans (knee) will not make the trip to Dallas, Frazier said.
The absence of Cook and Sanford gives the Vikings a thin secondary against quarterback Tony Romo. Frazier didn’t announce any moves, but he’ll likely bring up rookie safety Brandan Bishop from the practice squad with just three active safeties on the roster.
Andrew Sendejo and Mistral Raymond will be the starting safeties, while Frazier hasn’t decided who will start with Josh Robinson at corner.
“Those guys have all practiced well this week so we’ve just got to make a decision which guy you want to start opposite Josh,” Frazier said.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier declined to name a starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Dallas today. He said he had "an idea" about who was starting, and that the players know, but he probably won't announce the choice until Friday.
Master Tesfatsion reporting here from Winter Park for the rest of the Star Tribune crew.
“I got some things I want to go through, but I have an idea of what direction we’re going to go and how we’re going to practice,” Frazier said. “But not in the frame of mind where I want to acknowledge that at this point. Our team knows, and I’m sure it’ll get out there at some point. I don’t want to publicly talk about who is going to be our starter.”
Josh Freeman missed the Green Bay loss because of concussion symptoms, was eventually cleared to play, but was inactive for the game. Christian Ponder played in the 44-31 loss, backed up by Matt Cassel. From the looks of practice on Wednesday, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ponder start.
As Freeman went through the NFL protocol for concussion symptoms, he wasn’t allowed to participate in meetings last week. It limited his ability to study the playbook, which he’s only seen for a few weeks since he signed with the Vikings on Oct. 6.
“When you come in as late as he did and then have to miss the amount of time he had to miss last week as you’re trying to develop him and help him learn our offense, it definitely sets him back,” Frazier said. “There’s nothing we can do about that but work as hard as we can this week to get him back to speed and see where he is from a physical and mental standpoint.”
Running back Matt Asiata, whose father was killed in a bus-truck collision in Utah on Monday, will not practice, Frazier said. Asiata missed Sunday's game because of a shoulder injury.
Injured defensive backs Chris Cook (hip) and Jamarca Sanford (groin) won't practice today, and neither will tight end Rhett Ellison (ankle).
Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, who set an NFL record for longest kickoff return in league history (109 yards) on Sunday night against Green Bay, has been named NFC special teams player of the week.
Patterson had 228 kick return yards in the game.
“When you watch some of his runs, he’s a big receiver but he’s more of a slight guy when you look at him frame-wise,” Frazier said. “He breaks tackles. He’s a physical runner, and his vision is unparalleled. He does a great job of being able to see things that are not visible to most.”
Frazier said Patterson joked about when he’d receive NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors this season. He hasn’t been involved with the offense as often as expected for a first round selection, but Frazier said Jerome Simpson’s productivity at the “X” position has limited Patterson’s offensive snaps. Patterson has 13 catches for 133 yards this season while Simpson has 27 receptions for 422 yards.
“You can see at times we’ve already begun to try to get both on the field at the same time, but that requires a different learning when you put them at different positions,” Frazier said. “You’ve got both guys that play the ‘X’ position at wide receiver in this offense, and Jerome has played very well for us this season and that has been a part of it.”
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