3 things to watch Sunday in Minnesota

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Teddy Bridgewater missed Minnesota's first meeting with the Packers last month with an ankle injury and boy did the Vikings miss their rookie quarterback. Former first-round pick Christian Ponder was awful in his stead, completing only 50 percent of his passes for 222 yards with two interceptions for a 45.8 passer rating.

That won't get the job done against Aaron Rodgers, who's the NFL's all-time leader in the category (106.4). Bridgewater has been serviceable as a rookie, but he'll need his supporting cast to help him out if he's going to outduel Rodgers in his seventh NFL start.

It starts with starting left tackle Matt Kalil regaining form. The Vikings' coaching staff has been complimentary of the fourth overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, but the numbers don't look good. According to Pro Football Focus, Kalil has allowed more sacks (11) than any other offensive tackle in the league. Bridgewater needs a clean pocket, evidenced by his 61.5 passer rating when facing pressure. Kalil missed practice Friday and is questionable to play.

Either way, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers should have ample opportunities to mix pressure packages to keep Bridgewater from getting comfortable, especially if Clay Matthews (groin) is healthy and lining up everywhere like he was against Philadelphia.

The wild card for the Vikings' offense is veteran running back Ben Tate, who was claimed off waivers from Cleveland this week. He could help Jerick McKinnon in the backfield with Matt Asiata ruled out with a concussion.


Mike Zimmer has called some pretty good games against the Packers and Rodgers, but last month's 42-10 blowout at Lambeau Field wasn't one of them. Although Rodgers' production was modest (12-of-17 for 156 yards and three touchdowns), the Packers dominated the trenches on both sides of the ball.

Rodgers rarely was pressured and Green Bay's run game had its finest outing of the season (28 carries for 156 yards and two touchdowns). Defensively, the Packers sacked Ponder six times and contained the Vikings to under 300 total yards. It's up to Green Bay to show it can carry that performance on the road against a Minnesota defense that's averaging 18.8 points per game in the five games since its blowup against the Packers.

The return of Chad Greenway certainly factors into that, but also the production of defensive end Everson Griffen (nine sacks). The Vikings are third in the NFL in total sacks (30) with two-thirds of that production coming since the loss to Green Bay. The Packers' offensive line is playing as well as it has been all season, not allowing a sack since the bye week. It has the offense operating at optimum efficiency despite starting guards T.J. Lang (ankle) and Josh Sitton (toe) battling injury.

"They have a pressure package that is very, very good," Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. "He'll put his guys in what he thinks is the best place to win. We have to be ready for those looks, unscouted looks. There's going to be something different. There is every week, but when you get with creative type defense, it's not only that, they have good personnel. (Brian) Robison and Griffen are similar to (Connor) Barwin and (Trent) Cole."


Only two of the 92 players who will be active in Sunday's game were born the last time the Packers played the Vikings outdoors in Minnesota (Green Bay linebacker/end Julius Peppers and Minnesota long snapper Cullen Loeffler). That meeting occurred at Metropolitan Stadium on Nov. 29, 1981.

The forecast is calling for temperatures in the low 40s with a chance of rain. Regardless of the conditions, the Packers need to maintain the fast starts they've had over the last two months. Often scoring on its first offensive possession, the Packers lead the NFL in points per game (33.0), first-half scoring (20.8) and first-half touchdowns (26).

The Packers have won six of their last seven games and are averaging 39.4 points during that stretch. It was a 28-0 start against the Vikings that buoyed their win in Green Bay. The offense ranked 28th in total yards then and has steadily inclined to ninth entering this weekend's game. Now, can they keep the momentum going on the road?

"We've been hitting our stride obviously the last couple weeks," Rodgers said. "But it's getting cold now and we're going to have to have more balance moving forward if we're wanting to make the kind of run we're hoping to make."

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