Despite injury questions, a strange, inconsistent offense and a division loss, the Vikings are in position to move into first place if they beat the Packers at home on Sunday. Obviously, any time you play Aaron Rodgers it is not an easy win. But the Vikings’ defense is at a level that it has not been in some time and now may be the best opportunity to show the NFC North that they are here to stay.
That being said, here are some burning questions Minnesota has to answer as they welcome Green Bay to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Is Jerick McKinnon now the Vikings’ whole running game?
It has been well-documented how little Latavius Murray has contributed in 2017 despite being by far the highest-paid back on the roster. In his stead, McKinnon contributed well on Monday night with 146 yards from scrimmage, including a 58-yard touchdown run.
At the time of this writing, the Vikings have not brought in anybody else to supplement McKinnon and Murray so one would assume McKinnon will be the guy on Sunday. While he played well in week five, having him as the primary back is not the most desirable situation given they are likely starting Case Keenum against Aaron Rodgers and the first-place Packers.
How do the receivers respond to their least-productive game of the season?
Despite the Vikings debut of Michael Floyd on Monday, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen had their worst game of the season against the Bears Monday night. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances, namely Diggs’ groin injury and Sam Bradford’s knee leading to an anemic passing game in the first half. But given these two have established themselves as stars, there is an expectation that they will have a big bounce-back game on Sunday.
The stability of Case Keenum starting and finishing will help and both receivers have a nice rapport with him. Plus, with a second full week of Michael Floyd in practice, one would assume Pat Shumur concocts more ways to get him involved in the gameplan.
Can the pass rush keep Aaron Rodgers inside the pocket?
Minnesota has played some good offensive lines so far and have still found the quarterback a decent amount. Everson Griffen obviously has stood out but Danielle Hunter is finally looking like the emerging star fans saw in 2016.
The Packers unit is a solid one when healthy but they have been far from healthy all year. As a result, Rodgers has had to extend a lot of plays with his legs. Even so, he is tied for the most-sacked quarterback in the league.
Against Dallas last week, however, when it counted Rodgers was able to make pass-rushers miss and make the incredible play despite constant pressure. Minnesota has to find a way to not only get pressure on Rodgers but also keep him in the pocket. It is when he gets out on the edge that he is able to make that play that completely swings the momentum of a game.
Will the secondary hold up to Rodgers’ improvisation?
Speaking of when Rodgers gets outside the pocket, a big reason why Rodgers is able to make these plays is because he keeps his eyes downfield. He scans the whole situation and finds defensive backs who have their eyes on him instead of on the receiver and puts the ball in a place where his guy can pick up huge yardage.
Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes have been excellent in initial pass coverage this season but they have yet to take on a real improviser. Well, they played one in Ben Roethlisberger week two but Roethlisberger clearly has not been himself this year. Rodgers will be their first real test in staying honest when a play breaks down.
Assuming Rhodes shadows Jordy Nelson on Sunday, he has to be especially wary of the downfield throw on a broken play. Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo also have to keep honest in their deep coverage because Rodgers has no problem throwing deep 50-50 balls in these situations.
Who is the quarterback come week 10?
This question is not so much about this game specifically so much as the blurring quarterback situation in general. With Sam Bradford exiting early on Monday night, and one analyst going so far as to suspect he has arthritis in his knee, it is seeming less and less likely that Bradford will ever be healthy enough to start a game this year. And given that Teddy Bridgewater is already being evaluated for a return, it seems almost a guarantee that he will be the healthier quarterback of the two in a few weeks.
Case Keenum has held down the fort well and will probably start the next handful of weeks but one would assume Mike Zimmer wants a long-term starter taking snaps for the stretch run. We will analyze this situation further as Bridgewater’s return nears but for now, it is a big question on the minds of Viking fans.