Notebook: Conditions stand to present a challenge for Vikings' kicking game
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said there is one advantage to playing Saturday night's first-round playoff game against Green Bay in the weather conditions at Lambeau Field.
"It's probably not going to be as bad as Chicago," Kluwe said, attempting to look at the bright side of things.
Nonetheless, it still doesn't stand to be an easy evening of work for Kluwe or rookie kicker Blair Walsh. The National Weather Service is forecasting a low temperature of 16 degrees on Saturday night in Green Bay with mostly cloudy skies.
The temperature is only one factor that Kluwe and Walsh will have to worry about and it isn't the most important. There also is the wind that will be swirling around the field.
Kluwe, who finished 22nd in the NFL with an average of 39.7 yards per punt and 17th in the league in net average (also 39.7), said the way he drops the ball on punts can be affected by the wind.
"If it's super windy you've got to hold onto the ball longer to try to minimize the time it spends in the air between your hand and your foot," Kluwe said. "That half-second free fall, you can't control what happens to the ball. You want to try and lessen the impact that it has."
The Packers have altered the wind patterns at Lambeau Field by adding upper deck seats on each side of a new scoreboard and luxury boxes below it on the south end. The work isn't done but the new steel girders are in place, closing off an area that once was open.
"That's made it better," said Kluwe, who saw the renovations on Dec. 2 when the Vikings lost 23-14 at Lambeau. "Before it was kind of open on that end and you could really kind of feel (the wind) come down through there. Now, it's much more of a higher bowl, so you don't feel the wind come in quite as much. From a punting standpoint, I'm a big fan of the new renovations."
Kluwe averaged 47 yards gross and 44.8 yards net on five punts that day. His long went for 58 yards and he put one inside the 20-yard line.
Walsh had one of his three missed field goals this season in that game. The 42-yard attempt by the Pro Bowl kicker ended up going wide right.
Walsh, who made an NFL record 10 of 10 field-goal attempts from 50-plus yards this season, acknowledged his range won't be the same playing in a cold-weather game.
"We'll have a very good idea of what our range is in pregame and we'll stick to that the whole game," Walsh said.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said making sure Walsh can get the proper footing on the field will be important.
"The footing is going to be a lot different, obviously, than even when we played there Dec. 2," Priefer said. "Blair will have to get out there and make sure he has the right cleats on. We talk to all of our players about having the right footwear in that venue."
There also is a mental aspect, especially for guys like Kluwe and Walsh who will spend much of the game on the sideline.
"You've just got to prepare to know that you're going to be cold and you're going to be uncomfortable and then put it out of your mind once the game starts," Walsh said. "You can't be sitting there thinking about how cold it is or how miserable your body feels. You have to make sure you're staying warm and staying loose and ready to go at any point."
Tough to stop
Green Bay nose tackle B.J. Raji had two tackles for a loss on Sunday in the Vikings' 37-34 victory over the Packers and gave second-year guard Brandon Fusco all he could handle.
Fusco admitted he struggled "a little bit on some one-on-one blocks."
"He was mixing it up pretty well, that's probably his best game out of the two," against the Vikings, Fusco said. "We just have to focus on getting after him quicker off the ball and whatnot. We were playing games with him, seeing what he was going to do first and then we reacted.
"He's a big guy, he's hard to move, he's strong. Him and (defensive lineman Ryan) Pickett do a good job using up space. We just have to get off the ball."
Defensive tackle Kevin Williams was in his second NFL season when the Vikings beat the Packers in a first-round playoff game during the 2004 season.
"Being early on you really didn't realize all the mystique of going up to that place and playing in Lambeau," he said. "You look at it now and that was like a big-time game for the first round of the playoffs. To be a divisional game and get a win up there. ... It was huge."
If the significance of that game, played on Jan. 9, 2005, was lost on Williams, that won't happen again. Now in his 10th season, Williams has a full appreciation for the fact that the Vikings will face the Packers in a playoff game for the second time in franchise history.
"They call it Titletown for a reason," Williams said. "They won a bunch of titles and you had to go through Green Bay a lot of times to do it. It's always going to be tough going there and fighting the weather conditions and fans."
Williams said one thing he hasn't thought about is how many more opportunities he will get in the playoffs before his career ends.
"I'm just trying to focus on this opportunity we do have and try to take it as deep as we can and go all the way," he said. "We have to start with Green Bay and that's the first one on the list."
A team player
Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley played only 14 snaps on Sunday against the Packers and has been removed from the field the past two games in favor of weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson when the Vikings go to their nickel defense.
Brinkley started out the season out of the nickel defense but then took over that role after Week 2 when Henderson suffered a concussion. Eventually, Henderson and Brinkley began to share snaps in the nickel but that is no longer the case.
So how has Brinkley taken the demotion?
"I really haven't put too much thought into it," he said. "We're winning and I can't even complain. Just the player that I am, I'm going to go out and give 110 percent. For the guys that I play with, I can't complain. I'm not a selfish player. I love playing with the guys I play with."
As for playing only 14 snaps, Brinkley said the key is to stay engaged in the game-planning process during practice. "You just have to stay in tune," he said. "We practiced some of the things this week so I have to take the mental reps."
The Vikings spent all three days of practice this week with the various doors and garage doors to their indoor practice facility open in order to make it more like what the team will face Saturday night. Opening those doors cooled it down to 25 to 30 degrees near the doors and made it 30 to 35 degrees on the other side. "I thought it was good for us," coach Leslie Frazier said. "It won't be a complete shock to the system when we walk out on the field at Lambeau. So, I think it helped us. I think we did the right thing."
Frazier said he is planning to have no special guests speak to the team Friday night and said there will be no special message to deliver.
Vikings backup left end Everson Griffen had three sacks last Sunday going against Packers rookie right tackle Don Barclay. Barclay has taken the place of Bryan Bulaga, who was lost to a hip injury in November. "I'm just giving him what he gives me so I'm playing off him," Griffen said. "My main thing is just be relentless and just keep on with my second and first effort."
Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who suffered a knee injury Sunday against the Vikings, was able to take part in all of Thursday's practice after being limited on Wednesday. Wide receiver Randall Cobb (ankle), tight end Jermichael Finley (quadriceps) and cornerback Davon House (hip) also went from being limited on Wednesday to full participants on Thursday. Running back James Starks (knee) remained limited. Cornerback Tramon Williams did not practice Thursday because of an illness.