Preview: Avoiding turnovers crucial to Vikings' chances versus Packers
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Who: Minnesota Vikings (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-4).
When: Noon Sunday.
Where: Lambeau Field (capacity: 72,928), Green Bay, Wis.
TV: Fox (Ch. 9).
Line: Packers by 9.
Coaches: Vikings -- Leslie Frazier (2nd year, 12-21); Packers -- Mike McCarthy (7th year, 75-40).
Series: Packers lead 53-48-1, including 28-23-1 at home.
Last meeting: Aaron Rodgers threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Packers to a 45-7 rout on Nov. 14, 2011, at Lambeau Field.
At stake: Both teams are trying to bounce back from a brutal loss -- the Vikings 28-10 at Chicago, the Packers 38-10 at the New York Giants. Green Bay had won its previous five games, though, while the Vikings have lost four out of six since their 4-1 start. This game could prove pivotal one way or another, with each team's rematch against NFC North Division-leading Chicago still ahead.
Vikings: WR Percy Harvin (ankle) was downgraded to out on Saturday. TE Kyle Rudolph (concussion/shoulder), MLB Jasper Brinkley (shoulder), RT Phil Loadholt (knee), S Harrison Smith (concussion), CB Antoine Winfield (knee), RE Jared Allen (shoulder/back), NT Letroy Guion (foot), HB Adrian Peterson (shoulder) and P Chris Kluwe (left knee) are probable (virtual certainty of playing). CB Chris Cook (broken arm) is one of four players on injured reserve.
Packers: CB Charles Woodson (collarbone), DE C.J. Wilson (knee), RB Johnny White (concussion), CB Sam Shields (ankle), TE Andrew Quarless (knee) and OLB Clay Matthews (hamstring) are out. LB Terrell Manning (shoulder) is doubtful (25% chance of playing). S Sean Richardson (back) and WR Donald Driver (thumb) are questionable (50% chance of playing). DT Ryan Pickett (quadriceps), T Marshall Newhouse (wrist), S M.D. Jennings (rib) and WR Greg Jennings (groin/abdomen) are probable. HB Cedric Benson (foot), LB Desmond Bishop (hamstring), LB Nick Perry (wrist) and LB D.J. Smith (knee) are among seven players on injured reserve.
Five things to watch
Hang on: The Vikings had a chance to take control of last week's game at Chicago after forcing an early turnover. Then, WR Jerome Simpson dropped a pass on third-and-4, Peterson fumbled on the next series and the Bears took a lead they didn't relinquish. Those are the types of opportunities the Vikings just can't afford to squander, because they're not built to come from behind. Six drops are bad enough. Three turnovers are worse. In five losses this season, the Vikings have 12 turnovers, with eight of them leading to 48 opponent points and three others leading to game-ending kneeldowns. In six wins, they have only seven turnovers -- and two of those were fumbles by HB Toby Gerhart after the San Francisco game was all but decided. Giving the Packers extra chances to seize momentum isn't a luxury the Vikings can afford, especially on the road.
Stop the run: The Vikings were at their best early in the season when they were stopping the run. Now they've slipped 15th in the NFL, allowing 111.7 yards per game. The Bears pounded the ball 39 times, controlled the clock for 37½ minutes and kept themselves in third-and-short, mitigating the Vikings' rush and allowing QB Jay Cutler to slice and dice in the short passing game. Rodgers will do the same if he's afforded such situations. The Vikings sacked him seven times in two meetings last season -- and Rodgers still completed 47 of 60 passes (78.3%) for 585 yards and seven touchdowns. They have to get him in lower-percentage passing situations, then let Allen and the rush go to work.
Figure it out: Simpson is playing on a one-year, $2 million deal that included no guarantees. If he keeps going like this, he'll be lucky to get half that as he re-enters free agency. Granted, Simpson is playing with a back problem that has limited him most of the season, whether he admits it or not. But dropping three balls, as he did against Chicago, is a good way to make sure the Vikings won't be interested in keeping him around. He played only 29 of 66 snaps (43.9%) against the Bears, sitting out most of the final series, and may see his workload decreased further as the Vikings try to get rookie Jarius Wright more involved. QB Christian Ponder was 0-for-10 on passes targeted at least 10 yards downfield last week. The opportunity still is out there for someone to help the Vikings establish something resembling a deep passing game.
Running out of time: Split end isn't the only place the Vikings might be pondering a switch. Starting RG Brandon Fusco played fewer snaps (30) than backup Geoff Schwartz (36) last week. Guion (25) played fewer than backup NT Fred Evans (33), too. And WLB Erin Henderson continues to get some looks as the nickel mike in place of Brinkley, though neither has distinguished himself in coverage. The Vikings remain in the thick of the playoff chase, but they're evaluating players for the future, too. Simpson, Schwartz, Henderson and Brinkley all can become unrestricted free agents after the season, along with Loadholt, FB Jerome Felton, S Jamarca Sanford, WR Devin Aromashodu, OL Joe Berger and LB Marvin Mitchell. There is money to be made every week.
Get there: It's worth repeating -- getting off to a fast start is crucial for the Vikings. The offense's inability to capitalize on opportunities in the early going changed the game last week. And Peterson's late arrival to the stadium might have been forgotten sooner if he hadn't been responsible for two turnovers, including that early fumble when he got loose and lazy with the football. The Vikings need their "A" game to win a division game on the road. Last week, they didn't bring anything close. It's on the veterans to make sure they're locked in from go at Lambeau, or this one could be out hand before they know what happened.
Judd Zulgad: Given what we have seen from the Vikings in recent weeks, this is a rebuilding team that looks as if it has run out of steam. The Packers are coming off an embarrassing loss on national television. That's exactly the situation the Bears were in last week when they faced the Vikings and that did not go well for Leslie Frazier and company. Packers 31, Vikings 17.
Tom Pelissero: If the Vikings can avoid turnovers, they can make it a game. If not, they won't. Either way, the guess here is the Packers put up too many points for the visitors to keep up. Packers 37, Vikings 24.