Vikings’ receivers gaining confidence
EDEN PRAIRIE — To put it mildly, the offenses in Green Bay and Minnesota are constructed completely differently.
Probably no healthy wide receiver on the Vikings could crack Green Bay's quartet of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones. Without Percy Harvin, the Vikings are getting by on one 30-year-old and raw youth.
The nine-year veteran Michael Jenkins leads the wide receivers with only 40 receptions for 449 yards and two touchdowns. Stretching the field is an issue. League-wide, the Vikings rank last in 40-yard pass plays (three) and 20-yard pass plays (28). Yet Sunday's 37-34 win over the Packers — a game packed with clutch receptions — has given Minnesota renewed confidence.
Without hesitation, Jenkins says this can be a Super Bowl receiving corps.
"Of course. It's our job to do that," Jenkins said. "We just have to do what we did Sunday and keep that going."
In Minnesota's first game against Green Bay this season, the wideouts were M.I.A. No Vikings wide receiver had a catch until there were 4 minutes remaining. Yet Sunday, they delivered in key moments. Jarius Wright beat Packers cornerback Sam Shields on a 65-yard reception. Jenkins made a difficult touchdown catch in the end zone. Then, during the Vikings' winning field-goal drive, Jenkins settled into Green Bay's soft zone for 25 yards on third and 11.
Jenkins said the Vikings noticed on film that cornerback Casey Hayward played the flats in that coverage. Green Bay rushed three and dropped players into zone. Minnesota had been saving that play for the right time.
When Hayward crept up, Jenkins found the sweet spot.
"Yeah, just waiting," Jenkins said. "They run a certain coverage in that situation and they jumped into it. Just found a soft spot in the zone and it was a big play for us. . . . We saw the coverage they run. He takes care of the flat and the other guy has a deep third. So we knew there was a spot on the sideline to fit in."
Jenkins said the receivers haven't paid attention to outside criticism this season, adding "we know what we can do as receivers."
With the Packers loading the box to stop running back Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' receivers likely will get more opportunities again.
"Everybody stepped up and contributed," Jenkins said.
A cold debut: He went to high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He played college football at Georgia in the balmy Southeastern Conference. With the Vikings, he's had the benefit of a dome his rookie season.
Yes, Saturday night at Lambeau Field easily will be the coldest game of kicker Blair Walsh's career.
"Playing in the SEC, you don't get many opportunities (in the cold)," Walsh said. "So it'll be a test for me, for sure."
The rookie has been a revelation for Minnesota. As Mason Crosby fought through a slump in Green Bay, Walsh drilled 35 of 38 field goals, including 10 of 10 from 50 yards-plus. Walsh said he can't relate to what Crosby went through because this is only his first season. But like Crosby, he too battled through a multi-game funk. His senior year of college, Walsh was only 21 of 35. Working with Minnesota's coaches, he turned it around in the pros and became a true weapon for the Vikings.
On Sunday, an 8-yard scramble by Christian Ponder on third and long teed up a 54-yard kick by Walsh to start the game. Walsh also hit one from 37 yards and the game-winning 29-yarder.
Saturday night will be a challenge. The forecast is for a low of 18 degrees with a 30 percent chance of snow. On Tuesday, the Vikings practiced indoors but opened a door to let cold air in. Other than that, Walsh admits there's not much else he can do to simulate what lies ahead.
"I think you just have to make sure you're not too wild and crazy with your approach and that your feet are underneath you the whole time," Walsh said. "That's a big key to it. You don't want to slip or fall on your way to the ball. You have to make sure you're under control."
Ponder's progress: Confidence was never an issue. Ponder says he was never "shaken" through the occasional peaks and numerous valleys this season. His growth came down to some self-examination.
"It goes back to understanding what I can and can't do," Ponder said Tuesday. "I can't force things that aren't there."
The turning point was Minnesota's 23-14 loss at Green Bay on Dec. 2. Ponder threw two interceptions to safety Morgan Burnett that day. In the Vikings' four straight wins since then, Ponder has just one interception in 99 pass attempts and he's been taking more shots downfield.