Reggie Roberts: Give us your take on Teddy Bridgewater and his readiness for the task of making his first NFL start on Sunday against the Falcons.
Jim Souhan: The Vikings had hoped to buy Teddy Bridgewater some time to learn the NFL from the bench, while studying under temporary starter Matt Cassel.
When Cassel suffered a foot injury in Week 3 at New Orleans, Bridgewater found himself instead in less-than-ideal circumstances: Entering a game on the road, in the noisy Superdome, with the communications gear in his helmet malfunctioning, with no running game, for a franchise in distress.
Bridgewater was drafted to become the Vikings' franchise quarterback, and while he may not be ready to star, he has the composure and skills to run an NFL offense.
Bridgewater is poised and accurate. He isn't a tremendous athlete, but throws with anticipation and touch. He moves well within the pocket, and although he rarely ran in college, he made a couple of plays with his legs on Sunday.
The Vikings have been raving about him since they drafted him. With Adrian Peterson suspended and Kyle Rudolph injured, he doesn't have much talent to work with, but he isn't likely to be overwhelmed.
RR: Atlanta has been a much different team at home than on the road this season. The Falcons have scored 37 and 56 points, respectively, in two home wins against New Orleans and Tampa Bay, but just 10 points in a road loss at Cincinnati in Week 2. What kind of game are you expecting on Sunday when these two NFC clubs square off ?
JS: The Falcons will be a tough matchup for the Vikings. In the last two weeks, the Vikings have seen Peterson suspended indefinitely, have lost TE Kyle Rudolph (who promised to have a breakout season in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's tight end-friendly offense), have gotten poor offensive line play, and have seen defensive leader Chad Greenway suffer hand and rib injuries.
The Vikings don't have a cornerback who can handle Julio Jones. Top corner Xavier Rhodes is promising but still learning to play in the NFL. Safety Robert Blanton hasn't distinguished himself, and third corner Josh Robinson suffered a hamstring injury in New Orleans. Since the Peterson story broke, the Vikings have lost big at home to a New England team that has otherwise struggled, and were on the way to getting blown out in New Orleans before the defense began disrupting Drew Brees., The Vikings' most talented, healthy offensive players are Bridgewater, running back Jerick McKinnon and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, all of whom are learning to play their positions at this level. This already looks like a rebuilding season for the Vikings.
RR: Defensively, the Vikings can get after opposing teams with their pass rush. Has new head coach Mike Zimmer been able to put his stamp on this defense through three games or is it still a work in progress?
Keep an eye out for these storylines in this coming week as the Atlanta Falcons continue their preparations for the Minnesota Vikings following their victory last week over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
JS: Mike Zimmer, in his first season as the Vikings' head coach, has displayed why he was reputed to be one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL before coming to Minnesota. His defense confused St. Louis in a Week 1 victory. Two days after the Peterson news broke, the Vikings looked lost while trying to defend New England, but that could have been partially due to the shock of dealing with the loss of their franchise player. Against New Orleans, Drew Brees completed his first nine passes and led touchdown drives on the first two possessions, but Zimmer adjusted and kept Brees off-balance the rest of the game. If veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn hadn't been called for a roughing penalty late in the third quarter, the Vikings may have held the Saints scoreless the rest of the game.
Vikings players say Zimmer is an excellent teacher. He'll have to be. Other than safety Harrison Smith, an exceptional player, Zimmer isn't working with stars.
RR: Who is the most surprising team in the NFL thus far in 2014?
JS: I think the most surprising team in the NFL to date is Cincinnati. The Bengals lost both of their coordinators to head coaching jobs but have looked flawless. The Cardinals are a close second, because they've already won with two different quarterbacks, a testament to Bruce Arians and former Vikings assistant Tom Moore., one of the league's best coaches over the last 30 years.
RR: And finally, do the Vikings have enough to slow down a Falcons offense that is averaging 34.3 points per game?
JS: Can the Vikings slow down the Falcons? Well, Minnesota no longer can rely on sheer crowd noise. TCF Bank Stadium is open-air and not as big as the Dome. For the Vikings to survive against the Falcons' high-end offensive talent, Zimmer will have to find a way to confuse Matt Ryan and keep the ball away from Jones.
That isn't likely under the circumstances. Rhodes had trouble with Julian Edelman two weeks ago, Munnerlyn is a smart, physical player best suited to the slot, and Robinson, even if healthy, can't match Jones' size. Expect Zimmer to use a variety of stunts and blitzes to get to Ryan. But if the Falcons are sharp when they see pressure, they should have another big day.