The Minnesota Vikings return from their bye week with many of the same questions they have had for much of the first half of the season. Most of the questions reside on defense.
What will happen at linebacker?
The question of which Henderson brother will receive the snaps in the nickel defense may be the most uncertain of all the post-bye unknowns.
With swelling in E.J. Henderson's knee ever since the regular-season opener, the Vikings limited his snaps in the nickel defense and gave those extra reps to his younger brother Erin. While E.J. was hoping that the swelling would go down during the bye, he admitted that it took away from his explosiveness during the first half of the season. Will the week away – and a Monday night game, meaning only one practice in the next three days – be enough rest to quiet the barking in his knee enough for full-time duty the rest of the season?
Before they headed out for a week away, Erin wasn't sure.
"I don't really know, man. Right now I'm just going to go out there, if they ask me to go play nickel, I'll go play nickel. If they tell me E.J.'s up, E.J.'s up," Erin said. "My brother's done a great job here for a long time. It's not really something I can argue with or discuss with the coaches. If that's what they feel needs to happen or if that's what they want to happen, that's what they are going to do. I'm going to continue to prepare like I'm going to be the person that's going out there in nickel. I like seeing my brother out there. I enjoy watching him play. Whatever they do, that's the coaches' job to figure it out."
They likely won't be able to make that assessment until they see E.J. in extended action Thursday and Friday. Whatever happens, Erin said he's up to the task after the most extensive playing time of his career in the first eight games.
"I actually feel pretty good, surprisingly. I was talking to my father about it the other day. Compared to the beginning of the season to where we're at and how many snaps I've had to play, I feel great actually," he said. "Couple of bumps and bruises here or there, but I think everybody has those. And I think this will be a great opportunity for me to get rid of those."
Will Winfield play; will Cook be on the roster?
Antoine Winfield missed the last four games with a neck injury. The team called it a strain; Winfield said it was more than a strain, so will he play Monday night against the Packers?
He had a definitive answer to that question before heading out last week.
"Oh, I'll be there – 100 percent I'll be playing Monday night," he said.
Winfield said the coaches decided he should take the Carolina game off to get two extra weeks of healing, but ever since injuring the neck Oct. 2 against Kansas City head coach Leslie Frazier has maintained that it was Winfield's decision when he was comfortable to return to action since he had medical clearance.
With a decision expected regarding the roster status of Chris Cook on Monday, the return of Winfield should help an ailing secondary.
"Any time you get a Hall of Famer back, he's a great player. He adds so much to the team. We can't wait for him to come back," said Asher Allen, who was promoted to starting status after the Winfield injury and Cook incarceration and suspension for felony domestic assault.
When questioned about the Hall of Fame projetion assigned to Winfield, Allen maintained his position.
Can Ponder maintain his poise?
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder showed third-down poise in his first start against the Green Bay Packers two weeks ago at Mall of America Field and looked even more consistent last week in a win against the Carolina Panthers on the road. But can Ponder build on his momentum with a trip to Lambeau Field?
"With a QB, poise is definitely important, and confidence. Confidence in himself, confidence in the other players around him, especially the line," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "And it seems like he has a lot of confidence in both areas. Which has given us confidence in his abilities as well, and making us play a little bit more and helping him out."
Receiver Michael Jenkins, one of the Vikings' most targeted players this season, has been impressed, as well.
"He's never being rattled or having that look of nervousness or anything like that. You see the confidence in him and you go out and just execute," said Jenkins, who classified Ponder's play as "young exeburence" and echoed Shiancoe's sentiments that other offensive teammates feed off the quarterback's ability to extend plays and drives.
Will Peterson remain involved in the passing game?
Frazier attributed Ponder's ability and willingness to throw the ball deep to helping open up the short passing game.
One of the benefactors was Adrian Peterson, who caught a season-high five passes in Carolina.
"I'm not going to try and force those things, but when you look at the defense, what Carolina was doing when they were dropping in their zones, they were deep and they were leaving him wide open and we probably could have done it a couple more times," Ponder said. "But also it gives you confidence when the guy catches a 3-yard catch and turns it into 20 yards. That's huge."
Peterson finished the game with five catches for 76 yards (a 15.2-yard average) and 21 rushes for 86 yards, with a touchdown receiving and rushing.
With numerous Vikings questions in the first half of the season, the ability of Ponder to maintain his initial progress may be the most important one of the second half.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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