MINNEAPOLIS — The Green Bay Packers have realistically employed two starting quarterbacks for the past 25 years. The Minnesota Vikings look to be employing two starting quarterbacks this week alone — and a third might be on the way.
If hints about the current health reports are true, Sunday’s first meeting of the season between Minnesota (3-2) and Green Bay (4-1) at U.S. Bank Stadium looks to be a matchup between one of pro football’s most prolific passers — Packers starter Aaron Rodgers — versus one of college football’s legendary passers — Vikings backup Case Keenum.
Keenum, who has played in four of Minnesota’s first five games, came on in relief of starter Sam Bradford on Monday in Chicago and helped spark the Vikings to a 20-17 victory.
Bradford, who hadn’t played since the season opener, looked rusty and was ineffective. He was benched before halftime after aggravating a left knee injury.
With Bradford not practicing Wednesday, Keenum looked likely to get the start in Minnesota’s biggest home rivalry game of the season.
Keenum, who set an NCAA standard at the University of Houston by passing for more than 5,000 yards three times, told reporters he anticipates starting this week and every week.
“I’m always expecting that. Every time I step on the practice field, that’s how I’m preparing,” said Keenum, who has started three games for the Vikings and has thrown four touchdown passes with no interceptions. “I’ve gotten more comfortable every week.
“I think that’s what experience brings and experience is priceless, in the offense you’re running and with the guys you’re running with. We’ve got some good experience, but a lot of things to work on as well, so we need to go to work and get better.”
Keenum may need to do so without top receiver Stefon Diggs, who was limited in the game against Chicago and missed practice this week with a groin injury.
The Vikings’ quarterback situation has been in flux since the end of training camp in 2016, when starter Teddy Bridgewater was lost to a severe knee injury suffered in practice. That prompted the trade for Bradford, and Bradford’s injury early this season prompted Keenum’s insertion as the starter.
Bridgewater has not practiced in more than a year but is scheduled to come off the physically unable to perform list next week, which may further cloud the quarterback waters.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has not yet named a starter for Sunday, increasing the challenge for the Packers as they develop a game plan.
“We’ll watch the week and see how it goes as far as who’s practicing and who’s not, but we’re really focused on what they do offensively, particularly the running back situation,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday.
“Shifts, motion, the tempo that they play with, obviously they’re generating a lot of big plays and that’s been impressive so far this year. So we’re focusing on the concepts and the things they’re doing very well.”
Green Bay has won three in a row, including a last-minute comeback victory in Dallas last weekend that added to Rodgers’ resume as a cool-under-fire passer.
“He had some bumps as you always do to start the season, but I thought the Dallas game was his best game this year,” McCarthy said of Rodgers, who has 13 touchdown passes and three interceptions in five starts. “There are a lot of moving parts on offense and I think he’s managed that really well, as he always has.”
Packers receiver Jordy Nelson did not play late in the game against the Cowboys because of a back ailment but was a full participant in practice Wednesday. He and Rodgers will face a tough test in Minnesota’s defense.
Keenum admitted that in the offseason when he was weighing his free agent options the knowledge that he wouldn’t have to face Zimmer’s defense was one of the reasons he signed with the Vikings.
“Mike is an innovator. He’s brought some concepts to the league that other people have tried to copy but not with anywhere near the success he’s had, both in Cincinnati and now in Minnesota,” Rodgers said.
His only other visit to U.S. Bank Stadium, for last season’s opener, ended with a Minnesota interception in a 17-14 Vikings victory.
“He’s just a very smart coach and has his guys well prepared,” Rodgers said. “They do a good job of disguising things, making a lot of coverages look the same and then running different things out of it.”
Minnesota has won two of the last three games in the rivalry, although the Packers won the most recent game 38-25 on Christmas Eve at Lambeau Field.
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