Teddy Bridgwater vs. Titans Defense, Zach Mettenberger vs. Vikings Defense
While the Vikings have been thrilled with the play of their rookie quarterback, the Titans boast a rookie who's been putting up stellar numbers in the preseason as well. Zach Mettenberger, who fell to sixth round, has looked like a draft-day steal in the preseason.
The 6'5", 235-pound Mettenberger was injured late last season, which probably sent his draft stock plummeting. But so far in the preseason, the big-armed Mettenberger is 35-of-51 for 504 yards and three touchdowns. His passing yards are the most in the league this preseason, but according to Josh Alper of NBCSports.com, Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt still says that Charlie Whitehurst will enter the season as the backup to starter Jake Locker.
While the Titans are bullish on Locker, who was drafted the same year as Ponder, they opted to take Mettenberger this year as some insurance at the QB position. The Vikings, meanwhile, have virtually given up on Ponder after having selected Bridgewater in the first round.
We'll almost surely see a lot more of Mettenberger on Thursday night, which will be interesting for Vikings fans, many of whom had hoped Minnesota would look at him in the second or third round had they not taken Bridgewater.
Jerick McKinnon vs. Titans Defense, Bishop Sankey vs. Vikings Defense
While the Vikings will sit most of their starters, the Titans may play at least a few of theirs for a series or two, according to Paul Kuharsky of ESPN.com.
Kuharsky writes that it's crucial for the Titans rookie Bishop Sankey to get some carries behind the first-team offensive line. Sankey began the preseason with problems securing the football, but he had a pretty good game last week.
Thursday's game should feature plenty of carries for Sankey and the Vikings' own rookie running back, Jerick McKinnon.
Sankey was the first running back chosen in the 2014 draft, when the Titans took him in the second round with the 54th overall pick. The Vikings then took McKinnon in the third round with the 96th pick.
Sankey is one of three Titan backs expected to share carries in 2014—Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster being the other two. McKinnon obviously won't get as many carries as Sankey, playing behind Adrian Peterson, but he can still be a valuable asset.
McKinnon had his best game of the summer last week against the Chiefs, rushing for 43 yards on just six carries and catching two passes for nine yards. McKinnon will probably get more rushing attempts this week, and a good showing would probably make the Vikings coaches more willing to go to him during the season.
Blair Walsh vs. Titans Kickers
Thursday night might be a good time for Vikings fans to take a second to thank the heavens the Vikings used a sixth-round draft pick on kicker Blair Walsh in 2012.
Vikings fans now take kicking for granted. Walsh is one of the best in the game, and when he misses a field goal, it's a surprise.
The Titans, meanwhile, are still auditioning two kickers who have never played in the NFL. Neither Maikon Bonani or Travis Coons has been good enough throughout the summer to lock up the job, so the Titans enter Thursday's game still auditioning the two of them, according to Teresa Walker of the Associated Press.
Kicking is an easy thing to take for granted when you have a good one, like the Vikings do. Thursday night might give Minnesota fans an greater opportunity to appreciate Walsh more than they already do.
Obviously the kickers don't matchup against each other, but this is a good time for Minnesota fans to appreciate Walsh as they watch the two Titans battle for a job.
Vikings X-Factor of the Week: Audie Cole
The Vikings third-year linebacker just always seems to come through with big plays when called upon.
Cole was a sixth-round afterthought in 2012 before he took two interceptions back for touchdowns in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
Last season, he was briefly waived by the Vikings to make room for a roster addition, before coming back and playing great football down the stretch, giving a spark to what had been a terrible defense in 2013.
Cole has been locked in a summer-long battle for the starting middle linebacker spot with Jasper Brinkley, and while Brinkley is probably the favorite heading down the stretch, the Vikings have learned never to count out Cole.
His eight tackles against the Chiefs were a team-high, and we expect him to have another big game against the Titans. Cole is currently the Vikings second-string middle linebacker, and with Michael Mauti (the third-stringer) not expected to play because of foot injury, Cole could get extended time Thursday night.