Vikings depth being severely tested through first half of season

"Missing seven starters including two Pro Bowlers was the case for Minnesota... that's tough for any team to overcome."

Jeff Diamond
November 02, 2018 - 7:57 pm

(Photo by Brian Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA)

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By Jeff Diamond, former Vikings GM, hosts The Players Show with Mike Max and Harrison Smith or Dalvin Cook live Mondays 5:30 at the Lone Oak Grill in Eagan. Register on Facebook to attend in person or subscribe via Google Play, Stitcher or iTunes.  The show is presented by the Select Minnesota Buick GMC Dealers.

The Vikings, with an overabundance of injuries, can't get to their bye week fast enough. But first, they must navigate one more hurdle this week as they return to NFC North play.  Detroit visits U.S. Bank Stadium this Sunday in a game Minnesota needs to win so they can enter the bye week at 5-3-1, which would position them for a season-ending run to defend their divisional title.

In last Sunday night's disappointing loss to New Orleans, when two huge turnovers turned the tide, the Vikings' depth was severely tested by the talented and revenge-seeking Saints. Having quality depth is a challenge for teams in any sport and overcoming injuries are a proverbial "part of the game," as Harrison Smith told Mike Max and I on last Monday night's Players Show at the Lone Oak Grill. But missing seven starters including two Pro Bowlers  was the case for Minnesota...that's tough for any team to overcome.

On offense, starters missing were running back Dalvin Cook, tackle Riley Reiff and guard Tom Compton (and throw in guard Nick Easton who is on injured reserve and likely out for the season after neck surgery). Defensively, a pair of Pro Bowlers -- corner Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Anthony Barr were out -- along with starting safety Andrew Sendejo.

Latavius Murray has played well in Cook's absence but the team still misses Cook's explosiveness and elusiveness. Coach Mike Zimmer would love to have the one-two punch of Cook and Murray available. He knows they could be as effective as Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are for the Saints.

Younger players are stepping up all over the lineup and for the most part doing a good job; tackle Brian O'Neill and corner Holton Hill in particular. This bodes well for the future as these players gain valuable experience. O'Neill may even push to keep his right tackle spot over Rashod Hill once Reiff returns at left tackle.

I can speak from experience as I know how injuries can wreak havoc on a season. GMs and coaches don't want to use injuries as an excuse but it happened to my Tennessee Titans in 2001 when we came off a 13-3 season but had our secondary wiped out, resulting in a 7-9 finish. That season also included an ugly 42-24 loss to the Vikings in the Metrodome, as Randy Moss torched us with seven receptions for 159 yards and one touchdown.

Championship teams usually are those that manage to keep their top players healthy but the Eagles went against the grain last year when backup QB Nick Foles replaced MVP-candidate Carson Wentz. As Vikingland knows first-hand, Foles got hot in the postseason and led Philly to the Super Bowl title.

The good news for this year's Vikings is that with the exception of the major injuries to Easton and first rounder Mike Hughes (who was coming on strong), there's a decent chance that the other players  should return by the November 18th Bears game at Soldier Field.

The Vikings will need all hands on deck -- or as many as possible -- as they face NFC North foes the next three games with Detroit this week, Chicago and then Green Bay at home on Thanksgiving weekend. These three games will begin to determine whether or not Minnesota can control its division as they did last year (5-1 record vs. NFC North opponents). If they can do that, a repeat division crown and return to the playoffs should be forthcoming.

Sunday's Pick: Zimmer was "encouraged" by the team's 3-1 record in October. He knows his team has proven it can win a tough road game (in Philly) and had an opportunity to beat top teams in the Rams and Saints without costly turnovers. He also knows if the Vikings can get to the postseason with almost all their top players healthy, anything can happen.

Matthew Stafford and the Lions have been tough for the Vikings to beat the past two seasons. Detroit swept the two games in 2016 and was victorious 14-7 at U.S. Bank Stadium last October (despite six Vikings sacks). Minnesota broke through with a 30-23 win last Thanksgiving Day in Detroit behind a big game from Case Keenum (272 passing yards and two TD passes plus one TD run) along with the defense forcing two Stafford turnovers.

It doesn't hurt the Vikings cause (at least this week) that the Lions just traded their top receiver, Golden Tate, to the Eagles. It won't be easy, especially with several key Vikings likely to be held out until after the bye week.

Detroit is dangerous as they proved in home victories over the Patriots and Packers. But the Lions were not impressive in their 28-14 home loss to Seattle last Sunday when their 31st ranked rush defense gave up 176 yards rushing. So it could be a good day for the Minnesota ground game even though the pass offense should lead the way as usual (and how apropos that Adam Thielen can break his tie with ex-Lion Calvin Johnson if he produces an NFL record ninth consecutive 100-yard receiving game vs. Detroit). I think November will begin well for Thielen and the Purple with a 31-20 win.

Around the NFL Observations:

1. The Steelers are one of the classiest franchises and the Rooneys among the best owners in all of sports. They demonstrated it once again as two buses filled with Steelers execs, players, coaches and staff attended the funeral this week for brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, who were killed in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. Michele Rosenthal, the sister of the two victims, is a former community relations manager for the Steelers. The Steelers are such a community-minded team and their owners--the Rooney family--have always led the way as was the case again this week. "Our hearts are heavy, but we must stand against anti-Semitism and hate crimes of any nature and come together to preserve our values and our community," Steelers Owner/President Art Rooney II said.

2. Ty Montgomery did the Vikings a favor by fumbling on a kickoff return to end his team's chances for an Aaron Rodgers-led comeback as the Rams remained unbeaten with a 29-27 win. In the aftermath that included reports Montgomery had been told by his coaches to not return the kick, he was traded to Baltimore. The Packers also surprisingly traded away a playmaker at safety (and potential free agent next March) in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, which will weaken their secondary.

3. Speaking of Rodgers, for only the second time in his career he faces Tom Brady on Sunday night in Foxboro. The Patriots are hot with five straight wins and the Vikings hope their streak continues this week. Another scintillating matchup this Sunday is the 8-0 Rams traveling to New Orleans to take on the 6-1 Saints for mid-season NFC supremacy.   

4. How about Adrian Peterson's resurgence this season? 149 rushing yards and 2 TDs in last Sunday's win over the Giants for first place Washington. I'm not a big fan of AP after his child abuse case and his reluctance to take responsibility plus his absurd comments on many topics over the years as he was making $10 million per year. But he's turning back the clock at 33 years old and currently ranks fifth in the league with 587 rushing yards.