On Sunday one of the best and most high profile Quarterbacks in the NFL went down with a season ending injury, breaking his collar bone. That first sentence will be pretty much the sole focus and biggest take away from the game for the mass media and indeed any neutral fans of the NFL, meanwhile the Vikings quietly went 4-2 taking the lead in the NFC North.
The injury to Aaron Rodgers is of course the first thing to address in this game. It has been suggested that Anthony Barr could have pulled up and even in a few quarters that this was a “cheap shot.” In reality Barr was running full speed at Rodgers and his momentum was too much to stop at that point, it was an unfortunate injury but certainly not a cheap shot. Whilst it is true that the game could have an probably would have looked very different had Rodgers stayed on the field this game it also reinforced something that I have felt for some time – the Vikings have simply built a better overall roster than the Green Bay Packers. It does have to be noted that there were other first string players injured for Green Bay such as David Bakhtiari and the injuries in their secondary, but Rodgers was the one they could ill afford to lose.
The Vikings had plenty of injury problems of their own going into this game, Dalvin Cook out for the season, Stefon Diggs out for the game along with starting guard, Nick Easton and safety, Andrew Sendejo, these added to Bradford and Bridgewater being out and also losing Michael Floyd and Anthony Barr during the game itself. With both teams at full strength most would pick Green Bay as the stronger team but without Rodgers we will soon find out which team has the stronger roster and are set up to cope with injuries in starting positions
The way the game panned out from this point onwards was what we have come to expect, and there were some positive and some negatives for the Vikings to take away – I will start by talking about a few of the negative points of the Vikings play, so as to to end on a positive note on what was a solid and much needed victory.
When Adrian Peterson departed, the pickup of Latavius Murray in free agency was seen by many as a solid addition and someone who could come in and start with good production for the Vikings, through week 6 of the season though they have still to get him going or to see the best of him. Murray was in for a limited number of snaps in the opening weeks where the majority of carries were given to Dalvin Cook and since Cook’s season ending injury the job has seemingly been won, for now at least by Jerrick McKinnon. Questions remain whether the Vikings can get the best out of Murray or whether he actually fits in their system on offense.
Another slight concern for me was Keenum’s play in this game; I’ll start by saying that Keenum wasn’t terrible by any means. What he does do though is play like what he is, which is a decent backup quarterback – he made some good throws including a good slant pass for McKinnons touchdown as an example, but also misses some throws and a couple of times was at risk of adding to his interception. Despite Keenum’s performances being up and down (sometimes even during games) Minnesota’s next two games are the Ravens in Baltimore and the Browns in London, if they can win these they will be 6-2 going into the bye with Bridgewater due to come off PUP.
The above point brings me on to my main concern which is that despite Green Bay losing their starting Quarterback, left tackle and players from their secondary in this game the Vikings contrived to make hard work of it. This is strange to say as they didn’t particularly struggle to move the ball and the defense played very well, the issue was with turnovers in positions where the ball had been taken deep in to Green Bay territory. This type of game may be something the Vikings fans have to get used to until we can at least get one of the two injured quarterbacks back from injury, relatively close games won with a solid defense.
Talking of the D brings me on to the positives as they played superbly as we have come to expect, the unit is very well balanced, Linval Joseph is having an excellent year so far, in Kendricks and Barr the linebackers are athletic and making plays and Xavier Rhodes continues to perform as a shutdown corner. The two players I want to single out in particular this week are two players that are having all pro years in Everson Griffen and Harrison Smith. As soon as Hundley came into the game he was going to have a hard time from an edge rusher who had got a sack in his last five games consecutively – making it six on Sunday, while Harrison Smith has taken his already superb play to a new level and has to be in the conversation for best safety in the entire league – his interception was simply brilliant. If the entire unit can continue in this vein then the offense needs only to be average to allow the Vikings a big chance to win games.
In 2016 the Offensive line was one of the very worst in the league, allowing pressures and sacks every game. This season it has been all change – the line was completely revamped in the off season and we are now reaping the rewards – even with Nick Easton out Jermiah Sirles came in and performed well enough with the rest of the unit and kept Keenum clean all day, giving up no sacks. It would be great to see what a fully fit and up to speed Bradford or Bridgewater could do behind this line for a spell of games – hopefully this is something we will find out as this season progresses.
Finally I was delighted to see Laquon Treadwell more involved, hopes were high when he was taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft but the receiver has struggled for targets so far in his career, 3 receptions for 51 yards is an improvement – especially considering one of the catches was a very impressive one handed grab, Treadwell also showed he wasn’t afraid to block in this game (although it was flagged for a penalty afterwards.) If Diggs or Floyd are out for any period, and even if they are not the Vikings will benefit massively from having a big bodied receiver to play across from (the exceptional and always improving) Adam Thielen who is a viable threat.
The next two games are vital to the Vikings’ season, the Injury to Rodgers throws the NFC North wide open, the Ravens and the Browns are next and they need to be wins – going into the bye 6-2 would be ideal with some tricky games to come after the break.
I would like to take the opportunity at the end of this article to react to the sad news of Kevin Cadle’s passing; he was a very popular presenter and the face of Sky Sports NFL for many years. In his twitter bio he lists one of his activities as “making people smile” – knowing people who met the guy, I know he succeeded. RIP Kevin Cadle.