No NFL team escapes injuries, but Vikings have absorbed them better than their opponents this year

October 27, 2017

LONDON The Vikings will play their fifth game of October on Sunday, as they look for their fourth win of the month after losing Dalvin Cook on Oct. 1 against the Detroit Lions.

They revived their running game a week later, with a big run from Jerick McKinnon in a game where the Chicago Bears were missing two starting linebackers. The following Sunday, they beat a Green Bay Packers team that started the game without three starting defensive backs, lost Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter and saw left tackle David Bakhtiari re-aggravate a hamstring injury before the end of the day.

The Baltimore Ravens were without two of their top three receivers last Sunday, and lost the third in the first quarter after Mike Wallace sustained a concussion. And on Sunday, the Vikings will face a Cleveland Browns team preparing for a game without both the No. 1 overall pick (Myles Garrett) and Joe Thomas, the six-time All-Pro tackle whose iron man streak had spanned 167 games and 10,363 consecutive snaps.

The Vikings have been far from immune to the injury bug they lost their promising rookie running back, and will play their sixth game without Sam Bradford on Sunday but as they face the Browns at Twickenham Stadium, theyve got a chance to be 6-2 at the close of a first half thats showcased their ingenuity as fate has struck many of their opponents.

Especially at the beginning of the year, it seems like a lot of things happen [with injuries]. Then it kind of settles down, coach Mike Zimmer said. I dont know if thats because of the way the CBA is [with offseason practice restrictions] or whatever anymore. At least thats my opinion.

It seems like at the beginning of the year, you end up getting a lot of these things happening. Later on in the year, guys kind of get used to things. Its just something we have to deal with now. But depth is obviously very, very important; being able to overcome injuries at one position or two positions. If you get a bunch of them at the same spot, thats difficult.

According to Man-Games Lost, a site that tracks the effect of injuries on professional teams across all four major North American Leagues, the Vikings last three opponents the Ravens, Packers and Bears rank first, 17th and eighth in total games lost this season. Using the sites weighted injury metric, which attempts to quantify the impact of missed games by key players, the Ravens are third and the Bears ninth, with the Packers likely to climb from 12th with Rodgers out.

Tampa Bay was without linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Brent Grimes in September, losing Lavonte David before the end of the game. And the Vikings first opponent after the bye week Washington is dealing with injuries to four of its five starting offensive linemen.

A year after injuries decimated the Vikings own line and helped throw a 5-0 start off-course, the Vikings have lost the fifth-fewest games to injury and rank 20th in Man-Games Losts weighted injury metric. Fortune appeared to smile on them again this week, with Stefon Diggs looking ready to come back from a groin injury and Nick Eastons likely return putting the Vikings group of five starting offensive linemen back together.

And the fact theres been relatively little talk about two injuries that could have waylaid their season Cooks torn ACL and Bradfords ongoing knee issues is a testament to how effectively theyve worked with depth players like Case Keenum, McKinnon and Latavius Murray.

Really, the offensive coaches have done an outstanding job, Zimmer said. Weve had so many injuries there with the things that have happened. To be able to go out and be efficient, do the things that we can do, execute the way that we can. I think [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] has a good feel with obviously all the quarterbacks. With Case, I think he is able to help him, the way he is able to, at times settle him down, at times pick him up.

The threat of injuries is too potent for a NFL team to ever feel insulated from it, and for every player who misses a game because of injury, there are three or four trying to play through persistent ailments and pain the public doesnt fully appreciate.

But while last year found them scrambling for solutions to their health concerns to the point of signing Jake Long to be their left tackle the Vikings have calmly dipped into their depth this year, calmly sidestepping moments of panic. Those, it seems, have been on the opposite sideline.

I think the depth has improved considerably this year, team president Mark Wilf said on Friday. From all standpoints, I like where this team is. Were just about the next game, and I think that professionalism is starting to take hold here.