There are critical times in every game that players who make big plays earn their reputation. Adrian Peterson can be held in check for three quarters before breaking off a 70-yard run that changes the complexion of a game. Victor Cruz can be limited for much a game and, in the blink of an eye, be doing a salsa dance in the end zone. Jared Allen can be bottled up for much of a game, but then get the critical strip-sack-fumble that seizes momentum.
But, when critical players are less than 100 percent, their contribution is an unknown, which makes this week's battle between Matt Kalil and the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul this week's prime time matchup to watch.
When healthy, both Kalil and JPP can be dominant, but neither of them is healthy, which could be the cause of some critical decision-making in Monday night's game.
The Vikings' revolving door at quarterback has Josh Freeman, who wasn't even on the Vikings roster until less than two weeks ago, installed as the starter – most likely until the end of the season if he plays well (or better than Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel did in their opportunities). For a quarterback still getting comfortable with his receivers and learning the playbook on the fly, his best friend is his left tackle. Kalil is charged with protecting Freeman's blind side as well as manning up against an opponent's top pass rush threat. It's the reason why elite left tackles get paid big money and typically stay with the same team that drafted them for a decade or more.
The problem from Kalil's perspective is that he isn't 100 percent and, from the looks of game tape, hasn't been 100 percent for much of the 2013 season. He didn't practice most of the week because of low back pain, but head coach Leslie Frazier said that, despite not practicing Friday or Saturday, he will be expected to start and play Monday night. If Kalil is ineffective or too injured to last the entire game, the Giants will be bringing pressure from the right side of the defense consistently, which could force the Vikings to employ max protection with multiple tight ends that will limit the number of receivers that can be downfield on pass plays.
Under ordinary circumstances, such news would have Pierre-Paul amped at the opportunity to blow past a weakened offensive tackle. But JPP is in a very similar situation himself.
Pierre-Paul has been battling a knee injury that he suffered in Week 4 against Kansas City. He has been severely limited, but, like Kalil, is expected to play Monday night despite not practicing most of the week of preparation. He's clearly not 100 percent and it has shown in his stats.
Pierre-Paul burst on the scene in 2011, recording a whopping 86 tackles from his defensive end spot, including 16.5 sacks. He was posting similar numbers midway through the 2012 season, but then the sacks stopped coming. In his last 13 games, he has just one sack and his overall production has dropped significantly as well. While he has been playing through the knee injury, in his last two games, he has just three tackles – rendering him silent to the Giants defense.
For a pair of teams desperate for a victory, everybody who can play does play in order to try to get a "W" and attempt to save their team's 2013 season. It's clear that Kalil and Pierre-Paul aren't close to 100 percent, but they're prepared to go out and battle even with diminished strength and power. Whoever wins this battle will give his team a clear advantage, which will make this an injury-altered Monday night matchup.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Injured players on the edge
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