As Mike Zimmer and his staff review the 2013 game tape of the Vikings, there is one thing that becomes quickly apparent as to why a team that finished 10-6 and in the playoffs in 2012 ended up 5-10-1 and was effectively eliminated from playoff contention by Halloween the following season.
Sure, there were the last-minute collapses. All five of them. But perhaps nothing was more telling to their lack of success in 2013 than injuries. A lot of injuries.
Somewhere, there is a pasty stat guy who can come up with teams that had all 22 starters start every regular season game. Perhaps one of the reasons why the Vikings didn't get overly active in free agency last year – Greg Jennings was the only significant signing – was that they had every reason to be confident.
Of their 22 starters from 2012, 19 of them were returning. Of the other three, they traded one (Percy Harvin), cut another (Antoine Winfield) and made little effort to re-sign the third (Jasper Brinkley).
Of their 11 offensive starters in 2012, they combined to miss 11 games – seven from Harvin and four from Jerome Simpson. Given that three of Simpson's four missed games were the result of a three-game league suspension, aside from Harvin, the rest of the offensive starters missed a total of one game.
On defense, 10 of the 11 starters played in 15 games and seven of them started all 16. Chris Cook was the only player to miss more than one game and his missed six due to a broken arm.
To sum up, of the 22 opening-day starters for the Vikings in their playoff season in 2012, they missed a combined 17 games due to injury – seven from Harvin, six from Cook and four from the other 20 guys.
In hindsight, it made sense that the Vikings would be able to replicate their 2012 success in 2013. They were bringing 19 starters back and orchestrated the exodus of the other three.
Then the hits started coming.
In 2012, all five offensive linemen started all 16 games. In 2013, three of them were injured to the extent that they missed a game – Phil Loadholt, Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco.
Quarterback became a running joke. Christian Ponder started nine games, but was one of three starters and a healthy backup down the stretch.
In the backfield, Adrian Peterson played hurt much of the year and missed two games when the pain got too great. Toby Gerhart missed two games. Jerome Felton missed three.
Among the receivers, the injury bug hit hardest at tight end, where Kyle Rudolph missed eight games and John Carlson missed three.
In all, the 11 returning starters from 2012 that combined to miss one game due to injury that season missed 23 games in 2013.
Defensively, the two players the Vikings tried to replace – Winfield and Brinkley – both started all 16 games at their respective positions in 2012. Erin Henderson was supposed to replace Brinkley, but he missed two games due to personal problems. Desmond Bishop was Plan B at MLB and he played just four games, getting injured in what was expected to be the first of 13 starts at middle linebacker.
But it didn't stop there. Kevin Williams missed on game due to a preseason cheap shot. Letroy Guion missed three games. Guion's backup, Fred Evans, missed two. Safety Jamarca Sanford missed three. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes missed three. Safety Mistral Raymond missed four. Cook missed four. Josh Robinson missed six. Harrison Smith missed eight. In short, it was a mess.
In all, the nine returning defensive starters that missed a combined three games in 2012 missed a combined 23 games in 2013.
We don't have math oozing from our pocket protectors, but if your returning offensive starters miss 23 games and your returning starters on defense miss 23 games, that's never good and perhaps the biggest reason why there should be reason for optimism moving forward.
In a sport based on consistency and regimentation, 2012 may have been a perfect storm for the Vikings. It showed that, if you only sustain one significant unanticipated injury, the team can survive and thrive from the one that breaks training camp with the same personnel.
In 2009, the Vikings had Brett Favre, a healthy roster and entered training camp with 22 returning starters. 2010 was an unqualified disaster. But when they got healthy again in 2012, they made the playoffs.
Last year was a nightmare in which the Vikings' injury report from one week to the next was the most consistent storyline of the season. Who's on? Who's off? Is he 100 percent?
The course of the 2014 Vikings season is still to be determined – (Spoiler Alert!) Minnesota will be picked last in the NFC North by the vast majority of preseason prognosticators, as they were in 2012. We remember how that ended. Perhaps things may not be as gloom-and-doom as the naysayers are going to predict. If Mike Zimmer's team stays healthy, who knows what they can accomplish if they are mostly together for all 16 games?
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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