A lot has been made about how things for the Vikings could potentially be different for the 2014 season if not for losses to the offense. From Adrian Peterson to Matt Cassel to Kyle Rudolph to Brandon Fusco to Phil Loadholt, the Vikings have been more than living up to the “next man up” mantra on offense.
But the same has been happening defensively for the Vikings, but it hasn’t been getting the same amount of notice. The Vikings have been forced to use the next man up philosophy on defense as well.
Question marks surrounding Anthony Barr and Sharrif Floyd are casting a cloud over the potential for what lineup the Vikings will have on the field Sunday when the face the reeling New York Jets, but, while they haven’t faced nearly as much adversity to the loss of key starters for extended periods as the offense has, the Vikings have had their share of defensive losses of key players during the course of the season.
Floyd missed the Green Bay game two weeks ago and was very limited Sunday – to the tune of only seven snaps – before re-aggravating a knee injury that has his status for Sunday in question. It has been the only significant loss to the defensive front, which has seen Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Linval Joseph start all 12 games this season, but it is a test of the depth and the rotation the Vikings use defensively when some of the options have been taken away for playing time distribution under the Mike Zimmer system.
At linebacker, Sunday was the first time this season that Barr has been out of the lineup for an extended period during any game, but the team was without Chad Greenway for three full games in late September and early October and were forced to plug in Gerald Hodges in that spot. Hodges was also the player who was the primary replacement when Barr went down last week, playing 21 snaps against the Carolina Panthers.
The Vikings have been most fortunate on defense to have all five of its primary defensive backs – safeties Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton and cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson healthy and available. Last week, for example, Rhodes, Munnerlyn, Smith and Blanton played every snap, leaving little room for any of the backup defensive backs to see playing time.
As the Vikings have attempted to adopt the Zimmer defense and Norv Turner offense, for the most part the defense has remained intact. It has become the strength of the team largely for that reason. Players have been able to learn their roles and thrive at their positions because they have been out there every week with the exception of Greenway for three games, Floyd for the last two and Barr last Sunday.
Are the Vikings prepared in the event that there is a significant injury that sidelines someone for the rest of the season? We’ve found out on offense that there can be life after Adrian Peterson, even if the lack of an elite running back turned a lot more defensive attention to Cordarrelle Patterson – who hasn’t thrive in that role.
The Vikings have been fortunate to have been able to remain effectively whole throughout the 2014 season. Back in September, there weren’t many people thinking that Teddy Bridgewater was going to be the starter by the time September ended. Or that Jerick McKinnon would be the starting running back. Or that Chase Ford would be the starting tight end. Or that the right side of the offensive line would need to be replaced. Or that Charles Johnson would become a starting wide receiver.
All of those things have happened through the first 12 games of the season for the offense. Defensively, we’ve seen injury-related increases in playing time for Hodges, Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen, but we haven’t seen much of Corey Wootton, Scott Crichton, Brandon Watts, Audie Cole, Jabari Price, Andrew Sendejo or Antone Exum in an expanded role over much of the season. They’ve been played (sparingly) by choice, not force.
As the Vikings head down the stretch of the 2014 season, don’t be surprised to see the team use the backups a little more if the opportunity arises. Given the relative lack of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings haven’t had to see what they have defensively in terms of the backups. If things go as they have, those opportunities may be limited, but the offense has grown within itself as it has been forced to develop potential key contributors like Bridgewater, McKinnon, Johnson and Ford due to injuries.
If all goes as they hope, we’ll never find out what the second line of the depth chart could provide the Vikings defense on a regular basis, but the offense has survived its rash of injuries, so you get the idea if the next man up comes on defense, the Vikings will be just as ready – and just as unwilling to accept a drop-off in production at the position.
Vikings’ injuries have tested depth
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