Chad Greenway used to be one of the most-used players on the Minnesota Vikings defense.
You might give him a welcome back to that role.
With Eric Kendricks out against the St. Louis Rams with a rib injury, Greenway entered Sunday’s game with a bigger role. Turned out it was a non-stop role on defense. Greenway played every snap in the Rams game, the first time that has happened all season.
It was also the first time in his career he was called upon to play the middle linebacker spot in the base defense after Audie Cole, who was replacing Kendricks, suffered a season-ending fractured ankle.
“I don’t know every rule in the middle linebacker spot, but I know enough to get lined up and how to make some plays,” Greenway said. “I know I wasn’t perfect. I certainly didn’t play as well as Eric and Audie did at that position, but I tried to make it work.”
Greenway might have been a little hard on himself because head coach Mike Zimmer was pleased with his performance.
“I thought he played well,” Zimmer said. “I told him during the week, ‘Hey, you might have to play a whole game so can you handle this or not?’ I thought he played well. He did some really good things. He made a lot of tackles, which is good, but he orchestrated things very well in there.”
Greenway and the run defense had an imposing duty. They were facing rookie running back Todd Gurley, who was averaging 141 yards over the past four games and hadn’t rushed for fewer than 125 yards in any of those games.
The Rams ended up with 160 yards rushing, but Gurley was held to 89 yards and lost 6 yards on his only rush of overtime. Receiver Tavon Austin ended up with 66 yards on eight carries, 48 of those yards coming on five carries in the first half. The Vikings improved in handling him in the second half.
“A lot of what we were doing is in some cases putting a one-on-one guy trying to make a tackle on him, which was ridiculous, just because he’s so good in the open field,” Greenway said. “(Brian Robison) got kind of the shoestring tackle on the one. We just kept trying to compete and we knew when the ball was in his hands we have to just keep swarming. There were a lot of those plays where it was just bouncing around and you’re just trying to figure out a way to get to the ball.”
The entire defense was tested with injury issues. Without Kendricks or Sharrif Floyd entering the game, the Vikings also lost Terence Newman in the second half of the game when he was kicked in the head by a hurdling Gurley.
Yet the Vikings, despite being outgained 320 yards to 293, held the Rams to 18 points, the seventh time in eight games this year the Vikings defense has held an opponent to 20 or fewer points (they gave up 23 points to the Denver Broncos in a loss).
Perhaps it showed the depth on the Vikings defense.
“It’s easy to say that for a win. You come back in and we had Sharrif out and a lot of factors going into it and guys playing through stuff,” Greenway said. “There’s just a lot of champions on this team. We’re just trying to continue to work and get to that point where we can compete for some fun stuff.”
To get to that point, the Vikings will have to not only survive the season, but survive a second-half schedule that is the toughest in the NFL. Their opponents in the final eight games have a .600 winning percentage.
And the Vikings might have to continue to dip into their well of reserves, as they did Sunday. Cole has been placed on season-ending injured reserve and Jason Trusnik was signed to replace him.
“I do think that it’s a deep football team. I’ve said that all along,” Zimmer said. “I think we have a lot of talent. I think Rick (Spielman) and George (Paton) and Scott (Studwell) and those guys upstairs, they’ve done a good job of evaluating players and getting them in here. There’s a large percentage of the football team that has changed over and we continue to get bigger and faster and smarter in a lot of different ways. It’s good, but that’s a little bit of our mentality, too. It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s time for you to get in there and work. I told a few guys (Sunday) in the locker room after the game, ‘Hey, it’s time for you to get to work now. It’s time to go.’”
Greenway has gone for the Vikings since 2007, but after accepting a reduced role to start the season, he didn’t get a defensive break on Sunday.