In football, coaches and players never wish injuries on players – well, Gregg Williams might, but he’s in the minority. At the same time, coaches and player don’t mind reaping the benefits of it.
If a starting cornerback goes down, you can bet an offensive coordinator will target the replacement guy. It’s what you do. You take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.
Are the Patriots vulnerable with the top four receivers of Tom Brady (Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Dion Lewis) all being down with injuries? Of course they are. As a result, defenses are going to change how they attack the depleted offense.
As injuries have taken their toll, specifically at the running back position, the Minnesota Vikings have found a way to avoid some of the league’s top rushers – something that started against the Kansas City Chiefs and Jamaal Charles in October and will carry through for the next two games.
One of the surprise stars of 2015 has been Devonta Freeman, who emerged as a dual threat in both the running and receiving game for the Falcons. Not only was he among the leading rushers, he was among the leading receivers from the running back position. His absence from the Atlanta lineup caused the Vikings to treat their defensive scheme somewhat differently because they didn’t have the scheme specifically for Freeman and the unique attributes he brought to the table.
But with Freeman out, the Falcons had to change away from an offense that leaned heavily on their featured back. Rookie Tevin Coleman ran for 110 yards, but it wasn’t the same. Not having Freeman didn’t eliminate Atlanta’s running game, but it altered it because it wasn’t in the original game plan thanks to a concussion that sidelined Freeman.
This week, the Vikings were expecting to play against Marshawn Lynch, one of the best power backs in the league. However, two weeks ago, Lynch was sidelined and diagnosed with a sports hernia. He needed surgery to repair the injury and, while he is expected back in a couple of weeks, he won’t be available to play against the Vikings.
The Seahawks have received some impressive production from backup Thomas Rawls, but there is a difference in what Seattle plans to do with Rawls than it would with Beast Mode, once again keeping one of the game’s top running backs from playing against the Vikings defense.
Following Sunday’s game, the Vikings will have a quick turnaround to play at Arizona a week from Thursday. The Cardinals have been one of the best teams in the league this season due in no small part to having balance on offense with the resurgence of free agent running back Chris Johnson and dual-threat back Andre Ellington.
In Sunday’s game, the Cardinals lost both Johnson and Ellington due to injury. Johnson suffered a broken bone in his leg that will sideline him for an indefinite period of time and Ellington is expected to miss the next couple of weeks at a minimum, depleting the running game down to rookie David Johnson.
Injuries are a part of the game and every team is coming into Week 13 of the regular season with players they didn’t intend to have in key roles under ideal circumstances. The Vikings haven’t been spared in that regard, but, in the short-term week-to-week preparation for their opponents, the Vikings were facing a series of challenges, including some of 2015’s top running backs providing a daunting test for the Vikings defense.
They didn’t have to face Charles or Freeman and won’t be facing Lynch or Johnson in the next two games.
Nobody cheers for injuries to players, but it would appear the Vikings have caught a significant break with the injuries that have sidelined opposing featured backs and could give the Vikings an edge in preparation for the next two games. The Seahawks and Cardinals will be spending untold hours planning to stop Adrian Peterson because he is the centerpiece of the Vikings offense and, in December terms, is healthy.
The Falcons, Seahawks and Cardinals haven’t had that same luxury and, thanks to the injuries, could be giving the Vikings an nice advantage when they meet Minnesota on the field. Next man up is a mantra, but the replacements aren’t as scary as the starters the Vikings were expecting to face.
Any advantages a team can get are positives in the NFL. Not having to face Freeman, Lynch of Johnson could be the biggest benefit the Vikings may have as they look to build momentum heading toward the playoffs.