If someone would have predicted that the Minnesota Vikings would be 5-0 given all of the injuries and lost starters the team has had this season, you probably couldn’t get anyone to make a bet on it.
From Teddy Bridgewater to Adrian Peterson to Matt Kalil being lost for the season (or at least the majority of it) to in-game injuries that have left the Vikings shorthanded at multiple positions, the team could have just as easily gone into the tank.
Instead, they put together another dominating performance Sunday, overwhelming the Houston Texans for a 31-13 win at U.S. Bank Stadium that saw the team put in another three-phase domination.
The Vikings offense put up 351 yards and scored three touchdowns. Until Houston gained 75 yards on its final drive, the Texans had been to 139 yards through three-and-a-half quarters. Throw in another score from special teams by Marcus Sherels on a 79-yard punt return and you have a textbook definition of three phases coming together for a dominating win.
“It was big because we stress all three phases and all three came through today,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “The offense took care of the football and controlled the way the game was played. Defensively, we made plays and got after their top guys. And Marcus Sherels stepped up again with a big punt return that opened things up. We all take pride in what we do and today was a good example of how Vikings football is played.”
Much of the attention the Vikings’ hot start has generated has been focused on the defense, and rightly so. The Vikings are terrorizing quarterbacks, have scored points when given the opportunity, and are at the top of the NFC in sacks.
But, as safety Harrison Smith pointed out, balance is the key to successful football. If the offense isn’t carrying its share of the load, you don’t consistently win. If a defense can’t stop anyone, you lose more often that you don’t. It’s finding that balance that makes a good team great.
“It’s important every game,” Smith said. “Today, the offense played great. They took care of the ball, got first downs. You’ve seen the special teams to do it week in and week out with Sherels and C.P. (Cordarrelle Patterson). The defense did our part, but this was a team win because it’s hard to beat a team when they make plays in all three phases.”
Defensive end Brian Robison is no stranger to the coaching schemes thrown out by the different staffs that he has played under in college and the pros, but he is convinced Mike Zimmer and his assistants have done as much to make the Vikings winners as the players.
The culture of winning starts at the top and the Zimmer and his staff are doing just about everything right to have the players in the best position to make plays and to succeed.
“It’s just about game-planning throughout the week,” Robison said. “Our coaches are probably the smartest coaching staff I’ve ever been around. We do a great job of making sure that when we come into a game we have the best game plan possible.”
Perhaps nowhere has the attention to detail and preparation been as pronounced as it has along the offensive line. The team lost Kalil for the season, forcing T.J. Clemmings to play a position he hasn’t played since high school. Against Carolina, the Vikings lost starting left guard Alex Boone early, forcing swingman Jeremiah Sirles into duty. Against the Giants, right tackle Andre Smith went down six plays into the game and Sirles took his spot. On Sunday, right guard Brandon Fusco went down with a concussion in the first quarter and was replaced by Zac Kerin.
For most teams, such devastation would be a death knell. Not for the Vikings.
“It’s unbelievable to watch how guys have been stepping up and making plays when they get their number called,” Boone said. “You could go a full year without nearly as many injuries that we’ve had on the offensive line already this year. It’s a credit to Tony (Sparano) that he has guys ready to step in when they’re needed. I’m just happy as hell because we’ve lost a lot of guys and it has never dropped off.”
The loss of players hasn’t resulted in the loss of games, which is becoming the hallmark of the 2016 Vikings. On Sunday, leading receiver Stefon Diggs was sidelined with a groin injury. He was replaced in the lineup by the combination of Adam Thielen, Patterson and Jarius Wright and the passing offense didn’t miss a beat.
“It’s been something that we’ve been dealing with all year,” Wright said. “We’ve had losses on both sides of the ball and we don’t let it bring us down. We haven’t just been talking about the next man up. We’ve been living it. I was a little frustrated not being a part of things for a few games, but, when they needed me, I was here like so many other guys. We’ve had do the same all season.”
Given the amount of players who have missed time on both sides of the ball, the fact that the Vikings have been able to not only survive, but thrive has been nothing short of miraculous.
It has taken a full-team effort and the Vikings are riding that wave into their bye week, not questioning how they’re doing it, just being happy that they are.
“When we look at what’s going on right now, it’s not about what we’re doing on defense, it’s not about what we’re doing on offense or special teams,” Robison said. “This is a complete team. We’re making big plays on special teams, the offense is putting points on the board and managing the clock and the defense is making sure we get turnovers. We just have to keep doing this moving forward. At the end of the day, that’s the formula for success.”