LONDON – The Vikings will play their fifth game of October on Sunday, as they look for their fourth win of the month after losing Dalvin Cook on Oct. 1 against the Detroit Lions.
They revived their running game a week later, with a 58-yard touchdown run from Jerick McKinnon against the Chicago Bears, who were missing two starting linebackers. The following Sunday, they beat the Green Bay Packers, who started the game without three starting defensive backs, lost Aaron Rodgers because of a broken collarbone in the first quarter and saw left tackle David Bakhtiari aggravate a hamstring injury before the end of the day.
The Baltimore Ravens were without two of their top three receivers last Sunday, and lost a third in the first quarter after Mike Wallace suffered a concussion. And on Sunday, the Vikings will play the Cleveland Browns, who will be without the No. 1 overall pick (defensive end Myles Garrett) and Joe Thomas, the six-time first-team All-Pro tackle whose iron man streak had spanned 167 games and 10,363 consecutive snaps.
The Vikings have been far from immune from injuries — they lost their promising rookie running back and will play their sixth game without quarterback Sam Bradford on Sunday — but as they face the Browns at Twickenham Stadium, they’ve got a chance to be 6-2 at the close of a first half that’s showcased their ingenuity while fate has struck many of their opponents.
“Especially at the beginning of the year, it seems like a lot of things happen [with injuries]. Then it kind of settles down,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I don’t know if that’s because of the way the CBA is [with offseason practice restrictions] or whatever anymore. At least that’s my opinion.
“It seems like at the beginning of the year, you end up getting a lot of these things happening. Later on in the year, guys kind of get used to things. It’s just something we have to deal with now. But depth is obviously very, very important; being able to overcome injuries at one position or two positions. If you get a bunch of them at the same spot, that’s difficult.”
According to Man-Games Lost, a site that tracks the effect of injuries on professional teams across all four major North American sports leagues, the Vikings’ past three opponents — the Ravens, Packers and Bears — rank first, 17th and eighth in total games lost this season. Using the site’s weighted injury metric, which attempts to quantify the impact of missed games by key players, the Ravens are third and the Bears ninth, with the Packers likely to climb from 12th with Rodgers out.
Tampa Bay was without linebacker Kwon Alexander and cornerback Brent Grimes in September, losing linebacker Lavonte David before the end of the game. And the Vikings’ first opponent after the bye week — Washington — is dealing with injuries to four of its five starting offensive linemen.
A year after injuries decimated the Vikings’ own offensive line and helped throw a 5-0 start off course, the Vikings have lost the fifth-fewest games to injury and rank 20th in Man-Games Lost’s weighted injury metric. Fortune appeared to smile on them again this week, with wide receiver Stefon Diggs looking ready to come back from a groin injury and guard Nick Easton’s likely return putting the Vikings’ group of five starting offensive linemen back together.
And the fact there’s been relatively little talk about two injuries that could have waylaid their season — Cook’s torn ACL and Bradford’s ongoing knee issues — is a testament to how effectively they’ve worked with depth players such as Case Keenum, McKinnon and Latavius Murray.
“Really, the offensive coaches have done an outstanding job,” Zimmer said. “We’ve had so many injuries there with the things that have happened. To be able to go out and be efficient, do the things that we can do, execute the way that we can. I think [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shurmur] has a good feel with obviously all the quarterbacks. With Case, I think he is able to help him, the way he is able to, at times settle him down, at times pick him up.”
The threat of injuries is too prevalent for an NFL team to ever feel insulated from it, and for every player who misses a game because of injury, there are three or four trying to play through persistent ailments and pain the public doesn’t fully appreciate.
But while last year found them scrambling for solutions to their health concerns — to the point of signing oft-injured Jake Long to be their left tackle — the Vikings have calmly dipped into their depth this year, calmly sidestepping moments of panic. Those, it seems, have been on the opposite sideline.
“I think the depth has improved considerably this year,” team President Mark Wilf said Friday. “From all standpoints, I like where this team is. We’re just about the next game, and I think that professionalism is starting to take hold here.”
Ben Goessling covers the Vikings for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @GoesslingStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org