As the Vikings travel to Green Bay this week to play a Packers team that won’t start Aaron Rodgers and might not have Davante Adams, the propriety of certain hits in the NFL is again a hot topic of conversation.
The Packers, who were eliminated from playoff contention on Monday night with Atlanta’s win over Tampa Bay, put Rodgers back on injured reserve Tuesday, choosing not to play him in their final two games against the Vikings and Lions after he returned last Sunday from the broken collarbone he suffered after Anthony Barr’s hit on Oct. 15. Adams is in the NFL concussion protocol after a helmet-to-helmet hit from Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis on an interception return in Sunday’s game.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who called Barr’s hit “totally unnecessary” and an “illegal act” after it happened, made an effort to differentiate between the Barr hit and the Davis hit on Wednesday.
“The hit on Aaron was definitely within the framework of playing aggressive, things like that, but the hit on Davante Adams, there’s no place for that,” McCarthy said.
Coach Mike Zimmer said plays like the hit on Adams, where the receiver was heading toward his own goal line, are some of “the hardest ones” in the NFL, because the player typically isn’t looking at who might be coming to hit him.
“My opinion doesn’t matter, but I think those you should screen them like a basketball guy instead of hitting them,” Zimmer said. “You can knock the heck out of them even if you don’t hit them in the neck and head area. You can screen them, get the job done and you know you’re not going to get anybody hurt.
“I had Keith Rivers play Pittsburgh one time and he ended up getting his jaw broke on a very similar hit like that. He ended up missing the whole year. I think we got to continue to try to be safer with all those things.”
Zimmer also said it’s become harder for defensive players to make legal hits on plays over the middle of the field, given how much more quarterbacks are throwing the ball to that area of the field than they used to do. Those throws often lead a receiver into a defender and leave them vulnerable for big hits — like on Oct. 22, when Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo delivered a blow that knocked Ravens receiver Mike Wallace out of the game and earned Sendejo a one-game suspension.
“To be quite honest, the ball shouldn’t have been thrown — back in the day the ball wouldn’t have been thrown,” Zimmer said. “But, we have to adapt to the rules and the hard part, especially for the safeties is when they’re catching the ball and the guy is going down and you’ve lowered your target and he continues to go lower and now you have to try to — well, you know about the time it take a golf ball to come off a club face to try to move your target to another spot, which is almost totally impossible. But, I think they could take a bunch of these plays out if the quarterback wouldn’t throw the ball into places that he shouldn’t throw the ball.”
Practice squad to Pro Bowl
Wide receiver Adam Thielen, who was named to his first Pro Bowl team Tuesday night, was the only Viking to make the game for the first time.
It’s the latest step in a remarkable rise for the former Minnesota State Mankato receiver, whom the Vikings signed after a rookie camp tryout in 2013. Thielen spent a year on the Vikings’ practice squad and played mostly on special teams in 2014 and 2015 before earning a starting job last season.
Asked if he saw Thielen being a Pro Bowler when he first became the Vikings’ coach, Zimmer said, “No, probably not. But I didn’t know his heart [then]. Now I know his heart.”
Reiff limited in practice
Tackle Riley Reiff, who missed Sunday’s game because of a right ankle injury, was limited Wednesday in the Vikings’ first practice of the week.
The Vikings did not practice Tuesday, but issued an injury report that said Reiff would not have practiced if they’d held a session that day. The only player not to practice Wednesday was defensive back Tramaine Brock, who sat out because of a foot injury.