The Minnesota Vikings are thriving despite three deconstructed knees and five constructive “nos.”
When the history of the Vikings’ 2017 season is written, the second or third paragraph will cite the team’s ability to overcome injuries to Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Dalvin Cook — two franchise quarterbacks and a budding star running back.
What may not be mentioned, yet could be just as important, is the Vikings’ willingness to part with five people who only a couple of years ago were considered vital to the franchise.
Here are the key departures, and what their absences have allowed:
1. Norv Turner: He built a strong reputation while running the Cowboys offense during their Super Bowl run, then became a middling head coach beloved by productive quarterbacks. When Mike Zimmer became Vikings coach, he made hiring Turner a point of emphasis, and Turner helped Bridgewater develop as the team won 11 games in 2015.
When the Vikings offensive line and season went south in 2016, Turner quit. Instead of devastating the program, Turner’s departure opened the door for Pat Shurmur, who is much more creative and adaptable, and has helped this year’s team go 10-2 with a backup quarterback, backup running backs and a remade offensive line. If Turner had stayed, we would be hearing excuses instead of analyzing the creativity of end zone celebrations.
2. Matt Kalil: The third pick in the 2012 draft, Kalil produced one excellent season, then a series of disappointments. He’s not playing particularly well for the Carolina Panthers, and will be forced to block old teammate and new nemesis Everson Griffen on Sunday.
Kalil shouldn’t be blamed for being injured last season, but that injury started the turnstile at left tackle that ruined a promising year. Even when healthy, he didn’t produce like a top draft pick, and his replacement, Riley Reiff, has become one of the most indispensable players in the league, turning a position that was a black hole into a brick wall.
3. Adrian Peterson: Even at his best, Peterson made the Vikings offense predictable and one-dimensional. As he went into decline yet expected the same role, he became a potential problem.
The Vikings didn’t keep him and are 10-2. The Saints are 7-1 since trading him to Arizona. The Cardinals are 3-5 since acquiring him. Peterson is averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Without a back commanding a role or a certain number of carries, Shurmur has used Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon as he sees fit, creating game plans based on situation rather than ego. The Vikings are more unpredictable on first down, and near the goal line.
4. Alex Boone: Desperate to improve their offensive line play in 2017, the Vikings released their most experienced offensive lineman, Boone, during their final cuts.
That the Vikings offensive line subsequently became a team strength provides the latest example of the mysteriousness of the NFL, a sport in which everything affects everything.
With Boone out of the way, the Vikings remade the middle of the line with rookie Pat Elflein and former centers Joe Berger and Nick Easton, giving them three smart, versatile players working together. Boone is not missed.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson: As a receiver, he was a less-accomplished version of Peterson, a player whose physical skills were so impressive that not giving him the ball always seemed to be a lingering problem for the front office and coaching staff.
But you can’t play receiver in the NFL if the coaches and quarterbacks don’t trust you.
Without Kalil and Boone, a top pick and an expensive free agent, the Vikings line is far better. Without the renowned Turner, the offensive coaching is far better. Without Peterson and Patterson, two remarkable talents drafted in the first round, the offensive production is far better.
The 2017 Vikings offense is a triumph of intelligence and cohesion. Credit Rick Spielman and Zimmer for making tough choices and remaking their team on the fly.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org