The morning after each Vikings game, beat writer Ben Goessling dives in for a deeper look at a key aspect of how the Vikings played, and what it means for the team going forward:
In a five-minute press conference where Mike Zimmer aimed to say as little as possible about Sam Bradford’s left knee, the Vikings coach did divulge one piece of pertinent information about his quarterback’s health.
Bradford’s issue was “non-surgical,” Zimmer said, while intimating it was related to the two ACL reconstruction surgeries Bradford had in 2013 and 2014. “He’s had two surgeries on his knee; sometimes it swells up,” Zimmer said.
That’s good news for the Vikings in the sense that the injury, at least as it appears now, shouldn’t be the kind that ends Bradford’s season. The fact Bradford’s issues are related to a previous injury, though, means there might not be any quick way to get rid of them.
As Bradford’s brief pregame workout showed on Sunday, his health could be something of a moving target until the swelling in his knee goes away. Zimmer said Friday he anticipated Bradford would play, and the Vikings came into the game planning to put him on the field if his pregame workout went smoothly. Instead, after a brief round of catch and a few dropbacks, Bradford went into the locker room.
“Maybe the next week, maybe six weeks from now, he’s going to be OK,” Zimmer said. “It’s a non-surgical issue. He’ll be fine.”
The timetable was most likely rhetorical, since Zimmer had already declined to provide specifics on an actual timetable (though San Diego-based sports medicine doctor David Chao weighed in on Bradford’s return here). If Bradford is out for any length of time, though, it’s worth wondering how effective the Vikings will be without him.
They have the good fortune of playing four of their next five games at home, with their lone trip away from U.S. Bank Stadium coming in a Monday night game at Soldier Field against the 0-2 Bears on Oct. 9. But the four teams coming to Minneapolis — the Buccaneers, Lions, Packers and Ravens — went a combined 36-28 last season, and were 5-1 through Sunday, with the Lions still set to play Monday night and the Buccaneers having played only one game because of Hurricane Irma.
The Vikings managed only 237 yards of offense on Sunday in Pittsburgh, at the end of a week where, as running back Dalvin Cook said, Bradford and Case Keenum split first-team snaps in practice. Assuming the Vikings are trying to get Bradford back for Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers, they’d likely devote a sizable share of the practice snaps to him again this week, which means Keenum would have to make the most of the preparation time he’d get if he were asked to play again.
The Buccaneers only sacked Bears quarterback Mike Glennon once on Sunday, but pressured him on 34.8 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether it’s Keenum trying to get comfortable in the pocket or Bradford trying to find clean throwing lanes coming off a knee injury, the Vikings will have to provide better protection against Tampa Bay than they did on Sunday in Pittsburgh, when Keenum was under pressure 46.1 percent of the time.
They’d be hard-pressed to be effective for a long stretch of time without Bradford, as most teams would be without their starting quarterback, but whether they can snatch a win or two with Keenum could hinge on the Vikings protecting him better than they did Sunday. Most of the games in their near future are at home, but the slate won’t be easy.