This Vikings defense has come as advertised this season. Its depth has passed early tests with the latest coming in Sunday night’s 17-14 win against the Packers without two starters.
The defensive line played particularly well despite being down starting tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was held out because of a knee injury. Defensive end Danielle Hunter was also forced out for a few series with a knee injury before returning, stretching a deep line even further.
Defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison played more than 80 percent of the game, spearheading a Vikings rush that netted five sacks and three more hits on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Defensive tackles Linval Joseph, Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen formed a formidable rotation in the middle that helped hold the Packers to 3.6 yards per run.
“We executed the rush plan pretty well,” head coach Mike Zimmer said Monday. “It’s always a combination of coverage and the rush. … When you’re pass rushing as much as they did, you got to suck it up and go. So I thought those guys did a good job.”
With Xavier Rhodes sidelined by a knee injury, second-year cornerback Trae Waynes rode a roller coaster through his third career NFL start. He found redemption after three second-half flags by making the game-sealing interception, the first of his career in the regular season.
“We’ve shown when all 11 guys are on the same page and everybody is doing their job,” Robison said, “we’re a pretty good freaking football team.”
There was no buyer’s remorse a day after quarterback Sam Bradford threw two touchdown passes in his Vikings debut.
Bradford looked worthy Sunday night of the two draft picks, including a 2017 first-round selection, the Vikings sent to Philadelphia in exchange for the quarterback.
“I knew he could throw the ball like he did, because I’ve seen him in practice and saw him on tapes,” Zimmer said. “I thought he was tough, hung in there on some of those throws. For the most part, I think he went to the right reads.”
After meeting his crew of receivers only two weeks ago, Bradford made a seamless transition by completing 15 of his 18 passes thrown to wideouts against the Packers.
“He’s made it pretty easy from the day he first got here,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “He’s been really good about asking us how we like certain things, how we want certain balls thrown. He’s adjusted well.”
The 13 penalties accepted against the Vikings were the most since the franchise hired Zimmer as coach before the 2014 season.
Many position groups were at fault through a variety of infractions. Six penalties were accepted against both the offense and defense, including three false starts by three different offensive linemen and five defensive holding or pass interference calls between Waynes and Terence Newman.
“Some of them were discipline issues and some of them were sloppy technique. We were a little grabby,” Zimmer said. “That’s not our M.O. here.”
The lone blemish on receiver Stefon Diggs’ day was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he drew for stepping onto the field from the sideline. The fourth-quarter flag set the Vikings back to a second-and-27.
“He thought he was protecting one of his teammates,” Zimmer said. “That’s not the way to do it.”
The Vikings schedule gets tougher before it gets easier. Coaches will solidify this week’s game plan Tuesday, a players’ day off, in preparation for the Panthers and reigning NFL MVP Cam Newton.
Carolina racked up 46 points and 529 yards on offense in Sunday’s victory over San Francisco.
“Last Tuesday was pretty miserable,” Zimmer said of game planning, “and this Tuesday will be miserable again.”