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Tipping Point

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When you deal with as many injuries as the Vikings are dealing with, sometimes it might be too much to overcome. But all is not lost.

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Every team in the NFL has to deal with injuries, every week of every season. Some more than others, but if there is one constant in today's game, it's that every team has a multitude of injuries.

Watching both the Vikings offense and defense struggle at times yesterday, part of me wonders if the injuries have hit a tipping point for this team. Right before training camp began, the Vikings projected starting lineup on offense was:

QB: Teddy Bridgewater

RB: Adrian Peterson

RB: Zach Line

WR: Charles Johnson

WR: Stefon Diggs

TE: Kyle Rudolph

LT: Matt Kalil

LG: Alex Boone

C: John Sullivan

RG: Brandon Fusco/Mike Harris (this would have been a dogfight)

RT: Phil Loadholt

Yesterday, against Detroit, the starting lineup was:

QB: Teddy Bridgewater Sam Bradford

RB: Adrian Peterson Matt Asiata

RB: Zach Line

WR: Charles Johnson

WR: Stefon Diggs

TE: Kyle Rudolph

LT: Matt Kalil Jake Long, signed one month ago. So much for improved o-line depth.

LG: Alex Boone Jeremiah Sirles

C: John Sullivan Joe Berger

RG: Brandon Fusco

RT: Phil Loadholt T.J. Clemmings

On defense, injuries are starting to take a toll as well. DT Shariff Floyd has been out most of the season, and the ensuing lack of depth is starting to catch up to the line. Eric Kendricks missed yesterday's game with a concussion, and at one point, both S Andrew Sendejo and slot CB Captain Munnerlyn were out.

Two thirds of the Vikings starting backfield, gone.100% of the projected offensive line, out. Well, that is if you want to make an argument that Mike Harris, had he been healthy, would have been the starting right guard. Looking at Fusco's performance so far, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Harris could have/would have been the starting RG. Or at a minimum, replaced him at some point this season.

The fact that the Vikings started 5-0 is impressive, the fact that they're STILL in first place during a three game losing streak is fortunate. As these injuries pile up, it's getting tougher and tougher for the Vikings to play consistently well on either side of the ball, and it's starting to show.

Although the offensive line arguable had their best game of the season, they still have health and talent issues that will be with them throughout the rest of the season. New OC Pat Shurmur did a good job of minimizing their weaknesses by using a lot of quick dropbacks and throws, but teams will adjust to this new approach. Will the offensive line be be able to re-adjust?

But that's only half the problem, as the Vikings have, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the running game. They were using Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Patterson in roles that saw them use a lot of short catch and run routes, essentially replacing the running the ball with these type of throws on first and ten. And as effective as it was for most of the game, once they were in the red zone Minnesota needed to be able to run the ball...and they couldn't. Once again, they were stuffed twice on 3rd and 4th with less than one yard to go, inside the opponent's five yard line. To right the ship on offense (which we'll talk about in a minute), which they can, the Vikings must establish some semblance of a running game.

On defense, the injuries are starting to show, too. At the end of the first half, the Vikings gave up a 17 play, 84 yard drive for a touchdown, an 11 play, 84 yard drive in overtime, and the gut wrenching game tying drive to end regulation. With Captain Munnerlyn out, Mackensie Alexander struggled in the slot with the game on the line, and during the long TD drive the Lions had before the half, both Sendejo and Munnerlyn were out. It's no coincidence that the Lions were able to convert four third down conversions on that drive.

I'm not making excuses here, but it's just a fact that when almost 50% of your starters on both sides of the ball are second and third string guys, at some point, it's going to catch up. That tipping point seems to have occurred yesterday, and the result, although we didn't really see it coming, was predictable in retrospect.

Yet, this team can bounce back, as there were some encouraging signs yesterday. As I mentioned, Shurmur designed and executed a game plan that, for the most part, minimized the weaknesses of the o-line, and Alex Boone should return soon. When he does, moving Sirles back to the bench makes little sense to me. I understand he's the most valuable backup, as he can play anywhere along the line, but he also seems to be one of the five best remaining guys. Jake Long played well, so maybe LT is stabilizing. Add Sirles in at either RG or RT, and now, suddenly, the Vikings o-line seems respectable. They still need to figure out how to run the ball, though.

On defense, we'll have to wait and see about Munnerlyn, but when Sendejo returned the Vikings defense played lights out, with the exception of the last drive in regulation and overtime. If Munnerlyn comes back, the Vikings defense should be okay, and with Floyd close to returning, the d-line depth should once again shore up.

As bad as this seems right now, and as goofy and trite as this seems to say, the Vikings still control their own destiny in the NFC North. They are in first place, a half a game ahead of the Lions, and essentially two games clear of Green Bay with the tiebreaker. They have a rematch with Detroit on Thanksgiving, and have a legitimate shot of going 6-2 to close out the season. That's 11-5, and assuming a split with Detroit that's probably a division title.

If history is any indication, here's one more encouraging stat: The Vikings have had only one three game losing streak under Mike Zimmer, from weeks 5-7 in 2014. After that? They won two straight games, including one against the Washington Redskins.

The season is at a tipping point, and can go either way. We'll see where it ends up.