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Vikings depth exposed in Detroit

Injuries becoming a factor just when Vikes can’t afford it

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Minnesota Vikings
Harrison Smith’s presence missed badly in Detroit Detroit.
Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have been living on a thin line this whole season.

Many think I am about to go on a now-tired diatribe about the complete lack of comfortable games this season, but there is one other aspect to this year’s team where the margins are tighter than most should be comfortable with.

That being, the depth chart.

So far, and this is where you should knock on some wood, the Vikings have not lost any of their highest-tier players.

Cousins has stood without injury in a year where he is dealing with pocket pressure better, Cook only missed the end of the first Detroit matchup, and our starters out wide remain healthy.

Humor me and answer this in the comments: Where would the Vikes be if Justin Jefferson had missed any significant time? Many fans couldn’t even stomach the thought.

Nowhere is the depth, or lack thereof, missed more than on the defensive side of the ball.

Many have cited the fact that Minnesota has given up 400 Yards in their last 5 games. A large chunk of that through the air, as opposing teams have adjusted to pass shorter, yet faster after the snap.

SS Harrison Smith was an obviously missed presence (neck) against the Lions, in addition to injuries to CB Cam Dantzler and CB Akayleb Evans.

The first two Detroit touchdowns can be chalked up to blown coverages. Lions WR Jamal Williams never had more than 5 yards between him and anyone in purple on the first Detroit TD.

Both Dantzler and FS Cam Bynum were the nearest players to the Lions WRs that scored those touchdowns.

It was Dantzler’s first game back since before the Buffalo game, and one could reasonably wonder if that ankle injury saw him lose a step (see Detroit’s second TD).

Bynum was without his partner in crime Smith, which may have led to the coverage confusion on the first Lions’ TD.

Many are blaming defensive coordinator Ed Donatell and the ‘bend-don’t-break’ defensive mentality for the coverage issues, and rightly so, but the turnover in the secondary since the bye week has to be causing issues.

A regressive pass-rushing unit is also a worry as Danielle Hunter hasn’t been putting up Danielle Hunter numbers. Hunter also saw limited practice (neck) this week.

Everyone knows this Vikings team can put up points and make necessary plays when it’s in the mood, even in the absence of LT Cristian Darrisaw.

LT Blake Brandel did a good job in the interim, but he himself is now on the IR, keeping the Left Tackle row in the depth chart thin even with Darrisaw likely to be back against the Colts.

Many pundits doubt the playoff viability of Minnesota’s squad. I’m not saying you should agree with them if quick adjustments can be made, but one of the most crucial aspects of successful playoff teams is that they need to be durable, and if they aren’t, then the depth has to step up.

The Vikings are fortunate to have such a great offense, which has almost single-handedly gotten them to 10-3.

The defense, if healthy, has shown that it can at least give the offense a fighting chance and make a big play. The fear now should be that if any late-season fluke injury comes along to that defense, things could go from worst in the league to even worse very quickly.

Without the NFC North and without a high-ish NFC seed wrapped up, these Vikings will have to keep giving their starters, particularly those on defense, high snap counts. The inability to end a game early (mostly due to that defense) will also keep players in games longer.

One has to hope that they can avoid injuries from here on out and add players back to game rosters, otherwise, the levels of concern heading into the postseason will continue to ramp up and the Vikings will keep living on the edge when they can’t afford to.