Knee injuries are a pretty consistent theme for the Minnesota Vikings franchise. Over the past 12 years, all of the most valuable “franchise” players have suffered a significant knee injury — Daunte Culpepper, Adrian Peterson, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford.
We can now add Dalvin Cook to that list.
Cook’s scorching hot start came to a screeching halt when his knee buckled while making a cut against Detroit last week. The injury deflated any momentum the Vikings may have had, and the end result was a 14-7 home divisional loss to drop to 2-2 on the season.
Minnesota’s offense slouched considerably without Cook in the game. The running game went from reliable to barely serviceable and the Detroit defense was able to commit to the pass, flustering Case Keenum more than he was already flustered.
Mike Zimmer’s defense put together yet another strong performance, to nobody’s surprise. Matthew Stafford was sacked six times and hit several others, and the Lions only managed to get into the end zone once.
Nonetheless, this loss is a significant one. In each of the Vikings’ last four playoff seasons, they swept the Lions in the regular season. In 2016, each battle with the Lions proved pivotal to playoff seeding — in fact, if the Vikings had won either of those heartbreaking losses, they would have replaced Detroit as the No. 6 seed.
Bottom line is that this loss will have a considerable impact on playoff seeding in December, and the Vikings will have to make up for it somehow.
Now on to this week’s Skol Scale.
Defensive End Duo: Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter were relentless in getting after Matthew Stafford on Sunday. They combined for three sacks and each registered top five Pro Football Focus defensive end game grades for Week 4. It’s not hyperbole to say Griffen and Hunter is the best defensive end duo in the NFL.
Stefon Diggs: In a lackluster offensive performance, Diggs still found a way to shine. Darius “Big Play” Slay was not a match for the 2015 fifth-rounder, who compiled 98 yards on five catches to overtake Antonio Brown as the NFL’s leader in receiving yards. He’s knocking on the door of the elite receiver group in the NFL, and he’s doing it with Case Keenum throwing him the ball.
Dalvin Cook’s Injury: *sigh* Yeah, this sucks. It sucks for Dalvin and the loss of his rookie season. It sucks for football fans who won’t get to watch him until 2018. But from a football standpoint, this really hurts the Vikings. Cook’s ability to make people miss hid some of the shortcomings the offensive line had in run blocking. Sure, the offensive line is significantly improved from a year ago, but Cook has made the unit look much better than it really is on the ground. This will become evident as Latavius Murray takes over as RB1.
Missed Tackles: Eric Kendricks is the main man to blame here, as Ameer Abdullah made him look silly on several occasions. The most sure tackling team through the first three weeks of the season took a major step backward in that regard Week 4, and it played a big part in the loss.
Missed Opportunities: Everybody will point to the multiple missed interceptions by the Vikings defense. Anthony Barr, Mackensie Alexander, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes all got both of their hands on an interception but were unable to haul it in. But maybe the largest missed opportunity of them all was the failure to recover a Matthew Stafford fumble in the fourth quarter. Stafford had tried to tuck the ball in and instead spiked the ball backward, but Detroit tailback Zach Zenner hustled to recover it at the nine-yard line. If the Vikings recover that, it’s another excellent chance to tie the game.
Case Keenum: It may be harsh to put Keenum in the “bad” category, but he missed several opportunities to lift the Vikings to a win. Outside of a few dimes, Keenum was mostly inaccurate even on completed passes. He isn’t consistently leading guys properly when he does identify the correct read. And when he misses the correct read — like he did right before Kai Forbath’s missed field goal when Adam Thielen was wide open in the end zone and Keenum instead checked it down to Jerick McKinnon — it proves costly. He is benefitting immensely from the ability of Diggs and Thielen to gain unreal separation.
Run Defense: Ameer Abdullah isn’t supposed to look like Barry Sanders. But the Vikings’ rush defense, which had been really, really good over the first three weeks, made it happen. Abdullah exploited cutback lanes and made several players miss en route to nearly 100 yards on the ground. The frightening combo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen is on deck.
Skol Scale Figure: 4.5
Another 2.5-point dip is in order here, to the surprise of nobody. But for the first time in Skol Scale history, the reading is below 5.
Cook’s injury will prove to be a real blow to the Vikings offense until Latavius Murray proves he can be workhorse. Pat Shurmur will need to adjust his offense to become a pass-first scheme, which doesn’t necessarily bode well when Case Keenum is under center for the foreseeable future.
Bradford likely won’t be back for the imminent Week 5 Monday Night matchup with Chicago, which means the Vikings will once again start Keenum at quarterback. This time on the road against an underrated NFC North opponent. Do I need to bring up the Vikings’ Soldier Field curse? No? Good.
The Vikings need to get a divisional game back after dropping one at home, and they get a prime opportunity to do so on Monday night. If the Vikings can’t beat the Bears on the night of Mitch Trubisky’s first career start, it might be time to say goodbye to any playoff hopes.
I don’t like using the “must-win” language this early in the season, but the Vikings have a chance to essentially save their season in Chicago Monday night.
More Skol Scale figures:
5.5 this week, down from 7. Still much to like, especially when SB comes back. Like the addition of Floyd.
— Tony Vincelli (@PurpleReignTV) October 3, 2017
7 felt ok with Murry/Jet before draft, Cook was a bonus. If we go .500 with Case, should still be in good pos. when Bradford gets back
— Scott Amundson (@AmundsonScott) October 3, 2017
Pretty low here, like 4. I do not realistically believe this team can get a wildcard after dropping division game(s) at home…
— AdamWest (@aweste1) October 3, 2017
— Luke Braun (@spokenflow22) October 3, 2017
Just as I typed 'nine' I tore my ACL, so I'll have to got with five'ish
— Ted Glover (@purplebuckeye) October 3, 2017
I'll have to go with 4 , the amount of knees we have lost in the last couple of seasons .
— Logan Scott (@L_Scott10) October 3, 2017