Sunday was a big day for the Vikings in nearly every way possible. They decimated the Chargers on the road, 39-10, albeit in a game that was actually a lot closer than the score appeared (I’ll get to that in a minute), lost Dalvin Cook yet again mid-game thanks to a troubling shoulder injury, and the two teams that were chasing them for the sixth seed in the NFC Playoff picture, the Bears and Rams, both lost.
What does it all mean?
Let’s sort it out, together, like friends. We’re friends, right?
But back to the business at hand.
The biggest story coming out of Sunday was the mystery shrouding Dalvin Cook’s bad shoulder. We’ve heard reports these past couple weeks about a shoulder/chest injury that mysteriously appeared during the week leading up to the Seahawks game. After Cook left the Chargers game, outside of the location of his injury and the fact that he wasn’t returning to the game, there was limited information.
#Vikings coach Mike Zimmer tells reporters that star RB Dalvin Cook’s shoulder injury is one Cook could play through and that “it feels good today."
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 16, 2019
That shroud extended into this morning, until the normal NFL news-brokers… Brokered this… NFL… News.
Sounds like we’re at where we always were? Which is that it’s a “pain management issue” and that it can’t structurally “get any worse”. If that’s the case, then, it sounds like the pain was just intense for Cook after he fell awkwardly onto the ground in Los Angeles.
That’s both a good and a bad thing, as it means that Cook can play if he’s needed but that he also might be dealing with this injury for the foreseeable future. While this sounds very selfish of me to say, that’s a bit scary as that was the status of things during the Seahawks game (a game in which he fumbled the ball thanks at least partially due to that injury).
Hopefully, rookie Alexander Mattison will return from his ankle-injury soon, as, despite the career day by pre-season stud Mike Boone, the Vikings need all hands on deck for the upcoming playoffs (and having the combo of Mattison/Boone will perhaps allow Cook to rest up before the playoffs despite the fact that there are limited opportunities for him to do so).
It could also mean that we won’t have peak Dalvin for the playoffs, something that should strike fear in the hearts of every Vikings fan considering how the secondary played in the first half of Sunday’s game.
Speaking of which…
Okay. Maybe I’m just never happy?
You’d think that after all the anxiety I had about facing Philip Rivers and company Sunday, that’d I’d be ecstatic about the outcome of the game. I mean, it was the biggest margin of victory this Vikings team has had this season, their second-biggest point total and most importantly, the lowest point amount allowed by this defense since the 24th of October.
However, not everything is as it seems and this game is a great example of that. As you all know, the Vikings were only leading the Chargers by 2 (12-10) with under a minute to go in the first-half when Cousins threw an interception to Chargers defensive end, Melvin Ingram, setting up Los Angeles with a chance to go ahead 13-12 or 17-12 AND get the ball back to start the second half. After one of the more crazy ends to a half-in you’ll see, the Vikings ended up going into half-time up 19-10, and they never looked back, putting up 30 unanswered points when the day was at its end and the clock ended the Chargers’ misery.
However, and while I articulated this better in my post-game video (as I wasn’t trying to be succinct, a new concept I’ve learned), that was more of a melt-down by the Chargers than something the Vikings did to the Chargers. Of course, the Vikes deserve credit for everything they did Sunday, but at least part of that was based on the type of team-wide implosion we’ve seen as Vikings fans multiple times (the best example being the 2009 NFC Championship game when everyone on the team turned into a turnover machine).
Or, let’s say that it was all Vikings in the second-half and Los Angeles didn’t as much implode as the Vikings out-foxed them physically or in terms of a game plan. It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the fact that the Vikings secondary was yet again giving up tons of yardage in the first half of the game.
It wasn’t just Xavier Rhodes, though, it was also the main we’re all counting on to be some late season savior, Mike Hughes, who looked every bit the rusty player who is both coming off a major injury and also working with under a full-season of game action under his belt. It wasn’t just the outside corners, either, as the once thought to be steadily improving to the point of no longer being a concern, Mackensie Alexander, appeared to regress mightily Sunday.
They were bailed out by a front seven who had their best game of the season. Eric Kendricks was seemingly everywhere, Sunday, and the front four did their best to both stifle the run game and bring all kinds of pressure to Rivers. Perhaps the front seven (or the other eight to nine defenders, depending on whether the Vikings are running a nickel defense) can help offset those things as we near the playoffs? I guess we will see, because it’s safe to say that this is the defense we’re going to end up with come January and whether or not it’ll be enough to force opponents to put up fewer points than the high flying offense, remains to be seen.
The Vikes essentially achieved one of their season goals Sunday, as well, as with the losses by both the Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears, the Vikings have over a 98 percent chance at making the post-season. While that < 2% might (and probably should) terrify you, the reality is that the Vikings will be making the post-season in 2019, it just depends on what seed they end up being.
The Vikings currently occupy the 6th and final seed, while they have no chance of gaining the #1 seed or the #4 seed, they do have a varying amount of percentage of chances to secure seeds two, three, and five.
This breakdown from the geniuses at FootballOutsiders.com should make it much, much easier.
So, there you have it!
To summarize, Cook should be able to play if needed, but might be hurt for the rest of the 2019 season. The secondary took another step backward on Sunday, and both of those realities will exist in the playoffs, it just depends on whom the opponent is.
Couldn’t I have just said that earlier?