Injury Updates as the Vikings near the Playoffs
Outside of the nagging Hamstring issues that have plagued Vikings superstar receiver Adam Thielen since the first Lions game way back in October, the 2019-20 Minnesota Vikings have mostly been inoculated against the injury bug this season.
That is, of course, until recently, with a series of Vikings players going down to injury in the past couple games, including running backs (S as in plural) Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, linebackers (S as is God HateS the VikingS) Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks leaving Sunday’s blowout loss to the Packers, etc.
So let’s take a look at where the Vikings stack up in terms of injury before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears and what it means for the playoffs or even, dare I say, the Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes. Especially as the Vikings have a week 17 matchup against a Bears team with a tough defense, in a game that has no impact on where the Vikings will end up seed-wise in the playoffs.
However, the Vikings offense is in need of a gigantic bounce-back game from their worst performance of the season Monday Night, so it’s a strange mix of narratives this weekend. A game that doesn’t really matter but at the same time really, REALLY matters.
First, the most recent injury report:
Thursday’s #Vikings injury report pic.twitter.com/lhlttPhYRO
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 26, 2019
The Running Backs
The #Vikings have ruled out RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder, chest) for Sunday, while Alexander Mattison (ankle) is questionable. Cook will be fine in the playoffs…
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 27, 2019
Regardless of whether or not you’ve bet on the Vikings to win it all (either with friends, or if you were able to place a bet if you’re in New Jersey, or if you’ve just begged whatever God you pray to for just one before you die), you know that if the Vikings have any shot at winning the Super Bowl this year they’re going to need Dalvin Cook at full strength. Having a rookie running back Alexander Mattison would help, as well, as he’s shown the ability to not only spate Cook when needed but excel while doing so.
A few weeks ago Mattison was in the Top Five in the NFL for the percentage of touches he turned into plays of 10+ yards at just under 18%. That means that he picks up over 10 yards on a run nearly every once every five touches. While it looked like the success that the Vikings have had at the running back position may continue against the Packers with third-stringer Mike Boone starting, the offense clearly really missed Cook and Mattison Monday Night.
That’s not necessarily on Boone, though.
The Vikings offensive brain trust on the sidelines (or in the booth) didn’t seem to commit to running a lot of the plays that the Vikings offense has relied on to win it’s 10 games this season. They deviated from the heavy personnel/play-action offense that Cousins and company have excelled in and so it’s additionally important that Cook/Mattison return so the coaching staff doesn’t have to rely on running gimmick-y third-and-short plays like they did against the Packers.
Sure, or they could just run some of the same plays without Cook or Mattison, but as we’ve seen in the last three losses this team has had (Kansas City, Seattle, Green Bay), the coaches don’t seem to learn from their mistakes and so if for nothing else having the backs BACK for that reason alone makes it incredibly important as the Vikes will have enough stacked against them playing on the road against the three-seed come a week from this weekend.
It’s good that Cook is ruled out for Sunday, while it’s a bit hard to believe that he’ll be “fine” for the playoffs, it’s looking like the Vikes are being cautious as to not aggravate his injury and that he’ll play regardless come the Wild Card round of the playoffs a week from this weekend.
Adam Thielen’s hamstring has become the story of the season. He injured the hammy making a spectacular touchdown grab against the Lions on the 20th of October, and after rushing back against the Kansas City Chiefs, he ended up leaving that game after only seven snaps, either because he re-aggravated the injury or because he felt like he would end up further aggravating it (depending who you ask). Either way, Thielen has missed five of the past eight games with his hammy and while the Vikings offense has (mostly) hummed along without him, they will need all hands on deck to make a deep playoff run this post-season.
The good news is that Thielen is no longer listed on the injury report, period.
The bad news? He certainly didn’t look like a guy who shouldn’t be off the injury report Monday Night against Green Bay, a game in which his only touch came on a 2-yard run that was blown up almost immediately (and showed none of his typical quickness, burst, or extra effort). While Thielen said that his hamstring had “nothing to do” with his being shutout against the Packers, it’s hard to believe him.
On his performance Monday Night Thielen said: “I felt great out there and just had a few opportunities, didn’t make the plays, and the rest is out of my control” according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press.
It’s not just that he didn’t have any catches, though, although that has become a rarity for Thielen. Before the aforementioned Chiefs game, Thielen had caught a pass in every single game he has played in going back to the December 18th game against the Colts. We didn’t play the Colts, you say? That’s because that game happened in 2016.
Thielen was targeted four times Monday night and came down hard without the ball on a play that many thought should’ve ended with a pass interference call against the Packers. While that catch would’ve been spectacular, it’s those kind of catches that have become routine for Thielen and it was that missed catch that caused many to speculate that he wasn’t yet 100%. Again, the Vikings will need those kind of catches to win against whomever they play next weekend in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, so let’s hope that Thielen is rested early and often Sunday against the Bears, especially as they’re locked into the sixth seed at this point.
Eric Kendricks isn’t practicing again on Friday, and didn’t appear to be doing much in warmups. Lots of backups getting some work in the open portion of practice.
— Ben Goessling (@GoesslingStrib) December 27, 2019
Eric Kendricks is still not practicing this week and has been ruled out for Sunday against the Bears.
The Vikings defense is chalked full of superstars. Because of that, it’s hard to really point to one guy that stands out above all others as the MVP. If you had to point to one, though, Eric Kendricks (especially this season) would be that guy. He’s been everywhere on the field and he’s seemingly gotten better game-by-game. That’s why it was so devastating to see him leave the Packers game with a quad injury and not return.
That injury was speculated at the time to be simply a cramp issue. As it occurred during the second fumble recovery of the game by Kendricks as he was attempting to return that fumble deep into Packers territory.
While you could say that the Vikings defense didn’t struggle more without Kendricks, not having him for the playoffs would be devastating. While the rest of the NFL (or it’s fan-base) might not respect what he does (per his Pro Bowl snubbing), he’s one of the most vital cogs in the Vikings’ defense and so it’s a good thing that he isn’t going to play against the Bears as there’ll be no risk of him re-injuring his quad in a game that doesn’t have any impact on what happens next weekend (especially as the main thing that does matter is that the Vikings offense gets the terrible taste of MNF out of their mouths, something that obviously doesn’t involve Kendricks).
Mackensie Alexander was limited today with a knee injury, which is why he got the questionable designation for Sunday.
— Sam Ekstrom (@SamEkstrom) December 27, 2019
Up until the absolute disaster that was Monday Night’s performance by this Vikings offense, the main point of concern for this Vikings team was it’s secondary. Sigh, we were so young and naive, weren’t we?
Anysnarf, if any of these injuries could be pointed to as a blessing in disguise (outside of how great, multi-faceted and diverse the offense became while Thielen was sidelined), it’d be this one. Alexander has had an up-and-down career in purple and while he started this season looking every bit the solid option in the nickel, he’s struggled mightily recently.
His back-up, Jayron Kearse, could provide some semblance of regularity and physicality at the position and while he’s been on the injury report himself recently, he should be good to go Sunday and in the playoffs barring any set backs (he’s been a full participant in practices this week).
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