Vikings Defense Is Dealing with a Bunch of Critical Injuries

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Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Jake Browning (6) is sacked hard by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) in the second quarter of the NFL Week 15 game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Minnesota Vikings at PayCor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. © Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK.

After dropping the game in Cincinnati, the Vikings must win two of their final three games to reach the postseason. Those three contests will be against division rivals, with the division-leading Lions on the schedule next. Detroit can clinch the division with a win in U.S. Bank Stadium on Christmas Eve.

Vikings Defense Is Dealing with a Bunch of Critical Injuries

The divisional matchup will be a whiteout game for the Vikings, but injuries could heavily drain Brian Flores’ defense. On Wednesday’s injury report, a trio of notable defenders was listed as non-participants: Danielle Hunter, Byron Murphy, and Harrison Phillips.

Vikings Defense Is Dealing with a Bunch of Injuries
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Hunter is dealing with an illness. He is the heart and soul of the defensive side of the ball. After recording 15.5 sacks in the first 14 games of the season, the three-time Pro Bowler is second in the NFL, only trailing Steelers defender T.J. Watt.

The 29-year-old has not missed a game since his torn pec in 2021, and he is a key player on Sunday when it comes to pressuring Jared Goff. Without him, the Vikings would have to rely on Patrick Jones and D.J. Wonnum to make life uncomfortable for Goff, which would be a huge blow to the chances of pulling off the win.

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Murphy is the de-facto CB1 after signing a two-year contract in free agency. He has been a solid defender, solidifying the outside of the defense with Akayleb Evans and Mekhi Blackmon. If his hamstring injury leads to an absence on Sunday, it would elevate rookie Blackmon into the starting role and give sophomore Andrew Booth a higher chance of seeing snaps on defense.

Phillips has been the anchor of the defensive line, turning the Vikings into one of the best run defenses in the NFL. He has also posted a career-high three sacks in 2023. A back injury kept the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award nominee out of Wednesday’s practice.

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There is no satisfactory replacement for perhaps the team’s three best defenders, and it would be a colossal downgrade if one or more of them had to miss a game. They will still have Thursday and Friday to log some practice time, which would undoubtedly increase their likelihood of suiting up.

The defense has become the backbone of the team with the injury of Kirk Cousins and, for the most part, has done a wonderful job keeping the franchise competitive. Flores has the unit rank inside the top ten in EPA/play.

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However, the group has had its worst game in months in Week 15 and looks to bounce back from giving up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, choking away a 14-point lead. That task would be much harder if the three valuable defenders were forced to miss the game.

But there is some good news on the injury report as well as the Vikings could get linebacker Jordan Hicks back for the final stretch of the season. He has missed the last four contests after his lower leg procedure but practiced fully on Wednesday.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt