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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad’s 3-and-out: Should Vikings be close to giving Walsh the boot?

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings will have an opportunity to enter the bye week with a 5-0 record if they can beat visiting Houston on Sunday. That would be Minnesota’s best start since it went 6-0 to begin the 2009 season en route to a 12-4 finish and berth in the NFC title game.

Coach Mike Zimmer’s defense has established itself as one of the best in the NFL and the offense appears to be improving under new quarterback Sam Bradford. The Vikings have won two games since Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson was lost for an extend period, and perhaps the rest of the season, because of a knee injury.

As with every NFL team, however, there are a few question marks and what could be described as potentially fluid situations. Here are three facing the Vikings.

Giving Blair the boot?

If there is anything that is keeping Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman up at night, it’s the kicking position.

Blair Walsh was a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2012 – he established an NFL record with 10 field goals of 50-plus yards as a rookie – and signed a four-year, $13 million contract before last season.

The Vikings’ investment in him, both as a draft choice and because of his contract, are helping to buy him time, but the question becomes how much time? There was concern about Walsh entering this season after he cost the Vikings a playoff win over Seattle last January by badly missing a 27-yard field goal wide left.

What type of impact would that have on Walsh?

Walsh answered all the questions in training camp and the Vikings did not bring in any competition for him because they were convinced he would be fine. The problem is he hasn’t been fine.

Walsh missed a 46-yard field-goal attempt wide left on Monday night before rebounding to hit a 44-yard attempt. Walsh has now missed three of 11 field-goal attempts this season and two of eight extra-point attempts.

If the Vikings were a borderline team, it might be all right that everyone has to hold their breath when Walsh trots on the field. But how is Zimmer going to explain to the rest of the roster that the Vikings thought Walsh would overcome the mental yips if he hits one wide left or right at a crucial moment? This is a team that is convinced it has the potential to win the Super Bowl.

The Vikings’ defense is good enough that the offense only has to be efficient for this team to make an extended playoff run, but this team can’t afford to forfeit points.

Zimmer seemed like he might be near his breaking point on Monday when asked whether the team was going to bring in any free-agent kickers for workouts. “No,” Zimmer said, “not yet.”

That isn’t exactly a vote of confidence and leaves the door open that if Walsh isn’t sharp on Sunday the Vikings could explore their options.

It isn’t clear who might be available next week. Dallas kicker Dan Bailey has a sore back and the Cowboys reportedly were set to work out three kickers on Friday. That list includes former Bear Robbie Gould, as well as Kai Forbath (Washington, New Orleans) and Aldrick Rosas (Tennessee).

The verdict: One more shaky game and the Vikings will have no choice but to make a move. It’s not fair to the rest of the locker room to have your weak link be the kicker.

He deserves the promotion

Little has gone according to plan with the offensive line but the unit appeared to make progress in Monday night’s victory over the New York Giants.

Part of the reason was because Jeremiah Sirles did an excellent job after replacing the injured Andre Smith. Smith, the sixth-overall pick by Cincinnati in 2009, signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract during the offseason and was expected to compete with Phil Loadholt for the starting job at right tackle.

But Loadholt retired just before training camp and Smith had a hold on the starting job from day one of camp. The problem was Smith did not play well before suffering a triceps injury in the first half against the Giants. The injury resulted in Sirles replacing him.

Sirles, who was acquired by the Vikings from San Diego in September 2015, did not play in a game last season but saw action at left guard in Week 3 at Carolina after Alex Boone went out because of an injury.

While Sirles looked at home after replacing Boone, there was no way the Vikings’ high-priced free-agent acquisition was going to lose his job. That won’t be the case with Smith.

It’s likely Sirles will start on Sunday because Smith is injured. After that, Zimmer will have a decision to make.

The verdict: If Sirles plays well against the Texans, this decision will be easy. Smith will be the backup at right tackle after he recovers from his injury and Sirles will be considered a heck of a find by general manager Rick Spielman.

Back in the mix

The fact that seldom-used Cordarrelle Patterson got 36 snaps on offense was a main story line on Monday, but it was also worth noting that fellow wide receiver Charles Johnson caught two passes for 70 yards in getting 22 snaps.

Johnson went from being a big factor in the offense during his 11 games in 2014 (31 catches for 475 yards and two touchdowns) to being almost a non-factor in 11 games in 2015 (nine catches for 127 yards). That was in large part because of a painful rib injury that affected Johnson for much of the season.

Teddy Bridgewater and Johnson seemed to re-develop a chemistry in training camp this summer, but that went by the wayside when Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury in late August.

Johnson caught only three passes for 20 yards, with a long of 10, in his first three games of the season and he was shutout in the Vikings’ victory at Carolina. He was targeted twice in that game by Bradford and failed to hold onto pass that would have been a tough but makeable catch.

Bradford went right back to Johnson against the Giants by targeting him four times. Johnson’s biggest catch went for a 40-yard gain to the New York 4-yard line in the fourth quarter to set up Jerick McKinnon’s 4-yard touchdown run. That came after the Giants had pulled within seven on the previous drive.

The verdict: As the Vikings’ offense moves into the post-Peterson era, at least for now, Johnson and Bradford are likely to continue to develop a chemistry that will make him an important part of the mix. This could be especially true with top receiver Stefon Diggs dealing with a groin injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

The post Zulgad’s 3-and-out: Should Vikings be close to giving Walsh the boot? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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