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Zulgad: Vikings’ starters continue to fall, but the victories just keep coming

By Judd Zulgad

MINNEAPOLIS – It’s a testament to Mike Zimmer’s impact that when Stefon Diggs was listed as doubtful on the Vikings’ injury report last Friday there was barely any concern expressed.

Sure, Diggs led the Vikings in catches (25) and receiving yards (372), but his absence in Sunday’s game against Houston wasn’t about to stop this purple machine from charging ahead.

The Vikings already had lost their starting quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), top running back (Adrian Peterson), both their left and right tackles (Matt Kalil and Andre Smith) and defensive tackle (Sharrif Floyd).

Despite the injuries, the Vikings had started 4-0, using a defense that makes good quarterbacks look lost. So what was another injury going to do to stop the Vikings?

The answer: Absolutely nothing.

The Vikings will enter their bye week with a 5-0 record after dismantling the Houston Texans, 31-13, at U.S. Bank Stadium. It marks the Vikings’ best start since they began 6-0 in 2009 before losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The latest starter to join the injury list was left guard Brandon Fusco, who suffered a concussion on Minnesota’s first drive and did not return. That left center Joe Berger as the only opening-day starter on the offensive line who has not missed a snap this season.

So who deserves credit for the fact these Vikings seem to look at injuries as an opportunity?

Zimmer is atop the list, but you can’t overlook the fact that general manager Rick Spielman has been the main guy behind building a roster that has enough depth to overcome these losses.

Spielman took quick action in replacing Bridgewater with Sam Bradford only four days after Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic knee injury during a preseason practice.

There were some who thought that Spielman was crazy for giving up a first- and conditional fourth-round pick to Philadelphia to get Bradford but five weeks later Spielman is the leader for NFL executive of the year because of that decision.

“It’s a next-man-up mentality in this locker room,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Sunday after being part of a defensive effort that held Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler to 184 yards passing.

“We lose Teddy and the front office went out and got a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback. We lose Adrian, Jerick (McKinnon) and Matt (Asiata) come in and we haven’t lost a beat. … In this locker room, we know the show must go on no matter what. The show has got to go on.”

This is not to say the Vikings don’t have concerns.

Blair Walsh did not have any kicking miscues on Sunday – he made a 19-yard field goal and all four extra-point attempts — but every time he trots on the field everyone at U.S. Bank Stadium, including his head coach, holds their collective breath.

There were some who felt it was a good thing when inconsistent left tackle Matt Kalil went on injured reserve last month because of an issue with his hip. But those same folks might have a very different feeling after watching T.J. Clemmings get worked by Houston linebacker Whitney Mercilus in the first half Sunday.

Clemmings, who struggled at right tackle last season after Phil Loadholt was injured in the preseason, needs help to keep Bradford’s blindside protected. An injury to Bradford is one thing that could be the Vikings’ undoing, considering asking 36-year-old Shaun Hill to take over might be too much.

The Vikings’ offensive line finished Sunday’s game with Clemmings at left tackle, Alex Boone at left guard, Berger at center, Zac Kerin at right guard and Jeremiah Sirles at right tackle. There is little depth left behind them.

These issues are likely to preoccupy Spielman and Zimmer’s thoughts – NFL executives and coaches aren’t the types to celebrate in-season success – but there are far more positives than negatives.

This includes the emergence of Cordarrelle Patterson and the incredible story of Adam Thielen, who catches just about everything thrown his way. Is it a bit surprising that Charles Johnson was a non-factor in the offense on Sunday, or that first-round pick Laquon Treadwell rarely sees the field?

Sure, but how about the fact that Patterson has gone from first-round bust to a guy who made a fantastic 9-yard catch over Texans cornerback Charles James in the corner of the end zone early in the fourth quarter to give the Vikings a 31-6 lead? That was Patterson’s first touchdown reception since Oct. 19, 2014 against Buffalo.

Patterson finished with four catches for 39 yards; Thielen caught seven passes for 127 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown to set the tone on the Vikings’ opening drive.

The Vikings’ defense, of course, remains the star of the show. Osweiler was defeated the moment he started watching film of Zimmer’s wall of confusion defense last week.

Houston did not get its initial first down until almost halfway through the second quarter. Osweiler was intercepted once, sacked four times and was hit on 13 occasions.

The Eagles’ 24-23 loss to Detroit on Sunday leaves the Vikings as the only undefeated team in the NFC and with a week to try to get a few guys healthy. And if those guys don’t get healthy by the time the Vikings play the Eagles on Oct. 23 in Philadelphia?

“We’re a team, we’re not a bunch of individuals,” Zimmer said.

In many cases this would sound like a tired cliché. But in this case, and considering the Vikings’ success, it’s hard to argue with the man.

The post Zulgad: Vikings’ starters continue to fall, but the victories just keep coming appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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