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NOTEBOOK: Vikings Have Relied on Depth During 4-2 Start

Posted Oct 16, 2017

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer often credits a team-oriented culture when the Vikings have success. 

He mentions unselfish, hard-working players who hardly care whether or not they get credit after a win. 

The Vikings have proven Zimmer’s mantra time and time again this season, using the all-hands-on-deck approach to get to a 4-2 record atop the NFC North.

Of the 53 players on Minnesota’s active roster, 50 players have appeared in a game and 30 of them have made at least one start.

Zimmer on Monday credited Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman for keeping Minnesota’s roster stocked with depth amidst a handful of injuries. 

“I think first of all, I think Rick has done a nice job of creating the roster. Like everybody, we don’t want to have injuries. But, that’s part of understanding the NFL,” Zimmer said. “Even the guys that we end up not keeping, I think we had good depth to pick from [out of] that group.

“In saying that, having a good locker room and a resilient group and understanding things happen throughout the course of a season, maybe some of the trial and tribulations we went throughout last year maybe helped to get guys to understand, that’s just part of life in the NFL, and we go about our business,” Zimmer added. “Each guy tries to get better each and every day.  That’s really all we’re trying to do, get better, try to get better this week. When guys’ numbers get called, they go out and perform just like the other guys would.”

The Vikings showed off their depth in Sunday’s win over the Packers as three players [wide receiver Michael Floyd, safety Anthony Harris and left guard Jeremiah Sirles] made their first starts of the season.

Floyd started in place on the injured Stefon Diggs, and Harris filled in for the injured Andrew Sendejo.

Harris, a former undrafted free agent, made his sixth career start. He helped the Vikings put up season lows in points allowed (10) and yards allowed (237).

“I think I did pretty good, just tried to get on the same page, know the calls, help guys get lined up,” Harris said. “Be in the right position in my coverage and stay tight on my coverage when I was in it.

“We’re all professionals, so I try to stay prepared and be a contributor in any way,” Harris added. “So far it’s been special teams, but I’m always trying to stay prepared if I need to go in on defense.”

Sirles made his 12th  career start, filling in for left guard Nick Easton. Sirles started 10 games in 2016 at various spots on the offensive line.

Sirles helped the Vikings put up 351 yards of offense, their third-highest total of the season.

“There were some things I’m not OK with, but we got the win, and it’s always easier to correct things off the tape after a win,” Sirles said. “Just continue to get better and improve every week, wherever I’m at.”

Vikings linebacker Emmanuel Lamur didn’t start, but ended up playing 38 defensive snaps after Anthony Barr did not play in the second half with a concussion.

“It’s next man up,” Lamur said. “You can’t lose that beat with the defense doing a good job. Just going out there and staying together and keeping that beat going.

“I made mistakes here and there and I could definitely get better in a few areas. A lot of those guys, they were acclimated in the game so it was good for me to come in and actually get perspective,” Lamur added. “I wanted to stay on top of my game. When the coaches are on the sidelines going over plays with Eric (Kendricks) and AB (Barr), I’m right there paying attention. Anything could happen and that’s what happened.”

Zimmer said he thought Lamur held his own in the second half.

“I think he did pretty well. I know he had a couple tackles,” Zimmer said. “There was one play in the flat. There was one time he had the tight end man-to-man. One time he covered him good.

“I think he was solid,” Zimmer added. “In all these guys there’s things we can do better and things we do good. We’re just trying to get better. All of us.” 

Zimmer said that’s the mindset a team has to have each and every week, especially when injuries mean players could be called on at any time.

“(Depth) is really important,” Zimmer said. “We’ve had our fair share of injuries as with everybody else in this league I’m sure.

“It’s nice to see when Harris comes in, or [Jerick] McKinnon or Latavius [Murray] come in, when [Case] Keenum comes in, Sirles … these guys come in and compete,” Zimmer added.

Vikings defense remains NFL’s best on 3rd downs

The Vikings entered Sunday’s game as the NFL’s best defense on third downs. Minnesota walked out of U.S. Bank Stadium having improved in that stat.

Through six games, the Vikings have allowed opponents to convert on just 18 of 72 third-down tries, good for exactly 25 percent.

Minnesota entered the game allowing a 25.5 percent success rate on third downs before it limited Green Bay to four first downs in 17 tries.

Zimmer said his defense has been in a rhythm with being able to get opposing offenses off the field.

“Sometimes it’s just the way it goes, you get into good stretches,” Zimmer said. “We’ve been pretty good in coverage, and our rush is usually pretty good. 

“I think our linebackers have done a good job,” Zimmer added. “We’ve had to change up some things because some people have tried to scheme us in some different areas. It’s just six weeks now or whatever. So, things could change fast." 

Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen put it more colorfully.

“Because we bad. We bad. Any time we get to rush, we’re going to be bad,” Griffen said. “You can’t give us too many shots, you know what I’m sayin’? We’ve got that confidence, we’ve got that swag, and we’re not going to let anything interfere with that.

“We’re going to do it together as a team and as one,” Griffen added. “I feel like we can be the best, but we have to prove it each and every week, and it starts this week with the Ravens.”

Looking for a spark

The Vikings have traditionally been one of the NFL’s strongest kickoff return units, and rank currently rank fifth with an average of 25.5 yards per return.

But Zimmer said Monday he’s looking for a spark in that department, noting it will take a team effort to get better starting field position. 

“We can block better, for one thing. We can block better,” Zimmer said. “We can catch the ball on the move, which we didn’t do very good yesterday.

“Moving forward, it’s a lot about timing. It’s a lot about getting the guys blocked,” Zimmer added. “We have to do a better job there in the kickoff return game.”

Rookie Stacy Coley recorded his first NFL kickoff return Sunday and gained 19 yards. Jerick McKinnon has averaged 26.0 yards on 12 returns.