Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen have been filling up the box score and the Vikings defense is beginning to regain its dominant form after a few uncharacteristic performances in the first month of the season. This week, the Vikings hit the road to play the New York Jets while riding a two-game winning streak.
To sustain the success they’ve achieved in the past two games, though, the Cousins-Thielen combo and a rock star defense won’t be enough. Just as they’ve seen during the consecutive wins at Philadelphia and at home to Arizona, it will be key depth that will also be relied upon to keep the train rolling down the tracks.
Here’s a look at a few examples of how the depth built up by the Vikings front office and coaching staff has already come up big in the first six weeks of the 2018 season:
Dalvin Cook: The Vikings starting running back has missed 3.5 games because of a hamstring injury and he’s been ruled out for this week’s game in New York. Latavius Murray has stepped up big time in Cook’s stead, rushing for a career-high 155 yards last week to go along with a touchdown. It’s also worth noting the Vikings decision to keep both Mike Boone and Roc Thomas out of training camp has already paid dividends with the Cook injury.
Everson Griffen: From a production standpoint and an emotional standpoint, the absence of Griffen is significant for the Vikings. Also significant, though, has been the production of Danielle Hunter at right defensive end (7.0 sacks in six games) and the ability of Stephen Weatherly to step into a starter’s role and contribute.
Riley Reiff: The Vikings offensive line has dealt with yet another curveball lately with the injury and absence of starting left tackle Riley Reiff. He left in the middle of the victory over the Eagles two weeks ago, which prompted the Vikings to slide Rashod Hill to left tackle and insert rookie Brian O’Neill at right tackle. Has it been perfect? No. But the offense has found a way to work with it and all the while O’Neill continues to get quality reps to help him build a foundation for his career.
Andrew Sendejo: He might not have the name recognition of fellow safety Harrison Smith or other defensive stalwarts like Griffen, Hunter and Xavier Rhodes, but Andrew Sendejo is important to the Vikings defense. He’s been out of action for a couple weeks, but a trio of backups have risen to the challenge. Last week in the win over Arizona, George Iloka started his first game while Anthony Harris nabbed an interception. Jayron Kearse continues to fill in at safety when needed and he’s also been a quality coverage player at nickel.
Special teams trending up
Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer was optimistic about his group’s direction following the win over Arizona. In the game, Dan Bailey was five for five on extra points and field goals, the Vikings held Cardinals returners in check and the average starting field position for Arizona was their own 26 (compared to the Vikings average starting field position being the Minnesota 31).
Here’s what Priefer had to say during the beginning moments of his weekly discussion with reporters:
“I thought our guys played our most complete game last Sunday. I was real proud of the way they played. Felt like we won the field position battle. We made all of our kicks. Played hard, played with enthusiasm and passion that we’ve been talking about all year long. Really, three weeks in a row we have gotten better and better. We just have to continue that trend.”
Tweet of the Week
Danielle Hunter may be on the quietest six-game streak ever. He has 7.0 sacks in the season’s first six games, but not many seem to be talking about him nationally. It should come as little surprise, then, that this remarkable statistic dug up by Mark Craig isn’t getting much publicity, either. Think about it: Hunter has been in the offensive backfield consistently the last three seasons yet he hasn’t been called one time (!) for roughing the passer. The article written by Craig that is associated with this tweet is worth your time.
Stat of the Week
The last five teams that had a 4-2-1 record all made the playoffs – 2016 Seahawks, 2014 Bengals, 1987 Broncos, 1986 49ers and 1982 Packers. If the Vikings win on Sunday in New York, their record will improve to 4-2-1.
National TV: FOX
Play-by-Play: Thom Brennaman
Analyst: Chris Spielman
Sideline: Shannon Spake
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-Play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman, Ben Leber