Minnesota's defense is preparing for a rookie quarterback without much game tape, an up-and-coming receiver in Courtland Sutton and a Broncos running back duo in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with Twin Cities media members on Friday about Sutton, who leads Denver in receiving yards with 692, and the one-two punch of Lindsay and Freeman.
"Sutton's a heck of a receiver. [And] a terrific running back in Lindsay, a Pro Bowl player," Zimmer said.
"Lindsay kind of can do it all. He's a little bit of a scat guy – he's got great speed and acceleration," he later added. "Really tough. They're both tough, hard runners. [Freeman] might be a little more [in between] the tackles, but he does a nice job on screens and getting the job to the perimeter, as well. He's a good back."
The Vikings will be without a couple of starters on defense (see Injury Report below), but it's imperative that they stay focused stopping the Broncos and getting off the field on third downs.
Against Dallas last Sunday, Minnesota allowed the Cowboys to convert nine of 15 (60 percent) third-down attempts. The Vikings gave up 16 plays of double-digit gains; seven involved gains of 20 or more yards, and four were on third downs.
A home game against Denver's offense, traditionally less explosive than that of Minnesota's last opponent, should be a good opportunity for the Vikings defense to get back on track and make a statement heading into the bye week.
The Vikings on Friday ruled out WR Adam Thielen (hamstring), Linval Joseph (knee), Anthony Harris (groin) and Josh Kline (concussion). Minnesota also listed Andrew Sendejo (groin) as questionable.
Thielen, Joseph and Sendejo are continuing to rehab injuries that already have sidelined them from games. Kline suffered a concussion during Minnesota's game at Dallas last week, Harris did not practice Thursday or Friday after being limited on Wednesday. Trae Waynes, who missed last week with an ankle injury, is likely to make his return.
Jaleel Johnson will be ready to start a second straight game – and third of his career – for Joseph against the Broncos on Sunday.
The Broncos ruled cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot) out for Sunday and listed tight end Jeff Heuerman and tackle Ja'Wuan James (knee) as doubtful. Receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who was added to Thursday's injury report as a limited participant with a knee injury, is questionable.
Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio said that cornerback Duke Dawson (foot), Lindsay (wrist), safety Will Parks (hand) and defensive end DeMarcus Walker (shoulder) will go.
View practice photos from Thursday, November 14 at the TCO Performance Center.
No Thielen. No Linval. No Waynes. And for a lot of the game, no Kline.
Hello, role players needing to fill in and step up. Next-man-up feels worn and trite, but you play with 11 no matter what, so guys come off the bench. I have my own take on how that all went, but what's your take on the job that was done [in Dallas] by guys like Bisi [Johnson], Jaleel, [Mike] Hughes and Dakota [Dozier]? Clearly, [Kyle] Rudolph stepped up to take some of the receiving load.
— Jeff Kilty from Sacramento
Thank you, Jeff, for your question.
As far as the Vikings Sunday Night Football game against the Cowboys, plenty of guys stepped up, including the group you mentioned. I'll single out Jaleel in that bunch, though. He was making just his second career start, and it came against a tough Dallas o-line. He played well and was a key reason why the defense shut down Elliott. Here is what Zimmer said about him on Monday:
"He's got strong hands. He's got kind of a lower center of gravity which helps him to sit down on the double teams. He's a guy that's going to go fight every play."
I think your question can be applicable heading into Sunday's game against Denver, as well. Although it looks like Waynes will be good to go, the other three you listed (in addition to Harris) will be sidelined for Minnesota's final game before the bye.
While "next man up" may feel "worn," as you suggest, it's certainly the mentality that these players have, and they prepare as if they'll be starting on any given Sunday. I agree that it's never ideal to be missing key pieces of the roster, but fortunately for the Vikings, other players are prepared to step up.
"We've good players," Zimmer told reporters on Friday. "They study, they work hard, they come out here [and get ready]."
"[Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak] has been tremendous. It's probably the best thing that's ever happened to me since I've been here. He's very smart. I talk to him a lot about what he's done as a head coach. We talk a lot about offensive and defensive football. I just love his demeanor and the way that he and [Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski] can communicate during the games and also during the week on game plans."
Stat of the Week — 7-0 with 30+
The Vikings are 7-0 this season in games they have had 30-plus rushing attempts. They are 6-1 in games that they've recorded at least 150 net yards rushing.
CBS (WCCO in Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Play-by-Play: Kevin Harlan
Analyst: Rich Gannon
Sideline Reporter: Jay Feely
KFAN (100.3-FM/KTLK 1130-AM in Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Play-by-Play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline Reporters: Greg Coleman & Ben Leber
Radio Pre-game Show: Mike Mussman | 10 a.m. (CT)
KFAN and KTLK serve as the flagship stations for the five-state Vikings Radio Network.
Sirius: DEN 133 or Streaming 809; MIN 81 or Streaming 819
XM: DEN Streaming 809; MIN 225 or Streaming 819