There's no denying the toll injuries have taken on the Vikings roster this season.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer won't use injuries as an excuse, nor will his players, but there's no sugarcoating the beating the team has taken – particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
ESPN recently rolled out an "injury checkup" for all 32 teams entering the season's homestretch. Teams were grouped into three categories: (1) Feeling good, (2) Could be worse and (3) Under the weather.
To no one's surprise, Minnesota fell into that final category. The Vikings certainly aren't the most injured team in the league – the Ravens have missed 81 starts due to injury! – but were given a health rating of 4 (out of 10).
ESPN's Courtney Cronin noted that nine Vikings currently are on Injured Reserve, and 32 starts have been missed due to injury. She wrote:
Minnesota is dealing with considerable injuries on defense for a second straight year – especially along the defensive line, with injuries to Danielle Hunter and Michael Pierce and absences from Dalvin Tomlinson (COVID-19) and Everson Griffen (non-football illness) forcing the Vikings to get creative in the ways they move linemen around. The secondary took several hits, too, with cornerback Patrick Peterson being on IR for three games and safety Harrison Smith having to miss two games while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Steelers.
Tomlinson and Pierce returned to action last week, and Peterson is in line to do so Thursday after missing last week's game while on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Steelers, whom the Vikings will host this week for Thursday Night Football, fell into the "could be worse" category with a health rating of 5. ESPN's Brooke Pryor wrote the following of Pittsburgh's situation:
The Steelers have struggled to stay healthy this season – especially on defense. At defensive end, Stephon Tuitt hasn't played a down since knee surgery earlier this year, and Tyson Alualu hasn't played since fracturing his ankle in Week 2. Linebacker T.J. Watt, usually so durable, has missed time with a groin injury and a knee and hip injury, and [he] also landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Nearly every position group has missed a starter at one point this season.
The Vikings and Steelers released their first injury report of the week Monday afternoon.
Scoggins spotlights '5 painful decisions' in hindsight of Lions loss
The Vikings have flipped the page to Pittsburgh, but the Star Tribune's Chip Scoggins is still looking at decisions that came back to haunt Minnesota in Sunday's outing at Detroit.
Scoggins listed "five painful decisions" by Zimmer that, in hindsight, "led to one brutal loss." He criticized the shuffling of the offensive line, saying the Vikings should have just subbed in Rashod Hill for Christian Darrisaw and left the rest of the group alone.
Scoggins also mentioned the "fourth-down gamble" that didn't pay off for Minnesota. He wrote:
I normally applaud aggressive play calls and game management, but Zimmer went too far past the line with a fourth-down call at the end of the first half, costing his team three points.
The Vikings faced fourth-and-10 at the Detroit 42 with 35 seconds left. Zimmer opted to go for it, and Kirk Cousins was sacked before he flipped the ball away at the last second.
That whole sequence was confounding. On [second] down, Cousins threw the ball 25 yards downfield to Justin Jefferson and was nearly intercepted. [On third down, a deep pass to Dede Westbrook was incomplete.] If Zimmer's plan was to go for it on fourth down, why not run something higher percentage to make fourth down more manageable? They only needed a handful of yards to get into field-goal range.
Trailing 17-6, even a punt would have been preferable because failing to get a first down gave the Lions ideal field position to squeeze in a field goal before halftime. Those three points proved to be costly.
Scoggins said Zimmer "unnecessarily" opted to "start chasing points" in the third quarter.
Alexander Mattison's 8-yard touchdown run cut Detroit's lead to 20-15 with 6 minutes, 13 seconds remaining in the quarter. The Vikings had plenty of game left. Just kick the extra point. Instead, Zimmer called for a 2-point conversion, which failed and thus forced his hand after subsequent scores.
The Vikings didn't put enough pressure on Lions quarterback Jared Goff, Scoggins opined, and they played soft coverage on a final drive that ripped away a Minnesota comeback in heartbreaking fashion.
On the final play, Cameron Dantzler lined up 10 yards off receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and then backpedaled nonchalantly into the end zone. St. Brown ran into the end zone, turned and caught the pass before Dantzler and safety Xavier Woods closed on him. It looked like an easy pitch-and-catch between a quarterback who faced no pressure and a receiver who wasn't covered tightly.