The week of practice is over and the Vikings are set for their game this Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Here's what we learned this week about the Vikings as they prepared for Week 15.
Four Vikings Starters Ruled OutThe Vikings will be a banged up bunch when they travel to Detroit this weekend in an attempt to avenge an earlier-season loss to Detroit and capture both their consecutive win and their first NFC North win of the season. S Robert Blanton (ankle/knee), LG Charlie Johnson (ankle), DT Sharrif Floyd (knee) and LB Anthony Barr (knee) have all been ruled out. WR Cordarrelle Patterson (hamstring) is questionable and all other Vikings on the report are probable.
The Lions ruled out starting DT Nick Fairley (knee) and listed RB Reggie Bush (ankle) and LB Tahir Whitehead (shoulder) as questionable. All others on the report are probable.
Bridgewater Becoming More Comfortable in Leadership RoleQuarterbacks are expected to be leaders. Where that can get tricky is when a rookie is thrust into the starting quarterback role. Becoming a leader in a NFL locker room is a tall task and the process is one that must be navigated carefully by a rookie.
It sounds like Vikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater is handling it like a pro. Asked if he feels Bridgewater has grown more comfortable in a leadership role as the season has gone on, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said: "I do. I see a lot of things like that as we get going - the joking around, the communication, really everything. It's a natural process that I'm sure he's gone through."
It's a process Bridgewater says he's gone through at many different levels of football.
"Whether it was Pop Warner football, high school football or college football, I always wanted to be the leader," Bridgewater said. "Right now, I just feel that I just have to continue to just do the right things, not try to do too much. Things are just going to fall in place.
"I think for me being a young guy, I just have to continue to show that I know my job, I know my assignment, I know what the team is asking me to do and not try to do too much, not try to be something that I'm not."
Zimmer Values Inside Pass RushDefensive ends are pass rushers and defensive tackles stop the run. Those are typically the roles associated with the two types of positions along a four-man defensive front. But when asked who caused him to lose more sleep at night between WR Calvin Johnson and DT Ndamukong Suh, Zimmer explained the value a defensive tackle can add by providing a pass-rushing presence.
"In today's NFL, the way that there is so much throwing going on, guys that have really good inside pass rushers are usually pretty good on defense because usually guards aren't as good of athletes as the tackles that ends are playing against," Zimmer explained. "I've always felt, in a 4-3 defense especially, if you've got a great inside pass rusher, you have an advantage that a lot of teams have because you can find some ends. But, those inside guys can create a lot of havoc in there because you've got to turn to them, you've got to help chip on them sometimes and then they can get some good one-on-one matchups and really it's the same as the receiver."
The Vikings have seen some pass-rushing production from their defensive tackles this season, with Linval Joseph registering 2.5 sacks and both Sharrif Floyd (4.5) and Tom Johnson (5.5) registering career-highs in sacks. Another way the Vikings could pressure quarterbacks from the tackle position is by moving Everson Griffen, the team's leader in sacks with 12.0, to the inside on some downs, a tactic past Vikings coaching staffs have employed.
When asked if this year's coaching staff has considered that move, Zimmer said yes. When asked what's prevented them from following through on it, Zimmer was a bit coyer.
"Well nothing has really kept us from doing it," the Vikings first-year head coach said. "He's having success where he's been but we're always looking for matchups. That's a possibility that might happen, I don't know, we'll see."
Playing on the Road Adds to OL's ChallengeFor most of the season, the Vikings have been playing with at least one backup as a starter on the offensive line. This week, the Vikings will have three backups in the starting lineup – Joe Berger at right guard, Vladimir Ducasse at left guard and Mike Harris at right tackle. In the past three weeks, the patchwork line has come together nicely, paving the way for Vikings running backs to average 4.1 yards per carry and allowing just eight sacks in that stretch.
"I think it's been a real challenge," Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner said. "I think (OL coach) Jeff [Davidson] has done a great job, Jeff and (Assistant OL coach) Hank [Fraley] have done a great job of getting those guys ready to play, getting those guys ready, the backups ready to play even when they weren't starters. I think being at home has helped us the last couple of weeks, being at home and being able to kind of have a little bit more control."
The Vikings won't be at home this week, though. Instead, they'll travel to Ford Field to play a Lions team that has lost just once at home and has allowed just 17 points in each of the past two contests.
"This will be a challenge," Turner explained. "You go on the road, you go in a dome, you go against the defensive front – this defensive front is playing as well as anybody in the NFL right now, have been all year really. This will be a real test for our guys."