The Vikings defense ostensibly had to game plan for Kirk Cousins, the backup to allegedly mildly concussed starter Robert Griffin III last week when the Vikings played the Washington Redskins. RG3 was listed as questionable, but nobody doubted that when the Washington offense took the field, Griffin would be under center. In the end, the only people with lingering headaches after the game were the Vikings and their fans.
As the Vikings prepare to face the Arizona Cardinals they do so against quarterback John Skelton, who has been on both sides of the injury reality of the NFL. Arizona had one of the more spirited preseason quarterback controversies – a legitimate controversy. Arizona gave up a lot, both in draft currency and the financial commitment made, to get Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia to be the face of the franchise in the post-Kurt Warner era. What the Cardinals have learned is that he’s no Kurt Warner.
In the open preseason competition, John Skelton, who will start Sunday, won the battle and was awarded the starting job. That lasted all of three quarters of the season opener, when an ankle injury sent Skelton to the sidelines and installed Kolb as the starter by default.
As the Cardinals got off to a 4-0 start, Kolb proved that a starter can lose his job due to injury when he remained the starter after Skelton’s ankle injury healed. Unfortunately, the Cardinals’ offensive line is so dismal that Kolb was sacked 22 times in the last three games and finally succumbed to a rib injury. Enter Skelton, stage left. Next man (back) up.
At the same time, the Cardinals’ run game is in flux. When the season began, Beanie Wells was supposed to be the primary runner. But ineffectiveness sent him to the sidelines and an injury sent him to I.R. – shelving his 2012 season to the end of November at best with no touchdowns and a rushing average of just 2.6 yards per carry. There was no panic. The Cardinals still had Ryan Williams.
The 38th pick in the 2011 draft, Williams missed the entire season after tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee. However, in the first two games before Wells went down to the new-look injured reserve, Williams averaged just 1.2 yard a carry – gaining just 22 yards on 18 carries. But when he took over and gashed Philadelphia for 83 yards on 13 carries, all seemed well. Two weeks later at St. Louis, he suffered a shoulder injury that put him on the old-school injured reserve. He’s done for the year.
Enter William Powell, a first-year player who prior to last week against Buffalo had three carries for 9 yards. Last week, he was thrown into duty and carried 13 times for 70 yards. He is the next man up (for the third time) as the Cardinals’ featured running back.
So, how do the Vikings put together a game plan for a team whose starting quarterback hasn’t been viable since Week 1 and their featured running back didn’t take over the job until last week? According to linebacker Jasper Brinkley, given so little meaningful tape on both Skelton and Powell, it’s impossible to game plan for the unknown.
“You don’t,” Brinkley said when asked how film study can prepare the Vikings for new players. “You just have to go with who they come out there with on Sunday. Everybody is pretty much the same basically. They’re going to stay within their scheme. They’re not going to try to go outside the box because they’ve lost a couple of guys. Overall, they look really good on film.”
Despite a new cast of critical skill-position characters in the Arizona offense, the Vikings aren’t taking anything for granted. They’ve lost two games in a row, but they’re still 4-2 and have already beaten Seattle, New England and Philadelphia and don’t have the Vikings taking them lightly.
“They’re 4-2 for a reason,” linebacker Erin Henderson said. “They have players that can get the job done on both sides of the ball. If someone goes down, somebody else has to step up and get the job done.”
The question remains, however, how many players can the Cardinals lose to injury and expect to win Sunday? They’ve lost the last two weeks to St. Louis and Buffalo and the Vikings are hoping that – new-look offense or not – the third loss for the Cardinals will come in Minnesota.
Playing games overseas is different for players, who are regimented and structured in how they conduct their business. Michael Jenkins is a veteran who provides a lot of advice and leadership to the young core of the team. When the Vikings head to London next year, Jenkins will be able to give the first-timers (pretty much everyone else on the roster) some advice on playing a game abroad because he’s been there.
“It’s not really a problem, but it breaks routine,” Jenkins said. “You have a routine week in and week out. It will be something new. Players, fans and families will be excited to go. I had a chance to go to Tokyo my rookie year. We played the Colts in the preseason. I’m used to it a little bit.”
At 6-4, Jenkins routinely is the tallest guy in the room when he’s out and about. In Japan, he was like Godzilla. Asked if he felt like a giant in Tokyo, Jenkins said that wasn’t far from the truth.
“I pretty much was,” Jenkins said. “Everybody over there is maybe 5-5 and under … and the beds are about that size. It was an experience.”
Brett Favre is making news down in the Gulf Coast as the offensive coordinator for Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Miss. – and once again, it would seem he’s taking a sideswipe at the Packers. His Oak Grove team is 7-1 and had a come-from-behind win last Friday vs. Meridian High School. Asked by a local sports rube about the win, Favre said it harkened him back to the greatest moment of his career. Winning the Super Bowl? Nope. The monster night against Oakland when he played after the passing of his father? Nope. His happiest moment as a pro was with the Vikings.
“The end of the game when (Oak Grove QB) Kirk (McCarty) threw that (go-ahead) touchdown, there was a part of me that felt like I was back up against San Francisco when I was with Minnesota. If you would have asked me after that game if I would ever have that feeling again or even close to that, I would have told you ‘no.’ But I’m sitting here telling you now that it was pretty close.”
Just when you think Favre has mended fences with Packer Nation, he drops a quote that gets them salty all over again.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.