(Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)
The Vikings may have an easier schedule in the first half of the season, but they have been as injury-free as any point in the last three years. That can’t be discounted.
Injuries are part of the NFL. They go hand-in-glove with the nature of the game. Football is a violent game and, if you ask players, nobody feels 100 percent at this point of the season.
When injuries get so bad that they take a toll on the roster to the point that the phrase “next man up” is the mantra of the locker room, trouble follows. In 2009, the Vikings stayed largely healthy and the result was a 12-4 season and a deep playoff run. In 2010, Brett Favre was never healthy and the results were obvious on the field. The Vikings had returned all of their starters, but the injury to the Silver Fox was enough to derail the entire offense. As other injuries piled up, the Vikings went into the tank and finished 6-10.
In 2011, as the franchise hit bottom, so did the list of injuries. By the time the season ended, Adrian Peterson had undergone knee surgery after previously missing time with an ankle injury. The injured reserve list looked like a who’s who of the roster, including Pro Bowlers Antoine Winfield, Steve Hutchinson, starting safeties Husain Abdullah and Tyrell Johnson, middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, wide receiver Michael Jenkins and long snapper Cullen Loeffler.
There wasn’t a unit of the team that was untouched by injury. The Vikings started three different quarterbacks and only five players started all 16 games – Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Brian Robison, Phil Loadholt and Charlie Johnson. Injuries took as big a toll as any.
For the purposes of example, in 2009 only one player (E.J. Henderson) was placed on injured reserve the entire season and 10 players started all 16 games.
If observers are looking for an explanation as to why the Vikings are 5-2 at this point of the season, the lack of devastating injuries should be at or near the top of the list. The only starter that has been sidelined due to injury has been linebacker Erin Henderson, who missed two games due to a concussion. None of the three players placed on injured reserve at this point – Greg Childs, DeMarcus Love and Nick Taylor – were expected to start, and Childs might have been the only one with a contributing role.
“Every time I see these injury reports from around the League, I go, ‘Wow.’ Some key players on teams being lost for the season, weeks,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said last week. “So far, we’ve been very, very blessed in a lot of ways.”
To look around the league, it’s clear that isn’t the case in most places. Injuries have crippled the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Redskins and Cardinals and have made life a lot more difficult for more teams than not. And we’re not even at the midway point of the season. More teams are taken out of Super Bowl contention due to injuries to critical players than to a lack of talent or poor coaching/preparation. At this time last year, the Bears were being discussed as a Super Bowl contender – as they are again this year. When quarterback Jay Cutler went down, the team folded like a card table and fell out of sight from the playoff chase, much less competing for a championship.
To date, the Vikings have remained as healthy as any team in the league. Is it due to the number of young players whose bodies are capable of recovering faster than older veterans? Is it due to a difference in training camp regimen? Is it just luck? The answers to those questions are clearly up to debate, but nobody is arguing the results.
Most national NFL analysts predicted the Vikings to only have four or five wins by Christmas. They have five wins before Halloween with one more game to play. Rationale can be made for it – a “weak” schedule is the one most analysts are using – but one that may hold the most water is that the team the Vikings left Mankato with in mid-August is the same team they have in mid-October. They’ve had the same people playing the same roles in the offense, defense and special teams that they envisioned in the preseason and success has followed.
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.