There are those who feel that the injury to Christian Ponder actually provided a positional upgrade when he was replaced by Matt Cassel. Many of those same people believe the move to Josh Freeman (whether this week, the next or the one after that) will be a similar upgrade.
The rest of the offense has remained largely intact and injury-free beyond the normal strains and tweaks that come during a 16-game regular season. The defensive line has seen both Kevin Williams and Sharrif Floyd return from injury and compete. The linebacker corps lost Desmond Bishop, but basically all that does is give the starting job back to Marvin Mitchell and push rookie Gerald Hodges up a peg on the depth chart. It doesn't help, but the Bishop injury isn't a "killer" like it would be if Chad Greenway was lost for the season. Simply stated, Bishop's role was appreciated, but he wasn't a full-time player because of how often the Vikings take their weakside linebacker out of the game and employ five defensive backs.
For a team that has weathered the injury storm everywhere else, the injuries to the secondary are the ones that have made the biggest impact. The struggles the 2013 Vikings have endured can be placed directly on the breakdowns in the secondary that have been made worse by four of their top five defensive backs – Harrison Smith, Chris Cook, Xavier Rhodes and Jamarca Sanford – missing time due to injury and their fifth (Josh Robinson) getting mercilessly exposed.
Receivers have found themselves wide open in the Vikings secondary, resulting in some enormous yardage days for receivers.
Week 1 at Detroit: Running back Reggie Bush catches four passes for 101 yards, including the game-breaking 77-yard touchdown that gave the Lions an advantage they wouldn't surrender.
Week 2 at Chicago: Brandon Marshall catches seven passes for 113 yards and a 34-yard touchdown. Matt Forte catches 10 passes for 73 yards, which couldn't be blamed on the defensive backs but is worth nothing. Tight end Martellus Bennett catches seven passes for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner in the closing seconds.
Week 4 vs. Pittsburgh: Take your pick. Lead dog Antonio Brown is targeted 13 times and catches 12 of them for 88 yards. Tight end Heath Miller pulls in six more for 70 yards. Third receiver Jerricho Cotchery caught five passes for 101 yards – the fourth straight game in which a receiver had 100 yards or more.
Week 6 vs. Carolina: The Vikings limited Steve Smith to just five catches for 21 yards, but one of those was a touchdown. No. 2 receiver Brandon LaFell caught four passes for 107 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown on a blown coverage in the secondary. Ten yards on the fly, 79 yards on the stat sheet.
With a date with the angry, desperate and once-proud Giants, one has to wonder if not only Victor Cruz will get 100 yards and resurrect his recently endangered salsa dance, but will Hakeem Nicks and Reuben Randle be next in line for a big day? Or tight end Brandon Myers, who is looking for a breakout game like Bennett and Cameron had?
We'll find out more today on the status of Smith and Rhodes. But the bottom line is that, healthy or not, if the Vikings secondary continues to allow receivers free roam downfield – whether by poor play or poor scheme – the Vikings are going continue to struggle if they don't start taking chances and making plays in the secondary.
While a secondary is often only as good as its pass rush, the Vikings front four has consistently made quarterbacks uncomfortable. Most have employed a three-step drop to get rid of the ball quickly. Others have thrown screens. Those who have done classic drop-backs have tended to get hit. The Tampa-2 defense is quickly becoming antiquated and the requirement of making that defense work is strong secondary play. To date, the Vikings haven't got that. Why are they 1-4? The secondary is a big reason.
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.