Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.
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A few key Vikings played a big role in the loss to the Lions on Sunday, as they missed the game. The Vikings have been one of the most healthy teams in the league so far, a key part of the success and the 10-3 record.
Leading up to the divisional showdown in Week 14, however, the injury report was filled much more than in the past. A handful of players appeared with a mysterious illness but they eventually played. Rookie cornerback Akayleb Evans was placed on injured reserve but starting cornerback Cameron Dantzler came back.
Some other crucial players missed the game and the opportunity to clinch the NFC North and a postseason spot. The offensive line missed two of their starters. Both left tackle Christian Darrisaw and center Garrett Bradbury didn’t play in the game.
Darrisaw cleared concussion protocol last week but the Vikings wanted to make sure not to go with any risk with their star player. He suffered his second concussion in the Cowboys game, just one week after exiting the matchup with the Bills because of the same injury.
Blake Brandel replaced him and did a solid job as a backup tackle but the dropoff is significant. Darrisaw is playing at an All-Pro level and is one of the most dominant offensive linemen in the business. A dropoff is not only accepted but also expected. Brandel, unfortunately, tore his MCL and will miss the remainder of the regular season. Oli Udoh came in for Brandel to finish the game.
Bradbury missed the game with what the team called a back injury and was replaced by Austin Schlottmann. The backup struggled to open holes in the running game and was a liability against the pass rush, allowing five QB pressures.
The majority of the Vikings fanbase wanted the team to move on from Bradbury but he is showing his ability. Playing in a contract year, most of his doubters would probably be happy with a contract extension. He turned his career around and became a reliable player in the trenches.
Both offensive linemen should be back on Saturday when the Indianapolis Colts visit US Bank Stadium. Kevin O’Connell said on Monday that he anticipates Darrisaw and Bradbury to play in Week 15.
That should be a huge upgrade in the passing game for Kirk Cousins but someone else should be even happier about the reinforcements. Dalvin Cook had a disastrous game against the Lions behind a decimated line and gained only 1.5 yards per carry. Darrisaw and Bradbury should help him to get back on track.
Another important contributor, safety Harrison Smith, didn’t play because of a neck injury. Josh Metellus came in for him for the second time this season. Smith also missed Week 3 against the Lions, so he didn’t play against Detroit in the 2022 season.
The backup did a good job for most of the game and actually looked better than Cam Bynum, his counterpart at the safety position. Smith is a potential future Hall of Famer and cannot be replaced. Only a handful of safeties in the league can play at his level.
O’Connell provided a quick update on Smith’s status and said that his safety is progressing well. That’s not a lot of info but it sounds more likely that he will play on Saturday. That should help defensive coordinator Ed Donatell to fix his defense. The unit has given up 400 yards to the opponents in five straight games and the team allowed two big-play touchdown passes without Smith in the lineup. It’s possible that those don’t happen with him on the field.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt