Everyone is consumed by the Vikings’ quarterback situation, and rightfully so. It’s fascinating, and this week’s decision — Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater? — will be revealed Wednesday. We talked about it at length on this week’s Access Vikings podcast.
As we wait for that decision, though, it’s important to note that while quarterback play will have a major impact on how the rest of the season goes for the Vikings, so too will a lot of other factors. As such, here are five key Vikings storylines that aren’t about the quarterbacks:
*The offensive line seemingly has become a strength: Vikings quarterbacks have only been sacked 10 times this season — and a bunch of those came in Sam Bradford’s limited mobility first half at Chicago. Passers have generally had plenty of time to throw, while Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers have solidified the tackle spots. That said, there is still some question as to whether the line is measurably good or just measurably better than 2016.
In a recent Pro Football Focus article (subscription required), the Vikings’ offensive line was still identified as a potential liability. One excerpt: “The Minnesota offensive line is immeasurably better than a season ago, but they are still an average at best unit, with the capacity to be dominated by a good defensive front, particularly in the run game.”
*The running game remains strong even without Dalvin Cook: The Vikings haven’t lost a full game since Cook was lost for the season during their 14-7 loss to the Lions. The tandem of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray has been good enough on the ground and even better through the air — whether it’s McKinnon’s 30 catches or the pass blocking of both — to make up for Cook’s absence. McKinnon is Pro Football Focus’s 14th-highest graded running back this year.
*Good health has helped the defense maintain a high level of play, but both will need to continue: The Vikings have sustained several key offensive injuries, but their defense largely has been spared. Everson Griffen missed last week’s game. Andrew Sendejo has missed two — one for injury, one for suspension — but otherwise the starters have been on the field. Injuries eroded the Vikings’ defensive effectiveness in the second half of last season, but so far this season good health has contributed to a strong defense.
*Adam Thielen is blossoming into a star: The Vikings haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009. Thielen is just 207 yards short of that benchmark with seven games to play. He’s third in the NFL in receiving yards (793), tied for seventh in receptions (56) and tied for first with Antonio Brown for most receptions of 20 yards or more (14).
*The next two games will tell us a lot: If the Vikings defeat the Rams on Sunday in a showdown between 7-2 teams, they will gain an inside edge in the race for a first-round bye while solidifying their overall playoff position. If they lose and Detroit wins, the Vikings will suddenly be vulnerable to playing on Thanksgiving in Detroit with first place in the NFC North on the line — and with the Lions already having won in Minnesota. Suffice to say, this is an important two-game swing — making the quarterback question all the more interesting and important.