The No. 1 factor that caused me to predict the Vikings would go 7-10 this season — a disastrous prognostication that became mathematically impossible at roughly the halfway point of the year — was a perceived lack of depth on the roster.
In changing decision-makers at GM and head coach in the offseason but largely keeping a top-heavy roster intact, the Vikings went in 2022 with a familiar calculus: Hope that enough of their best players don't get hurt, because the drop-off in talent and experience at key spots was precipitous.
They navigated an 8-1 start with relative good health, and the injuries they picked up along the way were largely nonfactors in final outcomes. Their depth even looked promising at times: rookie corner Akayleb Evans was strong initially in replacing the injured Cameron Dantzler, while left tackle Blake Brandel earned high praise (and Pro Football Focus marks) in relief of Christian Darrisaw in a stirring win at Buffalo.
But as I talked about on Wednesday's Daily Delivery podcast, all the valid questions about depth seemed to catch up with Minnesota at once in Sunday's 40-3 loss to Dallas.
In three key areas, the Vikings could be affected for Thursday's game against New England:
- Defensive line: Stout lineman Dalvin Tomlinson was injured late in the Vikings' 34-26 over Arizona on Oct. 30 and hasn't played since then. That was the third straight game the Vikings had held an opponent to 78 rushing yards or fewer, their three best games of the season in that category. Without Tomlinson, the Vikings have given up 137, 175 and 151 rushing yards while narrowly escaping with wins over Washington and Buffalo before Sunday's disaster. If Tomlinson isn't back Thursday on a short week, you can bet Bill Belichick will be ready to exploit that weakness.
- Secondary: Evans suffered a concussion against Buffalo and missed the Dallas game. He still isn't out of concussion protocol. Fellow rookie Andrew Booth Jr. had a nightmare game (48.1 PFF coverage grade) and picked up a knee injury Sunday. New England doesn't have the passing attack that Dallas does, but it could still exploit a banged up secondary.
- Offensive line: With Darrisaw going out again against Dallas and for sure missing at least Thursday, Brandel was exposed against a fierce Cowboys rush (26.5 PFF pass blocking grade). He was hardly the only problem on the line, but the drop-off from a healthy Darrisaw to Brandel is significant.
The bottom line: Any team is going to be diminished when starters can't play. But the drop-off from first man up to next man up on the Vikings continues to be significant and is becoming a real problem as the season goes along.