The Minnesota Vikings had a freebie lined up during Week 8. They were coming off back-to-back wins and were catching the Dallas Cowboys without Dak Prescott under center. If there was ever a time for the Vikings to establish themselves as legitimate playoff contenders, right before the trade deadline, it was against Dallas.
However, due to the improbable emergence of one Cooper Rush, the complete opposite occurred. The Vikings lost an extremely winnable game on national TV, paving the way for critics to jump all over them.
To make matters worse, they also suffered a devastating injury on defense. An injury that could easily knock them out of the playoff picture altogether.
Minnesota Vikings DE Danielle Hunter suffered a torn pec
Danielle Hunter is arguably the Vikings’ best overall defender when healthy. He logged 14.5 sacks in 2018 and 2019 and has always been a heavy producer for quarterback hits, tackles, and tackles for loss.
Fresh off a neck injury that caused him to miss all of 2020, Hunter was enjoying a fantastic bounce-back campaign. He recorded 6.0 sacks, six TFLs, and 10 quarterback hits through the season’s first six weeks. His three-sack performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 helped reintroduce Hunter to the national media.
Unfortunately for both Hunter and the Vikings, his magnificent bounce-back season has come to a swift end. Hunter tore his pec during the team’s Sunday night loss to Dallas, an injury that will see him miss the remainder of the 2021 season.
The Minnesota Vikings’ D-Line is thin on depth
The Vikings rely on Hunter a lot when it comes to their defensive scheme. Between him and veteran pass-rusher Everson Griffen, Minnesota has two primary defensive ends to whom they attach responsibility. After that, the depth is fairly lackluster.
D.J. Wonnum and Kenny Willekes are the other defensive ends on the roster. Neither are household names by any stretch of the imagination.
The good news for the Vikings is they still have time to bring in reinforcements through trade. However, it’s reasonable to question the logic behind Minnesota buying at this year’s deadline. They’re 3-4 and just lost to Cooper Rush. This isn’t exactly a team that’s one piece away from contending.
This spells trouble for Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins tends to shoulder most criticism when it comes to the Vikings’ multi-year period of mediocrity. He’s always been viewed as a B-tier quarterback instead of someone worth building your franchise around.
With that said, Cousins is actually playing good football this season. His passer rating is up at 103.3, and his 14-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is the best in the NFL at the moment.
However, unfortunately for Cousins, losing Hunter on the defensive side of the ball only sets him and the Vikings up for another frustratingly average season. Even if they do sneak into the postseason as a wild-card team, it’s hard to imagine them going far without their top pass-rusher.
Whether fair or unfair, Cousins will be the target of criticism should the Vikings fail to make a deep run this year, regardless of what his numbers look like by season’s end.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference.