On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns are in London as they face the Minnesota Vikings. To help preview a few topics from the Vikings’ perspective, we reached out to Christopher Gates from Daily Norseman and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Pokorny: “The Browns are 0-7, and despite the Vikings having some injury chaos (Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, and Dalvin Cook), they've managed to get off to a 5-2 start to the season and could seize the division now that Aaron Rodgers is sidelined. When Bradford returns, does he start without question over Case Keenum? And what is the latest on Bridgewater?”
Gates: “The Vikings' quarterback situation is about to get really interesting. To this point, nobody knows what's really going on with Sam Bradford. The team thought he was ready to come back against Chicago on Monday night a few weeks ago, and he didn't even make it through a half before it became obvious that he had been brought back too soon. He hasn't played since then, and nobody seems to know when he's going to be back. Keenum has been up-and-down as the starter, but I don't think anyone sees him as a long-term answer.
Mike Zimmer has said on numerous occasions that he loves Teddy Bridgewater and that Teddy is his quarterback, and the Vikings have to decide after the bye week whether they're going to put him on the active roster. Honestly, I expect them to do that, and I expect Bridgewater to be starting shortly thereafter. The Vikings don't have any quarterbacks under contract after this season (with the exception of current third-stringer Kyle Sloter), and they need to see if Bridgewater is the guy going forward, because I think Bradford's knee issues have sort of taken him out of the picture as the potential long-term answer.”
Pokorny: “Statistically, it looks like Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray have been sharing the load for Minnesota. How has each back performed in Dalvin Cook's absence, and is there a preference among fans?”
Gates: “Both Murray and McKinnon have performed pretty well, with each of them having a 100-yard performance in the three games since Cook's injury. The Vikings have sort of ridden the "hot hand" since Cook's injury. In the Chicago and Green Bay games, it was McKinnon. Last week against Baltimore, it was Murray. They're different sorts of backs, with Murray being more of a straight-ahead type and McKinnon being a bit more shifty.
I think if you asked the fans which one they preferred, they would say McKinnon, largely because he was drafted by the team and they've watched him sort of develop over the past few seasons. The team signed Murray to a three-year deal this offseason, and he was expected to be the starter until Cook fell into the team's lap on draft weekend, but they can get away from his deal after this season with no real damage.”
Pokorny: “Last year's first round pick for the Vikings, WR Laquon Treadwell, hasn't seen much action in his young NFL career. What's been some of the reasons his role has been marginalized?”
Gates: “I think part of it is that Treadwell really hasn't been fully healthy until this season. He suffered a nasty leg injury at Ole Miss and there was a rumor floating around that he had asked the team to put him on injured reserve last season (though I don't think that was ever actually verified).
With the way the Vikings' skill positions are set up right now, Treadwell just isn't one of the top options. Both Stefon Diggs (when he's healthy) and Adam Thielen are getting a lot of targets so far, tight end Kyle Rudolph is always a consideration, and the Vikings' running backs are all adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. That doesn't leave a whole lot of scraps for Treadwell, but he's still out there busting his tail and trying to work his way up. I think it's too early to give up on Treadwell yet, and hopefully he'll justify that faith in him going forward.”
Pokorny: “It's always nice to know that the week our Hall of Fame left tackle, Joe Thomas, misses his first snap (and now the rest of the season), Cleveland has to find a way to block Everson Griffen, who has 9 sacks in 7 games. Is there a side he typically lines up on (over the left tackle or right tackle)? And who would you label as the team's best pass rushers Cleveland should be worried about after Griffen?”
Gates: “Griffen generally lines up against the offense's left tackle, though the team does move him around on occasion. He really has been having a great season, and it's a damn shame that we're not going to be able to see him and Thomas go head-to-head, because I think that would have been a great battle.
As far as other pass rushers, the other primary name to look for is the other defensive end, third-year man Danielle Hunter. Hunter was getting some steam this offseason as a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate based on his production as a part-time player in his first two seasons. However, he hasn't put up the "sexy" sort of numbers that would allow him to garner such an award, though he has spent plenty of time in the opposing backfield this season.”
Pokorny: “Minnesota drafted former Ohio State center Pat Elflein in the 3rd round of this year's draft. How has he performed so far, and if there is a vulnerability on the Vikings' offensive line, which spot is it at?”
Gates: “Elflein has been very good so far this season. The team thought highly enough of Elflein that they kicked Joe Berger, who had started at center the previous two seasons, over to the right guard spot to make Elflein the starting center, and he was the first rookie to start a season at center for the Vikings since 1962. He's going to be one of the NFL's best centers in very short order, I think.
If there is a vulnerability on the Vikings' offensive line, it might be the left guard spot. Starter Nick Easton missed last week's game with an injury, and his replacement (Jeremiah Sirles) left the game hurt as well, which left the Vikings to roll with another rookie, fifth-round pick Danny Isidora, at that spot. Easton might be back for this one, but even if he is, you could argue that he's the weak link on an offensive line that has done a complete 180 from the disaster they were in 2016.”
Thanks again to Christopher for taking the time to answer my questions.