It is no secret that the Raiders defense has been hobbled by injuries of late. The injuries have taken their toll on the performance of the defense as a whole, and helped lead to a devastating loss to the Broncos two weeks ago. But the Raiders righted the ship in last week’s win over the Chargers and look to continue that momentum. All the while, their next opponent, the Vikings, have lost a key cog in their defense.
The Vikings have a few solid defenders. The most notable is Jared Allen who will be fully healthy come Sunday. He is probably the one guy who the Raiders would very much like to see on the injury report. His relentless pass rush gives opposing quarterbacks little time with which to work. But while Allen is pressuring the QB, cornerback Antoine Winfield is taking away his targets. And this week they will be without him.
Winfield’s talents have led him to three straight Pro Bowls for the Vikings. He broke his collarbone last week versus the Green Bay Packers and is now lost for the season. And by the way, the defending Super Bowl champion Packers pummeled the Vikings 45-7.
All the while, the Raiders defense continues to improve. Most of that improved play is simply getting healthy. Rolando McClain played for the first time last week. He was still visibly injured but it didn’t keep him from doing many of his duties. He still had a great game and was even able to leap up and tip a Philip Rivers pass at one point.
Between the game on Thursday and next Sunday, McClain has nine days of healing. I would say he was at about 70% last week so he should be closer to 90% by Sunday. He is still sitting out much of practice but that is simply to allow as much time to heal as possible. Either way, this unit is clearly better with him in the middle, even at between 70 and 90 percent.
The secondary will be improved as well. Demarcus Van Dyke, who was knocked out of the Denver game with a strained hamstring that caused him to miss last week’s game, will return to the lineup. Lito Sheppard will likely retain his starting job as he is still the most healthy of them all. But having Van Dyke available will be a great benefit.
UPDATE: Chimdi Chekwa has experienced a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury and has been placed on injured reserve. The team signed free agent corner Bryan McCann to replace him.
Michael Huff missed last week’s game as well with an ankle injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Matt Giordano who pulled down a critical interception. Huff said this week that he expects to play on Sunday. It remains to be seen if he will start or simply be available should he be called upon. It may not matter though. Giordano has played more than capably at free safety in his stead, so the more the merrier.
Those most affected by these injuries will be the quarterbacks.
Carson Palmer will enjoy not having Winfield blanketing his receiver. Winfield is also considered one of the best tackling corners in the league and Palmer will certainly appreciate not having him on the field for that reason as well.
Vikings rookie quarterback Christian Ponder needs all the help he can get from the Raiders’ defense. He would very much appreciate it if they were still fielding a skeleton crew secondary and a weakside linebacker filling in at middle linebacker. But he won’t get that. He will see the Raiders defense at near full strength.
The result may not be much different than the Raiders were going to see anyway—a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson. But there is a big difference between the Vikings choosing to be one dimensional and having little choice in the matter. Then again, that one dimension is Adrian Peterson so…