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COVID’s impact will still be felt in Sunday’s Vikings vs Texans Game

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COVID-19 has officially hit the NFL, and the repercussions are presently reverberating league-wide. This weekend’s game between the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers has officially been postponed to a date later in the season, a decision that has yet to be completely vetted out. For now, we know that Pittsburgh and Tennessee have a Week 4 BYE. In an effort to reschedule their game, it’s possible that a large-scale reorder of the schedule including other teams may be necessary to get all sixteen in.

For the Minnesota Vikings, who played the Titans last weekend in Minneapolis, as of Thursday they’ve remained all clear with no positive tests to report. So, today they’ll reopen their practice facility at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center to players and personnel with added precautions in place. The goal will be to resume their weekly activities as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

But something has happened, and it’s yet to be known how it could impact the Vikings this weekend as they travel to take on the Houston Texans.

Up until now, most of the attention surrounding this COVID outbreak was aimed at the Texans. They’re the team with the positive tests and clearly the safety and health of their players and personnel remains of the utmost importance. Until they cancelled the scheduled game this weekend the only analysis that we really heard was how the Texans could possibly have a level playing field when they weren’t allowed in their facility until the weekend. With no game, that concern is now gone.

However, a similar, smaller scale impact was imposed upon the Minnesota Vikings who are still scheduled to play a game this weekend.

When the positive results were initially discovered for the first wave of Titans players and coaches it was unknown when they contracted the virus or where, so contact tracing protocols went into effect and on Tuesday both organizations shut down their facilities to any in person meetings.

For most organizations, including the Vikings, Tuesdays of a normal game week are players’ day off, but it’s arguably the most important day for the coaching staff. This is the day where they hole up in the facility and begin scheming for their upcoming opponent. It’s the day where the game plan for the weekend is developed. Sure, this can be done remotely and given the technological improvements of recent seasons and specifically this last offseason, some of those protocols were in place and ready to go. But for all of us normal people who have gone through the transition to working from home and have helped our kids transition to distance learning, we know very clearly that it’s just not the same. Communication is different, assigning tasks is different, staying focused is different. It’s all doable, but it’s all different.

On Wednesday the facility remained closed to any in person meetings or practices. Wednesday’s are typically install days with the players. Everything that the coaches put into the game plan the day before is presented to the players in meeting rooms and installed on the field with walk-thrus and live practices multiple times that day. It’s the first chance for players to see the plan in real life on the field and their first opportunity to ask questions and collaborate with their coaches. This week though, all of that was pushed to virtual meetings through Microsoft Teams & ZOOM. The visuals are all a little different, the attention spans are a little less accountable and much like the coaches tasks on Tuesday, it’s just different. And then there’s no opportunity to physically walk through the plays, experience the scout team set up on the practice field and prepare the way that you’re used to preparing each week for an opponent.

But maybe most importantly, no in person activities means no on site rehabilitation with the training staff at TCO. Obviously, any players who have been dinged up along the way would normally be seeking therapy of some sort from Certified Athletic Trainer Eric Sugarman and his staff, but even “healthy” players will roll through the training wing at TCO to take a dip in the therapy tubs or spend some time in the Cryotherapy chamber just for general rehabilitation. Apparently, playing a sport where you banging bodies with an opponent each week takes its toll.

All of these things had to be withheld from Vikings players and coaches this week while they waited for results of their COVID-19 tests to come back.

Meanwhile, down in Houston, Deshaun Watson and the Texans have been able to continue business as usual. The coaches gathered together on Tuesday to scheme in their offices. The players hit the field on Wednesday and installed their game plan. Not to mention, it’s also a home game for the Texans so there’s no travel days or mobile setups to worry about either.

So here we are. Stuck in 2020, hands down the strangest year that many of us will ever experience (fingers crossed). Even the NFL is getting dinged and adapting on the fly.

For the Vikings, they’ll hit the ground running today, cram as much as they can into Thursday and Friday before boarding a plane and heading down to a hotel in Houston where they’ll continue their preparations in hotel conference rooms and the visitors locker rooms at NRG Stadium.

In an effort to avoid highlighting excuses for the sake of excuses, it goes without saying that this will be interesting to see what sort of impact all of this change and adaptation might have on the Vikings this weekend.

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