The Minnesota Vikings are 4-1 heading even though one of their key offseason offensive acquisitions has been limited to just three impact plays in one game this season.
Receiver Jerome Simpson, brought in to be the team's best deep threat since Sidney Rice in 2009, missed the first three games because of a league suspension. The team went 2-1 without him, pulling off the upset of the NFL season at home against San Francisco.
In Week 5, Simpson woke up with a mysterious lower leg injury that caused weakness and numbness in his calf and foot. Unable to push off, he couldn't catch any of the three balls thrown his way. The Vikings still won, beating the Titans 30-7.
In between the suspension and the lower-leg issues, Simpson showed a glimpse of his potential during Minnesota's win at Detroit. He caught four passes, but his impact came when he forced two deep pass-interference penalties and leaped over a defender to catch a key 27-yard pass late in the game.
Despite a magnetic resonance imaging exam that revealed a back issue as the cause of Simpson's leg weakness and numbness, the Vikings believe the receiver will be fine and expect him to play Sunday against the Redskins at Washington. Coach Leslie Frazier said surgery isn't necessary and that Simpson was held out of Wednesday's practice as a precaution only. Simpson is expected to return to practice Thursday or Friday.
"We'll know more as he responds to some of the treatment that (trainer Eric Sugarman) will give him," Frazier said. "We don't think it's anything long-term at all. It sounds like he's heading in the right direction, and we can clearly say that's behind him."
Although the Vikings have gotten by without Simpson, Frazier expects the team will need his deep-threat skills because teams are starting to crowd the line of scrimmage to try to take away the many bubble screens that quarterback Christian Ponder throws to the dynamic Percy Harvin behind the line of scrimmage. On Sunday, Harvin made four Titans miss tackles on a bubble screen pass that he caught 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage and turned into a 10-yard touchdown reception.
"Even when you have good coverage on Jerome, like (Detroit) did with that last 27-yarder he caught, his athletic ability sometimes overrides good coverage," Frazier said. "You need a guy like that."
Ponder wants Simpson back on the field, but he has been impressed with some under-the-radar backups who have filled in.
"We got a lot of depth at the receiver position," Ponder said. "Having the veteran guys like Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu, and Stephen Burton has really stepped in.
"They're doing a great job, and obviously Jerome is going to be even better when we put him on the field. But we're winning without him, and we've shown we have all the right pieces."