Season In Review: Minnesota Vikings

Christian_Ponder_Short_Leash_Vikings_Matt_Cassel_Bears
Overall Record: 5-10-1 (Regular Season) (No Postseason Berth)

Division Winner? It was unexpectedly apparent by mid-October that the 2013 Vikings would not repeat as division champs. With much the same roster as their 2012 counterparts, Minnesota got off to an extremely rough start this year, losing six of seven games before November began. While the rest of the NFC North was mired in a thick race for the division title, the Vikings were on the outside looking in by the time things got interesting.

Milestones Of 2013: In recent memory, it seems that Adrian Peterson is the lone superstar on a team that has plenty of talent, but is easily obscured behind bad records or unfortunate collapses at various points in their seasons. Coming off of a record year in which he came nine yards short of break the single-season rushing mark, Peterson didn’t exactly live up to his goal of 2,500 ground yards, but he was still on the top of his game despite opposing defenses playing the run almost as a rule against Minnesota. If there is one thing beyond Peterson and an offensive line that seems (mostly) set in stone, young and impacting, its that the Christian Ponder era can finally be put on the books as a failed experiment.

Elsewhere, age and lack of developing talent on the defensive side of the ball was readily apparent all season, but injuries to key players like up-and-coming safety Harrison Smith did nothing to alleviate the team’s Achilles’ Heel in 2013. Jared Allen, a perennial Probowler, seemed to be slowing down some and his free agency status seems up in the air, as it is highly doubtful Minnesota will bring him back without a serious cut in his salary.

Blair Walsh has, in two years, clearly become one of the league’s best field goal kickers, and solidifies a position that many teams are constantly rotating, looking for the answer. Rookie Cordarelle Patterson looks like the real deal, developing as a wideout and already polished as a return man; his 108 yard return against the Packers was a thing of pure beauty. He already looks like a capable replacement for Percy Harvin, who ended up playing little but contributing when the Seahawks dominated in the Superbowl.

In all, the milestones for this team were few and far between, but as I am fond of saying, finding out that certain things don’t work is a considerable step in the right direction, even if you want to throw blame around about those things. Trial and error is simply a real and unavoidable aspect of the NFL.

The Season In Review

Coming off of a strong 2012, Leslie Frazier’s job security seemed in-line with the expectations of Vikings fans for a repeat performance. Their eventual 5-10-1 record is why Frazier is no longer the coach, and why the new regime will be looking to shake things up in the coming months. But how did the Vikings get to this point?

It started with three straight narrow defeats, the first two against division rivals Detroit and Chicago. The third, at home against what was supposed to be a lesser Cleveland team, almost seemed to doom the Vikings before October began. Closing out the month with a hard-fought win over the Steelers alleviated some of the scrutiny, but many had a sense that this year’s Vikings were not going anywhere.

An early bye week did Minnesota no favors, as they returned to lose four straight, including beatdowns at the hands of the Panthers (who were simply a better team) and the Giants (who simply weren’t). Their next victory would come on November 17th over the Redskins, starting a stretch of games that didn’t really matter but held some surprises. A smashing at the hands of the eventual Superbowl champs in Seattle wasn’t much of a shocker, but fighting the Packers to the only tie of 2013 was one of the year’s most exciting games to watch. Beating the Bears in overtime the following week was almost as exciting, as Peterson simply put the game on his back and willed his lackluster team to victory as he’s done many times before. December encapsulated the Vikings’ 2013 perfectly: a 3-point loss to the Ravens in a hard fought contest, followed by a totally unexpected shellacking of the Philadelphia Eagles (48-30), followed by a horrific loss to the Bengals (42-14), and closing the season by narrowly beating the Lions 14-13.

All the ups and downs of 2013 were easy to get lost in but the simple fact of the final record was clear to everyone in Minnesota; 5 wins and 10 losses is unacceptable.

Future Forecast

Everybody knows the QB position needs to be figured out. Talks are still on going to bring veteran Matt Cassel back into the fold, but its clear that both Christian Ponder and the surprise mid-season signee Josh Freeman are not the answers for the Vikings. The draft is going to have to net results at this position. The rest of the offense is actually in excellent shape, with Peterson still in his prime, an outstanding offensive line anchored by Matt Kalil and center John Sullivan, and a receiving corps that features an older but effective Greg Jennings and rising stars in Cordarelle Patterson and TE Kyle Rudolph.

It’s almost every other position that needs looking after. Kevin Williams may be gone along with Jared Allen, and that would leave the team’s strongest link on defense more vulnerable than it appeared to be in 2013. The jury is still out on the Vikings’ first 1st-rounder last year, DT Sharrif Floyd, but his development will be pivotal to making this defense click.

Whatever roster moves the Vikings are going to make, bringing in former Bengals D-coordinator Mike Zimmer as head coach should had an immediate and positive impact on his side of the ball. Norv Turner may have been the best assistant coaching hire of the offseason, as his expertise in developing quarterbacks will be essential for the Vikings moving forward. The arrow is definitely pointing up, but if GM Rick Spielman can’t bring in the right players (with assistance from Zimmer and Turner), no early projections and high hopes will mean a thing in 2014.

Overall Grades

QBD

RB A+

WR – B-

TE – B-

OLA-

DLC+

LB D-

CBD+

FS/SS – D

K/PB+

KR/PR – A

Team MVP – Adrian Peterson, RB

Offensive MVP – Peterson

Defensive MVP – Chad Greenway, LB

Rookie Of The Year – Cordarrelle Patterson, WR/KR

Biggest Disappointment – No improvement from Christian Ponder

Very Early 2014 Projection: 10-6, Division Winners

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