The Minnesota Vikings are another team that fell away in 2013. From the Adrian Peterson inspired playoff appearance in 2012 (after finishing 10-6), the Vikings fell away to finish at 5-10-1. A trip to Wembley to host the Steelers was the high point of 1-7 start and that the team rebounded to win three of their last five games was not enough to keep Leslie Frazier and his staff in jobs for 2014. That the Vikings would have made the playoffs had they won all five of the games they had lead with less than three minutes to play (instead of losing four and tying one) made the season even more difficult for Vikings’ fans to stomach.
The Vikings offence suffered from a lack of direction and uninspired play calling for much of the season. At quarterback a sometimes baffling rotation policy was followed with first Christian Ponder, then Matt Cassel, then former Buccaneer Josh Freeman tried out; before returning to Ponder and then Cassel again to end out the season. Freeman was the most perplexing. Picked up after being released by the Bucs, he was given one horrible outing in New York and then jettisoned. Ponder showed no signs of improvement on his first two seasons, finishing with a 9 picks and a rating of 77.9. Cassel moved the ball around with more freedom in the latter half of the season, throwing for 1807 yards, 11 touchdowns and a rating of 81.6. Quarterback remains a big issue. Injury and lack of aerial production allowed other teams to restrict the league’s premier running back to just 1266 yards. He will look to bounce back in 2014. Greg Jennings’ struggles with Ponder at quarterback but built more of a rapport with Cassel an ended the season with 68 catches for 804 yards. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson became a larger part of the offense towards the tail end of the year; his 45 catches for 469 yards and four scores hints at what there is to come from him.
Defensively, Minnesota were nothing short of dreadful. A once proud unit subsided massively in 2013 finishing 31st in the NFL in terms of average yardage allowed (397.6 yards per game) and dead last in conceding 30 points on average. Now matter the state of your offense, conceding 480 points in a season is not going to win you many football games. Jared Allen (11.5) and Brian Robison (9) combined for 20.5 sacks, but even this represented reduced production for the veteran Allen, who was given a -4 positional grade by Pro Football Focus. The secondary was hit hard by the loss of safety Harrison Smith to injury and the lack of game time given to first round pick Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings managed just 12 picks all year, with five coming from linebackers. Chad Greenway lead the team with 134 tackles, despite playing through an injury. Rookie Sharrif Floyd made a limited impact and will look to improve markedly in 2014.
Patterson was the undisputed star, setting a franchise record with 1393 kick off return yards and two touchdowns. This included an NFL equalling 109 yard score against Green Bay. Kicker Blair Walsh had a solid year, making 86.7% of his Field Goals and only missing once from under 50 yards.
Frazier and his assistants ultimately paid the price for poor personnel decisions and uninspired play calling. Talented rookies were often overlooked for veterans who were simply not performing and the offensive play scheme hampered its star man in Peterson and did not make the most of Jennings. In appointing Mike Zimemr from the Bengals, Minnesota now has a man with proven defensive pedigree to start turning around their defence. Adding Norv Turner as Offensive Co-ordinator gives the Vikings a man who knows how to make the most out of talented running backs like Peterson, as he has previously done with Emmitt Smith in Dallas and LaDanian Tomlinson in San Diego.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
There is one glaring hole to fill offensively; namely at quarterback. The situation of 2103 cannot be allowed to repeat itself. Zimmer’s first decision is whether or not to draft a rookie with the 8th pick or to wait until a later round. Either way an experienced veteran will be needed to mentor a young player.
All of Minnesota’s other needs are on defence and cannot just be addressed via the draft. With many big names, such as Allen, defensive linemen Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen, linebacker Desmond Bishop and cornerback Chris Cook all potential Free Agents, the defensive line up could look very different in Minnesota next year. Expect the Vikings to pursue a great deal of defensive talent, particularly at cornerback, safety, outside linebacker and defensive end. A guard could be needed too if starter Charlie Johnson does not return.