Vikings 2013 Season Grades: Offense

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

We take a look at how our team did in 2013, aside from the overall team record. Which positional groups ranked highly, and which will need to improve?

With Wildcard weekend upon us and no Vikings games for a long time it's hyper-analysis time!  We've been just a bit distracted here at the Daily Norseman, what with our coach being fired, players getting arrested or in court, and former players calling out some of his former coaches.  But despite all that, it's that time of year when the best teams are thinking of the playoffs, and the worst teams are looking back on the season that was and thinking, "what went wrong?"  Well, it's time to figure it all out.  And since I'm a teacher and my life revolves around grading my students, why not hand out grades for each of our positional groups?  I've decided to break this up into two posts, so in this article we'll start with the offensive side of the ball, and the next article will cover the defense and special teams.

2013 Offense Grades

Quarterbacks: Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman, and McCleod Bethel-Thompson

Where do I begin?  This year we had 3 different quarterbacks start a game for the Vikings along with no less than 6 different depth charts for the position.  None of them looked like a consistent, elite option that we can count on going forward, or in the long term.  Matt Cassel won the most games (cause that's all he does, amiright Norse Code?), but from an efficiency perspective he wasn't that much better than Ponder.  Check out these season stats of all three starters:

2013 QB Stats

Att.

Comp.

Comp. %

Yards

TDs

INTs

Y/A

ANY/A

Rating

Matt Cassel

254

153

0.602

1807

11

9

7.1

5.63

81.6

Christian Ponder

239

152

0.636

1648

7

9

6.9

4.75

77.9

Josh Freeman

53

20

0.377

190

0

1

3.58

2.43

40.6

Combined

546

325

0.595

3645

18

19

6.68

4.97

75.9

Our best quarterback on the roster, Matt Cassel was ranked 25th in passer rating among qualified passers (at least 200 attempts).  It's tough to compare Cassel to the rest of the league since he didn't turn in a full 16 games as the starter, but if you combine the stats of all three quarterbacks and piece them together into some kind of Voltron-esque quarterback, the numbers look downright awful.  The combined "Voltron" Vikings quarterback would have been ranked 32nd in the league in passer rating thanks to the god-awful game from Freeman, and Ponder's inconsistent play dragging down the numbers.  That said, the Voltron QB would have ranked 15th in the NFL in passing yards and tied for 21st in touchdown passes, although only 28th in yards per attempt.  In other words, the Voltron quarterback just wasn't very good, and the Matt Cassel piece of the Voltron puzzle was only slightly better than the combined whole.

Pro Football Focus graded Cassel as the 27th best QB out of a possible 42, while Ponder was only 35th.  Both had negative "red" grades on the year, and Freeman...well...it's best to not even go there.  Football Outsiders had Cassel ranked as the 23rd most valuable quarterback, with Ponder as the 31st.  Either way you slice it, the Vikings quarterback play was below average at best and downright terrible at worst.

Final Grade: D+

Teacher Notes: The Vikings QBs need to do a better job of taking care of the football, and getting the ball into the hands of open receivers in the face of defensive pressure.  It would be wise to bring in more competition.

Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, and Joe Banyard

Well, as it turns out MVP Adrian Peterson did fall back down to earth and was never really close to repeating 2,000 yards.  I don't know if this is a coincidence or not, but Adrian Peterson was featured on the cover of Madden 25 for the PS4 and Xbox One consoles this season...the same season he dealt with the death of his son, a hamstring pull, a groin injury and a foot injury.  Ultimately, Peterson missed 2 games, but played sparingly and not at 100% for at least 6 others.  Coincidence?  Even despite all that, Peterson still finished in 5th place in rushing yards with 1,266.  The cyborg also ranked 2nd in yards per carry with 4.5 and 2nd in yards per game with 90.4.  He was also tied for 4th in touchdowns with 10.  It was a down year for Adrian Peterson, but still put him near the top of the pile compared to all other running backs in the NFL.  Toby Gerhart actually saw less carries this year than last year, surprisingly, but he made the most of them.  He scored twice, averaged 7.9 yards per carry and busted off a long run of 41 yards too.  His 4-year career numbers as a backup look like an incredible single season stat line as a starting running back: 276 carries for 1,305 yards (4.7 y/c) and 5 TDs.  He also has 77 receptions for 600 yards and 3 TDs during that same timespan.  He should be a hot commodity in free agency for teams looking for a starting capable running back, and he doesn't have a lot of wear and tear for a 26 year old running back (he will be 27 when the season starts).

However, with the injuries to both Peterson and Gerhart we had to dig deep down the depth chart.  Matt Asiata saw his first career start and Joe Banyard was called up from the practice squad and even got a few touches during the final 2 games.  Both looked decent in relief, but we shouldn't rely on their talents going forward.  Pro Football Focus ranked Peterson 11th out of 55 qualifying backs.  Football Outsiders ranked him as the 25th most valuable running back.  It was pretty clear that it was a down year for Peterson's standards, but he was still a productive running back.  Jerome Felton started off the year a little rusty after his 3-game suspension but finished strong opening huge holes for Peterson.  PFF ranked him 6th overall out of 25 qualifying fullbacks.

Final Grade: A-

Teacher Notes: Our running backs need to stay healthy and stay on the field, but they are still the best in the NFL when healthy and playing.  With Gerhart likely being too expensive to keep in free agency, we'll need to add some depth this off-season as Peterson isn't getting any younger with over 2,000 carries already in his 7-year career.

Wide Receivers: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Joe Webb and Rodney Smith

For the 4th time in as many years, the Vikings failed to produce a 1,000 yard receiver.  We haven't had one since Sidney Rice teamed up with Brett Favre in 2009, and that was the first time we had one since Nate Burleson teamed up with Daunte Culpepper in 2004.  It's not that we haven't had talented receivers on the team, as we've had some of the best receivers in the game like Randy Moss, Percy Harvin, Greg Jennings and Sidney Rice catching passes over the last 10 seasons.  We just haven't had consistent, reliable play at the quarterback position.  Never-the-less, once Matt Cassel took over at quarterback, Greg Jennings saw an uptick in his performance and he finished the year with 804 receiving yards and 4 TDs.  He had a respectable 11.8 yards per catch average too.  Jerome Simpson had a resurgent year after a pretty abysmal 2012.  Simpson nearly tied Jennings production with 726 yards, but had a much lower reception rate and only 1 TD.

It's difficult to fault the receivers too much for their statistical production, and Greg Jennings is evidently still very good at football, as Arif pointed out during the season that he's always open.  Pro Football Focus generally liked the play of our receivers ranking all four of our qualifying receivers (Jennings, Simpson, Patterson and Wright) in the "green" and no one ranked lower than 48th out of a possible 111.  Football Outsiders liked them a little less ranking Jennings, Simpson, and Patterson 40th, 70th, and 73rd respectively.

Final Grade: B

Teacher Comments: The receivers aren't necessarily the problem with the passing game, but if we had an elite, go-to option they might be able to cover up average quarterbacking.  Unfortunately, we don't have one of those on the roster, yet.  Perhaps Patterson can develop into one next season?  Never-the-less, we've got some consistent and reliable options for whoever ends up at quarterback next season.

Tight Ends

It was a disappointing year for the tight ends in Minnesota, especially with regards to injury.  Kyle Rudolph went on injured reserve on Monday, December 9th after sustaining a broken foot in the Week 8 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys.  John Carlson sustained a concussion in the Week 13 game against Chicago, but concussion symptoms never went away and he was placed on injured reserve on December 18th.  He is contemplating retirement after a history of concussion issues.  Chase Ford was signed from the practice squad and he got an opportunity to play during the final few games with both Rudolph and Carlson out.

It's tough to compare the stats of the tight ends to other tight ends in the NFL, because none of them played a full 16-game slate as the starter.  But Pro Football Focus graded Carlson as the best option, ranking him 17th out of a possible 64 qualifying players.  Rudolph was slightly worse according to PFF ranked 24th, but both were above average options compared to their peers.  Football Outsiders however was not kind to our tight ends, ranking Rudolph 43rd and Carlson 46th (out of a possible 51 qualifying tight ends).  So, it was a bit of a mixed bag in the rankings, and definitely disappointing from an injury perspective.

Final Grade: C+

Teacher Comments: Hopefully Rudolph can avoid the injury bug going forward, but we'll need to address some depth issues if Carlson does indeed retire.

Offensive Line

Save for a couple of down years, over the past 10 years the Vikings have fielded a traditionally strong offensive line.  And 2013 was no different.  Sure, there were a few weak links and we started off the year a little questionable against Detroit and Cleveland (two top notch defensive lines).  But, on the whole we fielded an elite unit.  And more importantly, we avoided the serious injury bug for the majority of the year.  Yes, Phil Loadholt and Brandon Fusco missed a game, but both should be fine going forward.

Football Outsiders ranked the run blocking efficiency 10th in the NFL, and the pass blocking (by adjusted sack rating) 23rd.  Individually, Pro Football Focus ranked John Sullivan as the 3rd best center, Brandon Fusco as the 9th best guard and Phil Loadholt as the 10th best tackle, giving us three top 10 starting options.  Our weak links were on the left side with Matt Kalil ranked 48th (out of 76 qualifying tackles) and Charlie Johnson 48th (out of 81 qualifying guards).   Pro Football Focus ranked our offensive line's pass blocking efficiency much better than Football Outsiders (although they include a lot more information) at 9th overall (they don't have a run blocking rank).

Final Grade: A-

Teacher Comments: An upgrade at guard, and a return to form for Matt Kalil could turn this unit into one of the best in the NFL.  We clearly have some elite pieces already in place.

Summary

Aside from the quarterback position, this is an offense that is built to perform right now.  We have very good options at the skill positions and a great offensive line.  If Matt Cassel is back as the starter in 2014, he could be a decent game manager, but won't take this offense to the next level.  We will likely need to look to the draft for that.  Sure, there are positions we can upgrade, and we should always be looking for increased depth, but this offense as a unit has only one real need.

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