The Vikings are in store for another difficult-to-predict season. Last year fans were not pleased with the results of the season but after what seems to be a successful off-season and NFL Draft, the Vikings look like they are ready to make a run to the playoffs again. The Vikings are faced with a tough schedule and do not have sure starters at quite a few key positions. Here are some things that have to happen for the Vikings to have a successful season..
Either Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater will be the opening day QB and either of them can lead this Vikings team. Cassel has NFL experience and has had successful campaigns in the past (The New England Patriots and The Kansas City Chiefs). Teddy Bridgewater was the most NFL-ready QB in the draft and displays amazing pass accuracy, pocket presence and pre-snap recognition for a QB of his age. While neither of these QBs will be asked to take over games (That's what Adrian Peterson does) they will be asked to be somewhat of a game manager. They must make sure they keep the offense going when it gets to passing downs. Either Quarterback has a chance to have a very successful year with the offensive talent around them and they focus on limiting their turnovers and maximizing their efficiency, especially on 3rd down plays.
The Quarterbacks last year didn't have terrible statistics when it came down to it (18 TDs, 19 INTs, and a 76.0 QBR) but what they didn't accomplish was keeping the drive alive for the Vikings offense. This lead to the defense being on the field for far too long which may have lead to such a dramatic decrease in the defenses efficiency from 2012 to 2013. For the Viking offense to be effective the QB will have to make sure to keep drives going and try and maximize the defenses resting time while not on the field.
However, it was not completely on the Quarterback play when it came to the defense being on the field which leads me to...
The Minnesota Viking secondary of 2013 was abysmal to say the least. They gave up the second most passing yards per game with 287.2 and the most points with 480. The Vikings were missing Antoine Winfield who had an amazing 2012 season and was released last off-season due to his contract. The Vikings also lost Harrison Smith early in the season and he missed some time before returning to the lineup late in the season. The big holes in the secondary however were at the corner positions. Other than Xavier Rhodes, who had a relatively good year for a rookie, Josh Robinson and Chris Cook did not pan out for the Vikings last season. The Vikings had hoped that after 3 injury plagued seasons Chris Cook would finally come into his own and step up for the Vikings. That did not happen. About midway into the season the Vikings moved Rhodes to cover the number 1 receivers on the opposing teams and left Cook to take on the number 2 receivers. This lead to the number 2 receivers to take over games. Alshon Jeffrey absolutely torched Cook for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns in week 13. Cook was not a starter caliber CB and unfortunately for the Vikings neither was Josh Robinson who they believed with his great speed and decent rookie season he could step up and take on the role of the slot cornerback. He was dismantled week in and week out at the slot position and didn't do much better as the outside CB. Robinson ranked as the 99th best CB according to Pro Football Focus.
The Vikings looked to free agency to fill some of the secondary holes and signed Captain Munnerlyn from the Carolina Panthers. They also signed Derek Cox from San Diego who was faced with a tough 2013 as well but showed promise during his tenure as a Jacksonville Jaguar. Captain Munnerlyn looks to take on the responsibilities and the number 2 corner while sliding to the nickleback slot in the nickle package. This is where the secondary play must improve from last year. Outside of Rhodes and Munnerlyn there is a lot of uncertainty at the CB position with Robinson and Cox rounding out the top 4. While Robinson did show some promise of being a number 2 cornerback during his rookie campaign he did not look the part last year but then again neither did Cox. Robinson has more speed but Cox has the bigger body that is needed for the big receivers in the NFC North.
For the Vikings secondary to be successful next season the third and fourth cornerbacks are going to have to come in and play up to their abilities. If the Vikings get stuck with another 2013 campaign out of either Cox or Robinson it could be another long year for the Vikings secondary. Luckily, the Vikings just signed a new coach who is known for getting the best out of players who seem to be in a slump. Hopefully, Zimmer can work his magic with both Robinson and Cox and the Vikings will have a relatively strong secondary rather than the joke we saw last season.
The secondary was very bad for the Vikings last year but it could have also been to the lack of pressure the Vikings couldn't put on the QBs this year...
I say pass rush instead of defensive end because of Mike Zimmer's aggressive defense which is known to mix it up and send linebackers with aggressive blitzes. With the pick of Anthony Barr and Scott Crichton as well as the re-signing of Everson Griffen and Brian Robinson it is clear that Zimmer plans to rush the passer quite a bit this upcoming season. Last year the Vikings saw a lack of production from the pass rush of the Minnesota Vikings which in turn gave the QBs more time to work with. Too many times Jared Allen got caught up by the left tackle and was taken out of the play. This was a big difference from 2012 to 2013 where in 2012 Jared Allen played like a monster and was a integral part of the Vikings defensive play. Mike Zimmer brings a much needed spark to this pass rush and it is an entirely new look for the Vikings on the front seven. It looks like only two starters from last season will be returning starters for this upcoming season. Chad Greenway and Brian Robinson will have to lead this front seven or it could mean bad news for the Vikings defense.
For the pass rush to be efficient the front seven of the Vikings will have to work together to get pressure on the QB. There will be quite a rotation for Mike Zimmer to work with. On the defensive line Zimmer has Griffen, Floyd, Joseph, and Robinson as the starters with players like Scott Crichton, Fred Evans, and Corey Wooton getting a lot of game time each week. This is a good way to keep players fresh and get at the QB more frequently. For the Vikings to be successful Zimmer will have to work his magic and find the best rotation he can for this defensive line and mix it up with some blitzes from the linebacking core.
Vikings fans have a lot to hope for this upcoming season and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Vikings go 10-6 in 2014. However, I believe a more realistic expectation is going 6-10 but we should see an increase in QB play and defensive play. I believe the schedule the Vikings have this upcoming season will be too much to overcome and make it to the playoffs but on that note there is a lot to look forward to especially seeing how Barr develops and how the newly formed defensive line will play together. It will be an interesting season to say the least with a new coach, a new first round QB, and a new-look defense who really knows what's in store for the 2014 season.