The Minnesota Vikings have exceeded pretty much everyone's expectations to this point in the 2012 NFL season by winning six of their first ten games. With most of the "experts" projecting them for a three or four-win season and being in a dogfight for the first overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Vikings instead find themselves a major part of the playoff race.
The Vikings' final six games, however, appear on paper to be a real meat grinder. They face two games against both of their divisional opponents from Chicago and Green Bay, as well as a trip to Houston, the team that might be the Super Bowl favorite in the AFC. They also only get to play two of their final six games in the comfort of the Metrodome, where they are currently 5-1 this season after a 1-7 home mark in 2011.
So, what do the Vikings have to do in order to answer the call of duty and push into the playoffs? There are a few different things.
1) Christian Ponder needs to remember the lessons he learned against the Detroit Lions in Week 10
The biggest lesson from that game? Sometimes it's okay to throw the ball to receivers that aren't named Percy Harvin. With Harvin sitting out against the Lions, Ponder found ten different receivers in completing 75% of his passes in a 34-24 Minnesota victory. He has a big target in tight end Kyle Rudolph that can make the tough catches in traffic, and if his other receivers are given opportunities, they've shown they can make plays. As Vikings fans, we all love Percy Harvin, to be sure, but Ponder needs to know that there are other options in the passing game. . .not only to make the offense less predictable, but to save some wear and tear on Harvin as well.
2) The Vikings defense needs to get off the field on third downs
During a stretch where the Vikings lost three out of four games (and didn't look particularly great in winning the fourth), they were absolutely dominated in the time of possession statistic. Having your defense out on the field for long stretches is a recipe for disaster, and the Vikings found that out in losses to the Washington Redskins, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Seattle Seahawks. This is one thing where the offense and the defense have to work in concert to make things happen. The offense needs to sustain longer drives so that the defense can get some rest. . .but when it comes time for the defense to make a play, they have to make the big tackle or get the big stop to get off of the field. The more the Vikings can balance the time of possession numbers, the more things play in their favor with the style of football they want to play. Why? Because the more the offense is on the field, the more the offense can. . .
3) FEED. . .the BEAST!
On the battlefield of the National Football League, it stands to reason that no team in the league has a weapon quite like Adrian Peterson. The NFL's best running back. . .and, yes, that's what he is. . .has been putting up ridiculous numbers since coming back from his knee injury, leading the league in rushing by a significant margin (123 yards over second place Marshawn Lynch), and is averaging 112.8 yards per game. Surprisingly. . .or not surprisingly, if you've followed Peterson's career. . .he actually seems to be getting stronger as the season goes on, as he's averaged about 157 yards a game and about 7.7 yards/carry over the last four games. As long as Peterson is running the way he is, the Vikings can use him to "shorten the game," pounding the rock with #28, setting up the play-action passing game and, most importantly, allowing their defense to stay on the sidelines and rest.
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