When the Vikings convened in Mankato for training camp, I was pretty excited about the upcoming season. The roster had a good mixture of veterans and youth, the best running back in the NFL, and a wide receiver corps that was better, top to bottom, than we'd seen in these parts in a few years. On defense, a good defensive line would lead the way, with a respectable set of linebackers backing them up, and a young, but talented secondary ready to make some plays when needed.
Yeah...it kind of hasn't worked out that way. Lets hand out some grades at the quarter pole, shall we?
Quarterback: D. The Vikings are 23rd in the NFL in passing yards per game, tied for 9th in interceptions, yet are tied for first in pass plays of over 40 yards. It's been a mixed bag, and fans are quickly losing patience with Christian Ponder. When he went down with a broken rib and Matt Cassel was pressed in to service, a full blown quarterback controversy developed. Ponder struggled in three starts, throwing two TD's and five picks...yet were it not for two last
minute second defensive collapses, the Vikings would be 3-1. Sill, Cassel came in for the London game and ran the offense like a veteran NFL quarterback should, and the Vikings escaped Great Britain with a win. Where the Vikings go from here is anyone's guess--if Ponder's rib injury isn't healed by the time of the Carolina game, and Cassel plays well then, it could be curtains for Ponder in Minnesota. Of course, if Cassel reverts to being the player he has been for most of his NFL career, we could be looking at another black hole at the QB position for the foreseeable future.
Running Backs: A. Adrian Peterson's first carry of 2013 was a 78 yard touchdown run, and then he was fairly pedestrian until the Steelers game. In that game he went off for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and reminded everyone why he's the Purple Jesus. After four games, he's currently second in the NFL in rushing, second in yards rushing per game, second in carries per game, and first in rushing touchdowns. Purple. Jesus.
Wide Receivers: B. Okay, show of hands if after four games you thought Jerome Simpson would have more receiving yards than Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. Simpson is currently 7th in the NFC in receiving, and has been the Vikings big play guy so far through four games. Greg Jennings finally broke out last Sunday as well, and through four games, they are both averaging 18 yards per reception, which is the best in the NFL for starting receivers. Cordarrelle Patterson has shown some flashes, and the Vikings have a good group of receivers.
Tight Ends: D. Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson have been underwhelming to this point. Rudolph, who emerged as one of the league's best tight end last year, has been largely invisible in 2013, catching only 12 passes for just over 100 yards and one TD. And quite frankly, THAT'S KILLING MY FANTASY TEAM, YO. The other main guy in the Vikings two tight end set, Carlson, has three catches for 14 yards. Not really the production you want if two tight ends is your base offense. Just sayin'...
Offensive Line: C-. In The Pittsburgh game, the offensive line finally played decently, but this is a group that's been a major disappointment up until this point. And that's shocking, because they were supposed to be one of the better offensive lines heading into the 2013 season. It hasn't worked out that way, though. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings line, collectively, is rated at a -1.4 in pass blocking, and a -1.7 in run blocking. It's a unit that the Vikings have spent a lot of money on the last few years, and if they're going to dig out of this hole, the offensive line is going to have to turn things around and help lead the way.
Defensive Line: D. The production and push from the Vikings defensive line has dropped off dramatically in 2013. Were it not for Jared Allen and Brian Robison bringing a decent perimeter edge rush, this unit would be in the tank. The entire interior line (Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Shariff Floyd, Kevin Williams) is in the red under PFF's rankings, and it shows on the field--the Vikings defense is giving up a staggering 430 yards a game, which is 29th in the NFL, and over four yards a rush.
Linebackers: F. This has to be the worst linebacking corps in the NFL. Chad Greenway has fallen off a cliff and is one of the worst OLB's in the NFL right now, but there's plenty of blame to go around here. Our friends at Pro Football Focus have rated 51 inside linebackers, and Erin Henderson sits at 47. That's even worse than Greenway. At this point, would it hurt to move Desmond Bishop into the middle? He might be suited more on the outside, where he's played while a member of the Vikings, which would be fine. He could take over for Marvin Mitchell, and the Vikings could play Michael Mauti or Audie Cole at the Mike spot. If you want to put Bishop in the middle, fine, then put in Gerald Hodges for Mitchell. Something, anything, would seemingly be better than what the Vikings are fielding right now.
Secondary: F. I'm done with Chris Cook and Josh Robinson. Done. Cook's always hurt, and if Robinson was any worse for the mind and body, he'd be declared illegal in all 50 states. Please, for the love of God, make Xavier Rhodes the starter over Robinson and be done with it. The only person that can't see that he's the better choice over Robinson when watching film is Stevie Wonder...and the Vikings coaching staff, apparently. The Vikes have something to work with in Rhodes and Harrison Smith, the only other defensive back with a pulse, but there's a complete rebuild that needs to happen. Well, Marcus Sherels should get an honorable mention here, because he's performed much better than anyone has expected. But everyone else? Gone. Done. See ya. You know why? The Vikings are giving up 326 yards through the air every game, that's why. Can you imagine what Peyton Manning would do to this defense?
Special Teams: B. Blair Walsh is the best kicker in the game, but when he doesn't kick it through the end zone, there's a 50/50 shot that the opponent will get a hefty return. He's been money on field goals, though, and every time he kicks one, it seems he sets another record. Jeff Locke has been inconsistent, but I don't think he's any better or worse than Chris Kluwe was, so I'm calling that a wash.
Overall: D. One win and three losses isn't good, but if the Vikings defense can get things sorted out, they have an opportunity to climb back into this race. Chicago was exposed by the Lions, Green Bay is 1-2,and speaking of the Lions, are they that good? Their schedule, which looked daunting three weeks ago, now seems very manageable. The NFC East is terrible this year, and the Vikings are going to have an opportunity to make up some ground. It's not an easy task that's in front of them, but it's not impossible, either.