The Vikings navigated the first five games of their schedule about as well as can be expected, all things considered. If you had told me that they would've started three quarterbacks, lost Adrian Peterson, Brandon Fusco, and Kyle Rudolph, while still dealing with a defense that's having issues getting off the field on third down...and still come out of these first five games at 2-3, I would have taken it.
And with the 42-10 beat down at the hands of Green Bay far enough in the rear view mirror that we can now think straight, there's a lot to be encouraged about moving forward. Yes, this team still has some problems that aren't going to be able to be addressed until the off-season, barring a miraculous turn around by some players. That said, the schedule eases up these next four games before back to back divisional games against the Bears and the Packers.
And most importantly, Teddy's back.
And the first of those games is at home against Detroit. The Lions are kind of hobbled right now, and the Vikings have a great opportunity to get right back in the NFC North race. So what do they need to do to get to 3-3?
Use the pass to set up the run: While watching the Packers game, it occurred to me just how fantastic a running back Adrian Peterson was/is, and how horrid the Vikings offense would be if Christian Ponder had to play the remainder of the season without him. Because when you compare and contrast that to the Falcons game, it's like watching two different offenses. Because it is, essentially, two different offenses--one that can pass and give you a balanced attack, and one that can't. With Teddy Bridgewater in there, the Vikings have to be respected as a passing offense, and that will allow Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata to find some running lanes and balance the offense, like we saw against the Falcons. If the Vikings can't pass, neither Asiata or McKinnon are capable of finding running room against eight and nine man fronts, like we saw against the Packers. No one wants to see that again. Ever.
Unleash Teddy: Over the course of the last two games, it's become apparent that this is Teddy Bridgewater's team. He's a rookie, but he's unlike most rookie quarterbacks that have come to the NFL. He seems to have the maturity and ability to not only start, but to excel at quarterback, and right now the Vikings need to trust him until he proves unworthy of that trust. Put the ball in his hands, and let's see what happens.
Hey, there's this playmaker on the outside that really isn't making plays: After week one, the predictions about Cordarrelle Patterson becoming a force in the NFL all seemed to be legitimate. He had 102 yards rushing and a 67 yard rushing TD, 26 yards receiving, and Percy Harvin comparisons seemed everywhere, and altogether appropriate. But since then, he's only run the ball one time, for a seven yard loss, and he has yet to eclipse 60 yards receiving in a game, and has not seen the end zone.
Shut down the Lions offense: Offensively, the Lions are hurting. Matthew Stafford is healthy, but WR Calvin Johnson, RB Reggie Bush, backup RB Joique Bell, and backup to the backup RB Theo Riddick have all been hurt. Johnson and Bush look like they'll both be out, so the only real threat that could potentially take the field is Golden Tate. Although the Vikings defense has been somewhat inconsistent at times, their pass defense has gotten better, and they have the ability to limit, if not neutralize Tate.
Figure out a way to get to .500: The Vikings need a win, especially since they lost their first divisional game last week, and the Lions are at 3-2. A win and they're both 3-3, and the Vikings are very much in the middle of the NFC North race. At worst they'd be one game behind Green Bay, assuming they beat Miami. At best, they're tied atop the division. But a loss and Detroit moves to 4-2, the Vikings to 2-4, with the double whammy of being 0-2 in the division. Detroit's defense is tough, but I think the Vikings will benefit from Bridgewater's return, and a renewed focus to get the ball in Patterson's hands.