Well, we've made it to the end of the 2014 regular season, as unfortunate as that is. We have one final question to answer from Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, so let's go ahead and get to that right now.
This is it: it’s been quite a season here on GMC Playbook. Thanks for being creative and engaging with my questions. We’ve been talking all year about what it means to be GMC Professional Grade. Here’s my last question for you: Did your team have a Professional Grade season? If not, what will it take to get there next year?
Well, as the team can't finish with a record of .500 or better, it's pretty obvious. . .at least to me. . .that the answer to that question is "no."
As we talked about in our response to last week's GMC Playbook question, the Minnesota Vikings are definitely on the right track. In their first season under head coach Mike Zimmer, the team has made significant strides on the defensive side of the ball. Last season, the Vikings were dead last in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 30 points/game, and their 480 points allowed were the second-highest total for a Vikings' defense in team history. This season, they've allowed nearly eight fewer points per game going into Sunday's finale, at 22.2 points/allowed per game. That figure has them in the top half of the league, a pretty impressive feat given where this team was and the number of young players this team employs on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively, the team has not been as prolific as last season. The 2013 Vikings averaged 24.4 points a game (which was 14th in the National Football League), while this season's team has averaged just 20.8 points per contest (20th in the NFL). But we've been over the issues the offense has had repeatedly this season. The team has started three different quarterbacks, three different running backs, is currently missing 60% of their Week 1 offensive line, had their big red zone threat at tight end out for half the season, and they're still learning the Norv Turner offensive system after three-plus years of. . .well, whatever that was Bill Musgrave was doing.
(Have we mentioned Adrian Peterson not being around? Well, he hasn't been around.)
At this time last season, fans of the Minnesota Vikings knew that they were going to be looking at an off-season coaching change and another off-season of wondering what the team was going to do at the quarterback position. There are no such worries this year, as Mike Zimmer has put his stamp on this team and is gathering the sorts of players he needs to put together his style of football, both offensively and defensively. And at the quarterback position, Teddy Bridgewater has just continued to impress week after week following a bit of a rough start. Honestly, anyone that isn't impressed with what Bridgewater at this point is a hater, a fool, or both.
The team also has a lot of exciting pieces on both sides of the ball to build around. On defense, the team looks justified in paying Everson Griffen like a premier pass rusher, because that's what he's become. Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith are the anchors of a potentially exciting young secondary, and Anthony Barr provided plenty of excitement this season before missing a few weeks with a knee injury. Bridgewater has company on the offensive side as well, with running back Jerick McKinnon and receiver Charles Johnson providing reasons to be optimistic for the future. And we still have Cordarrelle Patterson. . .who, while a big disappointment in 2014, is still young enough and talented enough to have a big resurgence in 2015.
The Minnesota Vikings might not be "professional grade" as it stands on 27 December 2014. But by 27 December 2015, we'll probably be saying "yes, they are" as the Vikings battle for playoff position rather than draft position.