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2014 Season Preview: Minnesota Vikings

2013 Season Recap

  • Record: 5-10-1 (4th NFCN)
  • Head Coach:  Leslie Fraizer (3rd season)
  • Offensive Rankings: No. 14 Scoring, No. 13 Yards
  • Defensive Rankings: No. 32 Scoring Allowed, No. 31 Yards Allowed
  • Pro Bowlers:  Adrian Peterson (RB); Cordarrelle Patterson (ST)
  • Key Injuries w/Games Missed: Harrison Smith (8); Kyle Rudolph (8); Desmond Bishop (16); Josh Robinson (6)

2014 Season

Vikings Depth Chart via Vikings.com

Offense

The Minnesota Vikings were essentially a league-average offense in 2013, ranking slightly above average in both points scored and yards gained.  Typical for the team since 2010, however, the Vikings were once again one of the league’s more imbalanced offensive squads.  Despite the attention opposing defenses understandably pay to Running Back Adrian Peterson (who once again saw more 8-man fronts than any other running back in the league), the Vikings ranked 8th in rushing offense, but just 23rd in passing offense.  Quarterbacks Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder split duties, but neither was able to produce outstanding results, and the Vikings experiment with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Josh Freeman proved a distracting disaster.

There is reason to hope, however, that 2014 is the year the Vikings offense turns the corner and enters the upper quartile of the league.  Peterson is back, as is the entire 2013 offensive line.  Led by that bruising unit, the Vikings have every reason to suspect the running game to continue among the league’s best.

The Vikings hired a new head coach this offseason, Mike Zimmer.  The defensive-minded Zimmer is unlikely to impact the team’s offense, but newly-acquired Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner will almost certainly leave his mark.  Despite significant regular season success, Turner’s Head Coaching career is oft-maligned.  However, he is nearly universally recognized for his accomplishments as an Offensive Coordinator, including having been called a “passing guru.”

That is exactly what the Vikings need, as the team is unlikely to significantly improve on offense without making a real leap in the passing game.  Cassell appears to be set to start for the team, despite the Vikings using a first-round draft pick on Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.  Cassell established some chemistry in 2013 with Greg Jennings, who led the Vikings in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in his first year with the team.  Meanwhile, Corderralle Patterson displayed his superb athletic talent in flashes on offense, and earned a Pro-Bowl selection for his contributions on Special Teams.  He appears set to take over as the team’s top receiver.

In addition, Tight End Kyle Rudolph has had a strong preseason.  He was on his way to a nice 2013 season before injury ended his year after just eight weeks, and the Vikings will hope for a return to form.  With those three receiving options, the Vikings finally have the makings of a passing game capable of raising eyebrows.

Defense

The 2013 Minnesota Vikings defense was wretched, arguably the league’s worst.  Injuries to Cornerback Josh Robinson and Free Safety Harrison Smith weakened an already questionable secondary.  The situation was no better at Linebacker, where the Vikings’ weaknesses were exposed after Desmond Bishop was unable to suit for even one regular season game.  The (now departed) Defensive End Jared Allen appeared to age overnight, and while Brian Robison was very productive at the other Defensive End position, the line play was otherwise middling or worse.

With the return of Robinson and Smith, and the emergence of second-year Cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the Vikings will hope for an improved secondary.  Likewise, the Vikings drafted Linebacker Anthony Barr, a physical specimen who has shown promise in the preseason, and are banking on improvement from the likes of Defensive End Everson Griffin (with his new five-year, $42.5M contract), Defensive Tackle Sharrif Floyd, and Linebacker Audie Cole, among others, to strengthen the front seven.

Perhaps the most important change, however, comes at Head Coach.  Zimmer has spent the last five years as the Defensive Coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals, where he established a venerable defense built on aggression and a unique approach to front-seven packages.  Zimmer’s defenses are typically ranked in the top ten in the NFL, and there is every reason to believe the Vikings will improve over the horrendous 2013 performance.  How much they improve in Zimmer’s first year remains to be seen, and along with hoped-for gains in passing offense, will play a vital role in the Vikings’ quest to rise out of the NFC North’s cellar.

Biggest Key for 2014

As discussed above, the Vikings must get production out of Cassell and the passing game.  Far more important, however, is the need to improve in virtually every aspect of defensive football.  In particular, how Zimmer unleashes Barr and his other young, athletic players in the front seven of the Vikings defense will determine how well this team performs in the NFC North, where three good offenses await.

Predictions

The Vikings will improve from 2013’s 5-10-1 performance.  Las Vegas bookmakers have been placing the over/under for wins at six, which seems low.  I predict the Vikings flirt with making the playoffs before falling short.  Final record: 8-8.