The Minnesota Vikings, at 5-7, are not mathematically eliminated from the NFL playoffs. However, they are currently the 11th seed in the NFC, and it is safe to say they will not be playing in January. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has played like many first year quarterbacks before him, throwing for just 8 touchdowns against 7 interceptions, and a rating of 79.0. That’s good for 28th in the league, just below the inevitably-going-to-be-benched Brian Hoyer, and just ahead of the somehow-not-being-bashed Cam Newton.
The Vikings’ offense has been abysmal, ranked 30th in the league overall. That’s a spot lower than the New York Jets. This is a step back from 2013, when they Vikings ranked 13th overall, largely due to the 8th best running attack in the league. Without Adrian Peterson, that running attack is now ranked 13th. With a corresponding drop in passing production (from 23rd in the league in 2013 to 30th in 2014), the offense has been horrendous.
Of particular concern, the Vikings once-promising left tackle, Matt Kalil, has completely fallen off. After a good rookie season he played poorly in 2013. His descent continued into 2014, and it would be fair to say he is among the worst players at his position in the league.
The Bright Side
Somehow, despite all of this, the Vikings have been playing fairly decent football lately. They have won three of their last five games, feasting on the league’s weaker competition by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, and Carolina Panthers. The Vikings’ two losses were both within the division, one on the road to the Chicago Bears (5-8) by 8 points, and at home by just 3 to the red hot Green Bay Packers. The Vikings have already matched their 2013 win total. How is this happening?
The answer is defense, and in particular, passing defense. In 2013 the Vikings had the 31st overall defense in yards allowed, and were league-worst in points allowed. They were relatively stout against the run (ranked 13th in the league), but were consistently ripped apart through the air where they gave up 287.2 yards per game. The Vikings’ opponents had a passer rating of 98.6, and the Vikings had just 12 interceptions despite tallying 41 sacks.
What a difference a year makes. In 2014, the Vikings’ rush defense has actually slipped to 23rd, and is allowing around four more yards per game than a year ago. But through the air the Vikings have improved dramatically. Their opponents are gaining only 219.1 yards a game, good for 6th in the league. Opposing quarterbacks have a rating of 92.1, and that number is of course slightly skewed by the fact that the Vikings are one of the unfortunate teams that has to face Packer quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice a season. Since virtually every half-decent starting quarterback in the NFL has a rating of at least 90 this season, the Vikings are holding their own.
This has shown up in overall numbers as well. The Vikings are 10th in the league in total yards allowed on the year, and 14th in points against. Ironically, having an above-average defense seems to have given them something of a home-field advantage at TCF Stadium. Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s presence appears to have been felt in his first year with the team. While the Vikings will be disappointed to be watching the playoffs from home for the second straight year, with minimal improvement on offense they should be in the mix for a playoff spot in 2015.