Well, last week the 2012 Vikings season officially ended with their bizarre playoff loss to the rival Green Bay Packers. It was a thoroughly uninspiring finish to what was an otherwise surprisingly positive season. I’ve mentioned this in previous blog posts, but after losing in the 2009 NFC Championship game and failing to go to the Super Bowl with Brett Favre, the Vikings only managed a record of 9 – 23 during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. We Vikings fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about the past couple of years. So, for the team to run the table on the last 4 games, finishing 10-6 and earning a wildcard playoff berth, was extraordinary. Prior to the start of the season, I was cautiously optimistic that the Vikings would improve from their 3-13 debacle of 2011. I pegged the team as a 6-10 maybe 7-9 team, that could overachieve to 8-8 with a few lucky bounces. Boy did I ever underestimate the team! Below are some of my thoughts from the 2012 season.
Coaching Staff and Front Office
First of all, I give a lot of credit to GM Rick Spielman for what has turned out to be (at least for 1 season) an excellent 2012 draft. We netted 3 (hopefully) long-term starters in LT Matt Kalil, S Harrison Smith and K Blair Walsh. We also got a couple of players who were plugged in and played well this season in CB Josh Robinson, TE Rhett Ellison and WR Jarius Wright. For 6 rookies to be seeing the field and having a significantly positive impact on the team is pretty huge. Assuming these rookies progress and grow heading into the 2013 season, then things look very bright for the team.
In addition a lot of credit goes to head coach Leslie Frazier and all of his assistants and coordinators. Alan Williams was the new defensive coordinator, signed when Fred Pagac was demoted back to the Linebackers assistant, and Williams took a bottom of the league defense and turned that unit around. Bill Musgrave, the offensive coordinator, had an up and down 2nd season. I’d like to believe that he had some impact on Adrian Peterson reaching the 2,000 yard mark as well as developing QB Christian Ponder. But, the jury is still out on Musgrave. But still, anytime a team improves from 3-13 to 10-6 in one year, that tells you something is going right for the team. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to some consistency in the coaching staff after many years of turmoil and instability.
Not a lot has to be said about Adrian Peterson. He topped 2,000 yards in a season, and came 9 yards shy of breaking the NFL Single Season rushing record. And he did it coming off of an ACL injury in his knee the year before. The Vikings offensive identity is a run-first, smash-mouth style football team. They sported the #2 rushing offense in the NFL this year in terms of total yardage. Unfortunately, their passing offense was 2nd worst, ranked 31st in terms of overall yardage. They were the epitome of an unbalanced offense, and despite their #2 ranking in rushing, their overall offense was only ranked 20th in total yards per game. There isn’t much more we can do to improve the rush offense, but if they want to remain a playoff team, and be competitive enough to make a run at the Super Bowl, they will have to address their pass offense.
Some would argue that this starts and ends with Christian Ponder, but I will have to politely disagree. While it’s true that Ponder had some dreadfully awful games this season where he failed to top 100 yards in not 1, not 2, but 3 games this season; it’s also true that Ponder had some really great games, hitting a passer rating over 100 four times and putting up a respectable 62.1 completion percentage. In a nutshell, Ponder was up and down this year and played like a young, 2nd-year QB learning on the job…which is exactly what he was. What is encouraging to me is if you compare his 2011 rookie season to his 2012 season you can see marked improvement in pretty much every statistical category. The following two tables show Ponder’s 2011 and 2012 stats, side-by-side, as well as a graphic showing his career passer rating and QBR totals with career trajectory. The bottom line is, he’s made progress from Year 1 to Year 2, and if we can upgrade a wide receiver corp that was commented on by Troy Aikman to be, “The worst WR corp I’ve ever seen”, I think we might actually give Ponder a chance to succeed next year.
|Games Played||Comp. %||Yds/Gm||Yds/Att||TD||INT||Passer Rating||Total QBR|
The days of the dominant Williams Wall are quickly becoming a distant memory. The Vikings run defense ranked 22nd in the NFL, bottom half worthy but not the worst, thankfully. We need improved play out of our defensive line and linebackers, specifically MLB. Halfway through the season, the folks at Pro Football Focus, rated our MLB Jasper Brinkley as one of the 20 worst tacklers according to their statistics and metrics. Our pass defense however showed dramatic improvement over last years “worst in the NFL” mark. It sure helped to have both starting CB Chris Cook and Antonie Winfield back after injury and legal troubles kept them both off the field for most of last year. But the drafting of S Harrison Smith and CB Josh Robinson also helped this unit improve. Our pass defense still has room for improvement however, and Chris Cook again missed time this season (due to injury). Our pass defense ranked 24th in the league, which is better than last year’s 32nd ranking, but it still needs work. Somehow though, our overall defense ended up with a ranking of 16th in total yards allowed, which is just a middle of the road, average defense, but still better than last year’s 21st overall ranking.
To me, our biggest concern on defense is the front seven. We need another elite LB outside of Chad Greenway who can consistently tackle as well as cover receivers over the middle. We also need a dominant, run-stuffing defensive tackle. If we can upgrade the defense in those two key areas and draft quality depth behind the starters, our defense should be able to return to the elite days of 2005-2009. It all starts up front, and unfortunately we have a combination of aging veterans, and inexperienced/untalented filler. We need elite talent in their prime. If we can continue to make progress in our pass defense, and significantly upgrade our run defense, then we will be primed for a post-season run in 2013.
At the end of the day, we had an excellent 2012 off-season and the combination of an excellent draft, and getting a few key pieces back on defense, turned this team around from a 3-13 laughing stock, to a 10-6 playoff caliber team. We need to have another successful 2013 draft this coming April, and we need to continue to develop a roster that is now the 4th youngest in the NFL. The future looks very bright for the Minnesota Vikings.