NFC NORTH MINNESOTA 2014 STRENGTHS: • Rushing attack, offensive line, special teams Vikings Offense The Vikings went into the 2013 season with the intention of helping Christian Ponder develop into a franchise quarterback. They had acquired wide receiver Greg Jennings and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson to give him some weapons in the passing game. Adrian Peterson remained as good a running back safety valve as any quarterback could ask for. There were reasons to be optimistic in Minnesota coming off a 10-6 performance in 2012. When Ponder began the season by turning the ball over too frequently, the team panicked. Ponder was replaced by Matt Cassel, who won a shootout against the Steelers in London but then got squashed by Carolina. Minnesota then made the mind-boggling decision to sign Josh Freeman to a contract and immediately start him on Monday Night Football against the Giants. Freeman responded with one of the worst games played by a quarterback in recent NFL history. The team then went back to Ponder, then back to Cassel again after Ponder was injured. It might be surprising, then, to learn the Vikings actually scored a healthy 24.4 points per game last year. Ponder and Cassel are not long-term answers but they’re also not the worst quarterbacks in the game. With Adrian Peterson to hand the ball to, some genuine weapons to throw to, and an underrated offensive line, the pieces are in place for Minnesota to have a very productive offense. The real problem is that the defense was arguably the worst in the league last year. Ponder and Cassel are not awful options as game manager types, but you don’t want them as your quarterbacks if you have to win shootouts. With Ponder failing to become the franchise quarterback the Vikings were hoping for, they selected Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Expect Bridgewater to take over as the starter at some point this season. With a solid offensive line, weapons in Peterson, Jennings, Patterson, and tight end Kyle Rudolph, and a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, the pieces are in place for the Vikings to have a sneaky good offense this year. Whether it’s Bridgewater, Cassel, or Ponder, they just need one of their quarterbacks to deliver. 2014 WEAKNESSES: • Quarterback position, holes in secondary VIKINGS Offensive Player to Watch While Patterson is one of the most talented young wide receivers in the NFL, he’s also one of the most enigmatic. Patterson showcased his talent in spurts last season, as he was one of the best kick returners in the league and turned 12 rushing attempts into 158 yards and three touchdowns. What Patterson didn’t do a lot of last year was actually produce at the wide receiver position: just 45 catches for 469 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Vikings are hoping for some major progress in year two. Norv Turner probably receives more credit than he deserves, but he is known for being an excellent coach of technique and fundamentals. If Turner can help Patterson develop into a better route runner and overall receiver, the potential is there for Patterson to break out and be a dynamic offensive weapon in the mold of a bigger and less injury-prone Percy Harvin. Vikings Defense Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Vikings defense in 2013. The Vikings were quickly exposed as a team that left gaping holes in their zone defense under head coach Leslie Frazier and couldn’t get a stop when they needed to. The secondary was a sieve, the run defense was no longer dominant, and the pass rush, led by Jared Allen, was greatly diminished from what it had been in previous years. The Vikings realize they are at least a couple years away from contending for a Super Bowl, so they allowed Allen to leave for Chicago and Kevin Williams to leave for Seattle. To replace Allen, the Vikings will promote Everson Griffen, who they gave a big free-agent contract despite being a career backup to this point. Minnesota also signed former New York Giants defensive tackle Linval Joseph to replace Williams. Joseph is similar to Williams as a tackle good at both stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. The biggest problem in Minnesota last year was the secondary, which routinely allowed opposing wide receivers to get wide open. Every team the Vikings faced last year scored at least 20 points except Detroit in the meaningless weak 17 game. Defensive backs like Chris Cook and Josh Robinson were overwhelmed, and an injury to safety Harrison Smith only made things worse.
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