After going 5-0 to start the season, the Minnesota Vikings went 3-8 to finish out the year and while they boasted a tremendous defense, it was worn thin as the offense sputtered and puttered time and again.
Now with a full offseason to get the offense and quarterback Sam Bradford on the same page, along with young talent like rookie running back Dalvin Cook coming in to fill holes in the offense and a great defense returning, the ultimate question is will they take steps forward?
Last season, the Vikings wanted to be a rushing offense that also threw the football. Yet Adrian Peterson’s slow start and injury, mixed with a disastrous offensive line that was bombarded with injures lead to the Vikings never having a 100-yard rusher last season.
The mix of dink-and-dunk football that was paired with a porous running attack, put the offense in a terrible spot. The defense helped get wins early, but injuries to players like Sharrif Floyd killed a defense spending a majority of the time on the field. This team barely made it to the end of the season and now has had some time to bounce back. Here is why Vikings fans should stay hopeful.
The Offensive Bounce-back
There has been a lot of speculation of having quarterback Teddy Bridgewater come back from his knee injury to train with the team would serve as a distraction while the team try to move into the next season with Bradford. However, the beat of training camp that was led by head coach Mike Zimmer repeatedly pointed to Bradford as Minnesota’s man, while Bridgewater’s only responsibility was to get better and back to 100 percent, health-wise. While the coaching staff can say all they want about starters, both Bridgewater and Bradford remain with contracts that end after this season and no talk of an extension despite a number of defensive players receiving paydays. This means the quarterbacks are fighting for the next contract and while they have fairly similar stats,
Bradford will get the starting nod in September.
Bradford has had plenty of time to build timing and feel with wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen and tight-end Kyle Rudolph. Now he will also have a stable backfield with Jerick McKinnon, Cook and Latavius Murray all able to shoulder the load together. Cook should be the lead man in the trio with Murray on the mend and with inconsistency in his career and McKinnon playing the role of the scat back. Cook is the true three-down back that can fill Peterson’s shoes. Murray will be a great change-of-pace, tailback to switch up the rhythm.
The biggest thing Minnesota needs is offensive creativity, with two backs in Cook and McKinnon that can catch out of the backfield. The Vikings are not particularly deep with experienced wide receivers, which means having a pair of backs that can catch passes out of the backfield or play in the slot will be vital to the team’s success. McKinnon built up great chemistry in the passing game with Bradford last season, catching 28 passes in the last month of the season. If the Vikings offensive line can up their play and can become more creative with their pitch and stretch run games, this will be an offense that rolls.
Last season the Vikings racked up 41 sacks, and 13 fumbles helped put Minnesota in position to win a lot of games because their defensive line was so persistently difficult against opponents. Linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and defensive end Everson Griffen all have proven they are consistently productive on the defensive front, and young talent like defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker
Emmanuel Lamur add pass-rushing depth.
The secondary also looks solid yet again, with multiple playmakers that can contribute in a variety of ways. Cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trey Waynes are both younger players that have proven they are the starters for the team. Rhodes had played well enough last season to make the Pro Bowl. Harrison Smith is one of the best free safeties in the league and defensive back Terence Newman is the veteran that can come in and add depth in his 15th season of professional football.
From top to bottom, the defense is still a lethal group that will keep games tight for the Vikings offense, whether it has found itself or not.
The Vikings should have a better season than 2016’s unfortunate ending, with an offense that has actually found time to connect with their quarterback through an offseason as well as a revamped running back core. The defense should be less gassed because the load of winning football games will be on them alone. They also play the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and the Chicago Bears twice, which should subsequently be all wins. The Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins all are solid on offense but have poor defensive units, which gives Minnesota the edge. With the Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers on the schedule as well, both of those are tossup games. The Baltimore Ravens have had injuries to their quarterback, Joe Flacco, and the Vikings could steal a game against the Green Bay Packers.
This is a 9-to-10-win roster and will at the very least, head into December with enough wins to be in the wild card race. History has shown all you need to do is get into the playoffs to have a chance at the big dance, which just so happens to be a home game.