The Minnesota Vikings made a substantial step in the wrong direction in 2013 — after finishing 2012 with 10 wins and a playoff birth they found only five wins in 2013. Since the season ended the team brought in a new coaching staff, including new head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and some talented free agents on the defensive side of the ball in hopes of improving a dismal defense from 2013. Here are five reasons for confidence and concern in 2014.
Five Reasons to be Confident
1. Right Side of the Offensive Line
Phil Loadholt has quietly become one of the best right tackles in the NFL, evidenced by his +20.8 overall rating in 2013, which placed him as the second-highest-rated right tackle. Loadholt has also been reliable having played fewer than 1,000 snaps just once in his five NFL seasons. In 2011, the Vikings drafted Brandon Fusco in the sixth round. Fusco played minimally as a rookie and performed poorly in 2012, but made significant strides in 2013. Landing third among right guards with a +15.7 overall rating, Fusco only gave up two sacks on a team that allowed 29 throughout 2013. John Sullivan is another sixth-round pick that has paid dividends for the Vikings. The center has finished the last three seasons with an overall rating above +20.0. In the last two, he has only missed offensive snaps in one game, making him a dependable and proven leader.
2. Additions of Joseph and Munnerlyn
The Vikings’ defense struggled in almost all facets of the game in 2013, so they looked to the free agent market to revamp the unit, bringing aboard defensive tackle Linvall Joseph and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn is coming off his best season during which he accumulated four QB sacks (the most among cornerbacks with at least 300 defensive snaps), a solid +4.1 run defense grade, and a Top-25 Yards Per Cover Snap figure (1.22) when playing in the slot. Joseph is also coming off his best season in the league where he finished with a +3.6 in run defense (18th among NT/DTs). The Vikings hope Joseph can be a catalyst for improvement along a defensive line that had just two players grade positively in run D in 2013.
3. Not Slowing Down
In 2013, many believed Adrian Peterson showed signs of depleting ability, but he ended with the third-highest overall rating of his career. While comparing last year’s numbers to his 2012 campaign would show he wasn’t as effective in 2013 (though he was among the Top 5 RBs in our Elusive Rating in both years), looking at his entire body of work shows he played above his career average. Over Peterson’s seven seasons he has averaged an overall rating of +6.7 while in 2013 he was able to produce an overall rating of +10.4. Thus, Peterson’s 2012 statistics should be looked at as a positive irregularity rather than viewing his 2013 statistics as a sign of declining ability.
4. Patterson Finished Strong
After a slow start to his rookie campaign, Cordarrelle Patterson showed significant signs of improvement in the last quarter of the 2013 season. Week 14 was Patterson’s breakout game when he displayed the danger he is with ball in hand by accumulating 114 of his 141 total yards after the catch. It was clear the Vikings wanted to get the ball in Patterson’s hands as quickly as possible with just over 30% of his targets coming behind the line of scrimmage, and another 33% of his targets coming between the line of scrimmage and 9 yards from it. In the last four games of 2013 Patterson had an overall rating of +6.5, which shows he may be hitting stride.
5. Return of Smith and Rudolph
The Vikings had high expectations for safety Harrison Smith in his second NFL season, but an injury early in the year limited his production. Finishing 2012 with an overall rating of +10.8 including an impressive +4.3 in the team’s only playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Smith did return to the field at the end of 2013, but did not return to his 2012 form. If he can get back to the level of play he exhibited prior to suffering the 2013 injury, it should improve a troubled secondary. Tight end Kyle Rudolph also suffered an injury in 2013 that was a setback in a good start to his career that saw first two seasons graded +12.9 and +10.5 overall. Rudolph has excelled in both run and pass blocking, and will likely be key component to the team’s offense.
Five Reasons to be Concerned
1. Questions at Linebacker
Chad Greenway has played under 1,000 snaps for the Vikings only one time since 2008, but his effectiveness has decreased substantially over that time and he posted the worst season of his career in 2013 with a -19.2 overall rating. Possibly most troubling was his -8.1 rating in Run Defense. Prior to 2013, Greenway’s worst overall rated season was 2011 where he was still able to finish with a +9.4 in Run D. Jasper Brinkley has returned to the Vikings after a one-year stint with the Arizona Cardinals and looks to compete for a starting spot in the middle to replace Erin Henderson. Brinkley only played 210 snaps for the Cardinals before making way for Daryl Washington’s return and in 2012 with the Vikings he produced a -16.1 overall grade that included a -13.0 in coverage. Audie Cole will be in the mix for that starting spot as well, but his NFL experience has been limited. In 2013, he appeared in only six games, but did finish the year with a +3.9 in Pass Coverage.
2. Quarterback Inconsistency
The Minnesota Vikings have struggled with inconsistent play at the quarterback position since the 2009 season, and the 2013 season was no exception. Three different quarterbacks started for the Vikings during 2013 and they finished with a combined overall rating of -23.4; Matt Cassel had the best year of the three, finishing with a -3.9 overall. Cassel, who sits atop the team’s depth chart for 2014, appeared in nine games, starting six, in 2013. His inconsistency was made clear by a +3.1 grade in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles that was followed by his season-low grade of -5.8 in Week 16 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Further, Cassel struggled on third downs with a -7.6 rating and a -7.9 rating when facing a traditional pass rush.
3. Back-Up Runningback
The Vikings may have one of the league’s best starting runningbacks, but they lack depth behind him. As part of our depth chart series we have Matt Asiata as the backup to Peterson. Asiata has seen limited snaps in his short career, but was moved up the depth chart after the departure of Toby Gerhart. Appearing in three games for the Vikings in 2013, he was only on the field for a substantial number of offensive snaps in two of them — in those two he most notably struggled to pass block, combining for a -1.9 rating and allowing three QB sacks.
4. Left Side of the Offensive Line
In contrast to the Vikings’ right side of the offensive line, the left side struggled mightily in 2013. Left guard Charlie Johnson has been a starter on the team’s offensive line for three years, but has yet to finish a season with an overall rating above -5.0. Since coming to the team in 2011 he has yet to finish a season with a pass blocking grade better than -1.6 and his Pass Blocking Efficiency mark of 95.4 ranked 49th among guards in 2013. Matt Kalil had a solid rookie season in 2012 playing every offensive snap and finishing with an overall grade of +14.3. However, he fell victim to a sophomore slump, finishing 2013 having allowed 49 total pressures after giving up only 23 in 2012.
5. Secondary Woes
The Vikings appear to have made an upgrade at the cornerback position by letting Chris Cook walk and bringing in the aforementioned Munnerlyn, however the team didn’t do much else to fortify a defensive unit that graded as the second-worst in coverage in 2013. Josh Robinson is penciled in as a starter at cornerback even though he posted coverage grades of -11.0 and -9.1 in the 2011 and 2012 years, respectively. The Vikings signed Derek Cox to compete with Robinson, but the veteran’s -12.7 coverage grade and 1.76 Yards Per Cover Snap (103rd of 112 CBs) in 2013 doesn’t offer the team an improvement in a category they struggled the most in.