So we have to start at QB. You've got, and if I'm not being nice enough, I apologize, a failed QB experiment in Christian Ponder, the tried vet in Matt Cassel and the first-rounder in Teddy Bridgewater. Are Vikings fans happy with how the unit was handled in the preseason? Should Bridgewater have been anointed the starter early on or are you comfortable that he didn't, let's say, play his way into the starting role? Is Ponder already one foot out the door? Any bad feelings if so?
Damn it, do we HAVE to? Fine. Overall, I think yes, fans were very satisfied with the way things were handled. Well, at least I was. The new coaching staff, lead by Mike Zimmer, said that there would be a competition for the starting job, and Matt Cassel won it, fair and square. Cassel is the experienced veteran, and played very well in the pre-season, doing nothing to lose the job. Teddy Bridgewater played well, but didn't do anything to elevate his play above Cassel.
So yeah, I'm glad that Cassel is going to start, with Bridgewater ready to go if he falters. For the first time in what feels like a lifetime, the Vikings seem to have two guys that are living, breathing, NFL quarterbacks. As to Christian Ponder, I feel bad that it didn't work out. He's handled the scrutiny and subsequent demotion with a lot of class, and wherever he ends up, whether it's a trade in the next couple of days or signing as a free agent next year, I wish him well.
On to the rest of the offense. You guys ranked 23rd in passing yards per game last year as well as in Football Outsiders' passing offense rating. Everyone knows Adrian Peterson is "elite", as overgeneralized as that term is. What do the Vikings have to do to improve in the passing game in 2014? Is it down to QB play? Are the receiving threats sufficient?
Essentially, yeah it's down to the play of the quarterback. The Vikings have one of the better receiving units in the NFL, as long as there is a competent quarterback that can get them the ball. Greg Jennings is a guy that still has a lot in his tank, and last year, when the Vikings finally went with Cassel to close out the season, he had over half of his 800 receiving yards and all of his TD throws. Cordarelle Patterson is set to be a breakout star in 2014, and...stop me if you've heard this before...once he had competent QB play and the Vikings put him in the lineup, he had more receiving yards the last month of the season than any other receiver in the NFL. At tight end, Kyle Rudolph is one of the better young TE's in the NFL. With the way Norv Turner likes to utilize the tight end in his offense, and if the pre-season is any indication, he's going to have a big season.
Seriously, it's the quarterback play. That's it. Opposing defenses have been putting eight and nine guys in the box for years to stop Adrian Peterson, and it finally feels like the Vikings have a quarterback that will make defenses respect the pass, which hasn't happened since 2009.
On to the defense. Fair to say, you guys were one of the lesser defenses in the league, especially against the pass. Where are you guys resting your hopes for improvement? Is it in the front seven, or are you guys expecting the secondary to step up and grow into a more reliable unit in 2014?
I'll take a yes to both the front seven and the secondary, as they both need to improve. At face value, it seems the Vikings defensive line lost a lot of talent in Kevin Williams and Jared Allen. The truth is both guys had peaked, and are on a downward slide, especially Williams. Adding Linval Joseph and re-signing Everson Griffen arguably makes the Vikings better on the front four, and definitely younger. At linebacker, there's still a concern, but there is a lot of young, if unproven talent. Veteran Chad Greenway seems better suited for this new defense, and rookie Anthony Barr seems to be a legit playmaker. In the secondary, Captain Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes make a pretty good tandem, but depth is still a huge issue at the nickel and dime positions.
Still, all things considered, the Vikings added a lot of talent on paper, and it should help to improve what was a defense that was arguably the worst the Vikings, as a franchise, has ever fielded.
Let's talk about roster changes. Obviously Bridgewater and Anthony Barr, as the first rounders, lead the conversation. Still, you guys were able to bring back MLB Jasper Brinkley and add DT Linval Joseph and CB Captain Munnerlyn. Which new (or in Brinkley's case, returning) Viking helps the most in making this team a success in 2014? Who are Vikings fans most pleased with? Who has disappointed? What late-round picks or UDFAs have surprised into a significant role to start 2014?
Everyone loves Teddy, everyone. We can't wait for the Bridgewater era to get underway, whenever that may be. Munnerlyn and Joseph, like I mentioned above, are the marquee free agent signings that will really go a long way in shoring up the defense. The other first round pick, Anthony Barr, is going to help in that regard as well, and he'll be starting Sam linebacker. For late round/UDFA guys, CB Jabari Price, a seventh rounder out of North Carolina, made the team and is in the mix for the nickel/dime roles. WR Adam Thielen, who was an undrafted free agent last year and was on the practice squad, earned a roster spot from the first day of camp, and never let up. He's a local kid, from Mankato, and he'll be a guy to look for when the Vikings go three and four wide, especially with Jerome Simpson suspended for the first three games.
I've asked this of every team blog in the preaseason. What constitutes a successful 2014 for you guys? Three losing season in the last four led to a new head coach in Mike Zimmer. Has the new car smell worn off at all, or are you as optimistic as ever to see his debut NFL head coaching season? With new coordinators in Norv Turner and George Edwards, is there any hesitation among the fan base? Any concern that Norv Turner will bolt after a year for a head coaching gig elsewhere, whether at the pro level or college?
I get more fired up for the season every time I hear Zimmer talk, and watch this team play. I know it seems pie-in-the-sky, but this team can make the playoffs. Consider: Last season, with a defense and quarterback play that was historically bad, the Vikings still blew five games, literally in the last 30 seconds. Win those games, and they're division champions.
Yeah, I know, I know--and if my aunt had a pair of testicles, she'd be my uncle. I bring those blown wins up to point out that the Vikings will have a much improved defense, and at minimum, QB play that is around league average. If they can navigate a tough early schedule and come out of it 3-3, they're going to surprise a lot of people. If you mock me for my playoffs prediction, I'd love to see a balanced offense, an improved defense, and at least be in the playoff hunt until the end of the season.
As to Norv leaving, I'm not concerned, to be honest. I mean, he had to take a gig in Cleveland last year, so I don't think any NFL teams are beating down his door to be the coach. And I'm fine with that, because I think he's going to be a great OC for the Vikings.
Extra Credit #1: Perhaps you've heard of Steven Jackson. The Rams largely wasted what should be a sure Hall of Fame career in the kind of running back who isn't coming out of the college ranks anymore. Is there any concern setting in that after Jackson's brief claim to the throne, you guys have enjoyed the talents of the best running back in the NFL without seeing much materialize from it? With the recent AD-Jerry Jones brouhaha, is there more worry that Peterson has a chapter of his career left elsewhere or more a sentiment that he deserves more team success than he's found to this point in his career?
Yeah, it bothers me that Peterson might be this generation's Barry Sanders. It took awhile, but the Vikings finally have a lot of good, young talent on the team on both sides of the ball, and there seems to be competent coaching in place, so I'm hopeful that this thing can turn around.
With the running back being devalued in the NFL, as soon as AP becomes just another very good running back, yeah, I can see a scenario where declining play and an onerous contract cause him and the Vikings to part ways. I don't think there was anything to the AP-Jerry Jones thing other than ESPN trying to make news out of nothing, but professional sports franchises in Minnesota have a way of letting their superstar players go elsewhere to win championships.
But the cynical Vikings fan in me also can say that maybe if AP hadn't fumbled on the 10 yard line at the close of the first half in the NFC Championship game in New Orleans, he would've played in a Super Bowl. So whatever.
EC #2: You tagged me, so, uh, returnsies? Is that a thing a 33-year-old man can say without question things? (Answer: No. No it is not.) Prediction for the game and tell me something about being a fan of another NFL team in St. Louis..........................................................................................with the knowledge the TST hordes are watching this answer.
With Sam Bradford out, I think the Vikings come out of St. Louis with a close win, something along the lines of 23-16, 23-20. As to living in St. Louis and being a fan of another team, it's not bad, because it's the Midwest, and St. Louis is one of the most polite fan bases in pro sports. I've lived here a decade, and I love this town. I chose to move here as I was getting ready to retire from the military, and it's a great place to live.
To me, it seems the Rams have been the third team in town since I moved here in 2004, behind the Cardinals and, to a lesser extent, the Blues. This is always going to be a Cardinals town, always. Heck, I've become a huge Cardinals fan; it's almost impossible not to when you live here. And I even overcame my childhood HATRED of the Blues (North Stars fan, yo) to root for them. In Minnesota, even when the Vikings stink, they're always the 600 pound sports gorilla in the room. They always have been, and they always will be, much like the Cardinals are here.
St. Louis looks at the Rams a lot more dispassionately than a lot of NFL cities. Maybe it's because they haven't had a lot of success in recent years and the Blues and Cardinals are among the best teams in their sport, maybe it's because of the unsettled stadium situation, maybe it's because they've only been here since the mid 90's. The Rams fans I've met here are great folks, very Midwestern, very knowledgeable, and I hope to meet some more on Sunday at the game.
I went to the Vikings game here in 2009 with my Dad, and it was a great experience. It's just that for every St. Louis sports fan I meet, the Rams seem to be a lower priority than the Cardinals or Blues. I didn't live here during the Greatest Show on Turf, and all my St. Louis friends tell me the Rams owned this town back then.
When Jeff Fisher starts winning a lot of games here and a new stadium deal gets done, I'm hoping that turns around, because this is as great a sports town as I've ever lived in, and the Rams deserve some of the love the Cardinals and Blues get.
Thanks to Ted for the time.