When it comes to game-planning for NFL opponents, a phrase that is often used is that a team "matches up" well against a certain opponent. As the Vikings try to rise from the bottom of the NFC North, they face matchups with the other three teams in the division that they will look to exploit. When a team looks at where they match up against an opponent, they don't look at those teams' strengths, they focus on their weaknesses.
Although the NFC North had two playoff teams last year and possibly would have had three had the Bears not collapsed late in the season when Jay Cutler and Matt Forte got sidelined late, all three of them have weaknesses that can potentially be exploited.
The Packers had the best record in the NFL last year at 15-1, but also had the league's worst defense. While the Packers used their first six picks of the 2012 draft on defense, they still have their share of issues on the defensive side of the ball. The team has a lot of questions both on the defensive line and the defensive backfield, where age is becoming a pressing issue. Combine that will a pedestrian running game and the Packers have their share of weaknesses that can be exploited in matchup problems.
The Lions have similar problems in two of those same areas. Detroit has significant questions to cornerback, a weakness that was exploited at the end of last season when the Packers and Saints combined to light the Lions up for 90 points in their final two games. Combine that weakness with a sub-standard running game and the Lions will likely be forced to be one-dimensional this season far too often, unable to stop a strong passing attack and unable to control the clock on the ground.
The Bears may be the most balanced team in the division, but their biggest problems is one of the worst problems to have – a weak offensive line. If a team can't control the line of scrimmage, it can rarely succeed. The Bears O-line has been a problem the last couple of years and they did little in the draft and free agency to address those problems. New offensive coordinator Mike Tice is convinced he can make the improvements needed with the personnel the Bears have, but not everyone agrees.
The Vikings have questions on both sides of the ball, starting with inexperience at quarterback to the Adrian Peterson injury to depth concerns at wide receiver to issues at linebacker and safety. Can they all get cured in one season? Probably not, but, as the 32 NFL teams continue to pick up steam heading toward training camp, there isn't a team that is without flaws and matchup concerns. The NFC North is viewed as one of the strongest divisions in the league, but is not without its share of issues, especially in the defensive secondary.
If the Vikings are to improve, it is going to have to be in the passing game. Their divisional opponents have their share of weaknesses in the secondary and if the Vikings make their move upward, it will have to be on the arm of Christian Ponder. If nothing else, it would appear that the rest of the division doesn't match up well against a team that can effectively pass the ball. The Vikings are looking for a ray of hope to get back to being a contender and it would appear that improvement will have to come in the passing game.
The biggest disparity the Vikings have right now is at QB. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. Detroit has Matthew Stafford. Chicago has Jay Cutler. All three of them look to be around for years to come. If the Vikings are to compete and create matchup problems, Ponder will have to make himself somehow comparable to those guys. Until he does, the Vikings will have matchup problems of their own.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Vikings' improvement has to come with Ponder
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