For a team that improved from 3-13 one year to 10-6 the next, there aren't many things that fans can complain about. But it's the nature of Minnesotans to find things to yip about and, given what the Vikings are facing heading into the 2013 season, these are the five things the team needs to improve the most if they can be expected to repeat.
Some are obvious. Others may not be as obvious. The one thing they have in common is that the Vikings will have to improve all of them in order to make a return to the playoffs this year and compete with Green Bay for the division title.
1. Improved Quarterback Play – Christian Ponder made progress in his first full season as the starting QB, but there is still a lot of work to be done. His passer rating of 81.2 was 21st in the league. Ponder was consistently in the lower half of the league in most statistical categories, most notably yards (25th) and average gain per pass (31st, ahead of only Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert). Until that changes, the Vikings will need to play almost flawlessly in other areas to win consistently.
2. Turnover Production From Cornerbacks – The Vikings had just 22 takeaways last season – for purposes of reference, Chicago led the league with twice that many. The biggest culprit was at cornerback. The Vikings had just 10 interceptions. Antoine Winfield had three, and he is now with the Seahawks. Josh Robinson is the only returning cornerback with an interception (he had two).
3. Second-Half Scoring – A saving grace of the 2012 Vikings was getting out of the gate quickly and being able to build a lead. In the first half of games last year, the Vikings outscored their opponents 213-164, including an impressive 101-60 advantage in the first quarter. After halftime, the Vikings were outscored 184-166. Halftime historically entails the coaching staff making adjustments to the game plan to operate more successfully. While the offense and defense can be held accountable, the Vikings coaches need to shore up their game in the second half.
4. Wide Receiver Production – Early in the 2012 season, Percy Harvin was being mentioned as an MVP candidate, and despite missing the final seven games of the season he still led the Vikings in receptions with 62. The only other player with more than 40 receptions was tight end Kyle Rudolph. The second-highest WR reception total was 40 by Michael Jenkins, who is no longer on the team. The next two highest totals among receivers who are still on the team were Jerome Simpson (26) and Jarius Wright (22). The addition of Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson is expected to replace the numbers from Harvin and Jenkins, but more help is needed and guys like Wright and Simpson need to step up.
5. Red Zone Defense – The Vikings ranked 27th in red zone defense, allowing 31 touchdowns in 51 red zone opportunities – three in every five chances. Only five teams allowed more red zone touchdowns than Minnesota. What did those teams have in common? None of them made the playoffs in 2012. If the Vikings are hoping to repeat, red zone trips will need to end in no points or three points more often than seven.
The Vikings have tried to take the needed steps to correct these deficiencies, but, two months from the opening of training camp, these are going to be the five most critical factors to whether the Vikings find themselves playing in January or not.
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.
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