With the Vikings having Week 5 off following their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in London last Sunday, it is a time for the team to assess the offense, defense and special teams and try to continue the things that have gone well and eliminate the things that have contributed to their 1-3 record.
In the first of a two-part series, we examine the five keys to the offense – what has been good, what has been bad and what has been ugly. Where do the Vikings have reason for optimism? Where do they have reason for concern? These are the five critical areas that are being examined while the Vikings finish off their bye week.
1. Solve Quarterback Question – Had Matt Cassel stunk out Wembley Stadium in the second half of last Sunday's game, this wouldn't be a problem – when Christian Ponder's mysterious rib injury was healed, it's his job again. But Cassel went 10-for-10 passing in the second half and posted a passer rating of 123.4, almost double Ponder's 65.9 rating through the first three games. It's going to be a tough call for the Vikings' decision-makers because Ponder is/was viewed as the future, but Cassel played well enough to keep the starting job.
2. The Felton Connection – In his first five seasons in the NFL, Adrian Peterson began to build his Hall of Fame résumé, rushing 1,406 times for 6,852 yards in 73 games – an average of 4.9 yards a carry and 94 yards a game. Once fullback Jerome Felton arrived, Peterson became even more deadly. In 17 games with Felton as his lead blocker, Peterson has rushed 371 times for 2,237 yards – an average of 6.0 yards a carry and 132 yards a game. Coincidence? Consider that in the three games Peterson played without Felton this season, he carried 69 times for 281 yards – an average of 4.1 yards a carry and 94 yards a game. In the one game back with Felton, he ran for 140 yards – a 6.1-yard average. The key to the Vikings offense is Peterson, and Felton being his personal road grader has proved to be critical to that success. They're reunited … and it feels so good.
3. Tight End Production – Kyle Rudolph has been on the field for almost every offensive snap for the Vikings, but has caught just 12 passes for 103 yards and one touchdown. John Carlson has been on the field for approximately 40 percent of the Vikings' offensive plays, yet has caught just three passes for 14 yards. For a team that has invested so heavily in tight end – Rudolph was a second-round draft pick and Carlson was a pricy free agent signing – to have them combined to represent just four catches for 29 yards a game simply doesn't get the job done. Seeing as Bill Musgrave came to the Vikings with the promise of attempting to replicate the tight end success teams like New England have had, Rudolph and Carlson have provided almost nothing to the passing offense.
4. Clean Up The Offensive Line Play – For much of the first month, the Vikings have struggled to establish the running game. Prior to Felton's return last week, after Peterson's season-opening carry of 78 yards for a touchdown, he was averaging about three yards a carry. They have allowed 11 sacks, but even that horrible number is a little misleading because Ponder ran 15 times, typically running away from pressure that would have resulted in a sack if not for his mobility. The O-line looked a lot better against Pittsburgh, but the consistency needs to improve.
5. Keep On Scoring – Last year when the Vikings were on their way to the playoffs, they only had four games in which they scored more than 26 points. Through four games, they have scored 27 or more points in three of them. Scoring hasn't been the problem. If the Vikings can continue to score points at their current pace, wins will follow.
There are a lot of good things to say about the Vikings offense. Peterson looks like his old self again, the Vikings are getting solid contributions from free agent signees Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson and, if either Cassel or Ponder can become the field general the team is looking for, there is reason for optimism on the offensive side of the ball. But, at 1-3, the margin for error or an "off-week" has been minimized, and defending their home field has become critical with division losses to Detroit and Chicago already in the bank. Can they get the ship righted and back on course? Stay tuned.
Note: Tomorrow we will look at the defense and the five critical areas facing that side of the ball moving forward in the 2013 season.
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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