At the midway point of the season, the Vikings have exceeded most expectations of them, especially given how brutal the start of the season came against the 49ers. As we look back on the first half of the year, today we look at the Vikings offense, what it has accomplished and what still needs to be improved if the Vikings are to continue their run for the 2015 playoffs.
The Vikings have a long way to go to work their way up the charts for offense. Halfway through the season, the Vikings are averaging just 322 yards a game, which ranks them 30th in the league – ahead of just St. Louis and San Francisco and more than 100 yards behind league-leading New Orleans. But, it’s safe to say the Saints would give up those yards for more wins and a perfect home record.
Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings are averaging just 189 passing yards a game. They’ve been no great shakes and teams have made a point to try to rattle Bridgewater. His numbers are, at best, pedestrian. The best thing he had going last year from the long-term “student of the game” perspective was that he didn’t have Adrian Peterson behind him. Defenses didn’t keep game plans the same facing Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata last season and Bridgewater earned his apprenticeship under fire.
His numbers have been modest – completing 149 of 232 passes for 1,670 yards with six touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 83.4 (22nd in the league) – but Bridgewater has been steady and trying to minimize mistakes. His strength has been on third down, where he has consistently been able to sustain drives and keep the defense off the field. Perhaps the most telling statistic has been the one unit of measure that defines a quarterback – wins and losses. He is 6-2 as a starter and has already matched his season total in wins from 12 games as a starter in his rookie season.
The biggest difference in the offense has been the return of Peterson. After playing just one game last season, Peterson has returned with a vengeance. The Vikings as a team are sixth in the league in rushing and, as an individual, A.P. leads the league is rushing with 758 yards at the midway point. Had anyone asked what would be a big year for Peterson, 1,500 rushing yards would have been a lofty expectation. At the halfway point of the season, Peterson is on pace to reach that mark and much of the Vikings’ success on offense has been centered upon his ability to consistently move the ball with the big play sprinkled in.
The change in the Vikings ground game has been a dramatic improvement with Peterson’s return. Last year, Asiata led the team in rushing with just 570 yards. Peterson has already eclipsed that total and, as the league’s leading rusher, looks like the A.P. fans have been used to throughout his Hall of Fame career as the centerpiece of the offense.
Given Bridgewater’s average numbers through the air, the Vikings don’t have any receivers who jump off the page among the league leaders. Clearly, the most pleasant surprise of 2015 has been rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Despite being inactive the first three games, Diggs leads the team in receptions (28) and yards (461), emerging as the team’s top receiving threat, both in terms of targets and big plays down the field.
Injuries have hit the Vikings pretty hard among the receiver corps, as both Jarius Wright and Charles Johnson have missed time during the first half of the season. Mike Wallace has been a team leader, but it hasn’t translated onto the field. He has caught just 27 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown, well below the expectation that was put out when the Vikings traded for him. Due to their injuries, Wright and Johnson have combined to catch just 21 passes – numbers that will need to improve in the second half of the season if the Vikings are to maintain their strong start.
The tight end production has been down, but that has been a byproduct of the team being forced to keep two tight ends on the field for pass protection purposes. Kyle Rudolph has 22 receptions for just 175 yards (an 8-yard average), but remains a red zone threat, leading the team with three receiving touchdowns.
The biggest question mark heading into the season was how the offensive line would hold up without John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. The only starter in 2015 who started in the same spot in 2014 is left tackle Matt Kalil. Coming off an injury-marred 2014 season, Kalil has played very well in keeping Bridgewater clean and opening running lanes for Peterson. The only other returning full-time starter, guard Brandon Fusco, has given the Vikings a solid 1-2 punch on the left side of the line. Veteran Joe Berger has been solid in the middle and the right side of Mike Harris and rookie T.J. Clemmings has done its part to keep the offense functional. There is room for improvement and mistakes have been made, but the line has lived up to, maybe even exceeded, what was expected when the Vikings got the bad news that their two most veteran line members were lost for the season.
The Vikings haven’t won many games on the back of the offense, but the unit has done enough to win games and have the Vikings at 6-2 at the midway point. Tomorrow we will look at the defense, the primary reason why the Vikings are considered playoff contenders in mid-November.