Team: Minnesota Vikings
Record: 10-6 Home: 6-2 Away: 4-4 Division: 4-2
Coaching Staff – C+
In spite of their relative success in 2008, I’ve had some serious reservations about the job Brad Childress has done during his two seasons on the job. The coaching staff is relatively inexperienced in many area’s, but has in defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, defensive line coach Karl Dunbar and quarterback coach Kevin Rogers three top notch assistants who could go on to bigger and better things in the future.
Offensive Line – B
The left side of the line is impressive, especially Steve Hutchinson, but right tackle currently manned by former center Ryan Cook is still a concern. Former Ole Miss tackle Marcus Johnson has been in my opinion a major disappointment. Depth is another problem that the Vikings hope will not manifest itself during their playoff run. Matt Birk is a very steady and efficient offensive center.
Wide Receivers / Tight End – B
The Vikings have made a lot of progress here with the deep threat of Bernard Berrian in free agency and the emergence of Visanthe Shiancoe as a reliable tight end; in fact, from a receiving standpoint, Shiancoe has proven to be one of the best in the league, a major turnaround from his struggles last year. Bobby Wade has also shown consistency, but Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison have been major disappointments.
Running Backs – A+
Adrian Peterson, a very serious MVP candidate is clearly the best at his position in the league. He combines speed, power and excellent run instincts and surprisingly has proven to be a very durable player. On the season he ran for 1,760 yards while scoring 10 touchdowns. Former Raven Chester Taylor when called upon has proven to be an outstanding back up.
Quarterback – C+.
Tarvaris Jackson the third year professional from little Alabama St has made big strides since the start of the season, but in spite of his impressive physical gifts (clearly the most athletic of the playoff quarterbacks), he still needs to prove he can do it over the long haul and most importantly with the game on the line.
Defensive Line – A+
At full strength, they don’t get any better than defensive end Jared Allen. Ray Edwards plays hard and has also been a plus in 2008. Kevin Williams and Pat Williams (both Pro Bowlers the last two seasons), form the best inside tandem in professional football today. Jimmy Kennedy a recent pick up, is a try hard guy but lacks both the quickness and the strength of a top inside defender. Fred Evens has flashed and rookie Letroy Guion from Florida State is just not ready to play winning football in the NFL.
Linebackers – B
The loss of E.J. Henderson was huge. He would have certainly received Pro Bowl consideration this year if he hadn’t sustained a season-ending foot injury in the fourth game of the season. Napoleon Harris is a big downgrade, but so far the Vikings have been able to weather the storm. Chad Greenway the Vikings leading tackler in 2008 is a versatile performer with excellent playing instincts.
Secondary – C
It’s an improving unit, but there are still some questions about teams targeting Cedric Griffin and some real concerns that Darren Sharper at 33 years of age and in his 12th season, has certainly begun to slow down. Veteran Antoine Winfield is acutely undersized and no longer runs as well as he once did, but he’s a rough customer. Tyrell Johnson, the Vikings second round selection in 2008, has top skills and speed. I really like his game.
Special Teams – C
Ryan Longwell is a rock, extremely reliable in tense situations and Chris Kluwe has the leg strength to hang with any punter in the league. The coverage units and some other aspects of the special teams have left a lot to be desired and will have to improve a great deal if the Vikings hope to advance in the post season.
Injury Factor – NT Pat Williams is returning from a fractured scapula and DE Ray Edwards suffered a knee injury, the extent of which isn’t known yet. The loss of E.J. Henderson was a major blow, but they’ve been able to mask it somewhat to date.
Team Offensive MVP – Adrian Peterson. He led the league in rushing in only his second year and set numerous other team marks. He is without question the most explosive back in the league and in every sense of the word a difference maker.
Team Defensive MVP – Jared Allen. The addition of a top-notch pass rusher helped the pass defense, and Allen was a big asset in the rush defense as well. Most of all, he brought a tremendous work ethic and passion to the game, and an unmatched willingness to play hurt. By his presence, he has raised the bar and challenged his defensive teammates to perform at a higher level.
Top Rookie – S Tyrell Johnson None of the Vikings’ rookies got much of a chance to contribute, but Johnson filled in admirably for Madieu Williams (neck) for the first seven games of the season. He has every physical quality you look for at the position, is extremely smart and instinctive.
Top Free Agent –Gus Frerotte - While he didn’t start or end the season as the starter, he was probably the single biggest reason the Vikings were able to turn around an 0-2 start (at which point he became a starter for 11 games) and turn it into a 10-6 playoff season. It’s safe to say, in spite of the talent that exists on this football team, if Frerotte had not been the quarterback over this critical stretch, the Vikings would not be participating in this afternoon’s wildcard week end.
Bernard Berrian is another name that deserves some mention not only because he tremendously upgraded the receiving unit, but also because his loss via free agency significantly weakened a divisional rival (Chicago Bears); a free agent double whammy made popular by the expansion Jacksonville Jaguars.
Team Strength – Running the football and stopping the run; the two most essential qualities for winning football games in the National Football League. With Adrian Peterson the first is obvious, but the Vikings are even better at defending the run. They became the first team in NFL history to finish first against the run three consecutive seasons.
Team Weakness – Special team’s coverage. The Vikings gave up an NFL-record seven touchdowns on special teams, and the main culprit was the punt coverage unit. They have settled down a bit in the second half of the season, but there is concern whenever the coverage units are on the field. A possible explanation may be Chris Kluwe, who has one of the strongest legs in football, out kicking his coverage.
Final Word – The belief here is that the Vikings have one of the most talented rosters overall, and their six Pro Bowlers this season would seem to back that statement. However, they still haven’t been able to put it all together and become a truly dominant team yet. Maybe that’s because of a complex offense that takes time to learn, a conservative approach or inconsistency at the quarterback position. If they could put it all together, they have a chance to advance deep into the playoffs.