What did we all learn about the Minnesota Vikings in the 2011 season? What possible lessons could come out of a season that was supposed to be filled with promise, only to be left in near ruination?
Well, believe it or not, there's quite a few.
Each season—successful or not—always leaves behind little tidbits of education that we can all reflect upon, and learn from.
Today we're going to explore those lessons one final time, but don't expect every lesson to be a difficult one to swallow, because you may just be surprised to find a few positive ones as well.
Let's take a look, shall we?
The bureaucratic and business side of today's game had a tremendous effect on every team in the NFL, from the best to the worst.
For the Minnesota Vikings, however, the aftershocks of the CBA talks didn't bode too well for a team with a new quarterback and newly constructed coaching staff which was one reason for some of the Vikings shortcomings.
What we did learn from this lesson is, yes, the offseason is just as important as any other phase of football, and losing any aspect of time can often be detrimental.
As we'll see in the next slide, this sort of situation does have the ability to come undone.
Once the CBA debacle was over, the Vikings knew there wasn't enough time to get their heir apparent (Christian Ponder) up to speed for a full season, causing them to feverishly scoop up a veteran QB in hopes of having some sort of veteran leadership on the field.
Well, as stated above, things aren't always what they seem.
McNabb tried his best to lead this team, but it was clear his days as a viable starting QB were over. He failed to consistently move the ball and score, even with the weapons he had.
We learned that haste does in fact often make waste, and the Vikings wasted a good 30 percent of their season sticking with a QB—not to mention a few other players—who simply weren't the answer.
So what good can possibly come from these two mentions?
We can spend an entire day waxing over all of the negative aspects of this season, but with every dark cloud comes a silver lining, does it not?
Whether it was the lack of preparation time, injuries, player replacement or something else, there are several good things that either already came out of the bad—like Mr. Gerhart above—or are en route as we speak (figuratively):
- The Vikings' 3-13 record guarantees them the third pick in the 2012 NFL;
- Several rookies eventually stepped up their play, lending hope to their overall development;
- The coaching staff, at times, did seemingly begin to put things together nicely.
Just a few in mention, but nonetheless important mentions. The lesson here is a twofold in that, there is plenty of life on this team, and some of those late blossoms shed light into the future.
Usually I save a slide of this nature for last, but today, it takes a more centered focus.
If we really roll up our sleeves and take a deep look at Minnesota, we can easily see a bright future ahead instead of the bleak one that was seemingly painted earlier this season.
The pending 2012 NFL draft should yield another crop of quality players, helping this team stay young, while the pending free-agency market will inevitably help this team acquire a few of the veteran players needed to guide this growing youth brigade.
But we also learned that the Vikings—like every other team in the NFL—will have another incredibly valuable tool that was M.I.A. last year: time.
The time factor is more valuable than words can mention, and the Vikings will need every second to help them continue to build and settle some potential battles that may be on the horizon.
I'm not saying that there is a guaranteed QB controversy on the rise in Minnesota, but I'm not discounting the possibility of one rising up, either.
Christian Ponder and Joe Webb both showed what they have learned thus far, and from their own efforts, we learned that the Vikings may be forced to give both of these players a shot at the starting job next year.
Webb is an exciting quarterback who is a bit reminiscent of Carolina's Cam Newton, in the regard that he is a dual-threat player under center.
Webb often showed little issue moving the chains, but only did so early in drives. His downside was the fact that he showed little sustain to his early success more often than not—thankfully he had his legs to rely on as a backup.
Ponder showed that in the little time he had to prepare as an NFL player, he was able to come out, read defenses and move the team up and down the field quite often.
Ponder proved that he possesses above-average football smarts, while also showing his teammates natural leadership tendencies inside the huddle, even when down.
Both players struggled against heavier blitz packages—a commonality among young QBs. Ponder completed 54.3 percent of his passes with a 13:13 TD:INT ratio in 291 attempts, while Webb completed 54.0 percent of his passes with a 3:2 TD:INT ratio in just 63 attempts.
Prorate Webb's numbers, and you'll find two quarterbacks who are very close in production and apparent skill set.
We discussed the CBA after-effect, the potential future ahead, the possibility of a QB controversy—or at the least a full-blown battle—and how things can be misunderstood in certain ways, but what about the difference a year could make?
We learned from all the aforementioned lessons that time was (or will be) a constant aspect to each lesson learned—even ones that are to be learned.
The Vikings really began their offseason week ago, when they were sure their season was completely washed away. This year will afford them an entire offseason to allow players to get healthy (like Adrian Peterson), while also allowing them to fully survey what they have and what they need to do.
The secondary lesson to this one is their starting point, which resides in the 2011 weekly win/loss columns.
With the exception of three major blowouts and one contest by 10 to Atlanta, the Minnesota Vikings were in contention of every other contest they endeavored upon this season, suggesting the grand lesson that perhaps this team is better than they played.
The blowouts were games that were to be expected, losing by 29 to a then-playoff-bound Chicago Bears team in Week 6, a 38-point blowout to the reigning Super Bowl Champs Green Bay in Week 10 and a 24-point blowout to the high-flying New Orleans Saints in Week 15.
But that's it. Again, every other game this Vikings team could've easily won.
It's an interesting lesson; one that even expands to yet another lesson...
The Minnesota Vikings suffered yet another season filled with injuries, but this season their depth chart simply wasn't ready to carry the load in all phases of the game.
The area that suffered most was the secondary, which was supposed to be a lot better than seventh-worst in the league against the pass.
The lesson to learn, however, is the fact that the Vikings will be able to utilize both the draft and perhaps the open market in an effort to build up their depth chart, avoiding some of the situations they endured this season.
Interestingly enough, this lesson was sort of attached to another, less noticed one...
This team was beaten up, mocked, dragged through the mud and at times, found themselves defeating themselves.
But there were a few areas of this team that never wavered from what appeared to be a loss of pride, like a Jared Allen-led defensive line.
The lesson being taught here is just how important pride can be to a team—even a losing one.
Jared Allen wasn't the only player on this team, however, as other players began buying into his energetic and preserving approach to each game.
We saw that same pride in Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart's forceful running. We saw that pride in the young gunslingers who tried their best to lead this team to victory in Christian Ponder and Joe Webb.
We even saw a few players who were stinking up the joint earlier this season turn things around, like Jamarca Sanford and Phil Loadholt.
Again, the "pride lesson" is a lesson that I hope will be an indelible one, because the final lesson taught is the hardest to swallow from this point on.
This division has always been a difficult one to be a member of, but each team is well on their way towards a positive upswing, meaning the biggest lesson we learned this season is the NFC North is running away, and Minnesota has to catch up.
The Green Bay Packers are currently the reigning Super Bowl Champions, and there's a good chance they will repeat this year.
The Chicago Bears were well on their way towards a postseason berth before the injury to Jay Cutler, but again, the Bears are in full upswing mode.
The Detroit Lions—the newest divisional threat—just began their turnaround, and what a turnaround it has been for them. Led by Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and a deceptive defense, this team is only a few pieces away from being the next suitor to challenge for the division crown.
This all puts a lot of emphasis on the Minnesota Vikings to learn the lesson of "keep up or stay down."
The Vikings showed that they can compete with their divisional rivals, however, by a final tally of 194-178, an average score of 32-29.
The grand lesson here is that this Vikings team was heavily injured, less talented comparatively and outmatched against their divisional rivals, and they still kept themselves to with a three-point cumulative gap.
In other words, they may be competing in a runaway division, but there is plenty of reason to suggest the Vikings can and will keep up.
I hope you guys enjoyed this "year in review," and thanks for reading. Coming up this Friday, some Mock Draft fun.