Minnesota Vikings: Why the Vikes Will Cause Trouble for NFC North in 2012
Despite the Minnesota Vikings' recent struggles, don't be surprised when a stellar rushing attack, an improved defense and another year under Leslie Frazier's system help the Vikes compete for an NFC North title in 2012.
Since the loss in the 2009 NFC Championship game, the Vikings have failed to achieve a winning season. The 2010 season was the lesser of Brett Favre's two seasons in Minnesota, and the 2011 season brought the team's worst record since 1984.
Even without All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson for the last four games of the year due to a torn ACL and MCL, the Vikings had one of the better rushing attacks in the NFL. They were fourth in yards with 2,318 and third in rushing touchdowns with 18.
The type of injury Peterson endured usually takes about 10-12 months to recover, but A.D. is hopeful he can shed that number down to 7-8 months as he hopes to take part in some of training camp, which begins on July 26.
A knee injury of that severity can really inhibit a running back's lateral movement, but according to Twincities.com's Jeremy Fowler, "Peterson said he had recently improved his explosiveness, cuts, lateral movements, and range of motion in the left knee."
The Vikings, as well as Peterson, are very optimistic about his return and are hoping to see him get back to his All-Pro form. If Peterson does suit up in September, you can be assured the four-time Pro Bowler will be the staple of Minnesota's offense.
Looking beyond the rushing game, the Vikings will also field a much-improved defense in 2012. In 2011, the Vikes were one of the worst defenses in the league, especially when defending the pass—giving up 251.2 yards per game through the air.
This is somewhat surprising considering the Vikings led the league in sacks with 50—thanks in large part to Jared Allen's record-setting 22 sacks.
Since the pass rush doesn't seem to be the problem, by process of elimination, the problem must lie in the secondary. With multiple new players coming into the secondary, head coach Leslie Frazier is looking to find the right combination (via Vikings.com):
We want to get a mix and see how guys work together to develop some chemistry in that secondary.
New players such as Harrison Smith, Bobby Felder and Robert Blanton will all have a chance to see significant playing time in 2012.
The linebacking corp should be much-improved this year. Pro Bowler Chad Greenway returns for his eighth season, Erin Henderson will be starting for a second season, and newcomer Jasper Brinkley will add some much-needed depth.
After giving up an abismal 28.1 points per game last season—second worst in the league—look for the Vikings to show a whole lot of improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
Who will win the NFC North?
Protecting the Quarterback
Another issue that was addressed this offseason was that of the offensive line. The Vikings took a major step in revamping their offensive line when they selected Matt Kalil No. 4 overall in April's NFL Draft.
Kalil will start immediately at left tackle, covering Christian Ponder's blind side. This should cut down that high number of sacks allowed, as the Vikings gave up 49 sacks last season, fifth worst in the league.
Second-Year Growth of Christian Ponder
Perhaps the biggest reason the Vikings will contend next year for the NFC North Title will be quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder had a season typical of a rookie quarterback thrown into a starting position—he struggled. The 24-year-old started 11 games for Minnesota but had less than 2,000 yards through the air and threw 13 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns while completing 54 percent of his passes.
Ponder, like most other rookie quarterbacks, will get significantly better in his second season, especially considering this will be his first true offseason due to the lockout last summer.
Having an effective running game will certainly help Ponder while weapons like Percy Harvin and two-year veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph—who is poised to become one of the best tight ends in the league—will help cover up some of Ponder's mental lapses.
While Leslie Frazier's first full season did not go exactly as planned, the Vikings are sure to improve in nearly all facets of the game—especially on defense, as Frazier was the Vikings' defensive coordinator for four seasons prior to being named interim head coach.
With all this improvement in multiple positions, it's hard to see the Vikings not improving on their 3-13 record from last season. Now they must take the next step and challenge the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions in perhaps the toughest division in the NFL.
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