5 Ways the Minnesota Vikings Can Turn Their 2013-14 Season Around
It finally happened.
Led by backup quarterback Matt Cassel and a torrid rushing performance by Adrian Peterson, the Vikings stormed onto the shores of England and defeated the Steelers 34-27 in one electrifying game.
As Minnesota heads into its bye week, it's time for the Vikings coaching staff and players to come up with ways to ensure sustained success.
And here are five things that the coaches and players can do to turn their 2013-14 season around.
*All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless noted otherwise.
Bench Josh Robinson
The worst player in the Vikings secondary through four weeks has been cornerback Josh Robinson.
This past offseason, when the Vikings parted ways with veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield, the team called upon the speedy Robinson to help replace Winfield at the nickel CB spot.
While no one really expected Robinson to perform at Winfield's level, fans and presumably the team did expect him to hold his own.
Instead, Robinson has been a glaring weakness on the Minnesota defense. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Robinson has graded out as the worst cornerback in the NFL, behind only St. Louis Rams CB Cortland Finnegan. PFF's metrics show that Robinson has allowed completions on 34 of 37 passes thrown in his direction.
That type of play is absolutely inexcusable, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize this is killing the Vikings defense.
If the Vikings want to have any success covering the slot, they are going to have to use their bye week to rethink their strategy and personnel packages on defense, especially in the secondary.
Clearly Josh Robinson is not an answer.
Resolve the Quarterback Situation
Nothing can throw a team into disarray more than a quarterback controversy.
After a rib injury interrupted a rough start to the 2013 season for Minnesota QB Christian Ponder—who after three weeks had graded out as the 31st-ranked NFL quarterback, according Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—backup Matt Cassel started in London and helped guide the Vikings to a huge win.
After throwing for 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns, Cassel has given fans a reason to think that there now is a controversy brewing.
When talking with Ben Goessling of ESPN.com, head coach Leslie Frazier made it a point to let everyone know that Ponder was still his guy.
But, even in victory, Cassel didn't play as well as some might have thought.
Whether we're talking about Cordarrelle Patterson breaking up a potential Ike Taylor interception to the big games from Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson, Cassel didn't do much outside of a few nice throws to steal the job away from Ponder.
And while some statistics confirm Cassel's pedestrian play—PFF graded out his day to -3.7—his performance seems to have inspired his teammates. Talking with ESPN1500.com, Adrian Peterson said that Cassel was "more vocal" and that Vikings players were buying into what he was doing out there.
While the decision of who starts at QB is ultimately going to be left up to head coach Leslie Frazier, the one thing that is clear is that this situation needs to get resolved quickly if Minnesota has any chance of winning ball games.
Continue to Get Playmakers the Ball in Space
For all of the negatives surrounding this team, one thing they do have is a ton of playmakers.
Although he doesn't have Aaron Rodgers throwing him the football, wide receiver Greg Jennings is still a special talent. After signing a five-year deal this offseason worth up to $47.5 million, Jennings was brought in to give Christian Ponder a reliable target who could make plays with the ball in his hands.
Three weeks into the season, things weren't going Jennings' way. Although he seemed to be getting open, Ponder struggled to get him the football.
In Week 4 against Pittsburgh, though, things changed. With Matt Cassel replacing Ponder, Jennings exploded for the biggest game of his short Minnesota career. While Jennings still was targeted just four times against the Steelers, he caught three passes for 92 yards and hauled in two touchdowns, showing that he's still dangerous after the catch.
Of course, the same could be said for guys like Cordarrelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson and, of course, Adrian Peterson.
Heading into this season, most Viking fans understood that how well Ponder played was going determine how successful this team would be. With plenty of dynamic targets floating around this offense, the time is now for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to find additional ways to get these guys the ball in space.
Whoever the QB is.
Improved Offensive Line Play
One of the main concerns this season has been the spotty play of the Minnesota offensive line.
With so much talent stacked within this unit, it was surprising how poorly it played in the first three games. Against the Steelers, the group seemed for the most part to have gotten back its groove—which helped get the offense cooking.
Out of the all the Minnesota linemen, right tackle Phil Loadholt stepped up the biggest. He had himself a fantastic game. According to Pro Football Focus, Loadholt posted a near-perfect performance, securing himself a solid 3.9 grade.
Loadholt's inconsistency this season was emblematic of the up-and-down play of the entire offensive line through the first three weeks. (The exception was right guard Brandon Fusco, who aside from his Week 1 game against the Detroit Lions, has graded out favorably every week.)
Controlling the line of scrimmage and dominating the trenches is a must if this team wants to continue to put up points.
As you saw in London, this Vikings offense is stuffed with playmakers—guys who just need some space to make big things happen.
Address the Weakest Links
As the season wears on, one thing the Vikings have to do is address the weakest personnel links on both sides of the football and either part ways with these players or change their roles on the team.
Whether we're talking about Christian Ponder, Charlie Johnson, Jamarca Sanford or Erin Henderson, the fact is, these guys have made it extremely difficult for the team to consistently win football games.
Cornerback Josh Robinson, whom we analyzed earlier, is a perfect example. In order for the Vikings defense to get better, it needs to make adjustments both in scheme and, if necessary, personnel. Defensive schemes and game-planning can compensate for the poor individual performance of a player like Robinson for only so long.
While there are tons of things to fix on a 1-3 football team, mistakes at this level are costly, so in the end it's going to come down to the coaches and general manager addressing these deficiencies in personnel and making the necessary changes as soon as possible.