Minnesota Vikings: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 13

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Minnesota Vikings: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 13
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

There are two ways to look at the Minnesota Vikings' 26-26 tie against the Green Bay Packers. One is to celebrate that the Vikings avoided another last-minute loss, the other is that they gave up a 16-point lead in the four quarter.

While the Vikings' season has been a huge disappointment, let's go the route of the glass being half full. After losing seven of the past eight games at Lambeau Field, the Vikings halted a four-game losing streak.

In his Monday news conference, via the team's website, head coach Leslie Frazier was very upbeat about this team:

It gives you hope about what can happen. There were so many good things that happened in that game, that tells me the way we played on the road, the fact that we're coming back home this week, against another divisional opponent. If we continue to work like we worked this past week, and improve like we improved, we'll have a very good chance of having success when we line up on the upcoming Sunday at home, on Mall of America Field.  

The positivity from the game against the Packers, starts with the success of the running game. Running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart both had their best games of the season—Peterson finished with 146 yards and a touchdown, and Gerhart had 91 yards on eight carries.

In overtime, Gerhart had 58 yards on four carries. 

The timing is perfect for the Vikings as they host the Chicago Bears, who are last in the league in rushing defense. Chicago's defense yields 145.2 yards per game on the ground.

As well, quarterback Christian Ponder also had a good game on Sunday against the Packers. It was only his second game of the season without an interception as he completed 21 of 30 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown. He also completed passes to a season-high, nine different receivers.

Maybe Ponder can use this game as a springboard and finish the season on a high note. Perhaps now that there is nothing on the line for the Vikings, he will relax and play well. Of course Ponder will do better if the Vikings run a no-huddle offense, allowing him to direct the offense instead of having to listen to offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave in his helmet. 

I apologize, I did say we were going to look at the glass being half full, and that last line may have been a bit snarky. Looking at it from the positive side, there's a good chance that the Vikings will be better next season—after all, they will have an easier schedule based on how this season shakes out.  

 

Division Standings

The tie between the Vikings and Packers ended a day in which no team in the NFC North won on Sunday. It cost Green Bay a chance of making the race for the NFC North a three-way tie. The Packers find themselves one-half game behind Chicago and Detroit with roads games against both of them yet this season.  

NFC North Division Standings
Team Wins Losses Ties Week 13 Opponent
Detroit Lions 6 5 0 vs. Packers
Chicago Bears 6 5 0 @ Vikings
Green Bay Packers 5 5 1 @ Lions
Minnesota Vikings 2 8 1 vs. Bears

Pro Football Reference

The Lions, by sweeping the series against the Bears, have the edge over Chicago. On Sunday, their loss to Tampa Bay helped the Vikings. With its third straight victory, Tampa Bay now has a better record than the Vikings. 

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago lost to the Rams, 42-21, in St. Louis. The Rams rushed for a season-high 258 yards to help drop the Bears to last in the NFL in rush defense. The Rams scored 21 points in the first quarter to set the tone in the game.

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Runnin gback Benny Cunningham had 109 yards on 13 carries against the Bears on Sunday

The Rams' first score score came on a 65-yard run by rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin. Running backs Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham combined for 196 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

Quarterback Jay Cutler, missed his second game in a row due to a high ankle sprain. On Monday, head coach Marc Trestman ruled Cutler out for the Vikings game.

That might be some bad news for the Vikings as quarterback Josh McCown has performed better than Cutler this season.    

Chicago Bears Quarterback Comparison
Quarterback Starts Record Comp Att Yds TD Int Rate
Jay Cutler 8 4-4 167 265 1,908 13 8 88.4
Josh McCown 3 2-1 97 148 1,106 7 1 100.8

Pro Football Reference

 

Injury Report

Against the Packers, the Vikings only suffered two injuries. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and wide receiver Joe Webb are both questionable after suffering concussions in the game.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The loss of Rhodes could be big as he played an outstanding game, breaking up four passes, including one intended for wide receiver James Jones in the end zone.

The Vikings were fortunate to have center John Sullivan in the game Sunday. He was able to come back after suffering a concussion against the Seahawks the previous week.   

Minnesota Vikings Injury Report
Player Position Injury Status
Desmond Bishop LB knee Injured reserve
Greg Childs WR knees PUP list
Erin Henderson LB personal Was at Vikings HQ
Xavier Rhodes CB concussion Questionable
Josh Robinson CB chest Out versus Bears
Kyle Rudolph TE foot Out versus Bears
Harrison Smith S foot IR - designated for return
Joe Webb WR concussion Questionable
Zach Line FB knee Injured reserve

Pro Football Reference and Vikings.com

Frazier also indicated in his press conference on Monday that Harrison Smith may make his return to practice this Wednesday. Smith cannot return for two more games, but he will be a welcome sight for the Vikings defense.   

 

What Must Improve

The biggest thing that must improve for the Vikings is their pass defense.

Minnesota Vikings' Defensive Rankings
Category Ranking Result
Touchdown Passes 32nd 24 TD passes allowed
Passing yards per game 29th 281.7 yds/game
Completion percentage 26th 65.2 percent
Sacks 23rd 24 sacka
Interceptions 22nd 8 interceptions

NFL.com

As noted above in the injury report, the Vikings are thin at cornerback, and getting thinner. On Monday, as reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Pressthe Vikings released backup cornerback A.J. Jefferson after being arrested on domestic assault charges. 

If Rhodes cannot return for the Bears game, the Vikings will only have three cornerbacks left to play—Chris Cook, Marcus Sherels and Shaun Prater. Prater was signed off waivers a little more than a month ago from the Philadelphia Eagles

That won't help the defense any. 

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor
Chris Cook allowed the game-winning field goal in the final minute against the Bears in Week 2.

A quick check of the Vikings' practice-squad roster doesn't provide much help. The only cornerback listed is Robert Steeples from the University of Memphis. Steeples played three seasons at the University of Missouri before transferring to Memphis.

At this point, he would fit well with the Vikings defense—in four collegiate seasons, he did not have an interception. Oops, there I go again, taking more of a half-empty approach. No doubt, the Vikings will be looking to bolster their defensive backfield this week.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
A.J. Jefferson was the only cornerback to intercept a pass this season for the Vikings.

It seems to almost be a chicken-and-egg situation. If the Vikings could put a little more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, then perhaps they wouldn't give up so many yards and touchdowns. 

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Vikings fans have not seen Jared Allen's calf-roping celebration nearly enough this season.

On the other side of the argument, if the secondary did a better job of covering opposing receivers, then the defensive line might get more sacks as the quarterback is looking for a receiver.    

Since joining the Vikings in 2008, defensive end Jared Allen has averaged 14.8 sacks per season to lead the team. Of course that averaged is buoyed by his 22.0 sacks in 2011.

This year he still leads the team, but with only five sacks in 11 games, he's on pace for seven sacks—that would be the fewest in his 10-year career. 

If the Vikings are going to get better, they will need to look at making some big moves on defense this offseason. 

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