Vikings by the Numbers: 2013 Stats Minnesota Must Improve in 2014

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IMarch 14, 2014

Vikings by the Numbers: 2013 Stats Minnesota Must Improve in 2014

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    It was a season to forget: a fourth-place finish in the NFC North, a 5-10-1 record and a quarterback situation that made the Defense Against the Dark Arts post at Hogwarts appear stable. 

    And inside all of that discombobulation were numbers to validate the struggles that unfolded in front of us. 

    The Vikings possessed one of the NFL's worst pass defenses, passing offenses and a run defense that left more to be desired. 

    Mike Zimmer was installed as head coach with the charge to turn the previously mentioned faults into strengths or, at the very least, passable for a playoff team. 

    This slideshow addresses seven statistics, in no particular order, related to the field of play that the Vikings must improve their standing in if they want to improve upon that 5-10-1 mark. 

Passing Yards Allowed Per Game

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    2013 production: 287.2 yards per game, 31st in the NFL

    As the NFL becomes more and more of a passing league, it's vital to have a pass defense that can keep up. 

    The Denver Broncos boasted one of the most potent passing attacks in NFL history in 2013, and the Seattle Seahawks kept them in check to win the Super Bowl. 

    It goes to show that pass defenses still can hang in today's NFL. 

    The Vikings, though, fell well short of possessing a noteworthy pass defense. 

    Xavier Rhodes, a 2013 first-round pick, is developing as a No. 1 corner and having a healthy Harrison Smith will benefit the middle of the defense. The signing of Captain Munnerlyn, per ESPN, should enable Josh Robinson to move back outside, which may improve his performance since 2013 was his first-ever season in the slot.

    Look for the Vikings to address the defensive backfield more in the draft and free agency because the group that was on the field last season needs plenty of help.

Passing Yards Per Game

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    2013 production: 214.2 yards per game, 23rd in the NFL

    Matt Cassel is back. 

    And depending on how things play out in the NFL draft, he's the team's likely starter for 2014. 

    Christian Ponder remains on the roster and is likely to remain there despite calls by many fans for him to be cut outright. Ponder's 2014 salary is guaranteed regardless of his roster status, per Spotrac, so the Vikings get nothing from cutting him other than removing him from Winter Park. 

    Cassel should provide more stability to the position in 2014, which will enable him to grow and develop with the receiving corps. 

    The Vikings still won't be close to an elite passing attack, but that isn't to be expected. 

    As Cordarrelle Patterson, Kyle Rudolph and Jarius Wright continue to develop and Greg Jennings builds chemistry with his quarterback, this facet of the game has the opportunity to improve.

Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game

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    2013 production: 110.4 yards per game, 16th in the NFL

    For the most part, the run defense has gotten worse and worse since the end of the 2008 campaign. 

    Now, that's not saying a whole lot (in general) because the run defense was No. 1 in 2008 (76.9 yards per game, almost 100 yards fewer than the No. 32 rated run defense that season) and it's tough to maintain that level of performance. 

    But last season the run defense hit a six-year low by allowing over 110 yards per game on the ground. 

    Having a middle-of-the-road run defense won't bar a team from the postseason (New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, Kansas City and Indianapolis made the playoffs with worse run defenses), it's unacceptable when combined with the poor quarterback play and pass defense that the Vikings touted. 

    Those teams that made the playoffs with below-average run defenses compensated for that shortcoming with standout quarterback play, among other things. 

    But boasting a stout run defense had become a staple of the Vikings' success in recent years and, with the signing of nose tackle Linval Joseph and (to an extent) linebacker Jasper Brinkley, it's clear general manager Rick Spielman and company believe the 2013 effort won't cut it moving forward. 

Points Allowed Per Game

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    2013 production: 30.0 points per game, worst in the NFL

    As former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards famously said, "You play to win the game!"

    And to win the game, a team must score more points than its opposition. 

    It's tough to win games when your side allows the most points in the NFL per game. 

    It comes down to a combination of better defensive play and fewer offensive turnovers (Vikings boasted a -12 turnover ratio). 

    The only team in the top 10 of average points allowed per game to make the playoffs was the Green Bay Packers (No. 8, 26.8 points per game). And they have Aaron Rodgers, when healthy, to pass them back into any game.

    The Vikings have taken steps to address the defense by bringing nose tackle Linval Joseph into the fold, re-signing Everson Griffen to a bigger role and signing Matt Cassel to be the likely Week 1 starter. 

    More moves are coming, but you can't win if you're always getting outscored.

Turnover Ratio

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    2013 production: -12, 28th in the NFL

    When it gets down to crunch time and the postseason this stat gets discussed more than any other. And with good reason. 

    Of the teams slated in the top 10 of the NFL draft, eight of them were in the top 10 for worst turnover ratio (the Washington Redskins should be picking No. 2 but the St. Louis Rams own the pick). 

    The next best thing to a score is a turnover. It completely alters the momentum of the game and can spark a team to victory.  

    And the ratio puts the onus on both sides of the ball to do their job. And in 2013 neither side of the ball kept up its end of the bargain in Minnesota. 

    The defense has to do more to generate turnovers (12 interceptions forced, four fumbles recovered) and the offense has to do a better job of protecting the football (19 interceptions, six lost fumbles in 2013). 

    The absence of Harrison Smith hurt the defense's ability to generate interceptions, as he's one of its best ball hawks. 

    On offense, Matt Cassel (the expected starter) can't be as careless with the ball as Minnesota quarterbacks were in 2013. That group tossed 19 interceptions last season and Cassel contributed nine of them. 

    It'll take a team effort to turn this around. 

Defensive Penalty Yards

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    2013 production: 1,003 yards, 30th in NFL

    When the Vikings weren't getting abused for the numerous holes already in their defense, they were adding more with a bounty of penalty yards. 

    The Vikings allowed an average of 397.6 yards per game, second most in the NFL, and they then tossed an average 62.7 yards per game in penalties. 

    Good defenses get in trouble when they commit too many penalties. Bad defenses get thrashed when they do the same. 

    The Vikings are making moves to improve defensively but it's on new defensive coordinator George Edwards and his staff to make the sure that new faces aren't the only changes to the defense.

    The discipline must improve with them. 

Offensive Third Down Conversion Rate

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    2013 production: 36 percent, 19th in the NFL

    This stat has a whole lot of hiccups to it. 

    If an offense is consistently putting together strong drives by accumulating 10 yards on first and second down, then this stat is irrelevant. It doesn't matter when an offense picks up yardage but just it does. 

    And if that is the case, then the offense will have fewer attempts on third down, which can skew the conversion rate one way or the other. 

    Also, if an offense consistently goes three and out, then the attempts will be few and the conversion rate will be putrid. 

    Chalk the Vikings for more of the latter than the former. 

    The Vikings finished in 18th in the NFL with 214 third-down attempts (one more attempt than Indianapolis, Kansas City and Philadelphia; all three of those teams made the postseason). 

    The three aforementioned teams converted 38 percent, 35 percent and 39 percent (respectively) on third down. 

    The Vikings weren't a team last year that hammered home quick drives. They milked their way to the end zone, which means they have to consistently convert on third downs and sustain drives. 

    With much of the same personnel back, the Vikings may fall into that same style of offense, which means it will be vital to improve the conversion rate.