Adjustments Minnesota Vikings Must Make After Bye Week
After five preseason contests and four demanding regular-season games, the Minnesota Vikings are getting a much-needed break with their bye in Week 5.
At the quarter pole, Minnesota is an even 2-2—with two home wins over playoff teams from a year ago and two road losses where quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked a combined 12 times.
The bye week comes a little early—the Vikings will have to play 12 straight to end the season—but there are still plenty of adjustments to make after just four games.
In the following slides, we'll break down what the Vikings need to accomplish during their time off in Week 5.
Handle the Stage
The Vikings' two losses have come during a late Monday night game in San Francisco and a late afternoon showdown in Denver.
Head coach Mike Zimmer thinks his team needs to handle the big-game stage better.
"Sometimes with this team, it seems like when we get in big games, everyone wants to make a play instead of just, 'Hey, look here, this is my job, I’m going to do my job, I’m going to do this,'" Zimmer said in Monday's press conference.
Teddy Bridgewater has already admitted he was overexcited during Minnesota's Week 1 loss. On defense, the Vikings missed some run fits up front and allowed big plays in both losses. Carlos Hyde ran for almost 170 yards in the opener, and Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman busted off a 72-yard touchdown run in Denver.
"They want to do good, they want to impress, they want to be with all of the elite teams in the league," Zimmer said on Monday. "So I think every time we get in these situations and we’re able to teach and we’re able to coach and we’re able to fight back like we did in that ballgame, I think these are all great learning experiences with a young football team and at some point in time, we’re going to get over the hump."
The Vikings have only one more prime-time game left on the schedule, although a Week 17 matchup with the Packers at Lambeau Field has flex potential. Plenty of big matchups remain (see Weeks 11-14), so Minnesota must clean up the mistakes on the bigger stages.
More Stefon Diggs
Rookie receiver Stefon Diggs showed more pass-catching talent on Sunday against the Broncos than Cordarrelle Patterson has in his three years in Minnesota.
Diggs hauled in six passes for 87 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, he toasted former first-round pick Bradley Roby for four catches and 64 yards. The rookie also got veteran Aqib Talib turned around on a 21-yard completion on 1st-and-20 in the fourth quarter. Overall, he caught three passes of 20-plus yards.
While his opportunities may go down once Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright are 100 percent healthy, there's no reason why the Vikings should stop using No. 14 moving forward. In fact, Diggs looks like he should be a mainstay in the Minnesota offense.
Zimmer already appears to have more confidence in the rookie than Patterson.
"I think he has a good overall understanding of everything," Zimmer said. "A lot of it is lining up in the right place, being at the right depth, making sure you run the routes the correct way. I believe he was short on one route the other day, but for the most part, for a young guy, I think he did all right."
Diggs did fumble twice in Denver, although neither was lost. If he can hang onto the ball, Diggs deserves more chances in the passing offense. The Vikings aren't exactly overflowing with consistent playmakers for Teddy Bridgewater.
Find Answers to Protecting Teddy Bridgewater
There are no easy answers to what ails the Minnesota offensive line. The hope is that the front five—given another week to understand and correct the mounting mistakes—will continue to improve, at least until center John Sullivan can return and stabilize the group.
The Vikings have allowed 13 sacks this season. Through his first 16 starts, Teddy Bridgewater has been sacked 50 times.
Granted, pitting rookie T.J. Clemmings against Von Miller on Sunday was never going to favor the Vikings. Miller and DeMarcus Ware are the best pass-rushing duo in the game. Allowing seven sacks against any team is too many, but no one was expecting a young offensive line to go into Denver and play well against the Broncos.
Clemmings will live and learn. At least he better, because Minnesota welcomes Justin Houston and the Kansas City Chiefs to TCF Bank Stadium after the bye. There's no rest for the weary. The Vikings also play the Lions, Raiders, Rams and Packers in upcoming weeks, so nothing about the opposition is about to get significantly easier.
Minnesota is lucky to have an athletic quarterback who is cool under pressure. Whether it's with extra help from (capable) backs and tight ends or a change in the scheme of the passing game, the Vikings need to find a way to keep some of the heat off Bridgewater. Relying on a young quarterback to consistently bail out of his pass protection is no way to play offense in today's NFL.
Start Better on the Road
Playing on the road is difficult, but every team has to do it eight times every season. The Vikings are already 0-2 away from home, in part due to a pair of rough starts.
Minnesota fell behind by a 10-0 score in San Francisco and never really established a foothold during the game. In Denver, the Vikings found themselves down 13-0 before a few big plays closed the gap to 13-10 at halftime.
Starting better is a must for Minnesota's next six away games.
Playing better early on will have a lot to do with limiting mistakes.
In San Francisco, the Vikings missed a field goal and had a turnover on downs in 49ers territory during the first quarter. Another Blair Walsh miss and a long touchdown run turned the game in Denver early in the second quarter.
At home, the Vikings have never trailed. Minnesota held leads after the first and second quarter in both wins.
With a strong running game and a defense designed to attack quarterbacks, the Vikings are built to get a lead and protect it, not recover from big deficits. Falling behind early—especially on the road—disrupts the whole plan.
Time for Kyle Rudolph to Be a Bigger Factor
Through four games, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph is on pace to catch 56 passes for 416 yards. That's just not good enough from a player Minnesota paid big money to in 2014.
Rudolph is on the field for just about every play. Yet after seven targets in each of the first two games, the Vikings tight end has just nine—resulting in only 21 receiving yards—over the last two.
He is now averaging just 7.6 yards per catch, and he doesn't have a play over 20 yards. Rudolph also dropped a touchdown pass against the San Diego Chargers.
The Vikings appear to have an ever-changing role for their inconsistent tight end.
"I actually had a talk with him today, each game is going to call for something different, for him to do something different for us," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He’s got to want to accept the role that he is in that week and stay patient with a lot of things and a lot of plays will come his way. I love his personality, his determination and he’ll continue to be a big part."
Rudolph hasn't exactly seized the role as the next productive tight end in the Norv Turner offense. The opportunity seems to be there, but it's still on the player to seize it. The Vikings need much more from their tight end over the final 12 games.