5 Must-Haves for the Minnesota Vikings in 2011
As we hope for a 2011 NFL season, there also comes a wish list. I came up with five must-haves for the Vikings that would ensure a successful season, and as always I welcome your input and your suggestions for a great debate.
To some people's surprise, I do not make any overt references to Christian Ponder, because at this point it is going to be difficult to insert a rookie with little or no camps for his resume.
Okay, let's get to the wish list.
5: Sign Our Own Free Agents
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It is imperative the Vikings keep several key free agents in order to remain competitive in the NFC North.
The following list contains only the big name free agents we have available come free agency—when and if it ever sees the light of day.
The importance of keeping this free agent is on a scale from 1-10 with 10 being high priority. You may differ, so please feel free to offer a legitimate counter.
Sidney Rice: 8. Unless we can land someone of equal value, the Vikings need to keep him on board.
Ray Edwards: 6. I think Ray Edwards is going to find out how sweet he has it in Minnesota when and if he ends up with some sub-standard defense.
Ben Leber: 7. Again, this all hinges on whether the Vikings can find someone of equal value. Erin Henderson, Leber's back-up, is also a free agent and usually guys like that wind up going somewhere else because they think they can start. Henderson is a RFA though, and he may want to hang with big brother.
Naufahu Tahi: 7. Unless we want Gearhart or Kleinsasser as our FBs, we pretty much need this guy.
Greg Lewis: 3. If we release Berrian, then we are banking on newly-signed Arceneaux (intriguing player), Baskett or the rookie Burton. I think a lot of this hinges on whether we lose Rice and do/do not replace his spot.
Ryan Cook: 6.5. I know there are a lot of Cook haters out there, but what you have to think about now is he has experience and is an adequate to above-average back-up. The two draft picks, Love or Fusco, could fill the void, but Cook can play both guard positions and RT if need be. Something to think about before we let him run off.
Fred Evans: 5. His number should probably be higher, but I really don't think Minnesota will be able to keep him on the ship because of Ballard, and we have already signed two necessary keepers on D: Greenway and Robison.
Hussain Abdullah: 7. Until we get adquate play from others, Abdaullah needs to stay. The guy had 75 tackles, seven passes defended and three INTs. He has range and just enough experience to run the show back there.
Ryan Longwell: 8. Look, the guy is ageless and from about 44 yards in, he's practically automatic. Unless we find some accurate thunder foot, Longwell has to stay. Too many games are coming down to field goals anymore.
Tarvaris Jackson: 10. Just kidding, that was a typo. Actually though, before you take the ax to this guy consider two things. What if Hasselbeck signs with the Cardinals, and McNabb does not want to come in and be the guy for just one year? What does that leave FA wise? I like Gradkowski, but he is younger and most likely is looking for a place to start. Bulger is a big question mark right now because we have not seen him play for a while. The other FA QBs are relative scrubs. Man, did I make some mommies mad there.
Jackson can be signed for a one-year tender if no one else scoops him up, and he can hold down the fort until Ponder is ready. Will that happen? Probably not, but it's not out of the realm of possibilities, just consider that.
Some of our other FAs—good riddance, we can find replacements, hopefully.
4: Improve Play Along the Defensive and Offensive Lines
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It's not cliche when people say games are won in the trenches, and the Vikings lost way too many battles in the trenches last year. From their run defense, sacks and turnover drops in rankings, the Vikings defense seemed very ordinary one season removed from the NFC Championship game.
Offensively it seemed like Peterson had to fight, I mean, really fight for every yard he gained. For a minute I thought I was watching game films of Barry Sanders because he had to work so hard for his yardage.
Here are three things to improve on. One, be ranked in the top five for run defense, increase the sack totals on defense and three, flip the turnover ratio back into the positive.
If the Vikings can adequately address these three issues, what would have been thought of as maybe two or three more losses now becomes two or three more wins.
3: Sign a Veteran FA Quarterback
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The Vikings will not trade for a quarterback because we hopefully addressed that issue at least for the next 10 years via the draft.
With the lockout running overtime according to most fans—and probably even players and owners at this point—the Vikings are going to have to consider finding an adequate FA QB who can bridge the gap, and that is not going to be easy, because even the FA QB will not be up to speed on the offense.
Some are calling for Donovan McNabb, others Matt Hasselbeck. Some have even called for a lesser-known free agent like Bruce Gradkowski, but the bottom line for the Vikings is to find someone who can run an offense, take charge and possibly keep the Vikings ship from sinking in 2011.
2: Avoid Turnovers and Conversely Create Turnovers
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Here are some stunners, in 2009, the Vikings had the following stats:
Sacks: Vikings: 48, opponents: 34
INTs: Vikings: 11, opponents: 7 (that's not a typo)
Turnover ratio: +6
Sacks: Vikings: 31, opponents: 36
INTs: Vikings: 15, opponents: 26
Turnover ratio: -11
Again, football is oftentimes a game of one play here or one play there. For the 2010 Vikings, it was a turnover here, a turnover there, an almost sack here for the defense, etc.
The stats above show it's not a science, but rather a game played by humans. If the Vikings can return to the 2009 sack performance, take the 2010 INT numbers, that would put them top five.
If the offense gives up the same or fewer sacks and cuts the INTs to somewhere in between 2009 and 2010, they will be much improved.
The No. 1 Must-Have: Play with an Underdog Mentality
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I love being a Vikings fan, but sometimes I hate it when everyone talks up the Vikings and Super Bowl. Because as everyone knows, if you don't live up to the hype, you are going to be torched in the "I told you so" happy media world.
I am much happier when the Vikings play the underdog role and then start kicking a** and taking names. In 2009, this team had an attitude and it was great. Unfortunately in 2010, they were a shell of the previous year's team. Heck, you would have thought we had a turnover of 20 or so players with the attitude change. I think Chilly dog had something to do with that and when Frazier took the helm it was too late.
The underdog mentality is one that has a chip on its shoulders. And is it me or am I just crazy to think the Vikings, I mean the one's from Scandinavia, were some pretty scary dudes? Now, I am not advocating sacking a small town and killing women and children, but sacking opposing quarterbacks with regularity, I am okay with that.
Plus, the mental edge the Vikings had in battle was their attitude towards death and the fierceness with which they fought. I know this is just a sport, but I am trying to draw an analogy to a sense of determination and never giving up the fight.
If the Vikings play with the mental attitude of underdogs and a fierceness that goes along with it, then success will surely follow.
Andre Agassi once said, "I want to beat my opponents so bad that they'll say, 'God I hope I don't have to play him again.'" Not a bad disposition to have from a sports standpoint.
The Vikings are not expected to do much next year, especially with their "reach" of quarterback Christian Ponder. Perfect, that's exactly where I want us to be. SKOL Vikes!