The Vikings have not been able to close a game or grab a significant win on the road this season; however, that all changed Sunday as the Vikings downed Cam Newton and the Panthers by a score of 24-21. But what did we learn?
The victory couldn't have come at a better time for Minnesota as they enter the bye week, before heading to Lambeau for round two with the division- and conference-leading Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings will now have one full week to enjoy the taste of victory, and one full week to reflect upon the lessons gained from this contest.
And those lessons are...
The Vikings have a very interesting lesson here in game efficiency.
There were times where the Vikings did in fact play very efficiently, particularly on offense, while other times their play was not so efficient.
The greater the level of efficiency with which the Vikings played, the more success they enjoyed, almost effortlessly. I think that is where the lesson resides, here.
What we learn through watching a game is very often the same lesson we hope the team in question will pick up on.
Two weeks ago in his first start against the Green Bay Packers, Christian Ponder nearly handed the champs their first defeat of the season—a task that ironically enough can still be achieved—but didn't really set the world on fire trying to do so.
In that game, Ponder completed only 40 percent of his passes with two scores and two picks, but the important aspect then was best explained by Vikings running back Adrian Peterson:
"He took charge with confidence," tailback Adrian Peterson said. "He never seemed rattled. Just very comfortable, which is something I am very excited about. He bounced back from two interceptions and continued to go strong, which says a lot about him as a leader."—ESPN.com
Peterson knew what he was seeing, because against a much better Carolina passing D, Christian Ponder came in and completed 64.3 percent of his passes (18-28) for 236 yards and a single score.
The lesson here is that Ponder isn't seemingly as bad as a few had thought after Week 7, and Ponder showed not only his ability to adjust and improve in real-time, but he also taught us through two games now that he is in fact a natural leader who is ready for the future.
The Vikings' front four have been very successful creating trouble in the trenches, and Jared Allen specifically is having a career year, but this line still needs help.
They need their cover corners to play with more consistency, especially when the Vikings are blitzing and they need defensive coordinator Fred Pagac to call up the right plays in general through four quarters.
Pagac has developed this penchant for calling inept blitzes at the wrong time in a game, usually from the outside or through the tackles, leaving the Vikings' secondary one-on-one with some of the best receivers in the league.
These terrible performances and play calls often negate what this line is trying to establish.
The lesson? If the Vikings' cover men could simply play with a bit more consistency, the line would become that much more feared, if teams know they CAN'T pass against Minnesota.
So what's part two, you ask?
One of the issues I have seen with the Vikings is a terrible level of aggression at the line of scrimmage when the receiver releases, especially in blitzing situations.
In nearly every game the wide-outs are getting very little contact off the snap from the Vikings' defenders, and are otherwise being allowed to come off the line clean and free, which always works in the favor of the receivers, not the defense.
But in blitzing situations, this is far more evident.
The lesson here is another simple one: get up in the faces of the receivers, allow the safeties to back you up, and this will allow you (the defender) to apply more hands-on pressure before the five-yard mark.
Doing this will disrupt routes, slow the runner's release and pace and otherwise tinker with the receiver's rhythm.
Only picture available at the time of the article.
This offensive line is still struggling to improve and protect the quarterback, and that is more of an issue now with Ponder under center.
The O-Line is getting beat with consistent speed, both off the snap and as the play develops. This is causing all sorts of plays to break down quicker than they are supposed to, and putting the Vikings future quarterback in harm's way.
I suggest the Vikings realize the deficiency—lack of speed—and work around it.
When the Vikings pass, they seem to be all over the place when mixing up plays, but they enjoy the most success when they pass fast.
Post patterns, slants, short drags and even the occasional screen play often develop a lot quicker than a deeper route, and this could help the Vikings better manage the problem at hand, while utilizing the play-action at just the right time for that all important shot down the field.
It will also force the game to slow down, thus helping the offensive line to play to their strong suits.
Let's hope they figure that one out, because it would be a great approach against a Green Bay team that can't hurt you if their offense is playing with limited time.