NFL Second Half: 10 Things Vikings Fans Can Look Forward To
The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Minnesota Vikings. Amid a season that seemed completely lost three weeks ago, the Vikings head into the second half with a renewed swagger and some building blocks with which to work.
The switch to rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has re-energized the team and breathed life back into a season that seemed dead in the water after an abysmal 0-4 start.
While the playoffs are almost completely out of reach, here are 10 things that can keep the purple faithful invested in the second half of the NFL season.
The Vikings Need to Finally Make Adrian Peterson a Dual Threat
Sure, beating the Carolina Panthers on the road is nothing to write home about, but when your team is off to a 1-5 start and has been dreadful on the road for the last couple of years—you look for anything to hang your hat on.
Last Sunday's win over Carolina was impressive, and it included something Vikings fans have clamored for for years: Adrian Peterson being an effective receiver option out of the backfield. Peterson has been the Vikings best player since he arrived, but for some reason, they've never figured out how to use him as a receiving threat.
He's never looked completely comfortable catching swing screens, but against Carolina he caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown as a check-down option for Christian Ponder. The Vikings should always be looking for ways to get the ball into Peterson's hands, and giving him little dump-off passes where he's already past the line of scrimmage is the perfect way.
Adrian can go from a stop to full speed as quick as anyone and with his combination of moves and power, he's a mismatch for most linebackers and defensive backs.
It will be interesting to see if the Vikings coaches took note of that and make more of an effort to work Peterson into the passing offense. There is no reason why he can't be a 50-60 reception guy who forces defenses to game-plan for him as a receiver as well as a ball carrier.
Christian Ponder Has Added Urgency and Excitement to the Team
It didn't take Vikings fans very long to see that the tread had worn off the proverbial tire when it came to Donovan McNabb. Brought to Minnesota to lead a veteran team to a playoff push and to help mentor a rookie quarterback, it became abundantly clear that the former wasn't going to happen.
Ponder took over the starting job in Week 7, and although he hasn't set the world on fire, he's shown to be a competitive, inspired leader. His passing numbers aren't off the charts, but his third down conversions and ability to move the chains have been far more impressive than McNabb's.
Vikings fans can only hope that now that the starting job is Ponder's, that McNabb will work with the rookie and help him in his maturation process to becoming the best NFL quarterback he can be.
McNabb has certainly played the good soldier so far, and he can prove himself as a leader by guiding and co-existing with Ponder, rather than playing the part of "woe is me, the benched quarterback."
Jared Allen Is Heading for the Record Books
On a Vikings defense that is sorely lacking for playmakers this year, Jared Allen is having a season for the ages and is on anybody's short list for defensive player of the year at the halfway point in the season.
Before the 2010 season, Allen got married and cut off his trademark mullet and proceeded to have, at least for his lofty standards, a less-than-stellar season. Some Vikings fans were worried that perhaps his best years were behind him.
Suffice to say that nobody is worried any more. Allen has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Vikings defense, and he's on pace to have one of the best seasons in NFL history for a defensive lineman.
The numbers speak for themselves: 12.5 sacks, 34 tackles, four batted down passes, one interception, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Allen has a sack in 10 straight games and is on a pace that would break Michael Strahan's single season record of 22.5 sacks.
In a season where the Vikings defense ranks 30th out of 32 teams, Allen has been the one bright spot, the one Viking defender who can call himself a Purple People Eater.
Can the Young Pups Play?
One of the few luxuries afforded a team that knows it isn't going to the playoffs is that you can play everybody and find out what you have.
The Vikings have raved about the athletic ability of Joe Webb for three years. With a supremely underwhelming corps of receivers, why not put Webb out there and see what he can do?
The offensive line has been mediocre at best and poor most of the time, so why not start giving more reps to promising rookie DeMarcus Love? Adrian Peterson may lead the NFL in rushing, but he has an alarming 72 carries where he's gained two or less yards—and for a guy who also leads the league in yards gained after first contact, that points to one thing: He isn't being given a lot of room to run.
After drafting tight end Kyle Rudolph out of Notre Dame, the team said he was too great of a talent to leave on the board at that point—OK, let's see it, give him more chances to make plays.
Chris Cook has some legal matters to deal with, and his future with the team will be addressed next week, but he seems to be the one defensive back the Vikings have who can make plays while Antoine Winfield recovers from injury.
Leslie Frazier Needs to Assert Himself
Everyone in Minnesota was happy when the Vikings hired Leslie Frazier as their new head coach back in January. Funny how an 0-4 start can change things in a hurry.
Frazier is a good man and a football man; nobody can argue those things. But there are a lot of good, football men who aren't good head coaches in the NFL.
Frazier takes after his mentor Tony Dungy in his approach, which is measured and studied, and there's nothing wrong with that when your teams are winning, like Dungy's usually were. But when you're 2-6, the fanbase gets real tired, real quick with post-loss quotes that simply say, "We need to look at the tape and see what we can do better."
Frazier tied much of his early success to the Donovan McNabb signing, and that blew up in his face. He's too good of a guy to blame the poor start on McNabb, but he can't be afraid to say that the McNabb experiment wasn't working.
Football is an emotional sport, and Frazier needs to show a little more emotion, a little more investment. Nobody is asking him to be somebody he's not, but just show us a little more of who you are.
Get the Ball to Percy Harvin More
The first play of the 2011 Minnesota Vikings season was a 103 yard kick-off return by Percy Harvin. Harvin then disappeared from the kick return team for awhile, with the coaches saying they didn't think other teams would kick the ball to Harvin. To which Vikings fans replied, "Um...what?"
Harvin is an explosive player who is a constant threat to break big plays when he gets the chance. But ever since his rookie year, where Brett Favre always found ways to get him the ball, the Vikings have seemed to struggle to find the best way to use Harvin.
He's lined up at running back lately and made some explosive runs. The Vikings need to keep doing that, and they need to utilize him more in the return game. Yes, Harvin misses a lot of practices and gets dinged up a lot, but when he's available they have to find ways to get him the ball.
Chad Greenway Needs to Become a Star
The Vikings re-signed linebacker Chad Greenway to a huge deal in September, locking him up to a five-year deal worth $41 million, with $20 million guaranteed. Greenway deserved the deal, now he has to live up to it.
His 65 tackles lead the team and are sixth in the NFL, and nobody would say he's not having a good season. But nobody would say he's having a great season either. He has no sacks or interceptions and hasn't made enough eye-popping plays.
Greenway has gotten better each year in the league, and he seemed poised to become a Pro Bowl type player heading into the 2011 season.
He's being paid like one; it's time to start producing like one.
Find a Role for Toby Gerhart
The Vikings raised eyebrows when they took the Stanford running back in the second round with the 51st pick in the 2010 draft. The team traded out of the 30th pick, where the Lions took running back Jahvid Best, who's been a huge success in Detroit.
Gerhart was picked to ostensibly be the occasional 3rd down back and to pick up carries when Adrian Peterson needed a play off here and there.
It seemed to be a high pick to use on such a part time player, especially considering the team needed help in so many other areas. Colts linebacker Pat Angerer was taken 12 picks after Gerhart, and he currently leads the NFL in tackles by a healthy margin.
Gerhart has looked decent in his few opportunities, but with only 17 rushing attempts and four receptions through eight games, he seems like a wasted draft pick. The Vikings would do well to use Gerhart more early in the game and earlier in possessions, freeing up Adrian Peterson to catch more passes and be more effective late in games.
The Vikings Need to Make It Fun Again
It's become a tired cliche to say how much fun Brett Favre had on a football field, but nobody who watched the 2009 Vikings season would ever argue the point.
For way too long during the Brad Childress era, the Vikings looked like a team that was playing not to lose instead of one that was trying to win. Everything was played way too close to the vest, and for too long, watching the Vikings just wasn't any fun.
Whatever you thought of Favre, he certainly made watching fun again. Leslie Frazier has a chance as a first-year coach to change the culture in Minnesota, to make Vikings football fun again. He might not have the pieces in place to make a playoff run, but he can certainly make a team that is fun to watch.
A rookie quarterback who looks like he's having a blast is a good place to start.
Get a Stadium Deal Done
It seems like the Vikings have been living on borrowed time in Minnesota for years. Mall of America Field (the Metrodome) has been old and antiquated since about four years after it opened in 1980.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton said on Wednesday that a deal was in limbo and no extra legislative time would used to push for a new stadium deal.
That all changed Thursday when the state legislature said it would introduce a new stadium proposal soon, with tax proceeds from some sort of state gambling to supply the major funding.
Nobody likes it when real world issues interfere with sports, but the Vikings future in Minnesota depends on getting a new stadium deal done. Minnesotans will find out very quickly that they're not a major league city without an NFL franchise.