Some people bear a resemblance to their pets. Others look like cartoon characters. Some others randomly are accused of looking like Donkey Lips from Salute Your Shorts. (Not seeing it, but whatever). The Vikings season in 2012, in like fashion, bears some similarity to their famous mascot, Ragnar. How so? Let’s go through it as we look back at 2011 and toward this upcoming year in the halls of Valhalla.
Both Were Really Bad at Close Shaves
The dude who plays Ragnar hasn’t shaved since he got the job, and before that, shaved with an axe. Not exactly triple blade protection there. Meanwhile, the 2011 Minnesota Vikings were horrible in close games, going 2-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less. It wasn’t just that they lost close games, though. Sometimes looking at the final margin can be deceiving if the losing teams tack one on late. No, but those Vikings last year were involved in multiple historic collapses. Based on the situations they were in entering the fourth quarter, they should have won more close games than they lost.
Yeah, well that doesn’t matter, right? Except looking forward, ignoring those close losses and wins and focusing on the overall point difference is a better predictor. The Vikings may have finished 3-13, but were closer to a 6-10 team. Why did they blow so many leads? That leads us to our next point.
Business up Front, Party Against the Backs
The Vikings were next to last in points allowed last year, giving up 28.1 points a game. The defense, however, has plenty of pieces to build around. Jared Allen saw his sack numbers rebound in a big way, as he put up an amazing 22 sacks while playing for a team that finished with 3 wins. His counterpart on the other side of the line, Brian Robison, added 8. Kevin Williams at defensive tackle, along with linebackers Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson, were effective against the run (6th in yards per carry allowed).
This year, E.J. Henderson is gone, though he is hoping to play somewhere else. Jasper Brinkley missed all of last year and returns as the starter at middle linebacker. The younger Henderson, Erin, is an ideal weak side linebacker for the 4-3, while Chad Greenway is still in Minnesota. Everson Griffen moves back to defensive end, where he will be part of the rotation, and provide a devastating pass rush combo when the team can go to 3rd and long packages with Allen, Robison and Griffen.
The issue was the back line. Antoine Winfield was injured, and the replacements were very torch-able. The Vikings have largely hoped to address that with smaller changes. They did draft Harrison Smith of Notre Dame in the second round and he is competing to start at safety. Mistral Raymond was a rookie last year, and looks to be improved in his second season. Winfield is back, though at his age, the Vikings are hoping he holds up. Asher Allen is gone. Depth may still be an issue, but the “Party Against the Backs” should be less successful in 2012.
Ragnar, of course, sports a “Skullet”, something that makes Jared Allen happy. It’s all business up front with the bald dome, but a party on the back side with wild hair. The overall result is a Gallagher-like mess, though, much like the Vikings in 2011.
Minnesota averaged almost as many yards per running play as they did per pass play in 2011, a feat that is really hard to achieve. They did so on the ground with a combination of Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Toby Gerhart, and Christian Ponder, all of whom averaged over 4.5 yards a carry. Peterson will be limited early because of his ACL injury, though others had plenty of success as well. He is expected to be back, though, for the opener as it stands, even though he will be held out of preseason.
The problem on offense was the lack of outside speed. Bernard Berrian had lost several steps, and Michael Jenkins was never known as a downfield playmaker. The problem in 2012 is that the player that can provide that, Jerome Simpson, is suspended for the first
four three games.
Improvement in those passing numbers can certainly come in other areas. Christian Ponder is entering year two after starting as a rookie. The team added left tackle Matt Kalil at the top of the draft, something that should aid the pass protection if he lives up to the billing. Kyle Rudolph is entering his second year, and looks to be a player at only age 23, as Visanthe Shiancoe is gone and Rudolph moves into a prominent role. It’s doubtful that those rushing numbers and passing numbers are so similar in 2012. Minnesota should be poised for some offensive improvement, and particularly after Simpson’s return, be a team to watch as a spoiler in the second half of the season.
Death in a Pit of Vipers
According to legend, famous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok, upon whom the mascot is based, was put to death by being thrown into a pit of Vipers. Last year, Minnesota was in the toughest division in football, where the Packers, Lions, and Bears were all playoff contenders (until Cutler’s injury). With Cutler returning and the Bears adding Marshall, this division doesn’t look any easier in 2012.
In a vacuum, the Vikings look to me like a potential turnaround team, depending on Christian Ponder improving in year two. They have key pieces, and also had some fatal flaws. Last year was only the third (non-strike) season since 1967 when the Vikings failed to win at least 6 games, so this is not a franchise that is accustomed to being horrible, even though the ultimate prize has always eluded them.
They aren’t in a vacuum, though, and the NFC North could be a pit of vipers again for Ragnar and the Minnesota Vikings. We’ve often seen surprises where we least expect them, though, in the NFL. Minnesota has some of those attributes, but a hard road to eternal glory.
[photo via US Presswire]