Access Vikings: Going inside every game

The Vikings step into the 2017 season headed in the same direction as the rest of the NFL – toward U.S. Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII. But there’s a lot of ground to cover to get there. To make that happen, it will take smart strategy, surprise performances and players elevating their games to new heights. Follow the Vikings’ path with our game-by-game analysis, key matchups and critical role changes.

By BEN GOESSLING, ANDREW KRAMMER and RAHUL MUKHERJEE • Star Tribune

Access Vikings: Going inside every game

The Vikings step into the 2017 season headed in the same direction as the rest of the NFL – toward U.S. Bank Stadium, site of Super Bowl LII. But there’s a lot of ground to cover to get there. To make that happen, it will take smart strategy, surprise performances and players elevating their games to new heights. Follow the Vikings’ path with our game-by-game analysis, key matchups and critical role changes.

By BEN GOESSLING, ANDREW KRAMMER and RAHUL MUKHERJEE • Star Tribune

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings Key Matchup:

Offense

Defense

Geno Atkins will be a tough opponent for Nick Easton.


New season, new roles for key Vikings

From quarterback Sam Bradford to cornerback Xavier Rhodes, more will be required across the board from the Vikings in 2017. That also includes a number of players taking on new or expanded roles to help in the rebuild. The offense needs a major overhaul, but change isn't exclusive to that side of the ball as one of the league's best units seeks to become more dynamic even as it gets younger. Here is a look at six players who’ll take on a different look this season.

Riley Reiff • LT

  • 14 games for the Lions in 2016
  • Started 47 of 48 regular-season games at left tackle in Detroit from 2013-14

The Vikings' new left tackle moved to right tackle in Detroit, after the Lions drafted Taylor Decker in the first round a year ago, but Reiff returns to protecting his quarterback's blind side this year after signing a five-year, $58.5 million deal with the Vikings in March.

Jerick McKinnon • RB

  • Rushed for 539 yards on 159 carries in 2016
  • Recorded a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the preseason

He led the team in rushing a year ago in Adrian Peterson’s absence, but with Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook on the roster, he'll have to fight for playing time as part of a three-man rotation. He could carve his niche as a kickoff returner, where “Jet” already has shown breakaway speed.

Laquon Treadwell • WR

  • Caught just one pass on three targets in 2016
  • At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, one of the biggest receivers on the roster

The Vikings certainly hope the former first-round pick has put nagging injuries that limited him a year ago in the rearview. Treadwell got plenty of time with the Vikings' top three-receiver set during their offseason program and will try to make his case before Michael Floyd returns from suspension.

Danielle Hunter • DE

  • Took only 951 snaps the past two seasons
  • Accumulated a whopping 18-1/2 sacks in that time

Now that Hunter’s ready to assume a starting role, he’ll have even more opportunities to be disruptive. The Vikings will likely be able to use Hunter and Everson Griffen at both end positions. The Vikings believe Hunter is capable of even more big plays as a run defender than he's shown in the past.

Mackensie Alexander • CB

  • Spent last year backing up Captain Munnerlyn
  • Enters the season with five career tackles, including three solo

The Vikings will turn the nickel cornerback position over to the second-year player from Clemson, who rarely saw playing time as a rookie after the Vikings drafted him in the second round. Asked for the biggest way Alexander has improved since his rookie year, coach Mike Zimmer said, "He listens."

Trae Waynes • CB

  • The highest-drafted defensive back in Vikings history
  • Tallied 50 tackles and three interceptions in 2016

Though the Vikings still have Terence Newman, they seem to have every intention of turning the left cornerback spot over to the 11th pick in the 2015 draft, who played on a part-time basis last year after what amounted to a redshirt year in 2015.


Tracking a decade of performance

Here's a look at the performance of the Vikings' offense and defense over the past 10 seasons, using Pro Football Reference's Simple Rating System. The SRS metric uses margin of victory and the strength of a team's schedule to establish the quality of a unit, relative to an average of 0.0.

Offense

With a beleaguered running game and banged up offensive line, the Vikings’ offense in 2016 hit one of its lowest points in the past decade. The result was an overhaul that two new running backs and two new linemen.

Patroits 15.9

6.6

7.5

1.6

1.4

1.1

1.1

0.2

0

-1.6

-2.6

-2.8

-3.3

-7.5

Rams -11.7

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Patroits 15.9

6.6

7.5

1.6

1.4

1.1

1.1

0.2

0

-1.6

-2.6

-2.8

-3.3

-7.5

Rams -11.7

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Defense

The Vikings’ defense played on an elite level early in the year, but carried a greater burden to make up for offensive woes as the season wore on. The unit is still loaded with above-average talent.

Seattle 8.9

5

2.9

4.7

2.4

3.6

1.7

1.8

1.1

0.6

0

-5

-4.1

Detroit -9.2

-6.9

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Seattle 8.9

5

2.9

2.4

4.7

1.8

1.7

3.6

1.1

0.6

0

-5

-4.1

Detroit -9.2

-6.9

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

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