Blair Walsh’s missed field goal did the Vikings one favor: It provided a distraction from their other flaws.
To win another NFC North title, and to repeat or improve on 11 victories in 2016, the front office and coaching staff will have to make improvements and alterations over the next seven months.
Here are nine they should consider:
1. Find a quality big receiver
Stefon Diggs should develop into a fine all-around player. Jarius Wright is an efficient slot receiver. What the Vikings need is a big receiver who can become a go-to option in the red zone and a bail-out option for Teddy Bridgewater. In the modern NFL, good teams have a receiver who can win a jump ball.
2. Shuffle the secondary
Terence Newman is too valuable to let go in free agency, and Trae Waynes is a first-round pick who made dramatic progress as a rookie. Re-sign Newman with Waynes at corner and move Newman to safety and you have the makings of a world-class secondary.
3. Draft offensive linemen
Even if John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt return, and return to form, the Vikings offensive line will need youth, and help, and depth. One reason Bridgewater faltered this season was the strong inside pass rush that threw him off rhythm repeatedly, and Adrian Peterson was hit far too often at or behind the line of scrimmage.
4. Keep Chad Greenway
Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks are phenomenal young players. Greenway proved this season that he can still play, that he’s a valuable mentor and leader. With Barr and Kendricks playing every down, Greenway is a logical fit as the third linebacker. The Vikings should take advantage of his desire to play one more year without moving his family, and sign him up for one more year.
5. Draft another cornerback
One of the reasons for the Vikings’ dramatic improvement on defense was this: In 2015, they had little choice but to start Josh Robinson. In 2016, they rarely needed him to play. They need to continue to build depth at one of the NFL”s most important positions.
6. Get the ball to McKinnon
Late in the season Jerick McKinnon emerged as perhaps the Vikings’ most daunting threat to defenses. Norv Turner should spend the offseason looking for ways to feature McKinnon, and to have him on the field at the same time as Peterson.
7. Go to the spread
Given where they are in their careers, it’s most important and logical for Peterson to adapt to what serves Bridgewater best rather than the other way around. Bridgewater looks much more comfortable and efficient throwing out of shotgun formations. Peterson looks like he’s running in a sack race out of those formations. But he’s got to adapt if he wants to lengthen his career. He should spend the offseason training to accelerate from a dead stop, and watching film of backs who have excelled in spread formations.
8. Develop Pruitt
We’ve waited five years for the promised breakout season from Kyle Rudolph. He has never reached 500 receiving yards in a season. His claim to near-fame is the nine touchdown catches he made in 2012, when he was Christian Ponder’s red-zone security blanket. His career yards-per-catch average is 9.8. He’s a quality player but miscast as a big-play threat. MyCole Pruitt has the speed and athletic ability to beat defenses downfield. He, like McKinnon, could make a big difference in what has been a plodding offense.
9. Give Bridgewater permission to fail
Bridgewater is such a responsible, studious young player that he has thought himself into a box. He has come to believe that he is not allowed to put passes at risk. He needs more time and better receivers. He needs to firm up his mechanics. He also needs to understand the modern NFL, where every downfield pass could be caught or produce a pass-interference penalty.
Mike Zimmer’s coaching and Rick Spielman’s roster got the Vikings to 11 victories. Bridgewater will have to play better if the Vikings are going to improve on that.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On