While defensively speaking, the Vikings special teams had a great year, allowing no touchdowns and allowing some of the fewest yards for punt/kick return attempt in the NFL. A great improvement from their bottom third rankings for special teams in 2013.
In contrast, the Vikings offensive special teams digressed from the previous year. In 2014, the Vikings averaged 21.7 yards per kick return versus 24.9 yards per kick return in 2013. Similarly, in 2014 the Vikings averaged 11 yards per punt return versus 15.2 yards per punt return in 2013. Calculated per game, that's roughly 36 yards fewer special teams yards gained than in 2013. In a game of inches, 3 yards here and 4 yards there can make a difference between a key first or even in field goal range or not.
Speaking of field goals, the one time All Pro and Pro Bowl kicker, Blair Walsh had an awful season with a league worst 74.3 field goal percentage. However, the Vikings December 15 loss to the Lions is the only game in which a Walsh miss would have won the game. Perhaps the confirmation of this awfulness was against the Detroit Lions on December 15. The Vikings lost the game 14-16 while Walsh went 0-2 on makeable field goals, missing a 53 yarder and having a 26 yarder blocked.
What needs to happen: Blair Walsh and Cordarrelle Patterson need to return to their Pro Bowl form. Kick offs and punt teams need to maintain their 2014 form.
This is great and all. However, what do the Vikings need to accomplish during the off season and during the season to become a playoff team in 2015?
Move Forward with AP...or not
Despite Coach Zimmer indicating his acceptance of Adrian Peterson's possibly return to Minnesota, it is likely that AP will suit up for another team. According to the Pioneer Press's Charley Walters,
"...Adrian Peterson could end up in Denver or New England next season, rather than return to the Vikings."
That being said, the Vikings' running backs, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon did a respectable job in covering for AP, posting a combined 1,108 yards and 9 touchdowns comparable to AP's 2013 stats: 1,266 yards and 8 touchdowns.
In tandem, Asiata and McKinnon could be a solid running back duo. Clearly, Asiata would be the power back (scored all 9 touchdowns) and McKinnon the allisuvie back (averaged 23% more yards per game than Asiata). However, as a safety net, the Vikings would be smart to sign another back who can still wrack up some yardage yet can mentor the inexperienced Asiata and McKinnon.
Available RBs: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Fred Jackson
Teddy's Back Up QB
Clearly, Teddy Bridgewater is Minnesota's quarterback of the present and the future. However, with the likely exit of the unreliable Christian Ponder and the possible departure of proven veteran Matt Cassel (who will make $4.75 in 2015), the Vikings need a veteran quarterback who can back up and possibly even mentor the young Bridgewater (if Cassel leaves).
Possible choices: Michael Vick, Matt Hasselbeck
As noted, the Vikings running backs did a solid job filling in for Adrian Peterson. Any good running back also needs a good offensive line. Despite missing AP in the back field, the offensive line helped produced an 1,800 yard rush offense, the most consecutive since 2006. The OL might be great at the run block, however, pass protection is another story. The Vikes allowed 51 sacks and 84 quarterback hits this season. Simply, about 1 out of every 4 passing plays resulted in a sack or QB hit on the Vikings. Compare this to the Broncos, where Peyton Manning is sacked or hit just 13.5% of time. It's no wonder the VIkings pass attack suffered so much.
Outlook: Matt Kalil gave up 13.75 sacks (26% of the teams total) and 10 penalties in 2014. He needs really needs to step it up.
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Clearly, the Vikings made great strides in 2014. What other improvements do they need to make? Let us know!