Two wins leading up to the bye week gave the Minnesota Vikings the momentum they were seeking. The time off will help heal injuries and tight end Kyle Rudolph might return following the bye in Week 11 at Chicago.
Minnesota gets a chance to recharge the batteries for the stretch run and several rookies are playing key roles. The adaptation to coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner should only continue.
It’s amazing how the two wins before the break changed the outlook for the Vikings. Once sitting at 2-5, there is promise for Minnesota’s future.
Here are the hot topics as the Vikings take a week off:
Question: Is there any truth to the matter, that a plea bargain is in the works in the Adrian Peterson case as early as tuesday. If there is an agreement, will Peterson be back in a Viking uniform. — Mike, Minneapolis
Answer: Purely based on the field, Adrian Peterson’s return would be another big boost for the stretch run. Clearly our question was submitted prior to Tuesday’s news that Peterson had pleaded no contest and he’s done with any court matters relating to injuring his son while punishing him with a tree branch.
To be fair, I didn’t think it was likely Peterson would return this season. Now, I see no way that he doesn’t return at some point. I don’t see Peterson playing when Minnesota returns on Nov. 16, but he could find his way back into the lineup soon, depending on how the NFL proceeds.
For now, Peterson’s status is in the NFL’s hands. The Vikings are likely busy deciding how they will want to approach Peterson’s return if he’s cleared by the league. But the league and commissioner Roger Goodell must make some decisions first. Only Goodell can reinstate Peterson from the special commissioner’s exempt list. Expect Peterson’s side to push for reinstatement soon. It was his goal to return this season all along, and his plea agreement this week was in part to hasten his return.
Then Minnesota will have to decide how it wants to move forward with the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. He would provide a boost for a running game that ranks 12th in the league with 119.3 yards per game. No doubt Peterson has been keeping in shape, but it will take time for him to get into game shape. Yes, while there will surely still be some backlash, I see Peterson back in a Vikings’ uniform at some point this season.
Q: With Ted B & Matt C both returning and Ponder gone, what do you think the Vikings will do, if anything to obtain a #3 QB? — Norskie, Austin
A: Minnesota will certainly make a move to acquire a third quarterback. It’s possible the Vikings could do something like they are this season: having two quarterbacks on the active roster and a third on the practice squad. Maybe Chandler Harnish (on the practice squad injured list) or Pat Devlin (added to the practice squad this week) could be considerations. Maybe the team tries to sign someone with potential in free agency.
Ponder is likely in the midst of his final season with the Vikings. Teddy Bridgewater is now the quarterback going forward, and Cassel will be a quality, veteran backup behind Bridgewater with one more year remaining on the two-year contract he signed this offseason. Minnesota could draft a quarterback in the late rounds to develop, or sign a project as an undrafted free agent, but the team will surely add another young quarterback behind Bridgewater and Cassel next season.
Q: It was a great win. What improvements did we expect to see that will be addressed in a bye week? — Raj B, sioux Falls, S.D.
A: Zimmer was already focused on having his team return next week without hitting a lull. Before the team left for the bye, he cautioned that players sometimes will take time to hit their stride again after a layoff and wanted to make sure it doesn’t happen this time. Minnesota has seven games, and could potentially play themselves into postseason consideration depending on how they return from the bye.
The improvements Zimmer is likely reinforcing are the same ones we’ve seen over the past few weeks, most falling on the offensive side. The Vikings will continue to work on pass protection and getting the offensive line to play at a higher level. Bridgewater showed some real progress in the last two games in getting the ball out of his hands quickly, maneuvering in the pocket and running when needed. Bridgewater played looser and let his talent out, and he must continue to grow as an instinctual player.
While the playoffs are a goal and wins are the focus for Zimmer, the importance in the final seven games is continued maturation from Bridgewater and the defense further growing under Zimmer’s guidance.
Q: Screen passes and swing passes are low risk plays and seem to be effective week after week against the Viking’s defense. Aren’t there adjustments they could make to prevent the huge gains other teams get on these plays? — Jon T., N. St. Paul
A: It’s no different for other teams. Minnesota’s defense has actually been handling such plays well this season. Teams will look to run screen passes to try and slow the Vikings’ league-leading pass rush down. Anthony Barr has demonstrated an ability to read screen passes and react quickly.
Washington had some success in getting those plays to work in last week’s game because quarterback Robert Griffin III was able to find time by moving around and escaping pressure. But Minnesota owns the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense, allowing just 213.6 yards per game. Credit is due for the big change, even if the occasional screen pass might gain yards. The Vikings’ pass defense allowed 287.2 yards per game last year.
Q: I wonder why Turner does not move the pocket to buy more time for Teddy. — Scott, Naples, Fla.
A: Good observation. I would like to see Bridgewater move around a bit more, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner could slide the pocket at times to keep defenses honest, or have Bridgewater escape the pocket every so often.
To me, Bridgewater’s willingness to use his legs more in Sunday’s game ultimately changed the offense. Bridgewater moved more efficiently in the pocket, sliding around and finding holes, and then taking off when he didn’t have any downfield options.
In his first game, Bridgewater was effective in scrambling. That piece had been missing in subsequent games until he finally started to move around a bit more on Sunday. I would expect we could see more movement from Bridgewater, at least the willingness to escape the pocket to buy more time, as Minnesota continues this season and Bridgewater gets more comfortable.
Q: What is the odds of getting Vincent Jackson and Larry Fitzgerald in the off season or possibly trading for them? — Damian Holzerland, Mason City, Ia.
A: You want both of them? That would be a tall order. Certainly the rumors have come out, particularly about Fitzgerald. The hometown connection, plus Fitzgerald seeing fewer targets in Arizona have many wondering if he’s a possibility in Minnesota. Personally, I don’t see it happening. Not the least of factors is Fitzgerald still has four years remaining on his contract and is set to have a $23.6 million cap number next year.
There was talk about Jackson’s availability at the trade deadline, which just passed. Tampa Bay has rookie Mike Evans looking ready to become the team’s top option. Jackson and Evans are similar players. Jackson’s name will be mentioned in trade rumors again in the offseason. He still has two years left on his contract and has a $12.2 million cap number for next year.
Ultimately, I don’t see Minnesota going out and making that big of a splash at receiver. The team will be hopeful for a big third year from Cordarrelle Patterson, and receivers have been known to break out in their third season. Jarius Wright is proving he can be a complementary receiver.
The Vikings also have Greg Jennings under control for three more seasons. While Jennings doesn’t look like the same receiver he was in Green Bay, he can still make the occasional play as we’ve seen. He had six catches for 76 yards in last week’s game and leads Minnesota in receiving this season. Next season, Jennings will count $11 million against the salary cap and would equal $6 million in dead money if he was released.
Q: Will the Vikings receive a letter from the NFL over the missed call on Smith hitting RG3? Do the refs get graded down over a call like this and many others? Thank you. — Al Tiseth, Chatham, Ill.
A: The officials are graded and such a play like occurred Sunday could be one in which they will be reprimanded. I’m not sure, at this point, if Minnesota will receive any notification from the NFL.
Q: If Adrian was allowed to play the rest of the season do you think that the vikings will have a better run game and also would sit out since Adrian would be the starter if the vikings allowed him to return — John Holey, Minnesota
A: I do believe Peterson would help Minnesota’s running game. Rookie Jerick McKinnon has provided a spark and been a more physical runner than expected. Matt Asiata has been money in the red zone, but we’re talking about Adrian Peterson here.
Peterson is a six-time Pro Bowl running back. He’s a three-time All-Pro. Even during a down season by Peterson’s standards, he still rushed for 1,266 yards last season and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. He’s only two years removed from an MVP season in which he challenged the league’s all-time, single-season rushing title. And you can guarantee Peterson will be motivated after having to sit out the past eight games.
If Peterson returns, I’m sure they will ease him in initially and possibly still use a bit of McKinnon and Asiata. But soon after, my guess is Peterson would return to a 20-carry, workhorse back. Turner’s offense was going to revolve around Peterson before he had to leave while dealing with his legal matter. The time has changed the situation and Peterson might not be the core player he was previously and Minnesota could look to phase him out but in the meantime, he’ll probably be the team’s lead back.
Thank you for your submissions. Unfortunately we couldn’t get to all of your questions. We tried to answer a wide range of submissions. I hope we continue to hear from you in the future. Our Vikings’ mailbag runs once a week on Thursday mornings during the regular season. Be sure to check FOXSportsNorth.com for upcoming mailbags.