After some unexpected events (both good and bad) through the first nine weeks of the season, the Minnesota Vikings will enter week ten fresh off of their bye week and perched atop the NFC North at 6-2. Even as they bring a four-game winning streak into FedEx Field on Sunday, this team does have areas where they can and need to be better to maintain or improve their position.
The Vikings have the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense leading the way. Unlike last season however, this year’s offense has been better able to carry their own weight in games as they are 11th in total offense as well. And despite major changes to their personnel grouping, special teams has also been stable enough to still be a factor in the team’s successful first half.
Even with their successful first half, there are still some areas that this team can address and improve if they want to stay among the top teams in the NFC. Their schedule is potentially more difficult going forward, so the Vikings will need to raise their game.
With that in mind, here are a few things that can go a long ways in making the Vikings even tougher to play against:
5. Hunter starts to feast
One of the few defensive improvements that come to mind, and even I will admit it is nitpicking. Even though he has not collected the sacks at the pace we saw last season, Hunter is still getting plenty of pressures and hits, all which have critical affects on opposing quarterbacks. If some of these first-half pressures become sacks in the second half, add that to Everson Griffen’s production and this Vikings pass rush becomes even more feared and dangerous.
4. Trae Waynes continues to grow
Waynes has continued to get better as he has gotten the snaps. With Xavier Rhodes being his running mate at the other corner spot, we all knew Waynes was going to be every quarterback’s favorite target. After an inconsistent first few weeks, he has gotten better in coverage and is just as much a reason as any for the Vikings surrendering just a shade over 200 passing yards per game, good for seventh in the NFL. He has also been extremely solid in run support throughout the season, showing that he can be a sure tackler. His continued growth as a cover corner will be critical going forward.
3. Interior Run Blocking
The offensive line has been the biggest difference in the offense’s success from 2016 to 2017. After finishing 29th in 2016, they are ranked fourth through the first half of 2017. Still, an area for improvement can be found as the Vikings tend to struggle a bit with interior run blocking at times. The unit did start the season off slow overall in this area but has gradually gotten better as the season has gone on. If they can further improve the interior run blocking, this running game could eventually force opponents to play the Vikings’ offense differently.
These final two points can be helped by the Viking quarterbacks, whether it is Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater moving forward…
2. Receiver number three, please step up!
By now most teams know that when they face the Vikings offense, they will have to deal with Stefon Diggs and Adam Theilen. I fully expect these two to draw more attention in the second half of 2017. This means there will be opportunities for someone else to make plays, and someone must step up to fill them. We have seen that there is talented depth at the receiver position. Jarius Wright and Laquon Treadwell, though utilized sparingly, have shown they can make plays when called upon. If the Vikings can get more out of one or both of these two in the second half, this offense will be much more difficult to stop. Not many teams have the depth in the secondary to handle spread offenses, so this could be something the Vikings look to exploit going forward.
1. More touchdowns
Even with all of the improvements on offense this season, if there has been one area of concern, it is the Vikings inconsistency with putting up points. More accurately, it is about putting the ball in the endzone. We have seen how good this offense can be when it is clicking on all cylinders, which has been quite often. However, we have seen more often than not that this offense still has issues with stalling drives at some of the most inopportune times, and it forces them to settle for three points instead of getting seven. The redzone could be more of an opportunity to get Treadwell more chances to make plays, being a big bodied receiver who is built to play in that area. Latavius Murray could also help in this area on goal line situations as well. Most importantly though, Keenum and/or Bridgewater must do more to make throws that result in touchdowns, rather than field goals, no matter who it is they throw it to. If the Vikings can do better here, paired with their elite defense, the sky will be the limit.
The Vikings have put together one of their most balanced rosters in 2017 and they have the chance to be special this season. This writer truly believes this team has the makings of a Super Bowl contender, but in order to realize that potential, the Vikings must continue to get better, particularly in the areas that they have had difficulty with thus far.