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2-Point Conversation: Teddy or Adrian, Who Helps Who More?

A protracted but productive Vikings preseason is nearing its end, with Minnesota set to visit San Francisco and open the 2015 regular season campaign on ESPN's Monday Night Football at 9:20 p.m. (CT) at Levi's Stadium.

With that in mind, here's another installment of Two-Point Conversations, a segment that tasks Mike Wobschall (@wobby) and Craig Peters (@pcraigers) with three topics on which to make a point in 200 words or less, then asks you to weigh-in on a question about each topic.

Which defensive position group will be most closely linked to the identity of the Vikings?

@pcraigers:This is definitely not a slight on the defensive linemen or the linebackers. It's likely both those groups are collectively better than they were a year ago, and most players are back for a second-year in the system of Head Coach Mike Zimmer, but I'll go with secondary.

The Vikings have opted to use three first-round picks on members of the secondary—Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes — in the past four drafts. Minnesota brought in 2003 first-round pick Terence Newman this offseason. It's been said elsewhere that no one plays Zimmer's system better than Newman, who has four previous seasons under Zimmer in Dallas and two more with Cincinnati.

It's not uncommon for Zimmer to spend quality time with defensive backs and offer tips or personally refine techniques. Newman is like having another coach on the field, and Rhodes' growth in 2014 was a major reason the Vikings went from ranking 31st in passing yards allowed in 2013 to seventh last season.

@wobby:While the secondary is certainly vastly improved under Zimmer and we all know that in football "it all starts up front", I'm going with the linebackers. And actually, the fact that the LBs can have many identities is why *the *identity of the Vikings defense manifests itself at the second level. The group of linebackers is led by gritty veteran Chad Greenway and is comprised of a bunch of other young and versatile players. On one snap the Vikings can be in their base defense with Greenway, Anthony Barr and either Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges or Eric Kendricks in the middle, and on the next snap they can be in nickel with Barr and Kendricks on the field or they can slide Barr to DE and bring Cole, Greenway or Hodges in to play with Kendricks. The linebackers can mug the center by showing double A gap pressure, they can play in stacked positions, or the outside linebackers can stand up on the line. See what I mean? Lots of different identities from this group, and that kind of versatility is what allows Zimmer to be so multiple on defense. Being multiple on defense is this group's identity.

Who helps who more? Adrian Peterson or Teddy Bridgewater?

@pcraigers: Offensive coordinators like a balanced attack for obvious reasons, and this pairing should provide Vikings second-year OC Norv Turner with multiple options. In that effect, I see both players bringing benefits to the other, but I'll say Bridgewater could provide the biggest boost. In Peterson's eight previous seasons, the Vikings have had six different players as their leading passers.

Although they never took the field together in 2014, Peterson said he was impressed by what he saw from Bridgewater, who had the third-most completions, second-highest completion percentage, third-highest yardage, and third highest number of passing TDs of any Vikings leading passer since Peterson's rookie season of 2007. Bridgewater has the second-highest passer rating (85.2) of any leading Vikings passer during that stretch.

Bridgewater's awareness at the line appears to be advanced beyond a player going into his second season, he had a completion percentage of 72.1 in his final five games of the regular season and followed with a clip of 82.9 percent this preseason. All of these factors should help keep defenses from overselling on stopping the run.

@wobby:The Vikings won a division title in 2008 with Gus Frerotte starting 11 games and Tarvaris Jackson starting five. Brett Favre had one of his best seasons with the Vikings in 2009. The 2012 Vikings went on a late-season surge and qualified for the playoffs. The main common thread in all of those accomplishments was Peterson. He has played with a lot of QBs in his Vikings tenure, but Teddy has never played with a RB like Adrian Peterson. The way defenses must defend the run game with No. 28 on the field will open up opportunities for other players in this offense, Bridgewater primary among them. After nearly a year off and now at the age of 30, some may be skeptical about what the 2012 MVP can still do. I have a feeling there won't be many skeptics for long, though. Once Peterson rips off a few long runs and authors a few 100-yard rushing, multiple TD box scores, there will be more and more eight-man boxes to slow him down. With that many defenders committed to stopping the run, Bridgewater should be able to find one of his talented pass catchers running away from coverage.

Which deeper stat/hidden element of a box score can help the Vikings make a push for the playoffs?

@pcraigers: I'm going to go with points in the final two minutes of a half, and much of last year's playoffs support this. The good news for the Vikings is they scored in the final two minutes of eight first halves in 2014. The bad news is they were 5-3 when doing so, but 4-0 when ending the drives with touchdowns instead of field goals. What's more, they were 2-3 when opponents capitalized on a two-minute drill.

The chart below lists last season's playoff seeds, the number of games in which they scored before intermissions and the record they had in those games. Baltimore was the only team that went sub-.500 when scoring before the break, but that's partially because opponents also scored in hurry-up situations of three of the Ravens losses.

Team (overall) Games Record Team (overall) Games Record
1. Patriots (12-4) 10 8-2 1. Seahawks (12-4) 7 4-3
2. Broncos (12-4) 10 10-0 2. Packers (12-4) 7 6-1
3. Steelers (11-5) 9 8-1 3. Cowboys (12-4) 7 7-0
4. Colts (11-5) 10 6-4 4. Panthers (7-8-1) 7 6-1
5. Bengals (10-5-1) 4 3-0-1 5. Cardinals (11-5) 4 2-2
6. Ravens (10-6) 7 3-4 6. Lions (11-5) 6 4-2

@wobby:That's a good one. Scoring points at the end of the first half requires good coaching, time management and execution by players. It's a microcosm of what teams are trying to do for the entire game. My deep stat to watch is runs + completions. If a team has a bunch of rushing attempts in a game, it should be a good sign because teams who are behind don't run the ball as often. If a team has a bunch of pass completions in a game, it should be a good sign because a completion is ordinarily a positive play and a high number of completions should lead to a high completion %/better efficiency. Having a fairly high number of both in a game represents balance, which is what every offense strives to achieve. The 12 playoff teams from 2014 averaged 63.1 runs + completions per game, while the 10 teams who finished with fewer wins than the Vikings last season averaged 59.5 per game; the Vikings were actually below those 10 teams with an average of 58.1 runs + completions per game.

Which deeper stat/hidden element of a box score can help the Vikings make a push for the playoffs?

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