The Vikings got back on the winning track last weekend with a victory over the Carolina Panthers. They look to stay on that track this weekend with another home game, this time hosting the NY Jets. After collecting their fifth win of the season and with four games to go, there is much to discuss.
Here are three lessons and three questions as the NFL calendar nears Week 14.
1. Xavier Rhodes is having a breakout seasonPerhaps the biggest improvement this year's Vikings team has made is in pass defense. In 2013, the Vikings ranked 31st in passing yards allowed but through 12 games this season they rank sixth. A combination of many things has led to this improvement, but none more significant than the play of CB Xavier Rhodes. As a rookie last season, Rhodes flashed from time-to-time. Now in his second season, Rhodes is playing consistently at a high level. In Sunday's win over Carolina, Rhodes was effective in shutting down talented rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin, and in that effort he added three more pass breakups (PBUs) and has a team-high 14 for the season. Rhodes is having a breakout season and is one of the best young players at his position.
"Not only his technique, but also his confidence in understanding, really, what we're trying to get done," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said when asked on Monday what the biggest factor in Rhodes' improvement has been. "I try to preach to these guys every day in practice, 'don't let your guy catch the ball.' I think that mentality is starting to show up a little bit with him. I also think some of the toughness things are showing up with him, as well."
2. Teddy Bridgewater's teammates believe in himTeddy Bridgewater once again looked impressive while leading the Vikings offense. The rookie QB notched his fourth win of the season on Sunday, guiding the offense on two touchdown drives and playing well throughout the game. Bridgewater completed 15 of 21 passes for two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also threw two accurate deep passes, an area of his game that's been criticized of late, with one of those passes being hauled in by Jarius Wright for a gain of 35 yards.
"I talk to a lot of players during the week and I talk to a lot of veteran players," Zimmer said. "And I ask them about Teddy, 'What do you think of this guy?' They all tell me that they love him, number one, and they have great confidence in him in being a great quarterback. Because they watch him every day, just like I do, they appreciate the way that he handles his business, the way he prepares and studies, all of the things that people outside the rooms don't see. A lot of them have been on other teams and seen a lot of other great quarterbacks, too."
3. Mike Zimmer is in Cordarrelle Patterson's corner
Cordarrelle Patterson's offensive production so far in 2014 has fallen short of what many expected coming into the season. Patterson also has not seen as many offensive snaps the past few weeks, and that has caused eyebrows to rise and has led to many questions about Patterson's status with the team. After Zimmer's Monday press conference, though, there should be no question that the team believes in Patterson, recognizes the tremendous talent the second-year receiver has, and is willing to be patient in developing him.
"I'm going to keep saying this over and over until somebody believes me, that I am in this guy's corner," Zimmer reiterated. "I want every one of our players to be good and to be great. We all want instant gratification, including myself, but sometimes this takes a little bit longer. I have high-hopes for him, I'm in his corner, I want him to be a good player.
"I keep going back, and I had players in Cincinnati, defensive players, who were great players now, that got to play sparingly their first or second year, not just because somebody was in front of them was a better athlete, but knew what to do all of the time and was kind of grooming the guy along. And I still feel that way about Cordarrelle. He's going to be a good player. I don't have any doubts in my mind about that."
1. Who is the Vikings best option at RB?With Adrian Peterson unavailable for much of the season, the Vikings have turned to their depth at running back and they've found some pretty good options in their stable. Matt Asiata is a tough runner who can grind out yardage, Jerick McKinnon has flashed as a rookie both in the running game and the passing game and he's improved as a pass protector, and now both Joe Banyard and Ben Tate have gotten in the mix. It will be interesting to see if, over the Vikings final four games, any of these running backs can separate from the rest of the pack and prove to be the clear-cut best option. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, that's fine too because the Vikings have demonstrated they know how to operate a running back-by-committee style with effectiveness.
2. What's next for the Vikings special teams (hint: returns)?Over the last few weeks the Vikings special teams group has successfully executed a fake punt and they blocked two punts in the same game and returned both of them both for touchdowns. What is next for Mike Priefer's group? One thing that would be great to see is continued improvement in the return game. Last season, Patterson and Marcus Sherels were two of the best returners in their respective disciplines. This season their numbers are down a bit but have begun to climb back up, and an explosive return or two from each of them over the final four games would help carry some momentum into the offseason.
3. Which Vikings deserve Pro Bowl recognition?Have you cast your Pro Bowl ballot? If not, now is the time and you can do so by clicking here. It should be a fun process for Vikings fans because several members of the Vikings are worthy of all-start recognition. No NFC defensive end has more sacks than Everson Griffen's 11.0. Harrison Smith continues to fill up nearly every category of the stat sheet. Rhodes continues to have a breakout season. Anthony Barr may be the NFL's best defensive rookie. Blair Walsh is tied for the NFL lead in made field goals of 50 yards with five and is third in the NFC in touchback percentage on kickoffs. Arguments can also be made for guys such as FB Jerome Felton, special teams ace Andrew Sendejo and C John Sullivan.