1. Back in Week 6, the Lions cruised to victory by constantly getting pressure on Teddy Bridgewater. Has the Vikings' offensive line improved at all since then?
Actually, as hard as this is going to be to believe, the Vikings offensive line has probably managed to get worse since that time. They've lost right tackle Phil Loadholt and could also be without starting left guard Charlie Johnson, who was injured in the win over the Jets last week. That means that 60% of the Week 1 offensive line could be on the shelf, and one of the guys that makes up the other 40% (left tackle Matt Kalil) has looked more like a turnstile this season than a franchise cornerstone. The Vikings might be able to make some personnel adjustments to try to keep Bridgewater upright this Sunday, but personnel-wise it's been getting worse up front for the Vikings.
2. How would you evaluate Bridgewater's development over the course of the season?
Bridgewater has improved markedly over the course of this season. He had a bad game against the Lions, and followed that up with a not-so-great performance in Buffalo against the Bills (a game the Vikings should have won despite Bridgewater's iffy performance). In the six starts he's made since then, he's thrown nine touchdown passes to just three interceptions, and two of those three picks came on Hail Mary passes. He looks as though he's just getting more comfortable with the offense and is developing more of a rapport with his receivers. Considering the level of attrition the Vikings' offense has experienced throughout this season, Bridgewater's continued improvement gives fans reason to expect much more from this team in 2015.
3. Looking ahead to 2015, what do you think will happen with Adrian Peterson and the Vikings' situation at running back?
That's the $64,000 question... or, more accurately, the $13 million question. Peterson's cap figure for the 2015 season is just over $15 million, but only $2 million of that is guaranteed, meaning the Vikings could free up $13 million in cap space by trading or releasing Peterson. As it stands now, the Vikings are about $10 million under the cap and could free up plenty of space by cutting some of their bigger contracts (guys like Chad Greenway, Greg Jennings, etc.). They could even ask Peterson to do a restructuring of his own.
The Vikings organization, to this point, has maintained that they want Peterson back on the field, with coach Mike Zimmer and owners Zygi and Mark Wilf being said to want him back as soon as possible. We don't know whether that's public relations stuff or how much truth there is to it, but it appears that if the Vikings want Adrian Peterson back in 2015, they can make that happen.
4. What are the Vikings' biggest strengths and weaknesses on defense right now?
With as much as the secondary has improved over last season, the strength of this Minnesota defense is still their ability to get to the quarterback. Everson Griffen has silenced the doubters by putting up a big season in 2014, and he's gotten plenty of help from guys like Sharrif Floyd (when he's healthy), Brian Robison, Tom Johnson and rookie Anthony Barr. I don't want to discount the Vikings' secondary completely, though... Xavier Rhodes is playing as well as any corner in the league right now, and Harrison Smith has established himself as one of the league's best safeties... but the ability of the Vikings to pressure opposing quarterbacks is still their calling card.
As far as weaknesses... as much as I hate to single out one guy, if opposing teams want to move the football, the first thing they have to do is find Chad Greenway. Greenway has been a great player for the Vikings in the past, but he's really on the downhill slide, and a lot of us are wishing that the team would give some more chances to some of the younger options at linebacker (notably Gerald Hodges, who has played well when called on to replace Greenway or Barr in the starting lineup). This is likely going to be Greenway's final season in Minnesota, at least as a starter, and he's probably the single weakest link on what's fast becoming a young, promising defense.
5. Based on what you've seen so far, what are your thoughts on Mike Zimmer's first season in Minnesota?
We've been loving the Mike Zimmer era so far. He's been a huge part of the Vikings' defensive renaissance this season, and has started holding players accountable for not producing... something that it seemed Leslie Frazier was hesitant to do. The most notable example of this has been the rise of receiver Charles Johnson at the expense of Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson hasn't progressed the way many had hoped, and he has gotten a grand total of four offensive snaps in the past two games. Johnson, on the other hand, has done nothing but produce since the Vikings first activated him in Week 5, and he's developed the sort of rapport with Bridgewater that has added a new dimension to the Minnesota offense.
Zimmer might not have all the guys he wants on his roster to do everything he wants to do, but he's off to an outstanding start... I'm not sure anyone imagined the team catching on to the new defense this quickly, and if the Vikings can get just a little more consistency out of the offensive line, this team will be one to be reckoned with. All in all, it's hard to imagine the Mike Zimmer era getting off to a much better start given where this team was 12 months ago.
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