2016 NFC North Previews & Predictions

When news of Teddy Bridgewater’s injury surfaced on social media, you knew it was bad. To cancel practice and there were Vikings players visibly getting ill the question arose: Will Teddy Bridgewater ever suit up again for the Minnesota Vikings?? For once there was no video and our collective imaginations ran with what we pictured based upon eye witness accounts like a long begone era. How bad was this knee / leg injury??

Clay buries Cutler

Clay buries Cutler

Speaking of knee injuries, a one Jordy Nelson comes back to the Green Bay Packers to give Aaron Rodgers his full arsenal of receivers. However he hasn’t cut on that reconstructed knee in a meaningful NFL game in nearly 2 years. Will he have his full range of motion and agility?? Before his injury this was one of the best overall receivers in the NFL based on quickness in and out of his cuts. He can also get deep. Will he have the full confidence to run on that knee with the reckless abandon as before??

Statues of Vince Lombardi & Curly Lambeau

Statues of Vince Lombardi & Curly Lambeau

2016 NFC North Predictions

Green Bay Packers 12-4**

Minnesota Vikings  9-7

Detroit Lions 6-10

Chicago Bears 3-13

The regular season is just a dress rehearsal for Green Bay to exercise dominance over this division. Last year Aaron Rodgers needed miracle Hail Mary’s to pull off victories in Detroit than again against the Cardinals in the wildcard round. This was important in his evolution since he rarely brought the Packers back from behind in the past. Now they are never out of a ballgame. His 347 of 572 for 3,821 yards for 31 TDs was solid considering he was missing his #1 weapon all year. He learned to trust all of his receivers as evidenced with TE Richard Rodgers (58 rec. 510 yds 8 TDs) and Devante Adams (50 rec. 483 yds 1TD) having career years and these are the and 5th options with Jordy back.

The Packers should lean more on the short pass and their rushing by committee a little more. Last year he was sacked 46 times and Green Bay just released 3 time Pro Bowl G Josh Sitton. Rodgers has to get James Starks (601 yds 2 TDs) and Eddie Lacy (758 yds 3 TDs) running forward to keep defenses honest. By midseason Starks should emerge as the man with Lacy’s up and down weight and performance taking it’s toll on the staff. Eddie will start to break down with the accumulative hits as well without being able to avoid contact. Keep your eye on this going into the 2nd half of the season.

Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer watches his team during an NFL mini camp in Eden Prairie, Minn., Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

(AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

With :22 to go in last year’s NFC Wildcard Tilt with Seattle, the Vikings were readying themselves for a trip to Arizona. Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s squad had improved from 7-9 to 11-5 with an improving QB in Bridgewater and they were about to vanquish Seattle for the 1st playoff win of the Zimmer/Bridgewater era. Alas Blair Walsh misses a 27 yard kick sending the Vikings home for the season.

Fast forward through Bridgewater’s injury and you have a team teetering on 36 yr old Shaun Hill or journeyman Sam Bradford to quarterback this team back to the postseason. They’ll have to lean on improvement from last year’s 13th ranked defense and an aging but still effective Adrian Peterson ( 1,485 yds / 11 TDs). Pro Bowlers SS Harrison Smith, LB Anthony Barr, and DE Anderson Griffen need to duplicate last year’s success for this team to even think of making the playoffs.

The problem is having an unsettled QB situation when starting 2 of 3 on the road in Tennessee and defending NFC Champion Carolina. Sandwiched between these two games has Zimmer’s crew hosting the Green Bay Packers and an 0-3 start is very possible.

The Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions are both totally rudderless ships. Both teams are incomplete and need to focus on discovering where they aregoing with current personnel. Matthew Stafford should lead the Lions to a few more wins this season than Cutler in Chicago.

Just not enough to offset this year’s Green Bay squad. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

The 2015 MVP Candidates Not Named Brady

As the NFL season winds down, talk invariably turns to awarding the top players for peak performance. The national pundits have clamored all year how Tom Brady will be NFL MVP as though it’s been decreed on high. Completely overlooking deserving candidates turning in career seasons.

Carson-PalmerCarson Palmer: Do you realize Palmer is 19-3 as the Cardinals starting QB dating back to the beginning of 2014?? Of course the MVP is for this year’s performance, yet show The Chancellor who has outplayed him. The Cardinals have the NFL’s #1 offense and the #4 passing attack. With today’s performance, Palmer leads the NFL with 29 TDs to just 9 interceptions and 3,693 yards of real estate gobbled up this season.

The Chancellor has always said it isn’t just about the numbers.. it’s about leadership, performance vs expectations, and how would his team fare without him? For Palmer we saw last year when Arizona collapsed after a 9-1 start when he went down. Before he did, he spearheaded a win on the road in Seattle. The signature win of this season came in the 39-32 win in Seattle on Sunday night a few weeks back. They knocked down the NFC West bully when the world was watching. Then followed up with a 34-31 win over a Cincinnati team vying for home field advantage in the AFC.

With the Cardinals fighting tooth and nail with Carolina for home field in the NFC, you can start the MVP conversation with Palmer.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

Antonio Brown: Absolutely the best receiver in football. Unlike Julio Jones, he has had to perform with 3 different quarterbacks and has amassed 85 receptions for 1,192 yards and 5TDs. Keep in mind we’re talking about 5 complete games with Landry Jones and Michael Vick under center. Those stats and there are still 5 games for Brown to play!! He’s on pace to catch 123 receptions for 1,723 yards as the Steelers make a late season playoff push. He’s currently 2nd in receiving yards. Keep your eye on him making big plays down the stretch.

Adrian Peterson: Although he is leading the NFL in rushing, today’s 8 carries for 18 yards in a 38-7 home blowout loss to Seattle hurts his MVP cause. This was a big game against a good defense in a game with wild card playoff implications. These are the games an MVP has to show up in. Just two weeks ago in a battle for 1st place in the NFC North, he disappeared with a 13 carry 45 yard day. The defenses cascaded in and killed a young Teddy Bridgewater without a running threat. These two losses are the difference between leading the NFC North and being embroiled in a fight for a wildcard. Peterson is still leading the league with 1,182 yards rushing.

From?? Boise St!

From?? Boise St!

Doug Martin: With Peterson coming back to the pack, light has been shed on the league’s #2 rusher with 1,133 yards and has protected his young QB. Martin exploded back into a nation’s consciousness when he destroyed the Eagles with a 230 yard performance a few weeks ago. It was the best single game rushing performance since…well Doug Martin‘s 264 yard masterpiece in 2012.

Jameis Winston is growing during this rookie season and one of the players he has to thank is Martin. Doug is only one of two running backs averaging over 5 yards per carry at 5.0. The other isn’t Adrian Peterson by the way. As a team the Buccaneers rank 2nd in the NFL in rushing , just 39 yards behind Seattle. He’s on pace to have a career 1,500 yard season as the 6-6 Bucs make a wild card push. Five of their six wins are against NFC teams and their last 4 are all within conference.

Cam Newton: Now you would think the starting quarterback for a 12-0 football team would be an automatic. In Cam Newton’s rise many pundits have been reluctant to admit his candidacy on the level of other elite QBs, just as they don’t believe in the Carolina Panthers ability to keep winning. When the Panthers lost WR Kelvin Benjamin in the preseason, no one thought the Panthers would even equal last 7-8-1 division championship last year. Newton has emerged as a true leader who now has 25 TDs passing to just 9 interceptions for 2,797 yards. By the time you add his 476 yards rushing and 7 more touchdowns this is the MVP of the league.

camThe fact that most of his touchdown passes have come in the 4th quarter can’t be underscored. It was his 4th qtr go ahead TD that slayed Seattle 27-23 on the road. This was a big game and the Seahawks 1st loss with Kam Chancellor back avenging their playoff loss in ’14. Cam killed them from the pocket. Today he out-dueled the NFC South’s preeminent quarterback in Drew Brees in a 41-38 shootout. He was almost knocked out of the game, yet stayed and threw for 5TDs where the lead changed hands 4 times in the 4th quarter alone. It felt like a changing of the guard as Brees couldn’t hold off the young lion.

When Taylor Blitz Times offers our first NFL MVP… we have to include Tom Brady in the mix but our front runner leads the Carolina Panthers.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Unsung Players: RIP Eddie LeBaron

Eddie LeBaronOn April 1st of this year, the football world lost Eddie LeBaron. To a prior generation he was remembered as a great quarterback that lacked the height to play the position at 5’7. However in a career that spanned 11 years he was voted to the Pro Bowl on 4 occasions. Three times he made it as a Washington Redskin and once with the Dallas Cowboys. In fact he was the first starting quarterback in the history of the Cowboys.

I first became aware of LeBaron reading the old Punt, Pass and Kick books covering players from the 1960’s. In some instances it seemed he was covered because of his oddity when it came to stature. Yet as I did more research it was discovered how good a player he was as this vignette barely saved from decades ago will attest…

It’s ironic the player who gives the strongest testimony to LeBaron’s playing prowess is “Concrete” Chuck Bednarik. Not only was he considered one of, if not the toughest player during the 1950’s, but we just lost him just two weeks prior. Like Bednarik, LeBaron had served our country as a Marine and fought in the Korean War prior to playing pro football.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

Eddie LeBaron pictured with 1st Dallas Cowboy owner Clint Murchison.

In microcosm his story was an inspirational one to a generation of young men to fight on despite a lack of size. A father could drape his arm over his son’ s shoulder and tell them about Eddie LeBaron. Not only was he the first quarterback in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, he was a Pro Bowl quarterback for a large part of his career.

RIP Eddie LeBaron: January 7, 1930 – April 1, 2015

Epilogue: As we lose these players, it’s personal to me because reading their exploits in books as a kid back in the 1970’s is what lit my fire about football. I was never one into comic books and fictitious heroes, it was always about real people and their accomplishments.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Adrian Peterson Sweepstakes

The saga that has been Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings is just heating up. Did the Minnesota Vikings do enough to show support while Peterson served his suspension??  It culminated in a shouting match at the scouting combine between team brass and Peterson’s agent. Clearly there is a disconnect and the best back in Viking history wants out.

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

Where will Peterson play in 2015??

The key is he said he will not take a pay cut nor will he renegotiate his contract in any fashion. So a sign and trade is out of the question. Will the Vikings be forced to cut him?? Now that he is reinstated it’s time to talk about possible destinations for the NFL’s best back. Sure his father has an idea where he wants to go but a lot can change when GMs move quickly.

1. The Arizona Cardinals – Please, please, please get the on air radio personalities out here to quit talking about Andre Ellington like he is an elite back. Never have I heard a more marginal talent talked about with such reverence. Peterson’s lifetime average of  5.0 per carry would be a serious boost here over Ellington’s paltry 3.3 yard average in 2014. If Arizona had a legitimate running game last year they may have had a deep run in the playoffs.

In all actuality, cutting DT/DE Darnell Dockett, Ted Ginn Jr, and restructuring Larry Fitzgerald’s contract has freed $15 million in cap space. The Cardinals can sell him on the weather, a stout defense, a returning Carson Palmer, and the fact the last 3 NFC representatives in the Super Bowl hail from the NFC West.  Peterson is 30 and if his intentions are to make it to a Super Bowl this is a legitimate landing spot.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

You know they have talked at the Pro Bowl what it would be like to play together.

2. The Detroit Lions – This is a great landing spot for all the reasons mentioned with the Cardinals. Last year it was the Lions with the NFL’s #2 defense and only a controversial call kept Detroit from the divisional round of the playoffs. You want to talk about a big three?? Matthew Stafford, Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, and Adrian Peterson would be a sick combination. Keep in mind Peterson has at least 3 good years left and the Lions just cut Reggie Bush.

Another note to keep in mind is the high propensity for players to sign with a division rival to show their old team that they still have it. Emmitt Smith to the Cardinals, Thurman Thomas to the Dolphins, Lawyer Milloy & Drew Bledsoe to Buffalo, Brett Favre to the Vikings, then last year with Julius Peppers going to Green Bay and Jared Allen going to Chicago.  What better way to get back at Minnesota than to go for 200 on them??? Detroit is on the rise folks and Peterson is that missing piece.

3. New England Patriots – Now here is where folks will think The Chancellor of Football has lost it. Until I remind you when the 2003 defending champion Patriots acquired Corey Dillon…remember that??  Again Peterson is 30 with a few prime years left and just like Dillon never had a great team around him. Well in 2009 the Vikings with Favre did make it to the NFC Championship but the balance of his career has been spent with very average talent.

Peterson may be willing to take a little less for the chance to play for the game’s ultimate prize. Take a look at the long list of veterans who have signed with New England to play with Tom Brady. Look at last year alone in acquiring Darrell Revis, Brandon Browner, and Brandon LaFell.

It could even be on a 1 year proposition. Remember when Deion Sanders bypassed several 4 yr – $15-17 million contracts to sign with the 49ers for $1.1 million in ’94?? Of course the collective bargaining agreement would force the Pats to pay him a minimum around $4 million but you get the point. Bill Belichick always has an ace up his sleeve and to pull in a Peterson is within range.

4. Indianapolis Colts – After the Trent Richardson trade cost them this year’s #1 draft pick, the Colts would overpay to get Peterson. Everyone says you can get a quality running back in later rounds. Well not this team. The Colts haven’t had a running back pay off since they drafted Joseph Addai in 2007. That is 8 years ago!!

Signing Peterson would shift the balance of power in the AFC and Andrew Luck could have the weapon that would propel him to the Super Bowl. Luck has proven he can carry the organization but he needs help to topple New England. Painfully we have seen this for several years.

Adrian Peterson has a decision to make but one thing is certain, he will play with a serious chip on his shoulder this first year back. If the performance is anything like his 2012, he will get stronger by the game. He should have at least 3 prime years left as a work horse runner. That is his Super Bowl window.

nfl-iphone-wallpaper-2Everyone, including Peterson is saying the Dallas Cowboys but lets give this some thought… Why would the Cowboys get a 30 year old runner over a 27 year old runner who just set the season record for rushing?? Why would you challenge the collective adhesiveness of the offensive line, running back, and huddle temperament with QB Tony Romo??

In reality, the Cowboys are taking a hard negotiating stance with Murray and Dez Bryant as they have with black players throughout the team’s history. Remember when Troy Aikman received a new contract for $50 million before his contract was up and Emmitt Smith had to hold out just to get $13.5 million?? Us old timers do and know several other stories…so Peterson beware. You’re just a bargaining chip to Dallas.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Top Ten Running Backs Going Into 2013 Season

As the NFL has evolved into more of a passing league, it seems that the importance of the running back position should wane. However there is nothing more powerful than a rushing attack to wear down your opponent or take time off the clock. What we have seen is the evolution of the type of back in most instances. Gone is the huge bruiser to lean on the defense and he has been replaced with a smaller, shiftier type of back. The type to take a handoff in a stretch running play whether the quarterback is under center or from the Pistol and Shotgun formations.

Do you realize Jamaal Charles has rushed for over 1,000 yards 3 times in a 5 year career??

Do you realize Jamaal Charles has rushed for over 1,000 yards 3 times in a 5 year career??

The best can operate in multiple sets as well as run routes to catch the ball in space. However there are a few throwback types who smash into the line and come off traps, sweeps, and multiple tight end sets as well. Each team needs to adapt their offense to the type of running and passing plays suited to their back’s ability. To make this list, running backs need to be able to break the first tackle. Well here we are with the Taylor Blitz Times best NFL running backs coming into the new season.

10. Maurice Jones-Drew – Jacksonville Jaguars: Although he’s led the league in rushing with 1,606 yards in 2011, Drew is coming back from a major leg injury where he missed most of 2012, and has carried a heavy load the last four years. He has been the Jaguars offense and could be on the verge of possibly burning out as Michael Turner did. This year we’ll have to watch if he’s able to slip tackles and power through arm tackles as he has over his 7 year career. It’s those 954 runs between 2009-2011 that worry us about burning out. He should be good for 1,000 yards this year but we’re keeping our eye on him.

9. Chris Johnson-Tennessee Titans: Did we say gamebreaker?? Well CJ2K is still on the launch pad down in the volunteer state. With a head coach who is a Hall of Fame lineman in Mike Munchak, it’s expected the Titans will come together on the line. This former 2,000 yard rusher stands on the launch pad destined for another big year, yet the vision of that coming is beginning to wane. However he did flash his explosiveness with a 94 yard touchdown last year. In all he ran 276 times for 1,243 yards and 6 TDs.

Spiller could be the Buffalo Bills second 2,000 yard rusher behind OJ Simpson.

Spiller could be the Buffalo Bills second 2,000 yard rusher behind OJ Simpson.

8. CJ Spiller-Buffalo Bills: Last year he burst onto the scene as the electrifying talent Bills brass and fan base had been expecting. The team needs to quit with Fred Jackson and give the ball to this game breaker 25 times a game. He was on his way to bust status after two years of flashes once he got onto the field. However an injury to Jackson left Spiller as the only runner in town and he exploded for 1,244 on just 207 carries. That is 6.0 yards a crack!! The same average as Peterson who ran for 2,000 yards. This year it should be his year and his team as he shows 2012 was no fluke. He also accounted for 43 receptions for 453 yards and combined for 8 touchdowns.

7. Alfred Morris-Washington Redskins: A surprise rookie performance was turned in by Morris, who was a fourth round draft choice. His 1,613 yards and 13 TDs were among the best in football but let’s ask a fundamental question: Was his performance indicative of his talent or was he the beneficiary of RG III carrying out read option fakes?? He was the second option when it came to rushing the football in many a defensive coordinator’s game plan. Year two will be interesting to watch how teams play him.

Yet you can’t underscore he was a tough durable low center of gravity back that thrived in the Redskin’s offense. He’s shifty enough, he seldom took a real big hit with most of the plays being stretch type runs. It reciprocated in holding linebackers honest and allowed Griffin III to rush for another 815 yards and 7 more TDs. He did disappear in the playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks once Griffin III went down. Would he be nearly effective if he played with another quarterback??

6. Frank Gore-San Francisco 49ers: One of the last of a dying breed, the do everything power back. One huge beneficiary of the new Pistol offense is Frank Gore. There are still running plays where the 49ers line up in power formations but in large part Gore isn’t facing downhill charging linebackers. The Pistol forces teams into 4-2-5 or 3-3-5 nickel variations where the linebackers are a step behind on the front side of the read option.

They are not attacking the run lanes like they do in a traditional sense and this will lesson the wear and tear on a running back entering his ninth year. For the first time in many years, Gore looked fresh the entire season. He started all 16 games while rushing for 1,214 yards 8 TDs while averaging 4.7 yards per rush. His carries will be split between Kendall Hunter and LeMichael James to keep him fresh for the stretch drive. So expect his totals to be a little less also.

NFL Network dubbed him "The Muscle Hamster" as he has shown tackle breaking power in his first season.

NFL Network dubbed him “The Muscle Hamster” as he has shown tackle breaking power in his first season.

5. Doug Martin-Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A shifty power runner in an Emmitt Smith type roll yet he has a better downfield burst. If you’re new to the Taylor Blitz Times, we have touted him as an NFL ready back and produced an article on his Heisman Trophy legitimacy before his senior season at Boise St. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201301120den.htm His rookie campaign saw him rush for 1,454 yards 11 TDs while catching 49 passes for another 479 yards and a touchdown.

Last year it started when he burst onto the NFL scene with a national televised game against the Vikings. That night he ran for 137 yards with a touchdown while catching 3 passes for another  79 yards and a touchdown. He had a 41 yard run and a 64 yard touchdown on a screen. Just when folks began talking about him he breaks out with his masterpiece. He showed there was another runner on the field that night along with Adrian Peterson.

The following week out in Oakland, in front of his bay area family, Martin ran for 264 yards with 4 touchdown runs of 67, 70, and 41, and 1 yards. For much of the fourth quarter Fox was airing his exploits to all other games since he was so close to the all time record. Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Jim Brown, OJ Simpson, nor Corey Dillon had ever run that far as a rookie in a game. No SEC back including Bo Jackson has ever run that far in an NFL game period. Only Adrian Peterson as a rookie ran farther. We’re talking all of NFL history here. He will be a candidate for 1,500 yards again down in Tampa.

4. Jamaal Charles-Kansas City Chiefs: The most underrated running back in football. We have heard former Chief now analyst, Bill Maas proclaim he is a smallish type back. The saving grace for the Chiefs offense last year was former Texas Longhorn Jamaal Charles. Last year he ran with enough power to break tackles and have a Pro Bowl season with 1,509 yards. He had a whopping 5.3 yard average and don’t forget he was a Pro Bowl performer in 2010, when he rushed for 1,467 yards and an even better 6.4 yard average. This is no fluke. He’s only going into his sixth season. Now with Alex Smith and a good passing combo, he should keep up the pace set last year.

Texans Super Bowl hopes ride with Foster.

Texans Super Bowl hopes ride with Foster.

3. Arian Foster-Houston Texans: Going into his 5th season, the Texans couldn’t be more solid at running back with Arian Foster leading the charge. Next to Adrian Peterson, no back in football has been more productive than Foster’s 4,264 yards and 39 TDs over the last three years. He is not the flashy runner breaking the huge play like CJ2K or Adrian Peterson, but he’s a steady performer that churns out important first down after first down as the Texans closer.

2. Marshawn Lynch-Seattle Seahawks: No runner sets the tempo for his football team like Lynch. He brings a physicality and attitude to the Pacific Northwest that is infectious and goes over to a swarming defense. He has been the lightning rod ever since his famous 67 yard touchdown run to oust the defending champion Saints in the 2010 wildcard game.

Although he’s entering his seventh season, he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on him. In 2009 & 2010 he only carried the ball a combined 320 times as he played for both Buffalo and Seattle. Last year he thundered for 1,590 yards and 11 TDs as he powered the Seahawks into the playoffs. This is the only running back in the game today that raises the level of the entire football team with his play. Expect another 1,500 yard season easily.

Peterson is the best in the game today and is already a Hall of Fame talent.

Peterson is the best in the game today and is already a Hall of Fame talent.

1. Adrian Peterson-Minnesota Vikings: The 21st century version of Eric Dickerson is absolutely a Hall of Fame running back. Yes you read that correctly. He’s a Hall of Fame runner already. Less than 7 months from damaging his MCL and ACL, he burst for 2,097 yards in a season where the Vikings eased him in. In year’s past we had Jamal Lewis and other runners who tore their ligaments and came back, but they had nearly a full season they sat out or eased themselves into the game first. Not Peterson.

What’s startling is this is the season he’ll hit full stride and should break Eric Dickerson’s record of 2,105 yards. Last year he broke breathtaking runs when he was the Vikings only legitimate offensive weapon. Now with quality receivers on the outside in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Pro Bowl TE Kyle Rudolph, defenses can’t key on him.

You do realize that he already holds the all time rushing record of 296 yards which is also the rookie record as well. When he get’s to Dickerson’s 2,105 yards, he will be the only back in league history to have two 2,000 yard seasons. There have been only 2 runners who have held these records at the same time. Both OJ Simpson and Jim Brown made the Hall of Fame along with Eric Dickerson. Peterson is already among that group. Another 2,000 yard season will cement it.

Next: Washington Redskins 2013 Preview

2013 Minnesota Vikings Preview – Quarterback Maturation Expected Now

Diagram of new stadium.

Diagram of the new stadium.

One of the big disappointments of last year’s football season was the Minnesota Vikings having to go into the playoffs without Christian Ponder. It was as though the wild card game against the Green Bay Packers was tantamount to a little league forfeit. Joe Webb couldn’t complete a pass and all the while left many NFL fans, especially Viking fans lamenting: What would have happened had Ponder played??

After all, this was a team that had won 5 of their last 7 including 4 in a row to make the playoffs. They had just outlasted those same Packers 37-34 in the finale, and we’d never know what momentum and tactical advantages they would have taken into the wild card game. Then to turn around and watch with abject horror as Colin Kaepernick destroyed the Packers defense in the divisional playoff. How could Vikings fans not feel empty?? Especially when the Vikings had beat down the 49ers 24-13 during the regular season.

Yet Christian Ponder made it to a golf tournament the next week?? Much like the situation with Jay Cutler in the 2010 NFC Championship, many felt he should have given an effort. To think that had the Vikings been able to make it past the Packers & 49ers, they would have had 2,000 yard rusher Adrian Peterson face the 24th ranked defense of the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship.

Jared Allen stepped up the pressure when he stated Ponder needs to be "the guy" for the Vikings to make the next move. Fans and others within the organization will follow that thinking.

Jared Allen stepped up the pressure when he stated Ponder needs to be “the guy” for the Vikings to make the next move. Fans and others within the organization will follow that thinking.

Quarterback: Coming into the 2013 season, few quarterbacks have more pressure on them to show improvement than Christian Ponder.  Some of it has to do with the antics surrounding his questionable absence in last year’s wild card loss. However the other reason is the Vikings trading away a Percy Harvin and signing a polished receiver in Greg Jennings, formerly of the Packers. With the emergence of Pro Bowl MVP in Tight End Kyle Rudolph, he now has weapons to take pressure off of the running game.

Sounds like a lot to ask from a player starting just his second season, but the bar has been raised with the stellar play of fellow NFC first year starters in Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III. Ponder didn’t have a bad season as he completed 300 of 483 passes (62.1%) for 2,935 yards, 18 touchdowns & 12 interceptions. Yet without the fan fare, he led his team to a 10-6 record but a truer perception was Peterson carried the team.

One aspect of his game is his mobility. He has quick feet which helps him on waggles, play action roll-outs, and when he needs to evade the rush. Last year he escaped the pocket 60 times for 263 yards and 2  touchdowns. In all actuality he grew from the late game mistakes on the road early last season and finished winning the last two to propel the Vikings into the playoffs. If he hadn’t thrown the late game interception against Washington last year, or been efficient in the 4th quarter against the Colts, this team could have been 12-4 and a first round bye. With improved weapons he may graduate to a playoff caliber team. We’ll wait ’til summer to anoint that. Right now the Vikings are average at quarterback.

It's time to compare Adrian Peterson with the all time greats and not just his contemporaries.

It’s time to compare Adrian Peterson with the all time greats and not just his contemporaries.

Offensive Backfield: Adrian Peterson…enough said. This is a Hall of Fame running back in his prime. Has there ever been a better season than his 2,097 yard 12 touchdown performance in 2012?? He averaged 6 yards per carry when defenses knew he was coming. That is obscene!! He broke breathtakingly long runs week after week as he showed a miraculous recovery from his devastating knee injury suffered in 2011.

Out of the backfield he caught 40 passes for 217 yards and another touchdown. Amazingly he isn’t even 28 yet and could possibly become the first runner in history to have a second 2,000 yard season. Already the record holder of the single season rushing record with a 296 yard performance, Eric Dickerson’s 2,105 is definitely in his sights. Toby Gerhart (50 car./169 yds /1 TD) spells Peterson for short yardage and is used as a blocker. No question are the Vikings Super Bowl caliber at the position.

Jennings move to the Vikings should spice the already heated rivalry with the Packers.

Jennings move to the Vikings should spice the already heated rivalry with the Packers.

Receivers: Let’s be honest Viking fans, when Percy Harvin was traded to Seattle: How many of you saw the Vikings pulling a coup and signing Greg Jennings from Green Bay?? Now to keep teams from doubling TE Kyle Rudolph, here comes arguably the most complete receiver in the NFC North over the last five years…well sort of.  Before his injury plagued 2012, Jennings averaged 68.8 receptions for 1,107 yards and 9.2 touchdowns per season between 2007-2011. He is versatile enough to play either the X or Z  receiver. Jennings is a crafty, quick receiver that excels in getting up the seems. Turning 30, he has at least 4 more years at his present production level.

To further the point of surrounding Ponder with the best available weapons, the Vikings spent a 1st round pick on Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee. Where he’ll pay immediate special teams dividends, Minnesota signed 5 other receivers to make sure Jennings has the right bookend when the season commences.

However the number one beneficiary from the departure of Harvin will be pro bowl tight end Kyle Rudolph. His production will rise above the 53 catches (493 yds/  9TDs) now the Vikings aren’t forcing underneath passes to Harvin. Look for a 90 catch season as they’re just scratching the surface with the 24 year old tight end out of Notre Dame. Along with Jennings and the stability of the running game with Adrian Peterson, this is a playoff caliber receiving corps. If Patterson develops, he can take the top off of the defense and this rating will go up. They did give him Randy Moss’ old jersey number too.

Offensive Line: After re-signing RT Phil Loadholt, the Vikings are bringing back an offensive line that had all five members play all 16 games in 2012. Although Peterson ran for more than 2,000 yards, how much was due to the line?? Did you know that last year in obvious power running situations (3rd/4th and 2 or less), the Vikings were 18th converting to the strong side (60%) and dead last or 32nd (36%) converting up the middle?? Did you know the Vikings were dead last in the NFL with negative rushing plays up the middle with 27?? Did you know they were also 7th in negative rushing plays to the strong side with 18?? Some improvement is needed here.

Keep in mind the Vikings drafted two Guards in later rounds, yet the incumbent Center and Guards, John Sullivan, Charlie Johnson,and Brandon Fusco may have some competition. All three were 6th round selections themselves. So there will be competition on the offensive line. Last year they ranked 11th in sacks allowed with 30 and 5th in hits on the quarterback with 64. However their inability to get push in obvious situations drops their rank to average. Many of Peterson’s best runs were bounce outs and second effort plays.

Jared Allen has been a force in the NFC North for several years.

Jared Allen has been a force in the NFC North for several years.

Defensive Line: Where have you gone Jared Allen?? Actually he hasn’t gone anywhere yet, but he is about to enter the last year of his contract.  One year removed from a 22 sack season, he followed that up with a 46  tackle, 12 sack performance. He was the focal point of every opponents blocking scheme, so a dip in production is understandable. Allen shows up in games at home as well as on the road. Case and point, when he beat Houston Texans’ All Pro and Pro Bowl Tackle Duane Brown for 2 sacks and incurred 2 penalties in a week 16 upset over the Texans on the road. Now he’s going to play for a new contract?? Watch out!!

With Allen as the focal point of the line, the Vikings can implement their first #1 draft pick in DT Shariff Floyd, without the pressure to “be the man” right away. This guy is a freakish athlete that can either learn at defensive tackle from 11 year vet Kevin Willams (31 tackles /2 sacks), or rotate with DT  Letroy Guion (31 tackles / 2 sacks). Imagine this 6’3 315 lbs. rookie known for his strength and quickness joining pass rushing DT Everson Griffen (8 sacks), DE Brian Robison (37 tackles / 8.5 sacks) along with Allen’s totals.

Although Robison and Allen are 30 and 31 respectively, Robison and Griffen are only 25 so they have a perfect blend of youth and experience. Keep in mind this group had 44 sacks last year. This number will go up this year. This is the re-birth of the Purple People Eaters and a Super Bowl caliber group.

Chad Greenway is the best linebacker in the NFC North and one of the best in the NFL.

Chad Greenway is the best linebacker in the NFC North and one of the best in the NFL.

Linebackers: Although Brian Urlacher retired from football, the best linebacker in the NFC North has been Chad Greenway for quite some time.  He is the equal to both Navorro Bowman and Patrick Willis in San Francisco. He’s actually a better linebacker than Willis and tracks down ball carriers and receivers from sideline to sideline. How can we say that?? Did you know over the last 3 years Greenway has averaged 147 tackles per year?? His 442 tackles dwarf Willis 353 in that exact same time frame.

The only knock on Greenway is he doesn’t force as many turnovers as the celebrated San Francisco duo. He recovered 2 fumbles during his 146 tackle, 3 sack, 1 interception 2012 campaign.  He is beginning to get the recognition he deserves nationally. However here at Taylor Blitz Times he’s been lauded as one of the premiere linebackers in football.

The other two linebackers are Jasper Brinkley ( 87 tackles / 3 forced fumbles) and Erin Henderson (79 tackles / 3 sacks / 1 forced fumble) are solid but may see some competition this summer. When management steps out and drafts two players at your position. They’re looking to push you and add to special teams quality. Fourth round selection Gerald Hodges and seventh rounder Michael Mauti are both from Penn St. This is an average group that may be playoff worthy behind a dominant rush.

White men can't jump huh?? Think again. Harrison Smith is a true talent at Free Safety. He should make the Pro Bowl in his second season easily.

White men can’t jump huh?? Think again. Harrison Smith is a true talent at Free Safety. He should make the Pro Bowl in his second season easily.

Secondary: The Vikings are hoping to strike gold, like they did with the success of FS Harrison Smith in the drafting of 1st round CB Xavier Rhodes.  Last year Smith showed range and had a good rookie season with 97 tackles, 11 passes defensed, along with 3 interceptions and two of those returned for touchdowns. In another year, those are Pro Bowl numbers. He should grab about 8 interceptions in 2013. At 6’2, 213 lbs, he has the range of the safeties from the golden era of the 1980s. Very angular with long arms, he is hard to throw over. For comparisons sake, future Hall of Famer Ed Reed had 85 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 12 passes defensed in his rookie years. Look out this might be the best Viking FS since Paul Krause.

Drafting Rhodes in the first round means they will plug him into the lineup right away. Don’t forget Head Coach Leslie Frazier is a defensive back coach at heart. Rhodes acquisition spelled the end for long time Viking Antoine Winfield.  In comes a 6’1 210 lbs corner that runs a 4.43 40. He’s physical in press coverage and he better decide to tackle against the run. Winfield was the second leading tackler on the team. If CB Josh Robinson ( 52 tackles / 2 interceptions) can improve, this is a playoff caliber group. Behind this pass rush they may be better than that by season’s end.

Head Coach Leslie Frazier may not be too far from an NFC Championship appearance. If Ponder can show some improvement..... hmmm??

Head Coach Leslie Frazier may not be too far from an NFC Championship appearance. If Ponder can show some improvement….. hmmm??

Overall: This team is the NFC version of the Kansas City Chiefs. No other team has put a team together where the quarterback just has to play adequately, and the playoffs are a reality. If Ponder can show the same improvement he did over the last two seasons, this team could crash the NFC Championship Game if Atlanta or Seattle stumbles.

They fit the formula of the modern day league champion. Young quarterback without a team crippling contract, a young improving defense with two players who are front runners as Taylor Blitz Times Defensive Player of the Year candidates. Now they have a receiving corps to take pressure off of future Hall of fame running back Adrian Peterson.

This team is equipped to win the NFC North and should do so with Ponder developing his quarterbacking skills. This year he has to read the defense instead of leaning on crossing routes to Percy Harvin. Throwing to Harvin was stunting his growth from a reading the defense and progression standpoint. They have given him a quality receiver while drafting another who can get deep. He should have some options. As Ponder goes….so goes the Viking season. This team is loaded with few holes.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

NEXT: 2013 Chicago Bears Preview.

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!