By Lucas McMillan
The Minnesota Vikings have been one of the most pleasant surprises in the NFL this season, rolling to a 4-1 record and tied for first in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears. The Green Bay Packers, projected to run away with this division, are a paltry 2-3. So what is the Vikings secret sauce, and what can they do to continue their winning ways?
Well, the answer is pretty simple, and it’s an answer that the San Francisco 49ers discovered last season: stop turning the ball over and good things happen. Christian Ponder, who before Sunday had not thrown an interception, has dramatically increased the quality of his play at quarterback, completing an astonishing 69 percent of his passes while tossing six touchdowns and only two interceptions, both coming Sunday.
The offense has kept things simple, relying on a heavy dose of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhardt running the ball coupled with quick slants and screens to dynamic wideout Percy Harvin. Harvin has been sensational this season, catching 38 passes through the first five games for 407 yards. He caught a touchdown and even rushed for one in Sunday’s 30-7 blowout of the Tennessee Titans.
The Vikings defense has also locked things down, allowing an average of 78.6 rushing yards per game, sixth best in the NFL, while allowing 225.6 passing yards per game, 14th best in the league.
The Vikings secondary is traditionally its greatest weakness, so even being ranked in the middle of the pack in pass defense marks a great improvement to Minnesota’s overall defensive performance. Their signature win this season was a dramatic 24-13 victory over the San Francisco 49ers, a game that could end up defining this season as one of hope and progress for a team that many expected to be among the NFL’s worst.
However, the good times might be over for the Vikings soon, at least schedule wise. They hit the road at Washington next week, though that game suddenly looks a lot less scary with the concussion of RGIII this past week. Kirk Cousins, his rookie replacement, threw two terrible interceptions to seal the Redskins fate against Atlanta.
They then get the Arizona Cardinals at home, another team that has shocked the NFL with their success this season, and then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both of those games, while tough, are certainly winnable. They then face the Seahawks and Lions again, another two very winnable games. Then things take a turn for the worse.
The toughest stretch of the season for the Vikings comes at the end. Here are the last six games of the season for the Vikes, in order: at Chicago, at Green Bay, Chicago at home, at St. Louis, at Houston, Green Bay at home. That is an absolutely terrible stretch run, but if they can keep playing solid defense and produce solid offensive outputs, they could hang in a few of those games. Green Bay, for instance, has never looked more vulnerable, and a win over the Rams is certainly not out of the question. The Bears are going to be very tough, but if the Vikes can emerge from that final six game stretch 3-3 or even 2-4 against those teams, they may have a legitimate shot at a wild card spot. There’s no reason this scrappy team can’t finish 9-7, or even 10-6.
Several years back, flashy offenses and Swiss cheese-like defenses were the norm. The Colts and Saints met in the Super Bowl, two teams that scored in bunches and couldn’t stop you or I from rushing for 100 yards. However, old school football is making a comeback in the NFL, and finding that it works just as well as it used to.
From the tough defense of San Fran to the grind it out approach of the Vikings, teams are proving that a conservative approach to football can still find success in the league. As long as the Vikes can play solid defense and limit their mistakes on offense, they will be better than two-thirds of the NFL. They may have been projected to be one of the worst teams in the league, but there’s no reason to think they can’t claim a playoff spot if they stick to this tried and true formula.
Lucas McMillan is a writer for FootballSchedule.me. To checkout the week-by-week Vikings schedule as well as the latest NFL and college football news, visit Football Schedule. Follow Football Schedule on Facebook and Twitter @FBSchedule.