It’s somewhat early to have a bye week, but isn’t the worst time for the Vikings (2-2), who will return to action by hosting Kansas City at noon (CT) Oct. 18.
Here’s a quick glance at nine storylines down the 2015 stretch.
Teddy Bridgewater’s next step? Bridgewater has completed the equivalent of on NFL season, and the Vikings are 8-8 in those contests but are encouraged by multiple aspects of his performances. Bridgewater finished the 2014 strong and near the top of the league in multiple categories for the month of December. He heated up as the temperature dropped, which will be important again with the Vikings having three home games this December.
Can consistent protection develop?Bridgewater has taken 13 sacks this season, with 12 combined in two road losses and one combined in two home victories. Sacks are a function of a breakdown in the entire protection system and preventing them is a shared responsibility for receivers to win matchups early, quarterbacks to be quickly decisive and offensive lineman to handle some of the freakiest athletes in the world for enough time. Tight ends and running backs, however, also have responsibility for helping the Vikings offensive line that has one starter from 2014 in the same position this season. The group’s leader John Sullivan will be eligible to return to action after Week 8, pending his recovery from back surgery.
Peterson’s production: It’s a small sample size, with Adrian Peterson having played in four games at age 30, but the running back had the most rushing yards in the NFL (372). He’s had three straight weeks with a reception or rush that’s gained at least 40 yards, showing he’s still got breakaway speed byhitting 21.89 mph on a 48-yard TD run at Denver. What will his pursuit of another rushing title do for the Vikings?
Depth at receiver: The Vikings kept six receivers during the final roster reductions and were rewarded for doing so against the Broncos. WithCharles Johnson out and Jarius Wrighthampered because of injuries,Mike Wallace, Adam Thielen,Stefon Diggs and Cordarrelle Pattersoncombined for 21 catches. It was the sixth time ever for Vikings receivers to have that many receptions in a road game, and they did so against a secondary with three Pro Bowl selections from a year ago. It will be interesting to see how Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner involves receivers going forward.
Disruptive defensive line: Many of the most successful years in franchise history have included dominant defensive line play. The Vikings are off to a solid start with 8.0 sacks this season. Beyond that category, however, coaches have tallied 58 quarterback hurries, and linemen have also recorded five passes defensed at the line of scrimmage. Keeping up the pressure will be important with some imposing passers looming.
The Barr-Kendricks dynamic: Receiver and linebacker are two position groups where they believe depth is particularly strong. That was evident in General Manager Rick Spielman’s decision to trade Gerald Hodges, who started the first three games of the season, for rookie center Nick Easton and a 2016 sixth-round pick from San Francisco. Part of the decision was influenced by the emerging play ofEric Kendricks, who already was starting in the nickel. Kendricks and Anthony Barr were dynamic at UCLA and could be for years to come for the Vikings. Kendricks recorded his first career sack, and Barr nabbed his first career interception against Peyton Manning.
Searching for solidarity at safety: The Vikings have one of the most versatile and impactful playmakers inHarrison Smith at one safety spot, but continue to consider options opposite the fourth-year pro. Head Coach Mike Zimmer said he doesn’t want splashes of flashy plays at the post. He wants solid play after solid play. Andrew Sendejowon the starting job out of camp but suffered a knee injury against San Diego that sidelined him for the Denver game.Robert Blanton filled in for Sendejo in Week 4, but Zimmer said the Vikings are evaluating options during the bye.
The good and not-so-good of special teams so far: The Vikings lead the NFL in punt return average allowed, a paltry 0.8 yards per return (four yards on five returns). Punter Jeff Locke and the coverage teams have worked in unison to take away potential threats. Marcus Sherels, meanwhile, is averaging 10.3 yards per punt return for the Vikings, which is 10th in the NFL. Kicker Blair Walsh has been booming on kickoffs, but is 6-for-8 on field goals and 8-for-9 on points after touchdowns. Walsh has received support from Zimmer and Spielman, who are confident in their kicker.
Can Vikings stay in top 10 in turnover margin? The Vikings are plus-four in turnover margin through four games, which is tied for sixth in the NFL. The Vikings have four interceptions and four fumble recoveries and have committed two of each. The combined record of the eight teams that are plus-four or better in turnover margin is 25-7 through Week 4.