Sunday, December 28, 2014

Notebook: Vikings pick up a much-needed 13-9 win to close the season

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The Vikings managed to secure their first divisional win during a low-scoring contest with the Chicago Bears. Daniel House analyzes every angle of the Vikings 13-9 win and looks ahead to the offseason.

Updated: December 28th, 2014 4:47pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings ended the season with their first divisional win under head coach Mike Zimmer. In a low scoring affair, the offense managed to score when necessary and the defense stood tall. The secondary held the Bears to just 172 passing yards and second-tier players were able to step up. Linebacker Audie Cole led the team in tackles and was flying all over the field. Wide receiver Adam Thielen hauled in his first receiving touchdown of his NFL career and Teddy Bridgewater continued to prove that he will be a part of this team's future. There was definitely a fair share of mistakes and sloppy moments, but the Vikings managed to finish the game with a 13-9 win over an ailing Bears squad. This was a great win to show this team what it feels like to finish contests within the division. With a young squad that entered the year with a new coaching staff, a rookie quarterback, a young roster, and the drama surrounding losing the best running back in the game, the Vikings proved that finishing 7-9 is only a sign of better things to come.

Bridgewater enters the offseason with confidence
Teddy Bridgewater exceeded expectations in his rookie season and ended the year with another solid performance. He finished the day 17-for-25 with 209 yards, a touchdown, and one interception. Bridgewater has shown growth as a decision maker and this has arguably been his more significant change as a quarterback in this league. He ran the ball six times for 18 yards, including a key 14-yard scamper that put the game on ice. Teddy is learning when to throw the ball away and more importantly, how to extend plays with his legs. Bridgewater was able to connect with Adam Thielen on a 44-yard score and his lone interception came when Cordarelle Patterson dropped a pass that tipped into the air and was swiped by Kyle Fuller. Teddy Bridgewater completed over 72% of his passes in the Vikings final five games and four of those contests were against top-ten defenses. It is certain that for the first time in many seasons, the Vikings are able to head into the offseason with total confidence in a young quarterback.

Asiata continues to be the road grader
Matt Asiata corralled his longest run of the season (19 yards) and continued to run with a head of steam between the tackles. He carried the ball 19 times for 91 yards and was averaging almost five yards per carry. Asiata couldn't reach the end zone when the Vikings were on the two-yard line late in the game and a turnover on downs gave the Bears a chance with limited time remaining. Nonetheless, he continues to run hard and his ability to be an option in the passing game may be one of his most underrated aspects. He will be a restricted free agent this offseason and the Vikings have a decision to make about the future of Matt Asiata.

Thielen scores his first receiving touchdown
Adam Thielen hauled in his first career receiving touchdown and he has proven how unheralded talents can rise to the top. He ran a simple go route off the line of scrimmage and was able to edge into the crease of the defense. Bridgewater lofted the ball over the top of the defense, hitting him in stride for a 44-yard score. Thielen led the team with three catches for 68 yards and his touchdown was one of the limited sparks that came from the Vikings offense. Greg Jennings nearly hauled in a touchdown early in the game, but he couldn't snatch the pass in the back of the end zone. Jennings added three catches for 45 yards and his smooth route running ability has been a huge asset when the Vikings are looking to move the chains.

Offensive Line has time to get healthy
The Vikings offensive line is playing the best they can for the amount of injuries that have occurred this season. Today, they allowed three sacks, all of which came during inopportune situations. Mike Harris was beaten and John Sullivan actually argued a holding call where he literally grabbed skin. The offensive line is going to be the center piece of offseason discussions and if the Vikings want to see growth on offense, they need to eliminate the amount of unforced pressures that occur. When they get healthy and add pieces through the draft and free agency, they can improve this group as a whole. Teddy Bridgewater and the running game both performed well this season, even with the offensive line struggles. Just imagine the steps this team can take when the group is healthy and some more horses are added to the stable.

Defensive Line pressure not heavy at times
There were moments of this game where the Vikings defensive line left Jay Cutler completely unscathed. They were able to reach Cutler more in the second half, but sacked him just twice on the day. This led to Cutler being able to extend more plays and find receivers that were able to gain separation later in the process of the route. After starting strong this season, the Vikings defensive line hit a wall during the last five games. They need improve on staying more consistent and gaining more pressure during every moment of the game. Injuries and the length of season are part of these issues, but the Vikings need to add more depth at this position to keep the legs fresh. You have to like the progression this group made and despite struggling to reach the quarterback today, they made the key plays during the critical stages of the game.

Audie Cole is flying all over the field
Audie Cole had a solid game and his ability to step in when injuries plagued the linebacker corps is extremely impressive. He was all over the field and led the team with 14 total tackles. Cole was using the communication device and there didn't appear to be as many miscommunications in alignments this week. He showed some growth in coverage and added a pass defensed in the second half. Cole will be a name that is discussed over the offseason and many wonder if he will replace Chad Greenway next season. He left a great taste in the coaching staff's mouth and his ability to tackle and make plays in coverage are all attributes that will help his cause.

Secondary maintains against size difference
In the previous matchup against Chicago, the Bears exploited Josh Robinson's size disadvantage and targeted him a whopping 15 times. Today, he didn't allow a catch, but wasn't handling both Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. Rhodes was shadowing Jeffery and with Marshall out, Robinson was left to handle Marquess Wilson. The Vikings secondary allowed just 172 passing yards and the defense as a whole kept the Bears out of the end zone. Mike Zimmer drastically improved the Vikings secondary and their growth as a group is one of the positive areas you can be pleased with entering the offseason.

Sendejo continues to perform, but misses opportunity 
Andrew Sendejo started over Robert Blanton and his physical presence continues to be a nice compliment to Harrison Smith. He notched nine tackles and his ability to blitz off the edge and stay home in run support are both attributes that will make the coaching staff strongly consider his future with this team. He did drop an interception in the first half and he needs to be a playmaker if he wants to spend time as the starting safety next season.

Walsh connects when necessary 
Blair Walsh will be entering the offseason with confidence after he nailed two field goals from 37 and 44 yards out. He made these kicks outdoors and after going through a rough patch, he managed to recover nicely over the final two contests of the season.

Thanks for another great season of coverage at Vikings Corner! It is sure to be an exciting offseason with plenty of speculation regarding your favorite team. We look forward to continuing to grow as website as we enter 2015. We couldn't do it without all of your support and it is truly appreciated.

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