The 2012 Minnesota Vikings season turned out to be an unexpectedly good one for fans of the team. After finishing 2010 with a record of 6-10 and 2011 with a 3-13 record fans of the Vikings, those who cover the team and those who cover the NFL surely never saw them finishing 10-6 and going to the playoffs in 2012 but that is exactly what happened.
What brought on this dramatic seven-win turnaround? That question can be answered mostly with one name: Adrian Peterson. The superstar running back who badly injured a knee in game 15 of the 2011 season dedicated his off-season to healing and rehabilitating that surgically repaired knee. Peterson was on the field for opening day against Jacksonville and came within eight yards of breaking Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record of 2,105.
It isn't exaggeration to say that Adrian Peterson put the Vikings on his back and carried them to the playoffs.
The rest of the Vikings offense showed some signs of improvement but overall, the passing game still needs some work. Tight end Kyle Rudolph became a favorite target for quarterback Christian Ponder early in the season. Rookie wide receiver Jarious Wright showed promise late in the season as a potential speedy deep threat. Percy Harvin was having a terrific season too until an ankle injury ended his 2012 season with four regular season games remaining. More on Harvin later.
Ponder, while not spectacular, was at his best when he simply took care of the football, got what he could from the passing game and ran for first downs when those opportunities revealed themselves. Ponder ran into plenty of trouble in 2012 when he would try to do too much and ended up turning the ball over. Basically the Vikings were the most successful when Ponder and the passing game were just good enough to take some heat off of Peterson.
Rookie placekicker Blair Walsh was virtually a kicking machine for the Vikings in 2012. Walsh was a perfect 36 for 36 on PATs, scored 141 points, only missed three field goals all season and made a whopping ten field goals of 50 yards or longer.
The Vikings defense improved a great deal in 2012. The biggest question marks on defense going into the season for the Vikings were clearly in the secondary. Rookie safety Harrison Smith added speed and grit to that position and had a terrific season. Safety Jamarca Sanford grew up and became a reliable player as well. Cornerbacks Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook and rookie Josh Robinson all played well most of the season too. As expected the defensive line and linebackers held up and played well.
So, with a seven game improvement now behind them where do the Vikings still need to make strides in 2013? The offensive line was a big part of the team's improvement in 2012 but the Vikings still have a gaping hole at right guard. They should be able to fill that hole through either free agency or the draft. Offensively the biggest questions and needs lie in the wide receiver corps. Only Percy Harvin had anything close to a standout season until it was cut short. Jarious Wright showed he may be viable as a deep threat in the future but the Vikings should look to acquire a veteran wide receiver during the off-season.
The biggest question that needs to be answered on the offensive side for the Vikings is the status of Percy Harvin. His talent level is that of a superstar. On pretty much every other NFL team, Harvin would be hands down the most talented offensive player on that team. In Minnesota he is second behind Adrian Peterson and the 2012 season made that crystal clear. There are legitimate questions about whether or not the ankle injury that ended Harvin's season was serious enough to warrant placing him on injured reserve as the Vikings did, or, as many have speculated if Harvin had actually become a liability in the locker room.
The Vikings need to find out once and for all if Percy Harvin is committed to his role with the Vikings, whether he wants to play for them or not and whether Harvin is willing to do the kind of hard work, both on the field and off, that Adrian Peterson has to help the Vikings continue to improve.
Defensively the Vikings, if Antoine Winfield returns, will have six starters over the age of 30, including the entire starting defensive line. The front-office and coaching staff did well revamping the defense, particularly the secondary, during the 2012 off-season but not so well that they can focus solely on the offensive side of the ball though during the 2013 off-season.