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Vikings have decisions ahead at quarterback
The Minnesota Vikings led the league in defense, overachieved on offense, reached 13 regular-season wins for only the second time in franchise history and won a playoff game for the first time in eight years. All with backup quarterback Case Keenum playing all but six quarters.
However, their playoff exit - a 38-7 beatdown at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game was disconcerting, and their future is uncertain at two key spots - offensive coordinator and quarterback. Pat Shurmur has moved on to become head coach of the Giants, while Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater all head into the offseason as pending free agents. Picking a coordinator and a quarterback who won't overly burden the salary cap will be the first orders of business for a team that has 18 of 22 starters under contract for next season.
Defensively, every starter is under contract except 33-year-old tackle Tom Johnson. Depth on the interior line and another cornerback are needed. Offensively, even if 35-year-old right guard Joe Berger doesn't retire, the team needs to bolster the line with young talent via the draft. From a coaching standpoint, Mike Zimmer will need to self-scout to see if schematic changes are necessary after such a dominant regular season ended with his defense giving up 55 points in the final six quarters of the playoffs.
On special teams, kicker Kai Forbath is a pending free agent. He struggled with extra points early in the season, but rebounded and provided some comfort down the stretch.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Offseason moves to add quality and depth to a decimated offensive line was at the root of the team's turnaround. A competent line enabled offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to stay balanced and unpredictable even after losing Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook. And that enabled head coach Mike Zimmer's defense to stay fresh and dominant up until the NFC Championship Game. With only two defensive starters missing a total of three games due to injuries, the Vikings had the top-ranked defense in yards, points and third-down conversions allowed.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Everything except the opening drive in the 38-7 NFC title game loss at Philadelphia went wrong. So, even after a 14-4 season that saw them win a playoff game for the first time in eight years, the Vikings are left to deal with the 38 unanswered points that the Eagles laid on them with the franchise's first Super Bowl in 41 years within reach. The team lacked energy and was a step behind the Eagles. Was that a matter of just being on the road and hung over from the "Minneapolis Miracle" victory over the Saints the week before? Or was it something the Eagles' coaching staff saw, exploited and have laid out for future teams? We'll find out next year.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Receiver Michael Floyd, the Minnesota native who was returning home to get his career and life back in order, had an outstanding training camp. He appeared to be set to become the big receiver the Vikings needed in their offense. But he never amounted to much after returning from his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. He played in only 11 games with one start and caught 10 balls for 78 yards.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Center Pat Elflein looked sturdy and NFL ready-made from Day 1 despite being a third-round draft pick. He became the first rookie to start at center in Week 1 since Mick Tingelhoff in 1962. Elflein, who missed two games because of injuries, was a strong, athletic blocker and a solidifying force on a line that went from No. 1 weakness a year ago to a team strength this season.
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: One assistant coach, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, rose so quickly that he's now head coach of the Giants. The next assistant to rise could be quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski. He is the longest tenured coach on the staff, having survived two head coaching changes since Brad Childress hired him in 2006. Stefanski will be considered as Shurmur's replacement. He's never been a coordinator.