I realize it is mid-July and the dog days of summer are still ahead of us. Yet, with training camp opening a week from today, we’re approaching the 2014 season rapidly.
There are a lot of new faces with the Vikings entering this season. Coupled with a nearly entirely new coaching staff, the Vikings have a slew of new draftees and free agents added to mix.
Adding to that is the transition from playing inside the former Metrodome to an outdoor field at TCF Bank Stadium. Although the Vikings spent two decades playing outdoors in the 60s and 70s, the thought of bearing the winter elements for the next two seasons provide reasons for concerns.
There aren’t many examples of teams who have traditionally played indoors only to move outdoors for the construction of a new stadium. This is likely because most teams don’t construct the new stadium in the exact same location of the previous stadium. The closest example I can think of is when the University of Minnesota moved from the Metrodome to TCF Bank Stadium. That comparison seems unfair, though, because the Gopher program was terrible at the time.
Because there is little historical precedence for comparison, it is difficult to gauge how well the Vikings will make the transition outdoors. We can however, look at their performance in outdoor stadiums over the last handful of years.
Generally speaking, the Vikings have struggled when playing in outdoor stadiums posting a 2-14-1 record during the 2011-2013 seasons when playing in open air. There is no doubt the Vikings are a better team at home than on the road, however, you have to wonder how they will fair after the leaving the comfort of dome.
The Vikings do have some advantages when looking to play outdoors, however.
Firstly, this is still very much Adrian Peterson’s run first football team. A team that is designed to excel in running the ball with power will find more success playing in the Minnesota climate than trying to play a finesse offense.
I realize this seems counter intuitive when we’ve watched teams like Green Bay, Chicago, Denver and New England thrive outdoors in similar climates. However, I think it’s safe to say that the running game is important to those teams as it is to the Vikings. There is a reason the Packers have drafted a handful of running backs recently (including 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year Eddie Lacy) and power running back LeGarrette Blount had such an impact on New England’s run in the playoffs last year.
When the wind is blowing or the temperatures dive into single digits, there is nothing better than having a trusted running back to help move the chains.
Most Viking fans remember how poorly the first Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium went. The Vikings were dominated by the Chicago Bears on turf so frozen it essentially ended Brett Favre’s career. Thankfully the Vikings and University of Minnesota agreed to add technology that would heat the field and keep the turf clean and forgiving.
This should come as a relief for a team who has a workhorse running back who will soon be turning 30 years old.
Something that might be over looked that could certainly be used to the advantage of the Vikings is the fact that teams will likely not be able to strategize against kick returner and do it all wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. When playing in the Metrodome, teams eventually stopped kicking it to Patterson, opting to boom it through the back of the end zone.
Viking fans should be hopeful that the elements make this strategy more difficult to employ. One would think it would be difficult for a team to kick the ball out of the back of the end zone with the wind and temperatures that will likely come hand in hand with TCF Bank Stadium. As we’ve seen, Patterson isn’t afraid to take the ball out from 9 yards deep.
Speaking of Patterson, and the other wide receivers on the roster, they seem to all excel at making plays after the reception and are great at amassing yards after the catch. Essentially this means if the weather is horrid, the offense won’t have to rely on deep passes for big gains.
There is something to be said about the mentality of a team playing outdoors, as well. Head Coach Mike Zimmer is on record saying his defense will be geared to stop the run.
“That’s because we’re going to play the run,” Zimmer told KFAN.com. “It’s just what I believe in.”
Looking at the moves the Vikings have made in free agency and the draft, an aggressive and physical front seven will help enforce this mentality.
My final note that I believe suits the Vikings well for playing out doors is the quarterback. I do believe Matt Cassel will start the season behind center. Although everyone is eager to see Teddy Bridgewater in action, Cassel presents a very nice option for the team to rely on. Cassel has the type of arm strength that will thrive in an outdoor environment where extra zip on passes might be necessary to combat the elements.
Cassel obviously played outdoors in both Kansas City and New England and had arguably one of his best seasons of his career while playing in the cold weather in New England. Notably, Cassel posted a 105.1 QB rating while playing at Buffalo in late December.
Because of all of this, I think the Vikings are poised to become the type of team that can have success while playing in cold environment where the weather can be bipolar. If they can prove to be true to their identity of a hard nosed team who runs the ball with power and uses the pass wisely, they can prove to be equally dangerous offensively no matter the environment. I think playing outdoors will only help our defense, and will allow us to embrace the type of intense mentality Zimmer is installing.
In the meantime, I’m looking for a Vikings jersey lined with a fleece hoodie. The team might have to embrace the cold weather, but I’m not going to.