2016 Was A Cruel Teacher
Question of the Week: The 2016 Minnesota Vikings season left plenty of lessons learned.
The 2016 Minnesota Vikings season has mercifully ended in a way that accurately illustrates just how things have went: The Vikings put on a promising show at home against Chicago, but the crowd couldn’t help but watch the sideshow spectacle dangling from above.
Every season leaves us, as writers and as fans, with plenty of lessons learned. Or at least lessons we think we learned. This roller coaster ride of a season has left many of us wondering what exactly went wrong, to what extent each individual shred of craziness is responsible for the .500 record, and if this season was simply filled with Vikings-specific flukes or if there are lessons to be learned.
This desperate attempt to answer these interweaving webs of questions is probably a futile effort, but I posed the question to our group here at Vikings Territory regardless. Check out what they had to say.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
As a fan and writer, what lessons (if any) has the 2016 disaster of a season taught you?
This is quite honestly the toughest question I’ve been asked in recent memory. There are a dozen ways to attack this, but none satisfying. I’d love to wrap this up in one big, cogent lesson that we can all learn from and carry with us going forward, but life doesn’t work like that. Maybe with the passing of time things will make more sense, but not yet.
So instead, here’s a random thought-dump on the 2016 Vikings season. Some of this stuff we already knew, but was (painfully) confirmed this year. Others are lessons I was recently taught. In no particular order:
- The offensive line is the second most important facet of an offense, next to quarterback.
Zimmer may be a great coach, or he may just be good. In 2017, we will find out which one.
- Regardless of the final record, Spielman made the right call trading for Bradford. He gave the team a chance to go to the playoffs, which, for much of the year, it looked like they would. The team did not have that chance with Shaun Hill. Those pointing to the way the team finished, and discrediting the trade because of it, are being revisionist.
- The Vikings theoretically have 2 above average quarterbacks heading into 2017. That is a good thing, not a bad one.
- The defense is missing something. It performed average more than it did excellent this season. They have the talent, and the coaching…I don’t know what it is, but they’re missing something.
- Adam Thielen is for real, and really good.
- An injured punt returner can cost the team games. It cost the 2016 Vikings two.
- Danielle Hunter will be one of the best defensive ends in football before long.
Well, as every season seems to, this Vikings season proved once again to expect absolutely nothing no matter how many wins this team has. Nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen.
I was excited when this team began the year 5-0, but I knew not to get too excited because this is the Vikings we are talking about. The same franchise that has broken the hearts of their fans time and time again and continues to find new ways to do so each season.
This season more than any has taught me to be honest with myself. As a fan, I like to find the positives in everything the team does, from the trade for Sam Bradford to the first round selection of Laquon Treadwell. But as a writer, I have to be more objective behind the computer than I would be watching the game on my couch.
So, what have I learned?
That a front office, no matter my personal feelings, is going to make mistakes we can’t ignore. That 5-0 start felt great, even more so with the praise heaped on the team by national media outlets. I foolishly — or purposely — ignored the major issues of the team at the time, most notably, the absence of an offensive line or running game. Those issues manifested themselves in the Vikings’ slide into mediocrity, and had I acknowledged them before, I wouldn’t be so disappointed now.
Honestly, I’m still digesting what happened this season. I think Sam did a great job breaking down some key eye-openers this season, but for me, there are two things that really jump out:
1. Teddy Bridgewater’s mobility in the pocket was extremely underrated last season, and it was honestly something that I took for granted.
2. Mike Zimmer still has a lot to learn about being a head coach. Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge, huge fan of Zimmer; I wish he was my grandpa. But, I think his personality, while critical to his coaching style, also makes certain areas of the job difficult for him . For example, it’s no secret that the Vikings struggle coming out of the bye week — one may even argue that the bye week killed the 2016 season — and I can’t help but put some of the blame on Zimmer because he’s a “tough love” motivator, as opposed to a guy like Pete Carroll, who just gets you fired up by talking a mile a minute, which, at least in my head, makes better sense with regard to getting a team back down to business coming off a “vacation.” Point being here, Zimmer has done a lot of great things through three years, but there is definitely room for improvement, and I fully expect him to spend a lot of time attempting to identify his coaching weaknesses this offseason.
If you ask me this same question again in a month, I’ll probably have a list of 20 or 30 things because I think you can learn something new on every single play — let alone every day or week.
For me, I’m still in the denial stage, so my list stands at two for now.
I’ve always believed that injuries can make or break a team. That the teams lucky enough to stay healthy enough are likely to be the ones that make it to the playoffs. Those of you around here know that I’m a huge fan of drafting the best prospects available, mostly disregarding position, as depth is about as important as the talent within your starting lineup.
Still, despite my stubborn analysis of roster construction in each offseason, I’m left looking at the Vikings Week 17 roster with the same feeling in my gut that I had after watching the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan for the first time. Most of them are gone, the remaining seem sparse and scattered, and I can’t remember a Vikings team in history that suffered the jarring volume of serious injury that this year’s squad did.
Now, I’m not making excuses for some of what we saw this season on the field. The defense wasn’t shredded by injury as much as every other section of this depth chart, and there is no excuse for their inconsistent play in the second half of this season.
However, to answer my own question, I learned that the injury report is even more important than I previously believed it to be. The paper roster becomes toilet paper once the pads go on in August, and so very much of our analysis becomes trash once the injuries start piling up as the season goes on.
It isn’t fun to admit, and it isn’t entertaining, but injuries have become the easiest way to take a team’s temperature by the end of September.