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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Patterson, Thielen exceeding expectations; Barr, McKinnon need to do more

By Judd Zulgad

The Vikings opened training camp in the late July heat in Mankato. They overcame the loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater just before the regular season, and then saw Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson sidelined by a knee injury in Week 2.

Despite the adversity, the Vikings got off to a 5-0 start that took them into the bye week. Minnesota then lost its first four coming out of the break – offensive coordinator Norv Turner stepped down in early November after a loss in Chicago — before finally getting a victory last Sunday against Arizona at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The Vikings now sit at 6-4, tied with Detroit for first place in the NFC North, and will face the Lions on Thanksgiving Day in Ford Field.

The Vikings would take a one-game lead in the division with a victory. A Detroit victory would give the Lions what would amount to a two-game lead because the Lions would own the head-to-head tiebreaker with two wins over the Vikings.

Ten games into this season there are many ways to assess the Vikings. One is to look at three players who have exceeded expectations and three who haven’t lived up to what was expected of them.

Here’s the list:

THUMBS UP

Sam Bradford

When Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury on Aug. 30, the Vikings appeared to be in dire straits at the quarterback position. Should Minnesota start 36-year-old backup Shaun Hill or go dumpster diving for another non-starting caliber QB?

General manager Rick Spielman had other ideas and surprised everyone when he acquired Bradford from Philadelphia eight days before the Vikings opened the regular season in Tennessee. The trade cost the Vikings a first-round draft pick in 2017 and a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018, but it also might have landed Minnesota the type of franchise quarterback it had been trying to find for many years.

Playing behind an injury-riddled and often-ineffective offensive line, and with little to no run game to support him, Bradford has exceeded expectations.

He stepped into the starting role in Week 2 and has thrown for 2,191 yards with 12 touchdowns, only two interceptions and a 99.8 passer rating. Bradford, 29, has been sacked 26 times, the fourth-most in the NFL.

The Vikings’ offense has a multitude of problems – they are last in the league in yards – but Bradford isn’t one of them.

Cordarrelle Patterson

The Vikings had soured so badly on Patterson by last spring that they declined to pick up the fifth-year option on the wide receiver’s rookie contract. That would have paid him $7.9 million in 2017.

The decision came on the same day that the Vikings exercised the options on the rookie deals of defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes, the other two members of Minnesota’s first-round class in 2013.

Perhaps that is what caused Patterson to finally start applying himself during the offseason as he worked on his route running. Or maybe it was Bradford who told the coaching staff that failing to use the play-making Patterson made little sense.

Whatever the case, Patterson has 34 receptions for 309 yards and two touchdowns. He has caught three or more passes in every game since Week 4. This comes one season after Patterson was all but eliminated from the offense by Turner. Patterson’s inability to run the proper routes resulted in him being targeted twice in 16 games. He caught both passes for a grand total of 10 yards.

This meant that Patterson stayed on the roster only because he remained a threat on kickoff returns. Patterson is still dangerous when he returns kicks – he took one back 104 yards for a touchdown on Sunday – but he also is again contributing on offense just like during his rookie year.

The Vikings are the beneficiaries of that this season, but Patterson could look for a long-term deal elsewhere in 2017.

Adam Thielen

Following the Vikings’ victory over Arizona last Sunday, Bradford was asked if he had heard of Thielen before arriving in Minnesota.

“Can I choose not to answer that one?” Bradford said.

Don’t feel bad, Sam. There are plenty of people who likely weren’t aware of Thielen until this season. Signed as an undrafted free agent from Division II Minnesota State (Mankato) in 2013, the wide receiver has had his catch total increase from eight in 2014, to 12 in 2015, to 37 and counting this year.

Thielen is second on the Vikings in receiving yards with 518 – Stefon Diggs leads with 747 yards – and has three touchdowns. Thielen and Bradford have developed a definite chemistry and if a pass is anywhere near Thielen odds are good he’s going to catch it.

Not bad for a guy who spent 2013 on the practice squad and likely was expected to make his biggest contribution playing on special teams.

THUMBS DOWN

Anthony Barr

The Vikings coaching staff has gone out of its way to tell us that Barr’s play has not dropped off this season but the eye test says something isn’t right with the linebacker.

The ninth-overall pick in the 2009 draft, Barr was considered, at one point, to be the most important player on this defense because of his ability to move around the field and provide different looks that could confuse offenses.

Barr was named to the Pro Bowl last season after recording 80 tackles, 3.5 sacks, with an interception, seven pass breakups, six tackles for loss, 12 quarterback hurries and forcing three fumbles in 14 games.

Barr has dealt with injury issues during his career, missing four games because of a knee injury as a rookie and two more last season because of back, hand, knee and groin issues.

He isn’t currently on the injury report but something doesn’t seem right. Barr has been credited with 45 tackles this season with one sack and two pass breakups in 10 games.

Barr is a guy whose game is built on making big plays, but this season those type of plays have been few and far between.

Jerick McKinnon

When Adrian Peterson was lost in Week 2 because of a knee injury, the expectation was that McKinnon would become a key part of the offense both in rushing the ball and catching it out of the backfield.

With Peterson missing all but one game in 2014, McKinnon had rushed for 538 yards on 113 carries (4.8-yard average) and caught 27 passes for 135 yards in 11 games.

But the third-year running back has yet to capitalize on this opportunity, in part because of an ankle injury that has slowed him and in part because the Vikings’ offensive line doesn’t seem capable of providing any consistent run blocking.

McKinnon has gained 285 yards on 97 carries (2.9-yard average) with one touchdown and caught 12 passes for 43 yards.

Peterson is expected to return in December but one has to question whether any running back can succeed behind this offensive line.

Laquon Treadwell

Treadwell arrived as the 23rd pick in last April’s draft with the expectation he would have an immediate impact and that his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame would make him a threat in the red zone.

Instead, the wide receiver from Mississippi has been a non-factor in the offense.

Treadwell has been the target of one pass all season and he caught that ball for a 15-yard gain in the Vikings’ loss to Detroit on Nov. 6. He played only six snaps in the victory over Arizona.

It’s unclear if the coaching staff is just unhappy with Treadwell’s development or whether they just feel they have better options in front of him. Either way, it’s odd that a first-round receiver is being treated like a late-round pick.

When will that change?

At this point it appears the best guess is 2017.

The post Zulgad: Patterson, Thielen exceeding expectations; Barr, McKinnon need to do more appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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