Super Bowl: Vikings not far away, if Broncos are the model

Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Corey Nelson (52) celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi
Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Corey Nelson (52) celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50 at Levi /

Super Bowl 50 showed that a team can win with mediocre offense and brilliant defense, and that should be great news for the Vikings.

Take the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos as your model for how to construct a team and you have to conclude that the Minnesota Vikings are not that far away from competing for a championship of their own.

If the formula is great defense, good enough talent on offense, savvy-but-not-spectacular quarterbacking, solid special teams and good coaching? Then the Vikings should be well on their way.

The Vikings’ defense may not be at Denver’s level yet, but it’s getting there. Minnesota still needs some more pieces in the secondary but beyond that, they appear to have enough talent to reach the elite level.

Denver has a great defensive mind, Wade Phillips, running the show. Minnesota has its own defensive mastermind in Mike Zimmer.

Offensively, Denver’s main weakness was their offensive line, which did a below-average job this year both in run blocking and pass blocking according to PFF. Of course when you’re pass blocking for a statue like Peyton Manning, that makes life more difficult.

Minnesota’s main offensive weakness is also their line, but the Vikings have taken steps to rectify that by replacing coach Jeff Davidson with the well-regarded Tony Sparano. Minnesota also hired West Coast guru Pat Shurmur to coach their tight ends.

Denver has a better receiver corps than the Vikings, but Minnesota can upgrade their talent in that area either through the draft or with a smart free agent signing. Minnesota has better running backs than Denver, without question.

As we saw in the Super Bowl, Denver’s offense is far from a high-flying circus act. The job of their offense is to avoid turnovers and put enough points on the board so the defense can do its thing.

The Vikings have a similar offensive identity with Norv Turner running the show and Teddy Bridgewater behind center.

The young Bridgewater obviously is not a Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, but this year’s Peyton Manning was really nothing like the Peyton Manning who established those Hall of Fame credentials. This year’s Peyton Manning actually resembled Teddy Bridgewater in a lot of ways. In the Super Bowl, Manning did nothing spectacular, but he avoided big mistakes and kept the ball moving.

Like Bridgewater, Manning had trouble this year delivering deeper passes accurately. But with their defense as great as it was, all Denver needed was a dink-and-dunk quarterback who made smart decisions and didn’t turn it over. Teddy Bridgewater is certainly good enough to be that. Plus he has some mobility, unlike Peyton Manning.

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On the special teams side, Denver has the great advantage of a kicker who basically never misses, regardless of the pressure. Brandon McManus was 30-of-35 in field goals in the regular season and in the playoffs he was a perfect 10-for-10. If Blair Walsh were as reliable as McManus, the Vikings would have at least gotten through the first round this year.

Denver also has the advantage of a solid punter in Britton Colquitt. You need a good punter if you’re going to play a grinding, field-position style of football. And Jeff Locke is not a good punter.

The Vikings are good in other special teams areas, especially kick and punt returns. Their coverage teams generally do a good job thanks in large part to the coaching of Mike Priefer.

No, the Vikings are not yet at the level of the Broncos. They need to upgrade their secondary, get at least one more good receiver, tweak their offensive line and possibly look at making changes at kicker and punter. And Teddy Bridgewater needs to hang in there and keep learning and improving. If they keep following the formula, maybe next year or the year after, the Vikings will be the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.