(Our tawdry team of Russian mail-order Naughty Nurses check the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. They use their pigskin probe and soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with the Minnesota Vikings. Our Naughty Nurse breaks down other NFL teams here.)

By Tom Pollin
Cold, Hard Football Facts Twin City's Twins Seeker

On one hand you can say the Vikings started the season strong. In three of their first four games they were leading going into the fourth quarter. In reality, the season was over almost before it started with an 0-4 start in a division where the Packers and Lions jumped out to 5-0 records. The Vikings’ playoff hopes were doomed before they could pick up their first win week 5 against the Cardinals.

In week 6 Donovan McNabb took his last snaps at quarterback for the Vikings, and possibly for his career, and the Christian Ponder era began. A win over Carolina by a Ryan Longwell field goal with 2:47 left in that game and a costly win over the Redskins in week 16 finished the Vikings worst season since the Les Steckel era in 1984.

2011 Storyline: The Vikings faint hopes to return to contention for a playoff spot did the equivalent of; if you’re from the North, crashing in the first turn of the Indianapolis 500; if you’re from the South, crashing in the first turn of the Daytona 500. The team found that Donovan McNabb’s previous season in Washington was no fluke and Christian Ponder had to start learning on the job instead of having a year to prepare for the starting quarterback role.

The Vital Signs

Coach (record): Leslie Frazier (6-16 with Minnesota; 6-16 overall)
2011 Record: 3-13 (21.2 PPG – 28.1 PPG)
Record against the spread: 8-8
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 0-6 (19.8 PPG – 34.0 PPG)
Record last five seasons: 39-41 (.488)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Offensive Hog Index (No. 14)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Bendability (32nd), Passer Rating Differential (32nd)

29 28 16 32 27 25 23 31 22 32 32 14 16 28
Overall =Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS= Quality Standings; SCOR = Scorability; Bend = Bendability; RPYPA = Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA = Defensive Real Passing; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR = Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD = Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL = Relativity Index.

Statistical curiosity of 2011: This is a challenging one to find. A quick glance across the Quality Stat rankings makes it fairly easy to understand what happened to the Vikings last season. One interesting nugget to be pulled from last season’s stats was that the Vikings had the second stingiest defense in the NFC North in yards against last season. The Bears were No. 1, giving up 350.4 total yards per game and the Vikings were right behind them at 358.2. The Packers, who finished with a 15-1 record while surrendering 411.6 yards per game, last in the league; but everyone saw what happened to them in the playoffs.

Despite their yards against per game average, the Vikings finished No. 31 in the league in points per game against, saved from holding up the rest of the NFL by the 4-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For all their yards allowed, the Packers’ were No. 14 in the league in points per game against.

Best Game of 2011: 34-10 win vs. Arizona Cardinals (Week 5).The Vikings took a big first-quarter lead and made it stick after blowing three out of their first four games in the fourth quarter. They drove 18, 24, 25 and 73 yards on four possessions in the first 15 minutes, each capped by an Adrian Peterson touchdown run to jump out to a 28-0 lead. They cruised the rest of the way in what likely was Donovan McNabb’s last victory in his quarterbacking career.

Worst Game of 2011: 33-26 win at Washington Redskins (Week 16). We know what you’re thinking, the Vikings won! Were you hammered when you wrote this article? That’s beside the point. They were playing a Christmas Eve game in Washington and on the first offensive play of the second half Vikings’ fans saw buckets of coal poured into their stockings. Adrian Peterson took a direct hit on his left knee and had to be carted off the field. Peterson had suffered a torn MCL and ACL which needed surgery the following week to repair. Christian Ponder suffered a concussion on the following play which ended his season. Joe Webb finished this game and started the final game against the Bears in week 17.

Strength: Defensive Line. Running Game.Jared Allen came within a half sack of Michael Strahan’s Brett Favre assisted single-season sack record of 22.5. Five weeks into the season Allen was on a pace for 27 sacks. I’ll save my money instead of betting against his chances of making another run at that record, and setting it, in 2012.

With Allen, a still effective Kevin Williams and Brian Robison replacing Ray Edwards on the defensive front, the Vikings tied for first in the league with 50 sacks in 2011. There’s no reason to believe that they’re ready to let up on opposing offenses in 2012.

With the decline in the passing game in 2011, Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart drew increased attention from opposing defenses but didn’t let that stop them. Combined they carried the ball 317 times for 1,501 yards and a 4.7 yards per carry average. That was up from a 4.3 yards per carry average in 2010.

The big question will be how quickly and how completely Adrian Peterson will be able to come back from that horrific knee injury he suffered last season. Peterson had been running in a swimming pool to start his rehab until a few days ago when he was given permission to begin running on dry land. Only the most optimistic on the Vikings team and among the fans will be expecting Peterson to be ready by Week 1 of the 2012 season. The hope is, and not just by Vikings fans, that when he does come back he can regain his stature as one of the premier running backs in the league.

Weakness: Everywhere else on the field. After making the playoffs in 2008 and coming within a Brett Favre brain cramp of a Super Bowl appearance in 2009, the Vikings have come crashing back to Earth the last two seasons.

While the offensive line did a good job clearing running room for Peterson and Gerhart, they allowed 49 sacks, tied with the Bears for fifth highest in the league. That Ponder was still able to put together two games with a 100+ passer rating and another of 90.8 with the protection he received could be a sign of good things to come for the Vikings and their fans.

At wide receiver the Vikings have Percy Harvin, Percy Harvin and Percy Harvin to be their third down slot receiver. Bernard Berrian’s lack of production early had him on the inactive list the final two months of the season. Michael Jenkins was signed to a three year deal before the 2011 season and returned little value in return. Devon Aromashodu also lined up at wide receiver last year. The tight ends helped to make up for some of the gap in wide receiver talent. Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph stepped up to provide Ponder with reliable options in the passing game.

On defense, other than the defensive line play, there’s no place to go but up. As mentioned in the statistical oddity section, the only team worse on defense than Minnesota in points per game average was Tampa Bay. Part of the Vikings’ defensive problems came about because of their inability to get off the field on third down. In the Defensive Hog Quality Stat the Vikings were strong against the run (6th), strong in causing negative pass plays, thanks to the disruptive ability of Jared Allen, but 30th in preventing third down success.

Opposing quarterbacks were able to take advantage of the Vikings’ defense to pad their stats in 2011. The Vikings finished No. 32 in defensive passer rating, allowing quarterbacks to compile a Pro Bowl caliber 107.57 against them. Their secondary only managed eight interceptions all season, tied with Indianapolis for last in the league and they were also last in the league in allowing 34 touchdown passes last season.

General off-season strategy/overview: Enough about the discussion of Minnesota’s 2011 problems. As someone really old in my family once said, if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. The issue now is what, if anything, can Minnesota and new general manager Rick Spielman do to start turning this situation around?

If the Vikings are going to get an accurate read on whether Christian Ponder has the tools to be an NFL quarterback or not, they’re going to have to provide him with quality tools to work with. The Vikings are almost universally expected to take USC left tackle Matt Kalil with their third overall pick in the draft which would be a big step towards keeping Ponder upright and in a position to make plays.

A big bet that Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier seem ready to make in expecting Adrian Peterson to recover at close to 100 percent, if not fully, from surgery last December to repair his medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments. If it’s just a matter of waiting three or four weeks into the season for Peterson to return, then Toby Gerhart is a capable fill-in but if Peterson can’t come back at full strength, the running back position becomes a problem. Gerhart can’t reproduce Peterson’s ability to generate yards in the passing game that adds an extra dimension to the Vikings’ offense.

Spielman has taken steps to address two problem areas in free agency this offseason. Tight end John Carlson, who was sidelined in 2010 due to a shoulder injury, signed a five-year, $25 million contract and is expected to be slotted as the No. 2 tight end in the offense behind Kyle Rudolph. That move puts Visanthe Shiancoe on the outside looking in. He also signed cornerback Zachary Bowman from the Bears. Bowman started 12 games at cornerback for the Bears in 2009 with six interceptions but lost his starting position to Tim Jennings in 2011.

In every other position group on the team it appears that Speilman is content to address team needs through the upcoming draft. The surprise of this offseason is that the Vikings made no move for any of the quality wide receivers that were available. Minnesota settled for re-signing Devin Aromashodu and passed on any other moves at the position. With needs still unaddressed at receiver, linebacker and secondary, they won’t have the luxury of missing on players selected with their 10 draft picks.

Totally premature 2012 diagnosis: The Chicago Bears fired general manager Jerry Angelo because of the talent gap that had developed between them and the division leading Packers and Lions. If that separation was a gap for the Bears then it’s a chasm for the Vikings. The positive, to paraphrase a famous saying, is that the first step to a cure is to first admit that you have a problem. It seems Minnesota has finally acknowledged that it’s time to reset for a fresh run at playoff relevancy instead of continuing to use duct tape in an attempt to patch the same group back together for another unlikely playoff run in 2012.

That Spielman appears content to use the draft as the main route to rebuilding the Vikings into contenders bodes well for the team in the long run. In the short run the Naughty Nurse can put away the crash cart but the patient will still be bedridden in 2012 as he begins the long road to recovery. Whether the patient will be ready to climb back out of bed in 2013 will be decided by the talent Spielman puts in place over the next couple of months.