Pregame: Metrodome finale features talent evaluation in Vikings-Lions
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Many of the fixtures in Sunday's season finale between the Minnesota Vikings (4-10-1) and Detroit Lions (7-8) likely won't be around much longer.
The Metrodome is set to be demolished in mid-January.
The last game played on its synthetic turf is one of only three NFL games without any playoff implications in Week 17 and features two coaching staffs and a number of players who aren't guaranteed work after Sunday.
Both Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and Lions coach Jim Schwartz are on the proverbial hot seat in a league that's based in results and quick turnarounds. Frazier has a 20-33-1 record in a little more than three seasons in Minnesota. Schwartz will miss the playoffs for the fourth time and currently sits with a 29-50 record in five seasons in Detroit.
Defensive ends Everson Griffen and Jared Allen, defensive tackles Fred Evans and Kevin Williams, receiver Joe Webb and guard Charlie Johnson are among a handful of free agents this offseason playing in the last game of their respective contracts.
Running back Toby Gerhart will also hit the market this offseason, but will not play as he and running back Adrian Peterson, who is listed as doubtful, will likely watch from the sideline. They'll likely be spelled by running back Matt Asiata, who will lead the Vikings' rushing attack for the second time in three games. Asiata is also in the last year of his contract, but the Vikings can bring him back in exclusive-rights free agency at the three-year veteran minimum salary, which in 2014 is $570,000.
Cornerback Chris Cook could start his last game on Sunday for the Vikings as he's a 2014 free agent. He'll likely start alongside either cornerback Marcus Sherels or Shaun Prater (ankle), who is questionable along with rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle).
Injuries have already forced the Vikings into their depth, but Frazier hinted that trend could continue even further against the Lions. Frazier said rookie linebacker Michael Mauti will swap some snaps with linebacker Erin Henderson in the middle as Audie Cole was placed on injured reserve this week.
Even though the scoreboard won't entirely matter, evaluating talent for next year will be one of the few takeaways during Sunday's game.
There are plenty to choose from, but let's narrow it down to five position groups that either need work or are signs of life for 2014.
Wide receivers - Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jarius Wright are all on contract together through 2015 before Wright's deal is up. Regardless of what the club decides to do with receiver Jerome Simpson, who is at the end of his second one-year deal, and Webb, who is also a free agent, the Vikings are set with a solid receiver at each the flanker, split end and slot position. The only looming question that keeps this group from flourishing is the quarterback, which is the most prominent issue facing the team's front office this offseason. Despite the quarterback carousel, the Vikings improved to 217 passing yards per game (22nd) this season compared to 172 yards per game (31st) in 2012.
Offensive line - The Vikings were one of a handful of teams returning all five starting offensive linemen from a year ago, yet they've allowed nine more sacks than last season with one game to play in 2013. Johnson, 29, is a free agent after Sunday and the Vikings will have a decision to make at the left guard position. The left side of the Vikings' line has accounted for 53 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus, with second-year left tackle tagged for 31 of those. After a Pro Bowl rookie season, Kalil appeared to take a significant step back as he turned in lowly performances on the road at Detroit, New York, Seattle and Baltimore. There might not be much shuffling along the offensive line this offseason, save for left guard, but Kalil's regression could attract a lot of attention, especially on Sunday as he gets a second chance against a Lions' front that forced four pressures and a hit from his side in Week 1. Right tackle Phil Loadholt responded to a four-year, $25 million contract as the Vikings' most solid run blocker of 2013. However, 57 of the Vikings' 104 quarterback pressures through 15 games have come off the edges, not including eight sacks. Per Pro Football Focus, center John Sullivan led the Vikings with five sacks allowed, followed by four each form Kalil, Johnson and Loadholt. Right guard Brandon Fusco allowed just two sacks so far this season.
Cornerbacks - Only three of the Vikings' 12 interceptions this season have come from their cornerbacks group, which has been exposed this season due in part to a lackluster pass rush. The Vikings invested a first-round pick last offseason in cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who came on strong before his ankle sprain in a Dec. 8 loss at Baltimore. Second-year cornerback Shaun Prater nabbed one of the group's three interceptions and could make a further case going into this offseason if he plays through an ankle injury on Sunday.
The Vikings have allowed 50 more passing yards per game since cutting Antoine Winfield. Since cornerback Josh Robinson went down in a Nov. 17 loss at Seattle, the Vikings' slot cornerback role has shifted to safety Robert Blanton.
According to PFF, Blanton hasn't been much of an upgrade in pass coverage.
Robinson: 56 receptions on 66 targets, 716 yards and three TDs allowed on the season.
Blanton: 21 receptions on 32 targets, 275 yards and two TDs allowed on the season.
The Vikings defense is on pace to set the franchise record for most points allowed, which is a direct result from a NFL-leading 36 passing touchdowns allowed - next highest: Dallas Cowboys (31 TDs). An entire retooling of the cornerback corps is needed with Rhodes as the only necessary holdover.
Defensive ends - Defensive end Brian Robison is the only one of the Vikings' top three defensive ends on contract after Sunday. The Vikings ponied up to the 30-year old in October for four years and $28 million. Defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen will play the last game on their respective deals on Sunday. Allen, 31, may meet the same fate as Dwight Freeney did last offseason, which was a lukewarm market and an ultimate two-year, $9 million deal. However, Allen is a half sack away from his seventh-straight double-digit sack season and commands a bit more at the negotiating table than the 33-year-old Freeney. Griffen, 26, said he was in talks with the Vikings earlier this season, but that they didn't make him an initial offer that was in his ballpark, as typical with potentially high-priced deals. Griffen hasn't lived up to the hype on the stat sheet, but his versatility as a three-point rusher from the edge and one-technique, as well as his ability to stand up in coverage and rush the passer, has provided the Vikings with a much-needed cog.
Watch on Sunday as all three defensive ends jockey for pressure and sacks, which can add ammo to their soon-to-be negotiations with the Vikings and/or other NFL teams.
Linebackers - Linebacker Erin Henderson will start 2013 where he ended it, but there's no guarantee he'll be back at middle linebacker in 2014. Frazier wants to give some snaps to rookie Michael Mauti, who has seen just 11 snaps in 15 games, in the middle on Sunday. Second-year linebacker Audie Cole was placed on injured reserve this week, but turned in disruptive performances in his four starts at middle linebacker before leaving five snaps into the Dec. 22 loss at Cincinnati. Pending any free agent or draftee, the Vikings' top candidates for the middle heading into next season will be Cole and Mauti to start alongside linebacker Chad Greenway. Greenway leads all Vikings with 129 tackles this season and despite the overall defensive struggles, the seven-year veteran leads the team with three interceptions.
The Vikings signed Cole to a four-year contract after selecting him 210th overall in the seventh round of 2012. Mauti signed a similar four-year deal after the Vikings selected him 213th overall in April's seventh round.
Out - RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring)
Doubtful - RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), DT Letroy Guion (quadriceps)
Questionable - CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Shaun Prater (ankle)
Probable - CB Marcus Sherels (shoulder), S Harrison Smith (groin/foot), DT Fred Evans (knee), LB Larry Dean (knee), G Brandon Fusco (knee), WR Cordarrelle Patterson (chest), FB Jerome Felton (knee), CB Chris Cook (knee), RB Matt Asiata (ankle)
Out - DE Israel Idonije (neck), T LaAdrian Waddle (ankle)
Doubtful - CB Chris Houston (toe), CB Bill Bentley (concussion)
Questionable - CB Jonte Green (shoulder), WR Calvin Johnson (knee)
Probable - RB Joique Bell (knee), S Louis Delmas (knee), G Dylan Gandy (Illness), CB Chris Greenwood (groin), LB DeAndre Levy (foot), CB RaShean Mathis (Illness), CB Darius Slay (knee), S John Wendling (ankle)