Thursday, January 04, 2007

2007 Vikings=2000 Ravens?

The Vikings' defense was unquestionably their best unit in 2006. If they'd exerted a little bit of effort in their last game, they would have broken the 2000 Ravens' record for fewest rushing yards allowed in the modern era. Their pass defense, however, left something to be desired, finishing tied for last in yards allowed. But here's the thing--that statistic is misleading. The Vikings pass defense (or at least their secondary) was a lot better than it appeared.

In Cold, Hard Football's (from here on out, they're going to be CHFF) defensive passer rating metric, the Vikings's pass defense makes a huge jump in the rankings, going from last to fifth, as quarterbacks only turned in a 73.1 passer rating against them. Basically, the Vikings turned every quarterback they faced into Rex Grossman (73.9 passer rating). That means the yards that the Vikings defense gave up through the air were not a product of shoddy pass defense, so much as a product of the massive amount of pass plays their opponents ran against them.

There's a reason, however, that I included the parenthetical remark about the Vikings' secondary in the first paragraph. While the Vikings' defensive passer rating was remarkable, their defensive line play on pass plays was not. The low number of sacks is one indicator, as is the Vikings' low standing in the negative pass play percentage aspect (27th) of CHFF's Defensive Hog metric. And they likely would have placed higher than 5th in the time of possession aspect of that metric if they'd had an improved pass rush.

So what does all this have to do with this entry? Quite simply, the Vikings, barring any injuries, could have an even better defense next year if they improve their pass rush. The run defense's performance this year speaks for itself, and as I just showed, the secondary is a lot better than it looked. The only piece missing this year was a pass rush. If the Purple had been able to get to the quarterback this year, their defense would have been the best in the league.

And they should be able to bring in a quality defensive end, whether it's Simeon Rice, Dwight Freeny or Gaines Adams. And Erasmus James and Davonte Edwards should also be back from injury. With those additions, the only question marks will be at middle linebacker (if Napoleon Harris is allowed to leave to make way for Chad Greenway) and at safety (if Greg Blue replaces Darren Sharper). The reality is that the defense should be more talented next year than it is this year. Which is why they should be able to chase the 2000 Ravens for not just the title of best rush defense of the Parity Era, but for the title of best defense of the Parity Era.

[Today is your final opportunity to get in on the Ragnarok's Playoff PickOff--all you have to do is get your picks in for this weekend's games to me by this evening to enter, and you could win a post at the Ragnarok to do with as you wish!]

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