Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Look At the Offense--Adding More Moore

After his hire, Brad Childress emphasized how important the running game was to a successful offense. And while the offense was not as good as the Vikings would have liked, Childress was seemingly successful in establishing a better ground game then the Vikings had the year before.

This season, the Vikings called run plays 43.1% of the time, good for 442 carries and 1820 yards. This was an increase from 2005, when the Vikings rushed only 40.3% of the time, with 381 carries for 1467 yards. The increased focus on running wasn’t the only difference between 2005 and 2006. In 2005, the load was split between Mewelde Moore, who lead the team with 40.7% of the carries and Michael Bennett, who got the handoff 33.1% of the time. This year, the Vikings featured Chester Taylor, who despite missing a game due to a rib injury, had 68.6% of the carries. Moore’s work load dropped considerably, to only 5.4%, which was surpassed by Artrose Pinner’s 9.7%.

This concentration of the carries was no surprise, considering that neither Moore nor Bennett were able to get comfortable splitting carries and that Taylor was brought in to be the feature back. That does not, however, mean that Childress allocated the carries efficiently.

According to Football Outsiders, Chester Taylor was mediocre at best this season, amassing only 6.7 Defensive Points Above Replacement and only having -10.1% Defensive Value Over Average. DPAR is “the total number of points scored due to plays where this RB carried/caught the ball, compared to a replacement-level RB in the same game situations” and is adjusted based on opponents, while DVOA “represents value, per play, over an average RB in the same game situations” and is also adjusted for opponent. Taylor’s mediocre 6.7 DPAR was the 33rd best DPAR, behind such Hall of Fame backs as Ron Dayne (12.4 DPAR) and Julius Jones (13.7 DPAR). His -10.1% DVOA was 40th in the league. DVOA is a stat that needs context, however, which is provided by Success Rate. Success rate “represents the player's consistency, measured by successful running plays (the definition of success being different based on down and distance) divided by total running plays. A player with higher VOA and a low success rate mixes long runs with downs getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. A player with lower VOA and a high success rate generally gets the yards needed, but doesn't often get more.” There, Taylor does better, ranking 22nd overall, with a 46% Success Rate. Basically, Childress entrusted 29.5% of the Vikings’ total offense to a player in the bottom half of the league in value (and if you think that’s bad, just wait till we get to the quarterbacks and wide receivers).

What makes it worse is that the Vikings had a better player cooling his heels on the bench in Mewelde Moore. Moore racked up 3.8 DPAR in limited playing time, mainly due to his 33.4% DVOA. If he’d been able to produce that kind of value over a full season’s worth of carries, it would have been the 4th highest total amongst running backs and would likely have vaulted him into the top five in DPAR. Of course, odds are he would have been unable to do so, considering LDT had the fourth best DVOA, with 24.1%, and was only surpassed by backs splitting carries. Moore’s production was also lower in 2005, with 10.4 DPAR (19th overall), 1.9% DVOA (19th overall) and 43% Success Rate (31stoverall).

Now, when I say that Mewelde Moore is a better player than Chester Taylor, I am not advocating that Moore start over Taylor. Moore’s injury history suggests that he would break down with too heavy of a workload. He is also not as consistent as Taylor, as shown by Taylor’s superior Success Rate. Instead, the Vikings should take a page from the Saints and run more of a two back offense. Admittedly, Taylor is no Deuce McAllister, and Moore is nowhere near as explosive as Reggie Bush. However, there are similarities between the two duos. Taylor and McAllister both have better Success Rates than DVOA’s, (McAllister’s SR is 7th overall at 53% and his DVOA is 16th overall at 9.8%), while Bush and Moore are the opposite (Bush’s SR is 34th at 43% and his DVOA is 39th at -3.6%). Both pairs also have similar running styles, with Taylor and McAllister being better between the tackles, while Moore and Bush are better in space.

As we saw this year, running the ball more often does not guarantee a good offense. If those carries aren't allocated properly, it can actually become something of a drag on the offense. While the running backs added more value this year than last, they could have added even more if the carries had been allocated differently. And that’s why the Vikings need to shift their rushing philosophy by lessening the load on Chester Taylor and giving Mewelde Moore more opportunities. Just by doing that, the Vikings should have a better running game (and thus a better offense) in 2007 than they did in 2006.

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