Sunday, September 30, 2007

3 Stars: Frustration

The Vikings were so, so close to ruining Favre's party. And that's why I'm so frustrated. The refs took away what should have been a fumble return for a touchdown and turned it into an incompletion on a drive the Packers later scored on. Kelly Holcomb turned receivers open on deep routes into incomplete passes. And the Vikings turned what could have been a season changing victory into their third loss of the season and a party for every green and gold clad cheese head.

Unlike last Sunday, there are quite a few players worthy of being rewarded with a place in the three stars. Chad Greenway recovered two important fumbles in the fourth quarter (but only one was ruled a fumble). Bobby Wade had 83 yards receiving, including a 40 yard catch that set up the Vikings second field goal. Brian Robison picked up his third sack of the year and Dwight Smith forced a fumble at the goal line that prevented a Packers touchdown. Kelly Holcomb was sacked four times and had numerous passes knocked down at the line...ummm, moving on... [Seriously folks, Kelly Holcomb is not the answer. He's immobile, inaccurate and holds onto the ball too long. When Tarvaris is healthy, he needs to be back as the starter.]

And now that I'm done complaining about Holcomb, let's talk about players that had the most impact on the game for the Vikings.

3rd Star: Sidney Rice

With all of the hype surrounding the Purple Jesus, the Vikings' second round draft pick hasn't gotten much publicity. That wasn't the case on Sunday, as he hauled in six passes for 75 yards and his first career touchdown. And what a touchdown catch it was. The pass was under thrown, but that didn't faze Rice, who pulled it in off the defender's back. Rice wasn't able to haul in a deep ball early in the game, he more than made up for it with that touchdown catch. Today was the first day we got to see Rice's talent and it was good to see.

2nd Star: Antoine Winfield

Antoine Winfield made the play of the game when he drilled Korey Hall, forcing him to fumble the ball two steps after he had caught it. Of course, the referee blew the play dead as an incompletion, but we won't go into that. Winfield led the team in tackles, racking up 10, and also prevented Donald Driver from getting into the end zone, holding him to only 58 yards receiving.

1st Star: Adrian Peterson

Once again, Peterson was quite simply the best player on the field. He didn't get into the end zone, but he rushed for 112 yards on only 12 carries, including a 55 yard run where he carried Nick Collins 15 yards leaving Collins on the field in a heap. the Purple Jesus is now second in the NFL in rushing and has Luckily for the Packers, he only had two carries in the second half. He still managed to make an impact, however, as he returned a kickoff 51 yards to answer a Packers drive that had put them up 16-9. It was only fitting that on a day where the greatest Vikings running back was honored, the next great Viking running back put on a show.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Quarterbacks, Strife and Hope

Apparently, I'm not the only one that thinks Favre isn't quite as good as he's made out to be. Which is good to know, since listening to most media people talk about Favre is like listening to them talk about Derek Jeter, only Derek Jeter has at least won more than one championship. And, since I haven't angered enough Packers fans yet, I'd just like to point out that, by using the same logic that they use to argue that the Packers are better than the Vikings (which is that they have more championships), one can quite easily argue that, despite Favre's records, John Elway, Joe Montana, Troy Aikman, Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw and a few others are better than Favre.

And while that logic would likely make Euclid cry more than Brett Favre after the final game of last season, what else would one expect from a fan group that called me "douchbag", "LOSER QUEEN ROUND HEAD HEIDI HAIR" (probably my favorite), "coward", "moron" and a "purple punk". Not exactly the level of discourse one would like. Probably what I deserve for baiting Packer fans before the Vikings-Packers game. It's just too hard to resist though.

Something that should not be hard to resist, however, is any urge to stop the game at the Metrodome to celebrate if Favre sets the touchdown record. The interception record can be celebrated, but not the touchdown record. I don't care what Roger Goodell threatens to do to the Purple if they don't let Favre celebrate--Favre, the Packers, Green Bay and the NFL can all shut up and die.

For whatever reason, I don't think it's going to be a problem on Sunday. Maybe it's because Favre's been playing well so far, but I just see him imploding against the Vikings. I really think it's only a matter of time until he starts trying to "make plays" and throws four picks. And what with all the hype about him, his "joy for the game" and all that other crap, it just seems like he's going to revert to Bad Favre and set the wrong record on Sunday (wrong only being the correct word if you are a member of national media, the Packers or a Packers fan). And, since I'm both an optimist and slightly delusional, I think the Vikings pull it out on Sunday, 17-9 and Favre throws three picks. I might be wrong, but I have to say, I'd appreciate it if the universe stopped dumping on us Vikings fans and helped us out a little instead.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Things I've Learned This Week

It's been a very instructive week for me here at the Ragnarok. I've learned quite a few things, come to a few conclusions and have made a mental note to do a much better job proofreading my posts. My favorite thing I've learned so far? Favre wears jorts. Apparently he's gone native.

Other things I've learned:

  • Apparently, they have the internet in Wisconsin now. Also, some Packers' fans can read and write. Definitely did not know that.
  • Brad Childress is either a comedian, or an idiot. I pray he's the former, because I don't think I'll be able to take it if Donald Driver torches Cedric Griffin or Marcus McCauley for 150 yards on Sunday. Also, Antoine Winfield continues to make me look like a genius for buying his jersey at the beginning of last season.
  • The Packers have a much better passing game so far this year than they did last year. Their DVOA when they throw the ball is 27.2%, whereas last year, it was -5.8%. Their yards per passing attempt is up as well, from 5.80 to 6.16. I think it has a lot to do with the fact Favre hasn't had one of his patented 5 interception performances (or maybe he's back on painkillers? Sorry...I couldn't help myself). I'm sure Antoine Winfield and Darren Sharper can help him out with that. Remember, it's two picks to tie George Blanda, three to etch Favre's name in the record books forever.
  • The Vikings have a much better pass rush so far this year, almost doubling their adjusted sack rate from 4.6% to 8.6%. Whether or not they are able to get to Favre might be the most important factor on Sunday, as creating turnovers is the pretty much the only way for the Purple to score. The Packers offensive line, however, is a lot better than it was last year as well, cutting their adjusted sack rate from 10.0% last year to 5.6% so far this year. Ray Edwards and Brian Robison better come to play on Sunday.
  • Green Bay has one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing 4.4 yards per carry and 4.13 adjusted line yards. They've also have not yet had the opportunity this year to play an entire game with 9 defenders in the box . If the Vikings are going to have any success on offense, they can't get too predictable, like they did against Kansas City.
  • The Vikings currently have the 9th best odds to make the playoffs of any NFC team at 25.5%. That's a 1 in 4 chance! They can still make it! [Edited because I missed the NFC West teams.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

All I Ask for is Two Interceptions

I don't like the Packers. Actually, that's wrong. I hate the Packers. And I hate Brett Farve.

Brett Farve is precisely why I'm happy I have to watch the Vikings at a bar. And, I hope you realize that, since I'm in Washington, D.C., watching Vikings games at a bar means fighting for one of six seats from which you can see the one TV showing the game. And it's never Vikings fans I'm jockeying for position with either. It means being the lone person who gets upset when Bears/Cowboys/Eagles/Giants/Jets fans convince the bartender that the one TV showing the Purple should join the countless others showing their game. However, it also means that the bar never has the sound on from the Vikings game. And that means I don't have to hear announcers fall all over themselves to talk about how Farve is a gun slinger, a true competitor, a guy who just plays for the love of the game. I don't have to hear them give Farve the Derek Jeter treatment, giving him credit for records he doesn't have (such as most consecutive games started) or telling me that awful interception he just threw was because he was just trying to make a play, a comment normally used to condemn other quarterbacks, but always used positively about Farve. Instead, I can just sit, blissfully, while quietly drinking myself into oblivion and praying Pat Williams breaks Farve's knees and listen to some other game as the Vikings find some new way to lose in a painful manner.

I hate Farve because he's not what they say he is. He doesn't always put the team first. He cares about things other than winning. He's perfectly willing to put himself, or his friends ON OTHER TEAMS first. There was his "bootleg" to Strahan's side in 2002, something for which no video exists online and something no announcer ever mentions on TV, because Farve is a competitor GOD DAMMIT. HE WILL KILL HIMSELF IF IT MEANS A WIN. Which is why he had no problem with his coach calling four pass plays so Farve could tie Marino's record when the Packers were on the goal line with 5 minutes to go last Sunday, down four points. That series included two separate plays on possessions where the Packers had the ball on the 1 inch line, with my favorite play call being the 4th down play where the Packers lined up with Farve alone in the backfield and 5 receivers despite the fact the nose of the ball was half an inch from the goal line.

And I hate Farve because no one ever mentions the fact that he is two interceptions away from tying George Blanda's mark for interceptions thrown in a career. In the last five regular seasons, Farve has, on average, thrown at least two interceptions in a game, six times a season and he's averaged more than two games where he has thrown at least three interceptions.

So all I ask of the Vikings on Sunday is that they get Farve to 277 career interceptions. I know no one will mention it in the media, but when Antoine Winfield or Darren Sharper gets that 277th interception, I'll know. And the fact I'm watching the game on the smallest TV in the bar while wedged between two Pat Williams sized Bears fans won't matter, because Farve will have thrown more interceptions than anyone else.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Predictability, Thy Name is Childress/Bevell

Vikings fans have complained incessantly about the the Vikings' offense since Brad Childress' first game. They've said it was too predictable, too reliant on short yardage plays and unable to put points on the board. They were right.

On Sunday, the Vikings ran 26 plays on first down, including one play that was negated by an illegal shift by Jeff Dugan. Of those 29 plays, 12 came in the first half and 14 came in the second half. Of those 26 plays, the Vikings ran the ball 21 times, eleven times in the first half and ten times in the second half. Those numbers also include two first down plays on the final drive, where the Vikings had to throw. And even including those two plays, the Vikings still ran the ball 72.4% of the time on first down. I wonder if the Chiefs noticed? (Let's see here...36 total yards in the second half? I think the Chiefs adjusted.)

If the Vikings had realized the Chiefs were planning on flooding the box with 8 or 9 defenders (something you think they'd have noticed), they should have been able to torch them on first down. Instead, they kept pounding Adrian Peterson into the line, which, surprisingly enough, didn't work too well. The Purple got an 12 yard run and a 9 yard run out of Peterson on first down and one 11 yard run from Mewelde Moore, but also got carries of -1 yards, -5 yards, -2 yards, 0 yards and 3 yards. That's 4 plays that, considering the Vikings lack of big play makers, basically doomed drives and one carry that helped a little.

Here's the really infuriating thing: the Vikings weren't having a lot of success running the ball on first down in the first half either, where they ran the ball for -4 yards, 16 yards, 11 yards, -1 yards, 10 yards, 1 yard, 0 yards, 5 yards, 1 yard and 3 yards. Out of ten rushing plays, they got first downs three times, got a good gain once, an average gain once and got one yard twice and had no gain or lost yardage three times.

My guess is that Childress and Bevell ran the ball so many times because they didn't want to get into second and long situations due to failed passes. I hope that they knew their offensive players aren't good enough to convert 2nd and 3rd and longs and so they ran the ball on first down in order to create manageable 2nd and 3rd downs. And, if so, that, at least, makes sense. That doesn't mean they were right to do so. Anytime you have such a predictable pattern in the NFL, you are going to fail. And the Vikings were about as predictable as you can get on first down. And thus, the offense failed miserably.

And that's enough of that awful game. I'm going to be kicking off Packers Week later this afternoon/this evening. I don't really think the Vikings are going to win, but they only need to pick off Farve twice to get him to 277 and tie him with George Blanda for most interceptions thrown.

Monday, September 24, 2007

3 Stars: Momma Always Said

As my momma always said, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Which is why I'm going to start out the week with the 3 Stars before I get into the fountain of negativity that will be actually analyzing this game. It's never a good sign when you have to try hard to come up with three stars, rather than having to weed out undeserving candidates. Everyone on the offense not named Adrian Peterson was immediately eliminated for the most pathetic half of football since the game at Green Bay last year (another bad sign-that was only five games ago). And defensively, there were only a few stand outs. I actually considered Chris Kluwe due to his three punts inside the twenty. Ugh.

Anyway, before I get to cynical and sarcastic, let's move onto the stars of the game. I don't want to waste any of my cynicism on my "positive" post, since I'm going to need it all for the actual game recap.

3rd Star: Spencer Johnson

Spencer Johnson was one of the bright spots yesterday and the only defender who managed to get to Damon Huard, doing so twice. He also created the Vikings only turnover of the day dragging down Huard as he attempted to throw a swing pass, causing a fumble. He also helped the Vikings dominate a Chiefs rushing game that was supposed to be their strength, holding them to 56 yards on 31 carries for the day.

2nd Star: Chad Greenway

It's hard to say how much of an impact Chad Greenway would have had last season, but he's showing this year that he wasn't just killing time last season while he was sitting out injured. Greenway led the team with eight tackles yesterday and was a key part of shutting down the Chiefs running game. He's now leading the team in tackles, with 25, and is second in solo tackles, with 17. He also managed to recover the fumble Spencer Johnson caused, setting up the Vikings final scoring play of the game. If there was any doubt before today about whether he was fully recovered from his knee injury, it was put to rest by Greenway's outstanding effort.

1st Star: Adrian "Purple Jesus" Peterson

The Purple Jesus is becoming a fixture in the 3 Stars post, not surprising, considering he's become the focus of the offense. He had 25 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown yesterday, for an outstanding 4.08 yards per carry average. He also had 3 catches for 48 yards, which means that he had 60% of the Vikings 252 total yards yesterday. That probably says it all, right? The kid's really good--let's all pray he doesn't get hurt.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Busy Week and a Big Question

It's been quite a busy week for me here at the old office, which is the likely explanation of the lack of the hard hitting analysis that I usually provide. Heh. Yeah, I'll go with that.

Anyway, Sunday approaches, and with it comes a match up against what might be the worst team in the NFL. And for good measure, the Chiefs offense, if you want to call it that, revolves solely around the running game. In case you were wondering, Pat Williams is quite excited about this game. Larry Johnson? Not so much.

Those who hate the Vikings' passing game and their reliance on the run, should add the Chiefs air attack to the list of reasons (my list includes the Royals and having to be in Missouri) to thank their lucky stars they weren't born in Kansas City. It's never a good sign when neither your young stud or your veteran quarterback win the starting job. And despite having quite a few solid Chiefs blogs that he could have consulted, Ol' Herm clearly did not when he settled on Damon Huard.

Huard has quarterbacked the Chiefs' passing attack to a -38.9% DVOA, which is the third worst in the NFL. Their 4.97 yards per passing attempt is the 8th worst (the Vikings are at -21.6% DVOA and 5.69YPA). Huard's been bad as well, only accumulating -4.5 PAR and a VOA of -29.2% while throwing three picks, but he hasn't exactly been helped by a line that has given up seven sacks already, second only to the Falcons. This is pretty good news for a Vikings secondary that's battling injuries. The Chiefs weren't planning on relying on Huard and company to win games, but Larry Johnson has started slowly. After sitting out the preseason, Johnson has yet to crack the century mark for the season, which probably helps to explain why the Chiefs are 23rd in rushing DVOA. Not exactly what they were hoping for.

Their defense hasn't been all that bad, however. Whether or not the Revolution starts on Sunday (Brooks Bollinger better not be his replacement though), the Vikings are going to be facing a pass defense that has had success so far, albeit against a team with one viable receiver (the Texans) and a team led by Rex Grossman. Then again, the Vikings don't have a single viable receiver and no matter who they are starting, they'll have a shaky quarterback at the helm. By DVOA, their pass defense has been the third best in the league. Their run defense, has been more in line with the rest of their team, posting a positive DVOA (you want a negative DVOA on defense). That's good news for Adrian Peterson and a recuperating Chester Taylor.

This game really is a match up of two teams that are very similar offensively, which is good news for the Vikings, because their defense is perfectly set up to shut down the Chiefs. The Purple should win this game and need to win this game if they want to be playoff contenders this year, gaining some momentum before hosting the Packers and helping Brett Farve set the record for most career interceptions, a mark he is only three shy of.

Vikings 20, Kansas City 10.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Final Look

It's hard to do in depth analysis of a game like Sunday's. The five turnovers by the Vikings overshadowed everything else, which actually might be a good thing, because there were a lot of other issues that need to be addressed. At the end of the day, however, the Vikings are still in the playoff hunt (you'll notice that I had yesterday's game as a "Should win", not a "Must win"), if they address the problems from Sunday.

First off, the Vikings' play calling needs some work. There seems to be a general consensus around the Vikings' internet community that, on 3rd and short, the Vikings should hand the ball to the Purple Jesus and let him bowl his way to a first down, rather than counting on their second year QB making his fourth start to complete a pass to one of the young and/or mediocre receivers. This accounted for one of Tarvaris' mistakes, as they ran a play on 3rd and short similar to the one that led to his interception against the Falcons, which led to an interception. This is what is known and a "teachable" moment, and I hope whoever called that play gets taught not to call anything like it again.

Secondly, the offensive line needs to get their act together. Tarvaris was constantly under pressure and sacked twice. All of his interceptions came when he was under pressure, with one being under thrown because his arm was hit, and two others coming when he panicked on a roll out while facing a stiff rush. Defenses are going to take note of the Revolution's problems handling the blitz on Sunday and they are going to keep coming at him. The line has to do a better job of buying him time. He's still getting comfortable in an NFL pocket and the last thing he needs is to have defenders in his face every play while he's trying to figure out how to run an NFL offense.

Brad Childress and Darren Bevel also need to do a better job of incorporating all of their offensive weapons into the game plan. There aren't a whole lot of them, so it really shouldn't be that hard. In this case, it means finding room for Mewelde Moore. I wrote that Moore needed to be utilized more often after last season and the same thing still applies. Mewelde had 50 yards rushing on 6 carries and 36 yards receiving on 4 receptions. While a lot of the rushing yards came at the end of the half against a dime defense, Moore almost single handedly got the Vikings into field goal range, but was thwarted by penalties. And his 20 yard screen play was what enabled Ryan Longwell to have a shot to win the game at the end of regulation. Moore is, quite simply, a play maker, something the Vikings' offense is lacking in. Quite simply, not only should Mewelde Moore never be deactivated for a game, he should get the ball more often because he's good.

Finally, the defense struggled against the pass again. Jon Kitna carved up the Vikings in a manner similar to what we became used to last year, dropped back to pass 34 times despite sitting out almost the entire second half. And even when he was sitting out, the Lions still called 26 pass plays despite the fact that J.T. O'Sullivan was their quarterback. They ran a pass play on 78.6% of their offensive plays, more than Vikings' average of 64%, but in line with opposing teams ratio starting with the Patriots game. And it worked pretty well, with only an amazing Darren Sharper interception and a play where Jon Kitna managed to kick the ball out of his own hand preventing the Lions from scoring in the first quarter. When Kitna didn't screw up, the Lions scored relatively easily. A lot of that had to do with the fact the Lions receivers were abusing the Vikings' secondary in general and Marcus McCauley in particular. I'm not sure how Mike Martz did it, but it seemed he always managed to line up Roy Williams so that McCauley ended up covering him, which is why Williams had 7 catches for 111 yards and a TD. I expect McCauley to be a quality player for the Vikings this year and to eventually turn into a really good cornerback. That doesn't mean, however, that I want him covering a Pro Bowl quality receiver in his fourth game. Leslie Frazier is going to have to figure out a way to ensure that either Antoine Winfield or Cedric Griffin are matching up with opposing teams best receivers from now on. I can live with a quality #3 receiver beating McCauley (and the Lions do have a quality #3, and he beat McCauley as well), but I have a problem with a #1 receiver running all over the Vikings' nickelback who's in single coverage on him.

[I know it sounds like sour grapes, but, Cedric Griffin got abused by the refs on Sunday. That pass interference call on him in the first quarter where he barely touched Roy Williams when the throw was clearly uncatchable was awful, and Calvin Johnson's push off on his touchdown catch made me wonder whether Johnson would have to shoot the defender ala the Last Boy Scout to get called for offensive pass interference, or if the refs would still give him a Michael Jordan style no call.]

Obviously, questionable play calling, poor offensive line play, misuse of Mewelde Moore and problems with the pass coverage were a big factor in the Vikings' 6-10 season last year. They're going to big factors again this year, but, because I am an eternal optimist, I think they can be addressed, or at least addressed enough for the Vikings to pull out a playoff spot. If Childress and his staff are going to fix the problems, however, they better do so now, before the Vikings let any more winnable games go to waste.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Low Point

Every revolution has a point where the adversity just seems to be too much. A point when everything seems hopeless and no matter how low the dreams of the revolutionaries were, they seem too far out of reach. When everything is cold and gray and it would just be easier to pack up and give up and go home. For the Tarvaris Revolution, it would seem that point was yesterday afternoon, when he limped off the field with a groin strain after throwing four ugly interceptions and putting up a 26.4 QB rating, the worst of his career.

Ford's Field: The Valley Forge of the Tarvaris Revolution

Tarvaris had flashes of competence, with a few nice runs and he drove the Vikings into field goal range with only 45 seconds left on the clock and no time outs. He got some help from a great run by Mewelde Moore on a short pass, but he was in complete control of the clock and made the plays necessary.

That, however, doesn't negate the ugliness of those interceptions. His first pick was a pass forced into coverage. His second interception was the only one that was because of a poor throw, as it came when he under threw a wide open Robert Ferguson, who was streaking along the side line. His third and fourth picks both came on passes he threw up for grabs with defenders in his face. That means he threw three picks because of poor decision making. It wasn't a physical thing. Rather, it was because he panicked in the face of a stiff rush and made some really bad decisions.

Now, you have to remember that while this is Tarvaris' second season, it was only his fourth game as the starter. He is, for all intents and purposes, a rookie. To sound an optimistic note, Donovan McNabb had two games with QB ratings in the twenties as a rookie. Steve McNair had one in his third full season. Heck, Brad Johnson threw four interceptions in a game last year.

Since it was Tarvaris' decision making that was the problem, that means it's something that can be corrected. Brad Childress needs to coach 'em up, if you will. He needs to make sure that Tarvaris understands that, right now, he needs to take what the defense gives him and not to force things when he's hemmed in by the rush. Just throw the ball out of bounds, or check down to the outlet, something Tarvaris seems to get when not faced with a stifling rush.

I think Tarvaris can bounce back from this. He'll have a break out game this year, when everything just clicks. And after he crosses the Delaware, he'll catch the Hessians napping in Trenton and it will be the turning point in the Tarvaris Revolution.

Three Stars--Gotta Stay Positive

After an ugly loss, I find that it's important to focus on the positive things. Which is why it's good that I'll be picking three stars from each game, no matter the outcome. This week, there were quite a few Vikings who came ohsoclose to making that game changing play that would have landed them a position in the 3 Stars, but they fell just short, whether it was because they couldn't quite get by that last tackler, like Troy Williamson and Aundrae Allison, or whether they clanged a game winner of the goal post, like Ryan Longwell.

There were also a few players that that were thwarted by their teammates, such as Mewelde Moore, who gained 80 yards during the last drive, which started on the Vikings 17, only to watch it go for naught, due to three penalties which kept the Vikings on their half of the field. Moore also took a short pass from Tarvaris near the end of regulation and turned it into a twenty yard gain, putting the Vikings one play from field goal range. But without that capstone, it isn't enough to get Moore a star. However, it should be more than enough to ensure that Childress never leaves him on the inactive list again.

But enough about almosts and not quites. It's time for the three stars:

3rd Star: Purple Jesus

His stats weren't as impressive as last week's, but Adrian Peterson continued to show why he's the Purple Jesus. His 24 yard reception to set up Tarvaris Jackson was a thing of beauty--he avoided tackles, he broke tackles and he leveled defenders. Any linger concerns one might have had about his ability to be effective as a reciever can be put to rest. And while the blocking wasn't there for him today running, but he still made the best of it, almost always gaining yards that he shouldn't have. And if you want football instincts, his tackle prevented a possible touchdown on a Tarvaris Jackson interception in the third quarter.

2nd Star: Ray Edwards

While he turned in a sold performance last week, Ray Edwards wasn't able to get to the quarterback, and on a day when your team gets six sacks, you need to do more to stand out from the crowd. That wasn't an issue today, as he returned a J.T. O'Sullivan fumble for a touchdown to tie the game in the third quarter. He was also a pas rushing force today, combining with E.J. Henderson on a sack, dropping O'Sullivan in the fourth quarter, and then knocking down a pass on the Lions final drive in regulation.

1st Star: Darren Sharper

At the bar I was at, I was able to see a few other games, including the Broncos-Raiders game. And during a commercial, CBS put up a graphic with the list of players who had the most interceptions since 1999, when the Broncos two quarterbacks, Champ Bailey and Dre Bly entered the league. While Bailey and Bly were both in the top five, neither was the leader. Darren Sharper was. And he showed why on Sunday, picking off two passes, including a beautiful interception in the end zone while dragging his feet to stay in bounds. It was an amazing play, something only the best receivers can do. Sharper had no problem doing it, which is why he has 49interceptions since 1999, more than any other player. He's also second on the team in tackles after leading the team on Sunday.

[Standings: 1st Stars-Darren Sharper, Adrian Peterson. 2nd Stars-Ray Edwards, Kevin Williams. 3rd Stars-Adrian Peterson, E.J. Henderson.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Average Power Ranking

Something I've done over the past two years is track the Vikings average power ranking, by compiling the average of the various rankings on the bigger websites (I am alll about the statistics, that's for sure). I'll be doing it again this year, with the rankings from five different sites figuring into my advanced statistical calculation of adding them all together and dividing by five:

  1. Cold, Hard Football (25)
  2. (20)
  3. (24)
  4. (20)
  5. Dr. Z's rankings on (18)
The rankings usually come out on Wednesday, so the ranking will be updated every Wednesday afternoon or so. The Vikings are currently averaging out at 21.4. If you were wondering, only Dr. Z had the Vikes in the top twenty. There's a reason why I like Dr. Z.

The Lions Offense

In Week 14 of last year, the Vikings defense held the Lions to -4 rushing yards in a game. Of course, the Lions only ran the ball ten times, opting, like pretty much every other team, to attack the Purple through the air. They’re likely to continue that pass first strategy on Sunday, considering they’ve added Calvin Johnson to a potent air attack.

Luckily for the Vikings, they’ve improved their pass defense, specifically their pass rush. They turned in a -52.9% DVOA against the pass in Week 1, the 7th best VOA total. This was a vast improvement over their below average DVOA of 3.7% in 2006. Not all that surprising, given their six sacks and two interceptions. [Note: The 2007 numbers have not been adjusted for opponent, while the 2006 numbers have.]

The Lions’ air attack was also improved in Week 1, with a 17.3% VOA, 9th best in the league. That was much better than the -.02% DVOA in 2006. Aside from getting to play a porous pass defense, there were a few other reasons for the improvement. The Lions’ negative pass play percentage dropped from 12.9% to 10.52%. They also gave up half as many sacks as their 2006 average, only giving up two to the Raiders. While that doesn’t sound great, it’s much better than the 3.94 per game they averaged last year. The Raiders anemic pass rush probably had a lot to do with it, as the Lions only addition on the line was Edwin Mulitalo at left guard. Mulitalo started four games for the Ravens in 2006 before losing his job in Week 5. He’s not exactly a Steve Hutchinson like addition, to say the least.

The Lions offense also benefited from what seems to be a much improved rushing game, with Tatum Bell going for 87 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown. In fact, they had the NFL’s best rushing VOA at 38.6%. Of course, there was nowhere for them to go but up, as they finished with an NFL worst -24.7% DVOA when rushing the ball, but going from worst to first is still surprising. Also, their 5.14 yards per carry was the sixth best in Week 1. The Raiders weren’t that bad against the run last year either, allowing the 11th least YPC (3.96) and a -1.6% DVOA against the run, the 16th best total.

Statistics with small sample sizes can do funny things. In this case, they show a Lions offense that’s amongst the best in the NFL at running the ball while still featuring a potent air attack. The thing is, the Vikings defense is still quite capable of stopping the run, as they clamped down on a Falcons team that was the best in the league last year at running the ball. And the Purple also discovered a pass rush, something they’ll continue to display against a Lions offensive line that gives up sacks like they’re good things. Look for the defense to spend a lot of time in the backfield with Jon Kitna on Sunday. If the Vikings create fewer than two turnovers, I’ll be shocked.

[All stats in this post are from Football Outsiders and Cold, Hard Football Facts]

Monday, September 10, 2007

Quick Glances at Future Opponents

One of the plans I have for the season (and there are three--one debuted yesterday, and the other should debut on Wednesday) is to see how the Vikings' future opponents fared during the week. And this week is going to have a big impact on the Vikings' chances.

Washington Redskins: The Redskins looked positively mediocre at home against the Dolphins, likely to be one of the worst teams in the AFC. It was a Pyhrric victory, however, considering that Jon Jenson, their best offensive lineman, dislocated his ankle, and is likely out for the season. It was a nasty injury--they've pulled the picture, but in the original, you could see Jenson's foot wass at a 90 degree angle from where it's supposed to be. As one of the radio announcers put it "It could be worse-he could have broken his leg." I'll let that speak for itself.

New York Giants: It seemed like the Giants' lost every single player on their roster to injury. In reality, only Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who lead the Giants in sacks last year, were actually hurt. Manning's got some kind of shoulder injury, and the Giants won't say how serious it is. Jacobs' hurt his MCL, and Umenyiora has a knee injury as well. Whether or not these injuries will still be effecting the Giants in Week 12 is unknown, but if the Vikings are lucky, the loss of three key players will doom the Giants out of the gate, causing the team to quit on Tom Coughlin, and thus will only be going through the motions in an attempt to get a new coach by the time the Purple head to the Meadowlands.

Chicago Bears: Stop me if you've heard this one before: Mike Brown, safety extraordinare, tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. He isn't the only starter da Bears will have to do without, either, as they also lost starting defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek. You have to figure da Bears will miss Dvoracek more, seeing as how they had to expect Brown to miss games for the fourth season in a row. Also, da Bears are in last place. Losers.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders finally signed JaMarcus Russell last night. This is big news, since it ends the longest hold out since Bryant McKinnie in 2002, and the first time since Bo Jackson in1986 that the #1 overall pick missed a regular season game. This also means that there's now a chance that the Vikings will get to face an Oakland team starting a rookie quarterback in Week 11. And if Russell is starting, I hope it means that Josh McCown has washed out of the league for good. That guy can rot in Hell.

Green Bay Packers: Some people might be excited about Brett Farve's passing Dan Marino for the career touchdown record. Not me. I'm excited for Farve passing George Blanda for the career record for most interceptions thrown. After throwing an interception against the Eagles, he's at 274, three shy of Blanda's record of 277. Now, by my math, that puts him on pace to break the record in the friendly confines of the Metrodome. I'm sure Darren Sharper is looking forward to helping his former teammate etch his name in the record books.

16-0 Still a Possibility

How's that for some irrational exuberance? The Vikings defense was dominant in all aspects of the game and the Tarvaris and Purple Jesus Show was good enough to leave Purple fans dreaming of the Playoffs.

The biggest change from last season was the amount of pressure the Vikings were able to generate whenever Joey Harrington dropped back to pass. The six sacks they totaled was a fifth of the sacks they had last year. The fourth rounder out of Texas, Brian Robison, continued to play like he did in the preseason, dropping Harrington twice. While that was nice, it wasn't necessarily surprising. What was surprising were the two sacks by E.J. Henderson (he's never had more than three in a season) and the game ender by Keneci Udeze. I hope I wasn't the only one who got a kick out of Karl Hobbs jumping on Udeze after the play. Now, the next step is for Udeze to get a sack during a more meaningful part of the game. Baby steps...Baby steps...

To use a forced segue, one player that doesn't need to take baby steps is Adrian Peterson. What speed, what power, what vision. There's a reason why he was the 1st Star of the Game. And why he's going to rack up a lot of accolades this year and for the foreseeable future. The injury to Chester Taylor is troublesome, however. Lest we forget, Adrian Peterson's has a long history of injuries, something sharing the carries with Taylor was supposed to help with. It doesn't seem like Taylor is going to miss any more time because of his bruised hip, but it's important that he play so that Peterson doesn't have to carry the entire load.

Any injury to Peterson would likely be devastating to an offense that is still trying to establish a real passing game. The Vikings took quite a few shots down field yesterday, something they hadn't done with Brad Johnson under center (Tarvaris having the ability to throw the ball further than 10 yards helped), but the Revolution wasn't able to connect with Sidney Rice or Troy Williamson down field, with his deepest pass going to Bobby Wade for a 28 yard gain. What he was able to do, however, was hit his receivers in stride, go through his progressions and keep plays alive by avoiding the rush in ways a less mobile quarterback would have been unable to. The best example of that was on a play that ended in an incomplete pass. During that play, Tarvaris rolled right, avoiding a Falcon in the backfield, only to have the defense end grab him and attempt to drag him down. The Revolution cannot be suppressed that easily, however. Tarvaris kept his feet, but just barely, and as the end continued to pull him down, Tarvaris flung the ball over the his head, out of bounds, avoiding what should have been an easy sack. Tarvaris hit Bobby Wade for 28 yards on the very next play on a drive that ended with the Vikings kicking a field goal. The Vikings' offense doesn't have the playmakers to overcome negative plays like sacks and penalties. Tarvaris' strength and mobility will go a long way towards preventing the Purple from giving up as many sacks as they did last year (they gave up 43, the 8th most in the NFL). The Purple also played an almost penalty free game on offense, only being flagged once, for Artis Hicks holding.

While it was clear that the offense needs to score more than ten points, the defense looks like it's fixed the only problem it had, the pass rush. As Tarvaris gets more comfortable in the pocket, those deep passes that fell incomplete on Sunday will become completions. And if the defense can stop the run and the pass, then those completions will be more then enough to get the Purple the wins they need to make the playoffs.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

3 Stars of the Win Over the Falcons

The last two years, I've tried (under two different names) to pick an MVP for the season by picking players of the game after each win. It didn't really work too well. So, since I'm a stubborn fellow, I'm going to try it again, but I'm going to continue tinkering with the concept. This time, I'm going to take a page out of the NHL's proverbially book and award three stars after each game, not just after each wins (six wins were not enough last year).

Thankfully, that part about doing it after each game doesn't matter right now, because the Vikings are 1-0 after demolishing the Falcons. And there are quite a few players that deserve to be honored for their play. The Tarvaris Revolution got off to a solid, controlled start, completing 13 of his 23 passes for 163 yards while avoiding numerous sacks, including a ridiculous play where he stiffed armed a Falcon and then managed to stay upright long enough to throw the ball over his head, out of bounds. Antoine Winfield had five tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown to squash whatever hope the Falcons had left. And there was Keneci Udeze, who ended his streak of 18 sackless games as time expired, a sack celebrated by the Vikings like it had clinched the Super Bowl (Seriously--he was mobbed. I'm pretty sure the defensive line coach jumped on him).

However, those three didn't contribute quite enough. So, without further ado, the three stars:

3rd Star: E.J. Henderson

E.J. led the Vikings with seven tackles, six unassisted. He also tied for the lead with two sacks, dragging down Joey Harrington like sacking the quarterback was something defenses were supposed to do. In case you were wondering, he's only one sack shy of his career high for a season--he had three last year. Most importantly, however, he dominated in his return to the middle, leading a defense that held the Falcons to 96 rushing yards and 139 passing yards.

2nd Star: Kevin Williams

Sometimes, you need to get a little lucky to a make a play. Other times, you need to drop into "coverage" because you weren't ready for a quick snap count and consequently couldn't rush. However, strokes of luck like that usually take a large toll on you, something Kevin Williams found out when he was forced to sprint 54 yards as a punishment for not being ready. Of course, he probably didn't mind too much, seeing as ho
w he had the football with him and he got to get the Vikings out to an early lead.

1st Star: Adrian "Purple Jesus" Peterson

Adrian Peterson
turned in two nominees for the play of the game. The obvious one was his sixty yard sprint to the endzone, a play that demonstrated both his breakaway speed and his ability to stay focused, seeing as how he bobbled the pass a few times before hauling it in and heading for the end zone. The play that might have been more important, however, was his fumble recovery near the end of the first half, when Matt Birk snapped a sharp ground ball past Tarvaris Jackson. While Tarvaris had a shot at it, as he was attempting to beat three Falcons to the ball, it seemed like he was the only one in Purple who did. And if even one of the multiple defenders in white had managed to get a hold of the ball, it would have been an easy seven points. That's when the Purple Jesus stepped in, coming out of nowhere to fall on the ball and save the Vikings seven points, and, quite possibly, the game. Those kinds of instincts can't be taught. And neither can the kind that get you 103 yards on 19 carries (5.42 yards per carry!). It's not every day a player dominates the game while also making a play that saves his team from disaster. Adrian Peterson did today, not all that surprisingly, considering he's the Purple Jesus and it's why he's the 1st Star of the game.

Friday, September 07, 2007


I have no idea how to react to this column by perpetual curmudgeon, Patrick Reusse. Frankly, I'm speechless.

A columnist in the Star Tribune actually picked the Vikings to be successful this year. And he actually backed it up with some analysis. Reusse's probably been whisked away to the Star Tribune's "re-education center" where's he being force fed pop culture references from three years ago and forced to compare Brad Childress' choice of running backs to "Bachellorette" Trista Rehn's choice of men.

Or maybe he avoided that by getting in a few shots at the unwashed masses that cheer for the Vikings' for being too negative.


Moving on to Sunday's game, it seems like those who get to watch it, will get to see the Vikings' start out the season with a win. As I wrote the past two days, the Vikings match up perfectly with the Falcons' offense and defense. And with Rod Coleman still very questionable with a quad injury, Atlanta's going to have even more issues stopping Chester and the Purple Jesus.

That's why I think the Vikings pull this one out easily. Chester and the Purple Jesus combine for 150 yards rushing, the Tarvaris Revolution completes between 55%-60% of his passes for 200 yards and a touchdown and the defense dominates Joey Harrington and the running game like it normally does, picking Harrington off once, sacking him once and holding the Falcons to just under 100 yards rushing.

Vikings win 27-10 and the march to the playoffs begins.

Anyone else care to make any predictions?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Falcons' Defense

Like the Falcons' offense and Vikings' defense, Atlanta's defense is a mirror image of the Vikings' offense. They are very good at stopping the run and bad against the pass, perfect for letting the Tarvaris Revolution hit the proverbial ground running.

Last year, led by the monstrous Grady Jackson (6'2, 345lbs), who you may remember from the Packers, the Falcons line dominated opposing running backs, holding them to an anemic 3.75 yards per carry, the 6th lowest total in the NFL. Only four backs ran for 100 yards against them, and they held their opponents under 100 yards rushing nine times. Their front seven is banged up though, with Grady Jacksons fellow tackle, Rod Coleman, questionable due to a quadricep injury and starting linebacker Demorrio Williams out for the first five weeks of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle.

Despite those injuries, Chester Taylor and the Purple Jesus are still going to have their hands full, something Tarvaris and his merry band of wide outs do not. They're going to have a much easier time against a pass defense that was one of the worst in the NFL last year, and got worse in the offseason, due to the departure of defensive end Patrick Kerney via free agency. Without Kerney, the Falcons will be relying on raw first rounder Jamaal Anderson and John Abraham to improve an ineffective pass rush. The Falcons defense was able to create a negative pass play 8.88% of the time, which was 22nd in the league. And while Abraham was effective when he was healthy last year, he wasn't healthy very often, and his injury problems have started up again, as he's battling a hip flexor injury. And unlike the Vikings, the Falcons don't have a very good secondary to make up for their poor pass rush. DeAngelo Hall is good (55% success rate against passes thrown his way), Jimmy Williams is starting at safety for the first time and Lawyer Milloy is awful, turning in a 40% success rate last year.

The combination of a poor secondary and minimal pass rush meant that the Falcons defense made opposing quarterbacks look like better versions of Tom Brady. Opposing QBs had an 88.8 quarterback rating against Atlanta, which would have been good enough for 9th in the NFL, ahead of Brady's 87.9 rating. It was the 6th worst defensive quarterback rating in the NFL.

That's why this Sunday should be fun for the Revolution and the Vikings. Hutchinson and Birk vs Grady Jackson will be an epic battle in the middle, but Tarvaris shouldn't have any trouble getting off to a good start. And I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd rather the Vikings' experienced players have a challenge instead of the inexperienced ones. Luckily, that's how it's worked out against the Falcons.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Falcons Offense

You know what the best part about the regular season is? Rather than having to discuss things like Belicheck v. Childress, dog fighting, roster cuts, coaching searches or any of that other incidental stuff that isn't football, we get to talk about the game. And it's a real game, that counts. And the Vikings, lucky them, get to play a team that they match up against perfectly on defense. The Falcons are a running team, with a shaky quarterback and a group of receivers that like to drop passes. And we all know that's exactly the kind of team that has no chance against the Vikings defense.

In seven games against the Vikings, Joey Harrington has completed 161 of his 283 attempts (56.9%) for 1680 yards. He's thrown 8 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while being sacked 12 times. That works out to a quarterback rating of 63.04, or slightly worse than his career rating of 68.1. Not exactly fear inducing numbers, that's for sure.

Harrington isn't the only reason not to be worried about the Falcons passing game. His receivers are pretty awful as well. Joe Horn was the only one who posted a positive DVOA (37.1%) or DPAR (20.7) last year, and he's 35 years old. Roddy White and Michael Jenkins both turned in Troy Williamson like seasons last year, with -.5 and -1.4 DPAR and -16.5% and -17.7% DVOA respectively. Both of them had lower catch percentages than Williamson, hauling in only 47% of the passes thrown their way.

The only real threat in their passing game is their tight end, Alge Crumpler. Last year, he was fourth in the NFL in yards amongst tight ends and second in touchdowns. He was also Michael Vick's favorite target by a long, as Vick threw twenty more passes to him then to any of his wide receivers. Crumpler hauled in 54% of those 103 passes, finishing the season with a 15.5 DPAR and 10.3% DVOA. I'd be a lot more worried about him if it weren't for the addition of a healthy Chad Greenway to the linebackers.

The Falcons awful passing game means that they'll have to rely on their running game to move the ball on offense. And while Jerious Norwood lead a terrific running game that averaged 5.46 yards per carry (1st in the NFL) with a 21.3 DPAR, 35.7% DVOA (3rd amongst running backs) and 53% success rate, the Williams brothers will have something to say about that. They lead the league by only allowing 2.83 YPC last year.

What all of this means is that it's very likely the Falcons offense is going to ignore the Patriots model of attacking the Vikings defense and challenge the Purple's superb run defense with their punishing running game. And I'm sure Pat Williams, Kevin Williams and the line backers are looking forward to it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

A Guide to Making the Playoffs

I'm too good to quote Jim Mora. There--I said it. Never said I wasn't an arrogant SOB. And that's why I'm not leading off this post with his infamous "Playoffs" rant. And now that I've said that, let us delve into the Vikings' schedule and see whether or not it's going to help them return to the Playoffs.

Last year, the Vikings had a ridiculously easy schedule, one of the main reasons that I thought they were going to make the playoffs. And they came pretty close (something no one seems to be mentioning--one more touchdown at San Fransisco and one more field goal against Green Bay, and they would have made it). This year, they have the 21st easiest schedule, according to Football Outsiders, with their projected opponents averaging a -2.1% DVOA. In comparison, the hardest schedule in the NFL belongs to Buffalo, whose opponents average DVOA is 8.6%. So that bodes well.

As we saw last year, however, just having an easy schedule isn't enough. The Vikings have to get to nine wins to assure themselves a spot in the postseason. Luckily for the Vikings, there schedule is easy because it's relatively extreme, with both good and bad teams on it, rather then full of teams competing for the last spot in the playoffs.

I've sorted the Vikings' schedule into four groups, using Football Outsiders' Mean Win projection for each team and whether it's at the Dome or on the road. The groups are games the Vikings "Must Win", "Should Win", "Can Win" and "Might Win" and each team is followed by their mean win projection and the week in which they square off against the Vikings.

Must Win 3 -1
Should Win
3 - 1

Can Win
2 - 2
Might Win1 - 3

@ KC5.2
Wk 3ATL7.6Wk 1SD8.6Wk 9 GB9.5Wk 4

@ DAL6.4Wk 7@ DET7.1
Wk 2CHI8.3Wk 15 @ DEN8.7Wk 17

OAK6.5Wk 11@ NYG7Wk 12@ SF8.1Wk 14
@ GB9.5Wk 4

DET7.1Wk 13WAS8.2Wk 16@ CHI8.3Wk 6 PHI11Wk 8

To the left of each group name is the record the Vikings should post against that group in order to reach 9-7 and the promised land of the playoffs. Obviously, the 3-1 record in the "Must Win" games seems to contradict the group name, but it takes into account a Vikings dropping a game they shouldn't, something I'm more certain of then anything else.

The schedule also works out nicely for the Vikings in that six of their eight easy games are against NFC teams, giving them an easy path to a winning conference record, an important tie breaker in the fight for the last Wild Card berth. What isn't so good, however, is the fact that all four games against Chicago and Green Bay fall on the wrong side of the easy-hard divide. As the NFC East demonstrated last year, however, three teams from a conference can make the playoffs, with 9-7 Cowboys and the 8-8 Giants filling the two Wild Card spots.

And so, once again, the Vikings' schedule gives them a great shot at the playoffs, with more then enough winnable games. We'll have to wait to see whether or not they'll be able to seize the opportunity this year, or if they'll fall short again, but not too long--only until Sunday.