Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Opposing Fans

If you've never experienced a game with Eagles fans, you should probably consider yourself lucky. Why, you ask? Because the stereotypes are right. They really are an angry people. They also like mustaches.

Anyway, they're aren't easy to understand without experiencing them. They're like Vikings' fans in that the expect their team to fail. The difference is the anger, however. They get angry not only after the failure occurs, but before it does as well. This means that not only are they constantly angry, but the good plays don't really change their mood so much as delay it. And, since they are constantly angry about their team, they tend to lash out at anything and everything. For example, on Sunday, when Greg Lewis had a pass knocked out of his hands by Antoine Winfield, they went from yelling at the refs (when they thought he'd caught it), to yelling at Greg Lewis for dropping it (after the replays showed he'd dropped it) to yelling "Get up Lewis, you [redacted] you're not that hurt" when he was in obvious pain after separating his shoulder. So yeah, that's Eagles fans for you. If you're interested in more observations on their primitive subculture, Twins Geek attended the game and got to sit amongst them.

And speaking of subcultures, this picture comes to us courtesy of Deadspin. I'd be willing to bet that both of them left comments here after my post on Favre.

Monday, October 29, 2007

No Playoffs, A New QB and Another Reason to Watch

Three Straight Years Without a Postseason
The Vikings loss to the Eagles did not officially eliminate them from the playoffs. That doesn't mean it isn't over. The Purple are currently 14th in the NFC with a 2-5 record. They're last in the NFC North and currently sport a 2-4 conference record, which is tied for the 12th best conference record. The Eagles and Cowboys would win a head to head tiebreaker, while the best the Purple can hope for is a split against the top two teams in their division, which means that they'll likely lose the next tiebreaker to the Lions or Packers. At this point, the Vikings would likely need to sweep their remaining six games against NFC opponents and pick up at least one win against an AFC team. That means they'd have to go 7-2 over their last nine games. It's not happening folks, not unless Brooks Bollinger is the real Jesus.

Brooks versus the 'Roided One
Brooks Bollinger played well in his limited time on the field yesterday. He showed more mobility than I remember him having, as well as the ability to throw an accurate pass. At this point, he should be starting on Sunday against the Chargers, even without the injuries to Kelly Holcombe and Tarvaris Jackson. The Vikings better have a backup that can play, however, because there is a very good chance that Bollinger is going to get killed by Shawn Merriman. Merriman is currently tied, with his teammate Shaun Phillips, for ninth in sacks, with 5.5. In his career, Brooks Bollinger has been sacked once every 8.4 times he's dropped back to pass. That's worse than David Carr's sack rate, which is once every 9.4 passing attempts. (If you're wondering, Peyton Manning, who is amazing at not getting sacked, has only been sacked once every 30 attempts). And it doesn't bode well for Bollinger that his blindside is being protected by lineman with a broken hand.

More Rice Please
Of the wide receivers taken in the first two rounds, only Anthony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe have more catches and more receiving yards than Sidney Rice. Rice also has more receptions than Ted Ginn, Jr. and Calvin Johnson, albeit for fewer yards. You may notice that every one of those receivers went in the first round, which means the Vikings would have had to pass on Adrian Peterson to draft them. Dwayne Jarrett, whom many Vikings fans wanted instead of Rice, has one catch for six yards. Steve Smith, the other receiver chosen in the second round, has 4 catches for 26 yards. Rice is showing the potential to be a very good receiver and it's important that the Vikings feature him as much as possible in their passing game.

Something to Cheer You Up
There's been a lot of negativity around this blog the past two days (deservedly so, I think). I don't want to be nattering nabob, however, so I'll close out this post by pointing you in the direction of a highlight that should cheer you up--the Purple Jesus performing a miracle by walking on the Defensive Line (It's play #3 in the top ten-you might want to skip straight to it, as there are Eagles highlights as well)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Smattering of Thoughts As Hope Ends

The Domination Continues
Bryant Westbrook rushed for 46 yards on 21 carries. That's 2.2 yards per carry. This wasn't a case of a team choosing not to run. Rather, it was a case of a defense shutting down the run completely. As I mentioned when I named E.J. Henderson today's 1st Star, Westbrook is an elite back. He was averaging 5.5 yards per carry prior to today, and he's averaged 4.78 yards per carry for his career. And the Vikings held him to 2.2 yards per carry. The pass defense might be frustrating, but it's almost worth it if it means that I get to watch the Vikings dominate the run like they did today. Almost.

My Kingdom for a Pass Rush
The Eagles had ten drives and punted four times. The last punt came after the Eagles ran the ball three straight times while killing the clock. The other two punts in the second half came on drives where the Vikings sacked Donovan McNabb. That's not a coincidence. The coverage hasn't been as good this year as it was last year, but that's only part of the problem with the Vikings' problems against the pass. You can't cover a receiver forever. And while the Vikings are averaging almost one more sack per game than they did last year, it isn't enough, especially when you consider that the Vikings have seen more pass attempts than any other team, and that they get a sack once every 16.7 plays.

Stop Me Before I Challenge Again

One of the most infuriating things about the instant replay era has to be the Vikings inability to use their challenges properly. Mike Tice was awful at it, and so is Brad Childress. I'm not going to go into Tice's incompetence, but Childress wasted both of the Vikings' challenges today in his typical fashion. There's a poker saying that goes "Don't throw good money after bad", which warns poker players against continuing to bet when they know the pot is already lost. Based on how he uses his challenges, I'd bet that Childress hasn't heard that saying. Almost all of his challenges seem to come after frustrating plays, and they almost always seem to be an attempt to fix a mistake that can't be fixed. His use of a challenge after Peterson stepped out of bounds on the opening kickoff of the second half is a perfect example of this phenomenon. The replays clearly showed that Peterson had caught the ball and then stepped out of bounds. Yet Childress insisted on challenging it, throwing the good money (the challenge and the timeout) after the bad (Peterson's mistake).

Still the Leader
I've accepted that the Vikings aren't going to the playoffs (more on this tomorrow). It wasn't easy to do (you may have noticed that I'm quite good at convincing myself that the Vikings still have a chance, no matter the odds). When the Vikings were eliminated last year, I changed my focus from rooting for a win to rooting for the defense's quest to set the record for fewest rushing yards allowed. As you know, they didn't get it. Still, it gave me a reason to care about the last game of the season.

This year, my focus is going to be on the Purple Jesus' quest to lead the NFL in rushing. Despite the fact that he's only rushed for 133 yards over the last two games, Peterson is still hanging onto the league lead with 740 yards. Willie Parker, with 726 yards, is the only one within 100 yards of him (Willis McGahee is in third with 639 yards). All of the backs in the top ten have had their bye weeks at this point, so they all have the same amount of games remaining. I don't know if the Purple Jesus will be able to rebound from his past two games, but I pray that he does, because there's not a whole lot of other reasons to care about what happens over the next nine games.

Three Stars: Yup, I'm Still Doing It

After I took an unplanned week off (sometimes, work just takes over), the Vikings responded by losing a game against a very beatable team, which most likely ended any realistic hope of their finishing .500, let alone making the playoffs. Just like after the last seven games, however, it's important for us to congratulate those players who turned in quality performances for the Purple. And, even in the loss, there were quite a few.

  • Brooks Bollinger, the Vikings third string quarterback turned in a quality performance in relief of Kelly Holcombe, after Holcombe got to find out what Deacon Jones Helmet Slap felt like prior to having his head driven into the turf. When Bollinger came out throwing, I was openly questioning Brad Childress' play calling. When Bollinger completed his first three throws for thirty yards, I was less skeptical. Bollinger never got the Vikings in the endzone, and he was sacked twice, but he also completed seven of ten passes for 96 yards and rushed for 15 yards on two carries. They weren't amazing stats, but they were pretty solid.
  • The Purple Jesus doesn't make the three stars this week, for the first time this season. It might be a matter of expectations being too high for him, but Adrian Peterson was good, but not great, rushing for 70 yards on 20 carries. He also made an awful mistake on the opening kick of the second half that practically guaranteed the Vikings would not be able to do anything with the drive. That being said, he still turned in some plays that defy description--I have never, and I mean never, seen a running back HURDLE the line and then hit the ground running.
  • Both Keneci Udeze and Ben Leber both turned in crucial sacks in the second half, sacks that helped force the Eagles two punts before they started running to kill time. The only other time the Eagles punted also included pressure on McNabb. That's not a coincidence folks.

3rd Star: Ryan Longwell

Yeah, he's the kicker. He was also responsible for 62.5% of the Vikings points. Without him, the Vikings don't keep within striking distance of the Eagles. And while two of his kicks were only a little more than 30 yarders, his final field goal was a 48 yarder, which isn't a chip shot in anyway. And, if the Vikings are going to make him such an important part of their offense, then I'm going to reward him with a spot in the three stars.

2nd Star: Visanthe Shiancoe

Shiancoe set a career high for receptions today, catching five passes for fifty yards (his second highest total), including two big first downs. He also hauled in the Vikings only touchdown pass, which ties him for second on the team in touchdowns (lets not talk about the fact that Adrian Peterson is the only Viking with more than one touchdown). Today was the day that the Shiancoe showed off the receiving skills that led to the Vikings signing him for 5 years and $18.2 million. If he can continue to have this kind of an impact on games, he'll be a bargain.

1st Star: E.J. Henderson

E.J. Henderson is one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. He's also one of the hardest hitters. His performance today was just another example of why those first two statements are correct. He racked up ten tackles, second only to Antoine Winfield's eleven, and was a huge reason why the Eagles were held to only 62 rushing yards on 25 carries. Bryant Westbrook rushed for a paltry 46 yards on 21 carries. Prior to this week, Westbrook had the 8th best success rate amongst NFL running backs and the 4th best DVOA. Both of those stats deal with how good a back is on a per carry basis. Westbrook is going to see his stats drop after this week and E.J. Henderson is the biggest reason why.

Monday, October 22, 2007

3 Stars in Dallas

Even though the Vikings let another winnable game slip through their fingers, that doesn't mean there weren't stand outs. Of course, the standouts tend not to stand out as much in games like Sunday's. There were a number of players, like Ben Leber, who made a nice play, but didn't really do anything else notable. Leber made a nice pitch to spring Cedric Griffin for a touchdown after recovering a fumble, but only had six tackles. Keneci Udeze is another example, notching his third sack of the year, and causing a fumble the Kevin Williams returned for a touchdown (ignoring the holding penalty on Ray Edwards).

But enough about those who came close to joining the ranks of the stars--let's talk about the real three stars:

3rd Star: Adrian Peterson

He didn't perform a miracle today, but he still had a nice game, aside from the fumble that removed any doubt about the outcome of the game. He had almost 40% of the Vikings' offensive yards, rushing for 63 yards on 12 carries and catching a pass for 12 yards. He also had converted a key fourth down on the drive that lead to the Vikings' only offensive touchdown, which, of course, he scored, on a twenty yard run. Averaging 5.25 yards/carry and scoring a touchdown against one of the better rush defenses in the NFL is nothing to be ashamed of. The fact that it seems like an off day for the Purple Jesus says something about both the expectations surrounding him and what he's been able to accomplish in the Vikings' first five games.

2nd Star: Antoine Winfield

Winfield had another big game for the Vikings today, making eight tackles (tied for the second most) and causing the fumble that almost won the game for the Vikings. One of the most frustrating things about this team's inability to win is the fact that the defense is continually making game changing plays, like the one Antoine Winfield made, turning a nice Dallas drive at the end of the half into seven points and the lead for the Purple. There a few plays that can shift the momentum as much as the play Antoine Winfield made and it was wasted by the Vikings.

1st Star: Cedric Griffin

Griffin had five tackles yesterday but that's not why he's the first star. He's the first star because he took a lateral from Ben Leber, fumbled it, picked it back up and then high stepped his way into the end zone. Just a ridiculous play. If you haven't seen it, the video is right here--the high stepping alone would have been amazing, but the fact that Griffin managed to fumble the ball on his own and then recover? Awesome.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Save Us Purple Jebus!

The Vikings will be facing one of the top offenses in the NFL on Sunday, and the best offense in the NFC. A team with enough firepower to score 27 points against the Patriots defense and a team, that, prior to last week, was on pace to break the 1998 Vikings' record for points scored in a season (they are currently on pace for 540 points). This is a team with the third best DVOA in overall offense (23.8%, behind only New England and Indianapolis), the third best passing DVOA (38.6%) and the fifth best running attack by DVOA (12.1%). They have a running back, Marion Barber III with the highest DVOA for a back (39.4%-for comparison, All Day's is 25.0%) and the ability to break any tackle.

Their quarterback has the 6th highest DPAR in the NFL, ahead of such big names as Brett Farve and Carson Palmer, despite throwing seven interceptions in the last two games. He also picks up more big name females than anyone outside of the Fertile one in New England. He is, however, as you can tell from the interceptions, a "gun slinger", so there is hope for Antoine Winfield, Darren Sharper and the rest of the secondary, provided they don't let the ball hit them between the "3" and the "1".

And it's not like Tony Romo is throwing to untalented hacks. Patrick Crayton has blown up in his fourth year. He has already had the second best season of his career, and is well on pace to set career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns. Not to mention the fact that he's hauling in 62% of the passes thrown his way and is eighth in DPAR amongst receivers. His bigger name compatriot, Terrell Owens, isn't doing quite as well, largely due to a case of the drops. Owens' has only caught 48% of passes thrown his way, which would be the lowest of his career.

Neither Crayton nor Owens is leading the team in receiving this year, however, which is yet another reason for Vikings' fans to worry. The Cowboy's tight end, Jason Witten, is leading the team in receptions, yards and is tied for the lead in touchdowns. Witten also has the second highest DPAR amongst tight ends, behind only Antonio Gates, and the fifth highest DVOA. You may remember the tight end who's in third in DPAR, seeing as how Tony Gonzalez had seven catches for 96 yards against the Vikings. Witten becomes even scarier when one considers that the Vikings have had problems defending tight ends this year, giving up a DVOA of 24.4%.

Quite simply, the Cowboys have the most potent offense the Vikings will face this year, and it will take the Purple Jesus performing another miracle for their offense to keep up with the Cowboys. There's some solace to be found, however, in the fact that the Vikings do not necessarily need to win this game to make the playoffs. Definitely wouldn't hurt if they did, but realistically, this is not a must win game, like last Sunday's was.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Wave of Positive Press

He's just unstoppable, isn't he? The Purple Jesus has carried out another miracle, saving the unsaveable, converting the media themselves into his disciples. After the Purple Jesus had his sermon on the Mount game on Sunday, there has been a wave of positive press, something that hasn't been seen in years, if ever.

All Day, Baby...ALL DAY

Don't believe me? Go to ESPN.com, where he's the lead story on the front page of the website. Go to the Star Tribune and read Patrick Reusse's positive column on Bryant McKinnie, where he doesn't take a single shot at anyone who's currently with the Vikings. When you consider that I have a "Patrick Reusse Style" tag that I use when I'm being overly negative, that's even more mind blowing. He wasn't able to have an impact on Souhan, but even Jesus himself wasn't able to make an impact on the Philistines.

The Purple Jesus is here folks. Time to repent.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory...

Last Sunday, the Purple Jesus did the following:
  • Earned the Offensive Player of the Week Award, the first Viking's rookie to do so since Randy Moss
  • Set a franchise record for rushing yards in a game and most 100 yard games by a rookie
  • Rushed for the fifth most yards by a rookie in a game
  • Set the NFL Rookie record for all purpose yards in a game with the third most all purpose yards ever
  • Passed eight players for the NFL rushing lead
Over the course of five games, All Day has:

  • Rushed for 80 more yards than any other back, in one less game, and with the fewest carries of any back in the top ten
  • Averaged 6.3 yards per carry
  • Accumulated the third highest DPAR and has the tenth best DVOA, the only rookie in the top fifteen of either category
  • Racked up the second most rushing yards through five games by a rookie ever
  • More yards from scrimmage than any other player besides Ronnie Brown
  • Created a pace that, if he maintains it, will be the greatest season by a rookie running back ever, both in real football and in fantasy football
  • Earned the respect of the greatest running back in Vikings' history
As I've said before, I'm not a good enough writer to describe what the Purple Jesus has done so far this year. The only thing I can do is echo the great Ed McDaniel, who once said "Get yo' stats...get paid...Don't. Get. Hurt."

Monday, October 15, 2007

All is Joy and Light

I'm sure I'm not the only one that is looking at this team, and at this season, with a lot more optimism than they were before Sunday's game. Aside from the Purple Jesus' dominating performance, there was a lot to like on Sunday, including an offense that looked competent outside of the Purple Jesus. And while the defense did give up 31 points, their most this year, I think it was the exception, rather than the rule.

Finally, an Offense:
For their first offensive play, the Vikings lined up in a single back formation, with three wide outs. Chester Taylor was in the backfield and after the snap, he got the ball and turned it into a six yard gain. Something we've all seen before, right? Well...sort of. After handing the ball off, Tarvaris Jackson faked a hand off to a Viking who had been split wide and was running a reverse. That player? Adrian Peterson. It was the first sign that Brad Childress and Darren Bevell have figured out how to run an offense. While they never actually handed Peterson the ball on a reverse, they put the thought out there and made da Bears, and all of the Vikings future opponents, have to account for Peterson at all times, even when Chester Taylor is the only Viking in the backfield.

That wasn't the only play that made me think the Vikings offensive plan was a good one. The Purple did not hesitate to take shots down field (including a deep pass to Adrian Peterson) and the routes run were deeper than they used to be, even if by only a few yards. The only place the Vikings' passing game was lacking was in the execution. I counted five dropped passes by receivers that were perfectly thrown and, while I wasn't counting Tarvaris' overthrows, he missed his fair share of open receivers, most notably an overthrown pop pass to a wide open Tony Richardson. Tarvaris also seemed hesitant to run, leaving two first downs on the table by choosing to throw a pass instead. Whether that was due to his groin injury, coaching or just a young player mistake, it's important that he figure out when to run, as his speed, strength and elusiveness are a big part of his value as a quarterback.

A Flashback on Defense:
We Vikings fans have been spoiled recently by our defense's ability to prevent other teams from scoring. The Purple's defense, on average, has have held their opponents under twenty points a game during the Childress era, and have held their opponents under thirty in 18 of the 20 games prior to Sunday. That's pretty good folks, and that's reason number 1 that I think Sunday was a fluke, rather than the start of disturbing trend.

Reason number 2 is the way da Bears scored their points. One touchdown came on a play where Antoine Winfield tripped and fell. Another came on a punt return by Devin Hester (nothing to be ashamed of-that punt just didn't quite get out of bounds like it was supposed to). In fact, all of da Bears touchdowns came on big plays, with the shortest one being a 33 yard pass to Muhsin Muhammed. Now, if the Vikings had given up a lot of big plays in the passing game prior to Sunday, I'd be worried. They haven't, however, and the Vikings play a defense designed specifically to prevent big plays. There were some breakdowns on Sunday, and the Vikings need to figure out what they were, and how they happened. And then they need to fix them. Their track record under Childress says they'll be able to do so, which is why this game will be a fluke, just like the other two games the Vikings allowed their opponents to break thirty.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Three Stars and the Purple Jesus

Well...that certainly looked like a kick ass offense, didn't it? The Vikings haven't put up this many points since they beat Chicago's backups in the final game of the 2005 season. And I have to say, it feels good to once again have to decide between many deserving candidates, rather than having to stretch a little bit to feel out the Three Stars.

Some of the Vikings that deserve to be honored but didn't make the cut include E.J. Henderson, who lead the team in tackles, including a hit on Jason McKie that was so vicious it sent the ball flying in the air and left McKie unconcious on the field. Sidney Rice only caught one pass (and he really, really should have caught the pass right before his reception), but main, what a catch that was, having to stop, turn around and launch his 6'4 frame into a dive to haul it in. Tarvaris Jackson also had some miscues, including some startling inaccurate passes, but he did not turn the ball over once today, and he threw a breathtakingly beautiful deep ball to Troy Williamson that was so well thrown that even Troy Williamson had to catch it.

Before we move on to the Three Stars, I'd like to take this moment to honor Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins. By making a juggling interception on the sideline, he helped Brett Favre become the Interception King and allowed Favre to set the record against the team that was the first to pick him off. A tip of the horns goes out to Rogers, who will always be welcome amongst Vikings Fans. And now, the Three Stars:

Third Star: Troy Williamson
If you'd told me prior to the game that Troy Williamson would be the leading receiver against da Bears, I would have been worried. For once, however, Williamson showed why he was the 7th overall pick. He's always had the speed and he's always had the ability to get by corners and safeties, but, for whatever reason, the catching part has eluded him. It didn't against da Bears, when he hauled in a 60 yard touchdown pass to answer Devin Hester and tie the game at the end of the first quarter. And it was good.

Second Star: Ben Leber
Da Bears were driving near the end of the third quarter, looking to answer Adrian Peterson's 73 yard touchdown run that had put the Vikings up 21-14. After a false start, Brian Griese looked across the middle for Desmond Clark, who was wide open for a sure first down. Luckily for the Vikings, Leber was there, or at least close enough to stretch out for a leaping interception that set up a Vikings field goal. He also had the Vikings only sack, when he came in unmolested to drop Griese and end another Bears drive.

First Star: Ryan Longwell
What? You expected someone else to get the First Star? C'mon--it's got to be tiring kicking all those extra points. And I like to reward kickers when they make game winning 55 yard field goals. Longwell bounced back from a miss against Detroit to knock a possible season saving field goal through the swirling Soldier Field winds and seal the Purple's second victory, and Brad Childress' first division win against a team aside from Detroit.

Purple Jesus: Adrian Peterson
When a Vikings' player obliterates a franchise record and almost singlehandidly carries them to victory in the most stunning coming out party I've ever seen, they don't get the First Star. That would cheapen it somehow. Adrian Peterson really was the Purple Jesus on Sunday, breaking three long touchdown runs, all of which he earned. He broke tackles, made cutbacks and embarrassed defenders in ways they weren't ready to be embarrassed. These weren't runs that any back could have made. And it wasn't enough for the Purple Jesus to score three touchdowns and rush for 224 yards on 20 carries. Not at all. The NFL's leading rusher also returned four kickoffs for 128 yards, including a 53 yard return that set up the game winning field goal. Not only did he outrush da Bears, the fifth time he's outrushed the Vikings' opponent, he accounted for 52% of the Vikings' total yards. Honestly, I don't have the words to describe how dominant he was today. I've never seen anything like it, and that includes Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper at their best. That's something folks. Man is that something.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Chairs, Tight Ends and Revolutions

Do Not Mess with Chester Taylor:
"Wait a second, what's that? Good God! That...that...that's Chester Taylor's music!"

The fight between Taylor and Erasmus James is hilarious on many levels, from Taylor throwing a chair, James hurting his shoulder throwing a punch (which wouldn't be funny if James actually contributed on the field) and the fact that it finally sheds some light on Childress' decision making in the second half against the Packers. The man clearly faced bodily harm if he continued to give the ball to Adrian Peterson. And no, it's not ok to wish Taylor had thrown a chair at Childress. Violence is never the answer people.

Are Tight Ends a Weakness?
The Vikings will be facing two of the best tight ends in the game on Sunday, which doesn't worry Darren Sharper, who said this week that "If a tight end catches the ball on me, then I need to be fired."

That quote worries Gonzo over at Daily Norsman, who makes a very valid point about 1-3 teams talking trash. He also, however, states that "tight ends have killed [the Vikings] over the last season or so". After reading that, my initial impression was that he was wrong, or at least wrong this year, with the Vikings swapping Napolean Harris for Chad Greenway. This, my friends, are what statistics are for.

So far this year, tight ends have caught an average of 5 passes a game for 52.75 yards. Those numbers are skewed, however, by Tony Gonzalez' 7 catch for 96 yards performance against the Vikings. Those numbers seem to suggest that the Vikings aren't great at stopping tight ends, but they aren't awful either. So let's dig a little deeper, and consult Football Outsiders, who break down every defense's performance against various types of receivers (#1 WR, #2 WR, other WR, TE, RB).

And here is where we find an answer, of sorts, to our question. The Vikings defense has turned in a DVOA of 39.7% against tight ends this year, their worst performance against any type of receiver by far (negative DVOA is better), and the 12th worst in the NFL. The thing is, this is a reversal from last year's performance, where they had the 11th best DVOA against tight ends, with a -9.7%.

The Vikings poor DVOA against this year might be skewed by Tony Gonzalez' big game and the small sample size, or their performance has dropped off due to personal issues. Either way, it appears that tight ends, while a weakness this year, are not something the Vikings have had a lot of issues with in the past.

The Return of the Revolution:
Childress won't comment on which quarterback is starting on Sunday, but as I've said it before, and I'll say it again--if Tarvaris is healthy, he needs to be the starting quarterback. I know the Vikings have a playoff caliber defense that is being held back by the offense. I also know that if the Vikings don't find out what they have in Tarvaris this year, it's going to have negative ramifications on next year's draft, off season and team. There are quite a few quality quarterbacks available in the draft, and there will likely be solid quarterbacks available in free agency and the Vikings need to know by the end of this year whether Tarvaris is good enough to be their quarterback of the future. Personally, I think he can be.

This game will determine (for at least another week) whether the Vikings' have a shot at the playoffs or will be picking in the "lottery". And it's not going to be a pretty game. Luckily for the Vikings, they will be facing a Bears team that has been ravaged by injuries. The list of injuried players for da Bears includes Lance Briggs (hamstring), Bernard Berrian (toe) Tommie Harris (knee), tackle John Tait (ankle), CB Charles Tillman (ankle), CB Nathan Vasher (groin) DNP and DT Darwin Walker (knee). And that list doesn't include the players who are out for the season, like Mike Brown. The Vikings should be able to move the ball against da Bears and they should be able to stop one of the worst passing games in the league (-40.3% DVOA, 31st in the NFL). The key to the game will be whether they are able to limit turnovers and prevent Devan Hester from running all over them on returns. I think the Vikings are going to be able to do that, leading to an ugly 13-10 win.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Quarterly Look at the Schedule

At the beginning of the year, I evaluated the Vikings' schedule, dividing it into four categories and coming up with a goal for each category that was both attainable and would give the Vikings the 9-7 record the Purple need to assure themselves a playoff spot. The Vikings are a quarter of the way through their schedule, and it's become apparent that I need to reevaluate, both because the Vikings have already failed to reach one of their goals (both the Chiefs game and the game at Detroit were part of the "Should Win" group, which had a goal of 3-1) and because Dallas was in the "Must Win" category and was projected to win a little more than 6 games. Considering they're 5-0, it's obvious that the difficulty of that game needs to be reevaluated.

Football Outsiders continues to project each team's mean wins after each week, using the new data from that week's games to create a more accurate projection. They come up with mean wins by calculating the average number of wins for each team over 50,000 simulations of the season. This time, however, I'm splitting the season into three groups of four games and lowering the overall record the Vikings are aiming for to 8-8. While 9-7 would almost guarantee a wild card spot, 8-8 will likely be good enough, especially if they are able to gain tiebreakers over likely competitors like the Giants and Eagles.

Must Win


Should Win


Can Win



Mean Wins


Mean Wins


Mean Wins





@ GB








@ SF










Luckily for the Vikings, they have seven games remaining against teams projected to finish below .500 and another game against a team projected to finish at exactly .500. And what looked to be a murderous second quarter of the season (@ CHI, @ DAL, PHI, SD) includes three teams whose projections have dropped, and only Dallas is currently projected to have a winning season. And in the second half, the Vikings face five teams projected to finish below .500, which means that if they can go 2-2 in the next four games, they wouldn't have to beat another team projected to be above .500 to finish at 8-8 and have a shot at the playoffs.

The bar has been lowered, which is what happens when you start out 1-3 and fail to show any signs of an offense. If the Vikings can find a way to generate 6 or 7 more points a game, however, the Vikings still have a very good shot at the playoffs, thanks to a soft schedule.

Did the Vikings lose games they shouldn't have?

Due to the fact that the Vikings managed to drop three games, none by more than seven points, all three losses can be considered opportunities squandered. If the Vikings had managed to make one or two more plays in each game, they could easily be sitting at 4-0. Were they beaten by superior teams? Or did they drop games against teams that they should have beaten? To answer this question, I've used Football Outsiders' Mean Wins and DAVE and compared each teams to the Vikings' Mean Wins and DAVE. After their first four games, the Vikings currently sit at 7.1 Mean Wins and -0.4% DAVE (the higher the DAVE score, the better).


Mean Wins


Wasted Win?

@ Detroit




@ Kansas City




Green Bay




As you probably would have guessed, the Vikings first two losses came against teams that they should have beaten, while their loss to Green Bay, while frustrating, was against a better football team. One of the ways to check the usefulness of statistics is to see whether they confirm what your intuition would say. It's obviously not the only way, but the fact that Mean Wins and DAVE tell us that the Vikings losses to Detroit and Kansas City came against inferior teams, which I would agree with, shows us that it's likely that these statistics are useful ones.

Looking Around and Looking Forward

The Gunslinger Personified:
First off, congratulations are in order for one Brett Favre. I'm sure it was hard for him, what with all the hype surrounding his chase for the record and being in front of his home fans, all of whom where pulling for him, but he was able to over come all of that and tie George Blanda's record for most interceptions thrown. Blanda has held the record for more than 20 years, but his mark has withstood assaults by gunslinger after gunslinger, but Favre is the gunslinger personified, and now he's only one interception away from setting a record that may never be broken, something he'll have a chance to do in front of his home crowd on Sunday against Washington.

Beat Up Bears:
I'll be reassing the Vikings schedule tomorrow, something that's necessary because of teams like da Bears. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune has already made the point that I was going to, which is that da Bears are missing a lot of key players on defense and their offense is no better than the Vikings, whether they have Sexy Rexy, Brian Griese or Kyle Orton under center. Da Bears may be the best team for the Vikings to play this week, in what pretty much amounts to a must win game if they want to contend for the playoffs this year.

Mewelde Would Prefer to Live, Thank You Very Much:
Another Tampa Bay running back went down on Sunday, leaving the Buccannears with Ernest Graham and....well, actually, Graham was all the Bucs were left with. Think Tampa might up their offer for Mewelde Moore? Think Moore actually wants to go to Tampa, where he's almost guaranteed to suffer some kind of horrific injury? Considering he's always been somewhat fragile, it wouldn't surprise me if Moore preferred to stay here, at least until he becomes a free agent.

Two Threats to '98:
Through their first four games, the Cowboys are currently on pass to shatter the '98 Vikings' record for most points in a season. If they keep up their average of 37.8 points per game (ppg), they would, over 16 games, score 604 points, almost 50 points more than the 556 the '98 Vikings scored. They aren't the only team on pace to pass the '98 Vikings either: the Patriots are averaging 36.4 ppg, which puts them on pace for 582 points. The Cowboys have four games left against teams currently in the top ten in points allowed: one against New England (3rd-13ppg) and Minnesota (5th-14.8ppg) and two against Washington (3rd-13ppg). The Patriots have a slightly easier schedule, only having to play three games against top ten defenses: against Washington, Indianapolis (10th-17.6ppg) and Pittsburgh (1st-9.4ppg). They also have to play Dallas, who is just outside the top ten (11th-18ppg) and who may move into the top ten after playing Buffalo tonight, who is currently last in the NFL in points per game with an average of 10.2 ppg.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Criticizing Childress

After a week in which Adrian Peterson collected an award for being the Purple Jesus, everyone and their mother questioned Childress' decision to only give Peterson two touches in the second half and Zygi Wilf felt it necessary to reiterate his support Childress, it seems now is the time to criticize Childress' handling of the Vikings. And he deserves it.

Unlike others, however, I'm not going to get angry because he isn't a great quote, or because he doesn't give out a lot of information. I don't really care how he handles things like cutting Marcus Robinson, or any of the locker room politics, provided it doesn't hurt the Vikings performance on Sundays. I only care about whether it looks like the Vikings are well coached on the field. And they don't. As the saying goes, talent wins, coaching wins at the margins. And considering the Vikings have yet to lose a game by more than one score, it seems that they aren't winning at the margins.

There are way to many obvious coaching mistakes to even need to get into the little stuff. The lack of carries for the Purple Jesus on Sunday. The predictable offensive play calling against Kansas City. Throwing on third and short. 39 passing attempts for Kelly Holcomb. The average of 7.25 penalties per game for a team that can't afford to give up yards on offense or on defense. And something is very wrong with an offense that is averaging one touchdown a game. As Childress himself said, the coaching needs to get better.

There are some glimmers of hope, however. Even though they aren't completing them yet, the offense is taking shots down the field. The defense will continue to keep the team in games, which means that if the offense can improve, it will lead to victories. If it doesn't, however, it means the Vikings are going to continue to lose and lose in new and ever more frustrating ways. It also means they should be in the market for a coach at the end of the season. I hope Childress is spending the bye week figuring out how to move the ball against da Bears, because his job likely depends on it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Good Choice

I know, I know, I promised you a rant about the coaching today. Wouldn’t you rather read something positive and optimistic instead? No? Well, too bad, because I’d much rather write it. And as was pointed out to me last night, the Vikings have an offensive rookie that is doing pretty well, and I’m not talking about Adrian Peterson.

After his breakout game against the Packers, Sidney Rice is now fifth amongst rookies in receiving yards, and fourth in receptions. Three of those four receivers were chosen ahead of him in the draft- James Jones of Green Bay was chosen in the third round. And as you may notice, only Rice is playing in a stunted passing offense.


Pick Number



Catch Percentage

Dwayne Bowe (KC)





James Jones (GB)





Calvin Johnson (DET)





Sidney Rice (MIN)





Anthony Gonzales (IND)





No other rookie receiver has over 100 yards receiving yet. That includes first round draft picks Ted Ginn, Jr., Craig Davis and Robert Meachem and the USC pair of Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith that were picked after Rice in the second round. Jarrett only has one catch for six yards so far.

So far, Sidney Rice has validated the Vikings decision (and my recommendation) to choose him over all the other wide receivers available to them with their second round choice. And I have to say I'm excited see what he can do if the Vikings quarterback could throw an decent deep ball.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Thoughts on the Offense

Through four weeks, the Vikings defense has been among the NFL's elite. There have been questions about their pass defense (I'm looking at you Cedric Griffin), but overall, they have unquestionably been a top 5 defense. Both Football Outsiders and Cold, Hard Football Facts have them as the fourth best overall, with a DVOA of -11.3% and a Bendability score of 22.29 YPPA. Even the special teams have improved from last year, going from the 28th best, with a -3.5% DVOA to the 8th best with a 5.8% DVOA.

And yet the Vikings are at 1-3 going into their bye, and only have a 17.8% chance of making the playoffs. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that's because of their awful offense. You don't even need advanced statistics to tell you that. Really, all you need to know is that the Vikings offense has scored exactly one touchdown a game.

The frustrating thing is that the Vikings have displayed something very close to a competent offense this season, not including the Kansas City game. They've run the ball effectively and done a good job of mixing in passes of different lengths, including throwing the ball deep. The problem is that they've found ways to thwart themselves. Tarvaris had his turnover fest against the Lions. Kelly Holcomb has only managed to complete one long pass, despite throwing the ball deep quite a few times. And he under threw Wade, allowing the Green Bay defender to catch up to him. Holcomb has also been sacked nine times and had even more passes knocked down at the line.

I'd like to take this moment to state that, so long as Tarvaris Jackson is healthy, he should be starting at quarterback. Holcomb is what he is, which is a competent backup that has limited mobility, the tendency to hold onto the ball too long and a motion that leads to passes being batted down at the line. He's not going to give the Vikings much more than what we saw the last two games. The Tarvaris Revolution, however, has upside. When he gets comfortable at NFL speeds, he could be a very good quarterback. And its important at this point that the Vikings give him the chance to reach that potential on the field, so that they can make an informed decision at the end of the season about whether or not he's their quarterback of the future.

The other reason to start Tarvaris over Holcomb is his mobility, something he'll need, as the Vikings pass protection as gotten worse. The offensive line wasn't great at protecting their quarterbacks last year, as can be seen by the 6.6% adjusted sack rate they posted, which was 22nd in the NFL. They've somehow managed to do worse this year, with an 8.3% adj. sack rate through their first four games, good for 23rd in the league. And its even worse when you consider that, unlike last year, when they had the immobile Brad Johnson start 14 games, the Vikings have played half of their games with a quarterback able to avoid sacks.

Luckily for the Vikings, they have a bye this week, giving them two whole weeks to figure out how to take the step from "almost competent" to "competent" on offense. If they don't figure it out by their game against da Bears, its going to be over for them, and likely over for Brad Childress as a coach. And as I'll discuss tomorrow, he won't have anyone to blame but himself.