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.