Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Two Reasons the Vikings Will Win

There are obviously more than two reasons why the Purple can win the game on Sunday. But two of the biggest (and I hope that Brad Childress realizes this while game planning) are Visanthe Shaincoe and Chester Taylor. I think they might even be the two most important offensive players on the field on Sunday, because the Eagles have struggled against similar players all year.

Philadelphia's strong against the run (3rd in DVOA) and strong against the pass (3rd in DVOA). Where they're weak, however, is against tight ends (19th in DVOA) and against running backs in the passing game (18th in DVOA). And this is borne out by more than just the advanced statistics. In each of the Eagles' losses, either a running back or tight end was their opponents leading receiver (except for their loss to the Ravens, where they turned the ball over 5 times, although a running back was their second leading receiver).

And it makes sense when you consider the way the Eagles play as well. This is a blitzing defense. When you're sending linebackers and safeties after the quarterback, you're removing the players that would normally be covering the tight ends and running backs. Also, you're forcing the quarterback to make quick decisions, which usually means they're going to throw their pass to a safety valve, which is usually either the tight end or running back.

So what does it mean? It means that Visanthe Shaincoe's emergence (he's currently second among Tight Ends in DYAR and DVOA) could be the single most important thing for the Vikings this Sunday. And it could mean that we see a lot more of Chester Taylor on passing downs (or, you know, if Brad Childress wanted to get creative, he could play BOTH Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor on passing downs, though that's probably just crazy talk). And it means that, even though they're the best team in the NFL, according to DVOA, the Vikings have the weapons to exploit the Eagles defense.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Killing Time: What a Draw

  • There's nothing like winning your division, getting the third seed and a game at home, only to find out your opponent is the best team in the NFL, according to DVOA.
  • Pacifist Viking on why the game might get blacked out. Let me just say that this is the first time I'm glad that I'm not in Minnesota for a Vikings' game.
  • I am in complete agreement with DC at Grant's Tomb on the fact that Childress is still not a good coach. One of the unmentioned subplots in this game is that neither fan base is all that excited about their team making the playoffs because they don't think they can win the Super Bowl with their coach and quarterback and it guarantees that they're going to have the same coach and quarterback next year. This becomes even less surprising when you consider that Zygi Wilf tried to model the Vikings on the Eagles.
  • The Vikings might have their best running back ever. They might have their best defensive line ever. And, apparently, they might have their best punter ever. (And you wonder why no one is all that impressed by a 10-6 record with this kind of talent).
  • Pat Williams is playing. So the Vikings have a chance at stopping Brian Westbrook on the ground. Phat Pat isn't going to be able to help the Purple stop Westbrook in the passing game though, which is too bad, because the Vikings aren't very good at stopping pass catching running backs (they're 22nd in DVOA against them).

Sunday, December 28, 2008


If one is being honest, then one would not be happy with the Vikings performance today. The defense didn't play well, and Derrick Ward ran all over the Purple. The last minute of the Vikings' game winning drive was about as poorly run and executed as could be. However, I'm not going to be that guy, on this, the day of the Vikings' first NFC North crown. Today is a happy day--the Vikings won a big game for the first time this decade and with it, their first division crown. So we're going to hand out the Three Stars of the Game and celebrate those who did the most to get the Purple their first crown.

Third Star: Adrian Peterson
It wasn't his best game, but he had the play of the first half, making one cut and going 67 yards for his longest run of the year and the Vikings' first touchdown. With that run, he pretty much sealed his first rushing title, guaranteed he'd finish the season with 3000 rushing yards for his career (only the fifth running back to reach that mark in his first two years) and more than made up for the fact that he averaged under two yards a carry, aside from that run, in the first half and had his ninth fumble.

Second Star: Ryan Longwell
I've said it before, and I'll say it again--when you make a game winning field goal, you get to be one of the Stars of the Game. Especially when it's a 50 yard field goal, the coach is being indecisive and it's to win a division title for the first time since 2000. And from the second he kicked it, there was no doubt that it was going in. And that's not even including the 48 yard field goal he made in the first half. And don't scoff at that field goal either--what would have happened if Jon Carney had made his final attempt, a 48 yard kick that would have forced the Purple to score a touchdown to win.

First Star: Bernard Berrian
No player had more to do with the Vikings' win today than Bernard Berrian. His 54 yard touchdown catch got the Vikings back into the game after they Giants went up 9 points and, while the Giant covering him fell down, Berrian turned what would have been a 30 yard catch into a touchdown by putting a move on another Giant and then outracing him to the end zone. He also had the most important catch of the final drive, hauling in a 9 yard reception on 3rd and 8. And it was a beauty of a catch--the throw was high, but he still managed to bring it in and get both feet in bounds in a catch that was reminiscent of Chris Carter's specialty. He played like a #1 receiver today and it was a glorious thing to watch.

Second Half Live Blog

First Half Thoughts are here. Halftime Thoughts are here.

Third Quarter Thoughts
  • Eli Manning might be out, but Derrick Ward is not, and he promptly rips off a five yard run for a first down.
  • The Texans have pushed their lead to 21-10 with a Ryan Moats touchdown. Let's see here--David Carr is in, the Texans are starting to put away da Bears. There is no way this is going to end well. I am legitimately frightened about how things are going to turn out now.
  • I wasn't kidding when I said I was legitimately scared. 15 minutes later and da Bears have scored, cutting their defiecit to just four points and now the Giants are up 16-10. At least the Lions have tied the Packers at 14. The sad thing is I think that the Lions have the best chance to win of the three teams I'm rooting for today.
  • Now that is a play call! Giving Peterson the ball on an end around is the kind of imagination that the Vikings' offense is lacking all too often. And it might just serve to get him going today, something that needs to happen if the Vikings are going to come back and win this game (Or, you know, Tarvaris Jackson could fire a laser to Bobby Wade for a 41 yard gain to the 15 yard line on a route very similar to the route Wade ran for a touchdown against the Cardinals). And what do you know--after that play call, Peterson's looked very much like the Purple Jesus we all know and love.
  • Well that was awesome. Nothing like following up a stupid interception in the end zone with a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty. Ugh. At least the Texans just kicked a field goal to go up 24-17 with 12 minutes to go in Houston.
Fourth Quarter Thoughts
  • After two great plays by the defensive line and linebackers forced the Giants into 3rd and 21, Benny Sapp got torched by Sinorice Moss for 27 yards and the first down (and, eventually, a 19-10 lead). Anyone who doesn't think the Vikings need to upgrade their secondary next year is wrong. WRONG. Personally, I think the Vikings should look out west again and trade for Nnamdi Asomugha, who is in the exact same situation Jared Allen was last year. (Asomugha is also known as the reason why Andre Johnson only had 2 catches for 19 yards last week). I'd also like to know what Marcus McCauley has done to get buried behind the Viking most likely to make a horrible mental mistake.
  • BERNARD BERRIAN!!! Yeah, the defender fell down, but Berrian got open and, more importantly, Tarvaris Jackson found him and got him the ball. And with that catch, Berrian has a new career high for receiving yards (955 yards) and touchdowns (7) in a season. That play may have just saved the Vikings season.
  • Speaking of needing to improve the secondary, Cedric Griffin is currently taking a page out of the Fred Smoot book on how to give a wide receiver a 10 yard cushion. You're covering Mario Manningham, not Plaxico Burress. Please play accordingly.
  • Houston's up 31-14 with just under three and a half minutes to play. It's looking like the Purple are going to make the playoffs. Can they do it on their own terms? Tarvaris Jackson has 3:17, two time outs and about 45 yards to go to get into range for a game winning field goal.
  • Another nice play call by Childress. Play action bootleg that gives Tarvaris a chance to either tuck it and go or hit Shaincoe on a short pass. Of course, he then completely negated that play call by wasting 20 seconds for some unknown reason and forcing Ryan Longwell to attempt a 51 yard field goal. Or not. That was awesome.


First Half Thoughts are here

  • So far so good. The Purple are up (if only by a point) at the half. Chicago's down 14-10 and the Lions are only down 14-7 in what, we can only hope, is the eventual setting for their first victory of the season.

There is a lot to be worried about though:

  • As I said earlier, the Vikings miss Pat Williams. The Giants have 60 rushing yards already and are averaging 4.6 yards per carry, almost a yard and a half more than the Vikings have been giving up all year. Derrick Ward is tearing up the Vikings, with 4.2 yards per carry, and he's consistently finding the cutback lane when he goes outside (right about where Pat Williams would be) and he's able to power through the middle as well.
  • If you take away his 67 yard run, Adrian Peterson has 10 yards on 9 carries. That's clearly not good enough. The blocking hasn't really been there, but Peterson should still be getting more than 1.1 yards a carry. It's also a huge reason why the Vikings aren't getting any yards on First Down, which is why they are having so much trouble moving the ball. So far, the Purple have had 1st and 10 eight times. After those eight plays, they've faced 2nd and 10 (or longer) six times, and 2nd and 7 the other two times. The Vikings can't sustain drives like that.

First Half Live Blog

First Quarter Thoughts
  • If Maurice Hicks is able to return a kickoff 37 yards on you, it says something about your kickoff coverage. In this case, it says your kickoff coverage is the worst in the NFL.
  • Leslie Frazier is going to be a head coach soon. His blitz calls almost always seem to get pressure on the quarterback. And while Dick Stockton is giving the credit for Ben Leber's sack to the Vikings' secondary bumping the Giants receivers, there really wasn't that much jamming on the line. That sack was due to Jared Allen beating his man, forcing Eli to step up into Ben Leber's grasp.
  • So Brad Childress decided against showing the Chicago-Houston score. It's probably the right call, since knowing the score isn't going to help the Vikings' performance and it might just hurt it. Also, it's 7-0 Bears now, and I'm sure that's the kind of info that might take the air out of the Dome. Luckily the crowd isn't being told (limiting the group reactions).
  • And that, right there, is why Tarvaris Jackson is the right choice to play quarterback. Gus Frerotte doesn't get out of the pocket there, let alone get the corner and find Bobby Wade for the first down. And Tarvaris' decision to find Wade on 3rd and 3, rather than tuck and run, was the kind of decision he wasn't making prior to his benching.
  • Ummm....what exactly just happened in da Bears-Texans game? Steve Slaton's down, but then he fumbles? What? C'mon Fox! You can't just do a game break, show an inexplicably bad call, imply it's a bad call, and then not explain why the Texans didn't challenge it! And now it's 10-0 Chicago. What the heck is going on in Houston?
  • And now Fox is going out of its way to jinx the Vikings. Thanks for that discourse on why Adrian Peterson fumbles, right as he fumbles for the first time. And it's another example of why Peterson fumbles--it's because he never believes he's down--he was in the middle of a spin move as that ball came loose. Thankfully Jim Kleinsasser killed a Giant or two in the pile and recovered the ball.
Second Quarter Thoughts
  • Ryan Longwell's field goal puts the Vikings up 3-0. It's a start and it helps show that this Vikings team can play with anyone (and matches up well with the Giants). Really, the only success the Giants are having moving the ball right now is on the ground, where Derrick Ward has 18 yards on only 3 carries, mostly up the middle, otherwise known as the area usually occupied by Pat Williams. True, the Giants would have Brandon Jacobs, but he's no match for the immovable object that is Pat Williams.
  • First off, let me just say I like that play call. Rather than slam Peterson into the Giants two quality defensive tackles, Childress sent him off tackle, away from the majority of a defense that was stacked in the middle. And right as I was starting to worry that Peterson was going to have one of those frustrating 50 yard games that marked the end of last season, he makes the perfect cut, hits the whole at full speed and was gone. 67 yards later, the Vikings have a 10-0 lead.
  • I'm almost one hundred percent sure that the Vikings' coverage unit is going to cost them a game in the playoffs (or perhaps this one--Cedric Griffin's recovery after getting sucked into the middle of the field was the only thing that kept Ahmed Bradshaw out of the end zone). Nothing like feeling pure terror after the Vikings' score.
  • At least Giants' fans have to feel the same way. Nothing like watching Maurice Hicks rip off another long kick off return.
  • The Texans score! Three things--Andre Johnson is very, very good, da Bears' secondary really isn't and Dick Stockton is still living in the 1950s, telling us that the only way fans at the game could find out about the Texans' score is if they had a transistor radio. Or, you know, a cell phone, a Blackberry, an iPhone or any of a host of mobile communications devices.
  • For the first time all day, the Vikings stopped Derrick Ward. Of course, it came at the expense of Ray Edwards, who made a nice play, bouncing off Madison Hedgecock and into Ward for the stop. At least Edwards managed to leave the field on his own.
  • Don't look know, but the Texans are leading da Bears 14-10 going into the half. Andre Johnson is carving up Chicago's secondary, with 7 catches for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns. I'd also be willing to bet that I'm not the only Vikings fan/fantasy football player who can't decide if they should be mad at him for not doing this last week when they were in their fantasy championship or really happy that he's almost single handedly beating da Bears.
  • I liked Childress' decision to try and score there. You have to trust Tarvaris Jackson if you're going to win (and it gets him experience running a two minute drill). And he almost rewarded that trust (if not for a stupid penalty on Sidney Rice). What I didn't like was the play call on 4th and 1. No one believes that you trust Tarvaris Jackson enough to run a short pass play on 4th and 1. So the Giants knew it was going to be a draw. If you're going to run, run.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Killing Time: The One, True Purple Jesus

The Purple Jesus

Adrian Peterson rushing yards this season alone would crack the top twenty for career rushing yards by a Viking. If he didn’t get a yard against the Giants, this would be the 38th most rushing yards in an NFL season and if he gets 117 yards, he’ll crack the top twenty. And if he gets 1 43 yards, he’ll become the 15th running back in the history of the NFL to rush for 1800 yards in a season. He’s currently 9th among Vikings in career rushing yards and he has an outside chance of passing Michael Bennett for 8th all time this season (he needs 177 yards to do so). He only needs two more yards to crack 3000 yards for his career and he’s rushed for more yards in his first two years than nine of the running backs in the top ten in rushing yards (only Eric Dickerson had more yards his first two years than Peterson). This is his second season. Think about that. If there’s a player that has earned the “Purple Jesus” nickname, it’s Adrian Peterson. What he has done just defies my ability to describe.

There are two things, however, that Vikings’ fans should be concerned about when it comes to AD. The first was demonstrated very clearly on Sunday—he’s fumble prone. As the Pro Football Reference blog points out, that’s likely a result of his ability to gain yards no other back can (and goes on to look at what an optimal turnover rate might be). Also, Peterson apparently took my advice and carried a football around all week like Omar Epps did in the Program.

The second issue that Vikings fans should be worried about is his work load. He only needs 28 carries to reach 370 for the year, and as Smarter Stats shows, that’s a work load that almost no running back can handle without breaking down (or having their performance fall off markedly). Peterson has carried the ball more than 28 times in four games this year (IND, GNB, CHI, @ ARI). Giving him the ball 29 times against the Colts and 30 times against the Packers makes sense to me. Both games were decided by a field goal. Giving him the ball 28 times against Chicago, including five times after the Vikings went up 31-14 with eight minutes left, does not. Nor does giving him 28 carries, including 13 in the second half, in the blowout of the Cardinals. And even if he doesn’t get to 370 carries this year, he’ll have still carried the ball a tremendous amount, and absorbed the punishment that comes with running the ball 360 times. It’s something Childress needs to keep in mind against the Giants and next year (if he's still around next year). There is no greater sin that Childress could commit that would be worse than ruining Adrian Peterson’s career by over working him.

T.J. and Tarvaris

Tarvaris Jackson’s one year old son, Tarvaris, Jr. (If you had an awesome first name like Tarvaris, you’d pass your name along too) has been battling health issues all season. This is the first I’ve heard of it, and it makes Tarvaris’s transformation from benched quarterback to clear starter (and there is no doubt in my mind that he should be starting this game over a healthy Gus Frerotte) all the more remarkable. Best wishes to his son, and hopefully he can bring home a division crown for him.

This game is going to be the first time that Tarvaris Jackson faces an elite pass rush (the Giants are 5th in adjusted sack rate) since returning from the bench. If the Vikings are smart, they’ll try and get the ball to Chester Taylor in the passing game. The Giants’ pass defense has the worst DVOA in the NFL against running backs. The reason I say Taylor and not Peterson is because Taylor’s one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL and Peterson is one of the worst. Taylor’s 11th in the NFL amongst backs in DYAR and 12th in DVOA and he’s caught 81% of the 54 passes thrown his way. Peterson is 51st in DYAR and 50th in DVOA and he’s only caught 54% of the 39 passes thrown his way. (Adjusted Sack Rate, DYAR and DVOA courtesy of Football Outsiders)

1000 yards

Bernard Berrian needs 117 receiving yards to become the tenth Viking with 1000 receiving yards in a season and the first since Nate Burleson in 2004. It’s probably a long shot though—he’s only had that many receiving yards in a game twice in his career, although both games were this year (against Detroit and against Chicago). He only needs 69 yards to surpass his previous season high of 951 yards, which he set last year. That’s a lot more likely, as he’s had seven games this year where he had at least 69 yards, although all of them came with Frerotte at quarterback.

Purple Pass Catching Tight Ends

After gaining 136 receiving yards against the Falcons, Visanthe Shaincoe cracked the top ten all time for receiving yards by a Vikings’ tight end. The top ten is below (courtesy of Pro Football Reference). Two things stick out—the first is Joe Senser’s remarkable 1981 season. I’ll be honest—while I know of him because of his restaurant, I didn’t know he was that good of a player. It’s too bad that he suffered a career ending knee injury in 1982. Of course, his retirement led to the second most striking part of the list; the dominance and consistency of Senser’s replacement, Steve Jordan. When you have half the spots in the top ten (and 60% of the spots in the top 5) you’re clearly the best player to ever play the position in Purple. And in case you were wondering, the tight end who was 10th before Shaincoe's big game? Steve Jordan.

  1. Joe Senser, 1981--1004 yards
  2. Steve Jordan, 1986—859 yards
  3. Steve Jordan, 1985—795 yards
  4. Steve Jordan, 1988—756 yards
  5. Jermaine Wiggins, 2004—705 yards
  6. Byron Chamberlain, 2001—666 yards
  7. Steve Jordan, 1991—638 yards
  8. Steve Jordan, 1990—636 yards
  9. Visanthe Shaincoe, 2008—582 yards
  10. Jermain Wiggins, 2005—568 yards

The Giants Schedule

The Giants have a chance to set a record for Quality Wins (wins over teams with a winning record) in the regular season (and then in the playoffs) if things break their way on Sunday. Do not underestimate the Giants—this is a talented team that has played and beaten some very good teams. Even with some of their starters resting, they have the ability to beat the Vikings.

Go Lions

The only thing that could possibly make me feel better tomorrow if the Vikings lose and da Bears win is if the Packers lose to the Lions. That would be a black mark on their franchise that no other franchise could match—a loss to a 0-15 team, the worst team ever. Schadenfreude is a beautiful thing. It is a beautiful thing.

Playoff Scenarios

Joe Posnanski explains the various playoff scenarios. Yes, I could have found a better, more concise article on this subject to link to, but I’m going to take every opportunity I have to link to the best sports writer in America (and thus possibly spread the joy of reading him). Read him and thank me later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thanks For Nothing Green Bay

Way to choke away a victory against da Bears. Next time, please put a little more effort into it. Maybe, instead of getting the game winning kick blocked by a lineman's face, you might try getting a little more loft on it and forcing them to jump in order to block it.

Just a thought.

(Also, I feel dirty for having cheered for the Packers. Seriously unclean. The kind of unclean that no amount of hot water and soap can handle.)

And in case you're wondering, the Vikings have no chance of making the playoffs, unless Andre Johnson and/or Steve Slaton go off against da Bears and lead the Texans to victory. Though I'm sure they'll make it seem like they're going, up until they fail to win and da Bears return a fumbled snap for a game winning touchdown or something equally ridiculous.

Does anyone out there actually believe the Purple will make the playoffs this year? Can you tell me why? Because I don't, and I could really use some cheering up.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Clincher, Another Let Down

You know, I should be mad. I should be furious at the Vikings inability to hold onto the football. I should be seething that the Purple threw away yet another opportunity to win a game and threw their first chance at clinching the division and any chance at getting a first round bye along with it. But I'm not. I just can't get mad about an outcome I fully expected. And really, as the Star Tribune pointed out on Sunday, the Vikings haven't fulfilled their expectations since the second round game against the Cardinals in 1999 (Also, I'd like to thank the Star Tribune for dredging up that memory for me and in the process messing with the good juju that was surrounding the team. Now go die in fire).

There was a lot to like about this game. The Purple held Atlanta's backs to 3.37 yards per carry, despite the absence of Pat Williams (though you could tell they needed to adjust to life without him during the first drive of the game). Tarvaris Jackson outplayed Matt Ryan, up until he had to run a two minute drill. Brad Childress learned from the Tennessee game and went for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter. Visanthe Shiancoe had the best receiving game by a tight end since Steve Jordan (I'm going to assume that Steve Jordan had a 100 yard receiving game, since he has 6 spots in the top ten for single season receiving yards by a Vikings' tight end, and no one else had one before Pro-Football-Reference ran out of game logs). The Falcons didn't score a touchdown returning a punt (And, now I'm reaching).

But you know what? None of it matters because, at this point in the season, it's all about wins. Nice games by everyone who didn't fumble aren't enough. It is inexcusable for the Vikings to fumble the ball seven times. SEVEN TIMES. Every time I read an article about the game, and it mentions Tarvaris Jackson's three fumbles, my first reaction is "That's not fair--one was Adrian Peterson's fault". Think about that for a second. Yup. Even if you take away a fumble from Tarvaris, he still had TWO FUMBLES. And even with one of his fumbles being credited to Tarvaris, Peterson still had TWO FUMBLES. I'm not saying that Brad Childress should be fired if he doesn't make Tarvaris and Adrian carry around a football with a bounty on it like James Caan made Omar Epps in The Program but, he should be fired if he doesn't make Tarvaris and Adrian carry around a football with a bounty on it like James Caan made Omar Epps in The Program.

And the worst part about the loss? They're the Vikings, and they like to find new and inventive ways to torture their fans, so they've decided to force us to root for the Packers tonight. And I know, it hurts, but does anyone actually trust this team to beat the Giants on Sunday? Even if they aren't playing their starters? I know I don't. So....


Now excuse me while I try and convince an angel to show me what my life would be like if I had never heard of the Minnesota Vikings and the National Football League.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Look at the Falcons

As I said earlier, this Falcons team is not like the Cardinals. They’re a solid team, with wins over the Panthers, Bucs, Saints and Bears and one that dramatically improved their talent in almost every aspect of the game (except for one, which will become apparent and which bodes well for the Vikings) over the offseason. This is a team that could quite easily come into the Metrodome and beat the Vikings (though they’re only 2-5 on the road, they’ve won in Lambeau and at San Diego). And, like any Vikings fan, I have no faith in this team winning a big game (something I’ve only seen them do once), especially against an improved Falcons team that’s still in the playoff hunt.

Comparing their 2008 and 2007 rankings in Football Outsiders’ statistics, the Falcons improvement becomes obvious. They went from 24th overall in offensive DVOA, and 22nd and 29th overall in passing and rushing DVOA, respectively, to 5th overall, with highest overall passing DVOA and the 14th best rushing DVOA. That’s what happens when you replace Joey Harrington with the best rookie QB since Dan Marino, you bring in Michael Turner to replace Warrick Dunn and upgrade your offensive line. Here’s where the Falcons’ top QB and RB ranked in 2007 and in 2008:

2007 DYAR

2007 DVOA

2008 DYAR

2008 DVOA






Running Back





Yup. That’s what we’d call an upgrade (especially at running back—Warrick Dunn was awful last year). Of course, if the Falcons hadn’t upgraded their line by drafting Sam Baker to play left tackle and finding starters Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo in the scrap heap, Ryan and Turner wouldn’t be as effective. Their three new starters have upgraded the line’s play as much as Ryan and Turner have upgraded the skill positions.



Adj. Sack Rate



Adj. Line Yards



Unlike on offense, however, the Falcons didn’t overhaul their defense. So while their defense has improved, it hasn’t done so anywhere near as much as the offense. In fact, the improvement can be traced to three things—they let DeAngelo Hall go, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux has been healthy all year (he only started 9 games last year) and John Abraham is having a career year. Consequently, their pass defense has improved from 26th overall in 2007 to 17th overall this year, but their run defense is pretty much the same as last year, moving from 28th overall to 26th. And since they only improved in one aspect, their overall improvement hasn’t been that great, going from 27th overall in defense to 22nd overall.

Their line play also reflects the improvement in their pass rush, but not in their run defense. This stems from the fact that Babineaux is an undersized tackle (he only weighs 284lbs) and Grady Jackson is too old and out of shape to be that effective at stopping the run.



Adj. Sack Rate



Adj. Line Yards



So who are the new and improved Falcons? They’re a team with a very dangerous offense and an average defense. Their passing game is as good as the Cardinals, only they can also run the ball with Michael Turner. Defensively, they can be run on (which bodes well, as I said earlier) and their pass defense is heavily reliant on Abraham getting to the quarterback. If Bryant McKinnie can keep him off of Tarvaris Jackson, their secondary isn’t strong enough to stop the Vikings passing game (which doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t stop their own passing game). They are, however, good enough to test Tarvaris in a way that the Lions and Cardinals aren’t, which means how he plays on Sunday should go a long way to determining the Vikings’ starting QB once Gus Frerotte is healthy.

If the Vikings play well, they should win. If they don’t, the Falcons can quite easily walk out of the Metrodome with the victory. As has been true the last few weeks, this is a must win game for the Purple—it’s a chance to clinch the NFC North, stay in the hunt for a first round bye and exorcise a few of the demons from the 1999 NFC Championship game.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Killing Time: Antoine's Joy, Tarvaris' Award and Best Rookie QB Ever?

Antoine Winfield talks about making the Pro Bowl for the first time. I have to say, his selection actually makes me care about who made the team--I am legitimately happy for him (and he'll always be my favorite on the team because he's backed up my purchase of his jersey).

Football Outsiders breaks down the Vikings win over the Cardinals and advocate starting Tarvaris through the rest of the year. Which isn't surprising, considering that Tarvaris has more DYAR in 4 games (168) than Gus Frerotte has in 11, which says something, considering it's a cumulative stat and not a rate stat (though Tarvaris' DYAR is a lot better than Gus' as well). They also advocate bringing in Gus if the Purple fall behind by multiple scores, an idea I can't get behind. Frerotte is too immobile and has too much trouble with anything except the deep ball to make him a viable "White Horse" candidate. He's not going to be successful against a team that knows he's trying to go deep and has adjusted their coverage (and started blitzing) accordingly. And it's not like Frerotte ever won NFC Offensive Player of the Week while he was starting.

Pro Football Reference on Matt Ryan's historic rookie season (when you're getting compared to Dan Marino, the word "historic" is appropriate). I'll have more on this tomorrow, but this Falcons team is legit--they're not a fluke like the Cardinals. They are a legitimate playoff contender, and they know that this is a must win game for them. Sunday is going to be a tough game for the Purple, and that's even before the loss of Pat Williams is factored in.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Congrats Antoine (and Kevin, Pat, Adrian, Jared and Steve)

It's the Pro Bowl, and it really doesn't matter if you're snubbed, but congratulations are in order to Kevin Williams, Adrian Peterson and Antoine Winfield for being named as Pro Bowl starters, and to Jared Allen, Pat Williams and Steve Hutchinson for making the team.

And I have to say, the voters got their Vikings right. Winfield has deserved to go for a few years now and its nice to see him finally get the recognition he's earned (and he's really backed up my decision to purchase his jersey after Randy Moss was traded). The Williams and Purple Jesus are obvious choices, as are Allen and Hutchinson. Really, the only other Viking that really deserved to be considered (and this isn't a knock, just a reflection of the high level of play necessary to deserve a Pro Bowl spot) was Chad Greenway and, while he's played really well, especially after the loss of E.J., he'll have ample opportunity to be named to the Pro Bowl in the future.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Being a Vikings' Fan Always Means Bad News

Pat Williams is out 2-6 weeks with a fractured scapula. Not good, especially with with the final two games coming against two teams that like to run the ball. The importance of Ellis Wyms and Jimmy Kennedy cannot be overstated right now (of course it doesn't hurt that Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are both still around).

Domination and Hope

For the first time this year, I actually think the Vikings have a chance to make a run in the playoffs. Yesterday’s win was that good. That was a playoff team, that was undefeated in its own stadium, and the Vikings just ran them off their own field. They couldn’t pass, they couldn’t run and they couldn’t stop Adrian Peterson OR Tarvaris Jackson. And if the Vikings can duplicate that effort in the playoffs, they can beat any team in the NFC.

As usual, everything started with the defense. Coming into the game, the Cardinals were 4th in DVOA when passing, were 8th in adjusted sack rate, Kurt Warner was 2nd among quarterbacks in DYAR and Larry Fitzgerald (2nd in WR DYAR), Anquan Boldin (4th in DYAR) and Steve Breaston (13th in DYAR) were all in the top 15 among wide receivers. The Cardinals have a very, very good passing attack. Kurt Warner was averaging 7.26 yards per passing attempt, but on Sunday, the Vikings held him to 5.1 yards per attempt, despite the fact that the Cardinals called almost 50 pass plays before they brought in Matt Lienart. And it wasn’t just one facet of the pass defense that dominated. The defensive line was all over Warner, sacking him four times and hitting him countless times. Equally important, however, was the coverage and the tackling by the defensive backs and linebackers. The Cardinals were second in the NFL in yards after the catch, but on Sunday, the Vikings were bringing the Cardinals down as soon as they caught the ball (except, of course, for Jermaine Urban's touchdown). It was a team effort too, with Ben Leber, Bennie Sapp, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield all having at least 5 tackles. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Cedric Griffin’s ridiculous, one handed interception that killed the Cardinals second drive and set up Tarvaris Jackson’s deep touchdown to Bernard Berrian.

And speaking of Tarvaris Jackson, that was the quarterback the Vikings were hoping to see Tarvaris Jackson become this year. He was accurate, poised and threw a good deep ball. His pass to Berrian was perfect. And I mean perfect—he hit him in stride, fitting the ball in the one spot that it had to be to be caught (Berrian, while single covered, was covered pretty well). I know that the Cardinals don’t have the best pass defense in the league (19th in DVOA against the pass and 28th in opposing passer rating), but we haven’t seen that Tarvaris Jackson before. He’s had no problem being indecisive and inaccurate against bad pass defenses before, but he wasn’t against the Cardinals. He was accurate, completing 65% of his passes, he threw deep, with touchdown passes of 41 and 59 yards, and he was comfortable in the red zone, throwing two other touchdowns, including a great throw to Sidney Rice. He averaged 7.8 yards per pass attempt and he provided the passing attack that the Vikings need to be Super Bowl contenders. And make no mistake about it—the Vikings can win the Super Bowl with this Tarvaris Jackson. I’m not saying they will, or that this is the real Tarvaris Jackson (though we’ll have a much better idea after the Vikings’ play the Falcons and Giants), but if Tarvaris plays like this in the playoffs, the Vikings are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. And it’s probably worth mentioning that they could still get a bye if they win out and the Panthers or Giants lose out.

Finally, congratulations are in order for the Purple Jesus, who set the Vikings’ single season rushing record with his first carry of the second half. His 165 yards on Sunday have him well on the way to the rushing title, especially considering that he’s 160 yards up on Michael Turner, with two games to play, and, unlike Turner, he doesn’t have to face the Williams Wall on Sunday. He’s going to win the rushing title, and he’s the main reason that a team that’s featured Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte at quarterback has a good enough offense to win their division, get the third seed in the playoffs (and maybe even a bye). If that’s not enough to win the MVP award, I don’t know what is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Goodell's Rebuke, 51 Passes and La Revolucion

Goodell’s Rebuke
Aside from the fact that it means the Williams Wall will be playing the rest of season, the best part of Judge Magneson's decision to extend his injunction until a hearing can be conducted, is that it’s a rebuke of Commissioner Goodell’s dictatorial regime. As has been said by many other people, the way that Goodell has handled disciplinary issues, whether they were drug related, off the field or on the field, has been heavy handed and has hurt the NFL by focusing the scandal hungry media’s attention on the issues, not to mention taken a lot of joy out of the season by denying fans the chance to think only about what’s happening on the field.

The Magic Number
The Vikings’ magic number remains at 2 after the Saints lost to da Bears last night. And, to make it even worse, Pierre Thomas, who I missed out on by one waiver spot, and who I’m facing in the second round of my fantasy playoffs, had a monster game. Just a bad night all around.

The Line Battle
Any doubts about the Vikings’ acquisition of Jared Allen have been laid to rest by his (and the defensive line’s) performance this year. The Purple People Eaters have returned and are the best line in the NFL. They continue to dominate the run, and are second in adjusted line yards, second in stuff rate and second in power success percentage. And the improvement in their pass rush has been more than anyone could ask for, jumping from 28th overall in adjusted sack rate, at 5.5% to 1st overall at 9.0%.

The line will have to continue to play well against the Cardinals for the Vikings to win. The Purple can’t win a shoot out against a passing game like the Cardinals, which means they have to get to Kurt Warner. Warner has a quick release, but when he’s forced to make decisions under pressure, he tends to make bad ones. The Cardinals offensive line is 8th in adjusted sack rate, at 4.1%, and the Vikings will need their front four to get to Warner without any help if their secondary and linebackers are going to have a chance to cover Fitzgerald (2nd in WR DYAR), Boldin (4th in DYAR), Breaston (13th in DYAR), Arrington and Hightower. And considering they’re 29th in adjusted line yards, it’s safe to say that Arizona’s game plan will be like the one the Cardinals used in 2006, when they threw the ball 51 times and ran only 5 times.

Viva La Tarvaris Revolucion
The Cardinals present a particular problem for the Vikings because their strengths match up well against the Vikings’ weaknesses. In particular, on defense, they’re solid against the run (-8.2% DVOA, 8th overall) and weak against the pass (16.3% DVOA, 19th overall). That makes it all the more important that the Tarvaris Jackson that played in the second half against the Lions show up again on Sunday. If he makes his reads, finds the open receiver and keeps the chains moving with accurate passes and his feet like he did while leading three scoring drives against Detroit, the Vikings will win this game. If he forces throws, doesn’t hit his receivers or just turns the ball over like Gus Frerotte has, the Vikings likely won’t have a chance. Even the best defense in the NFL (which the Vikings are actually close to being) isn’t going to stop the Cardinals every time they have the ball—they’re just too explosive. Give them enough opportunities by turning the ball over or going three and out and they will score and score a lot.

The Big Picture
A win on Sunday will guarantee the Vikings their first winning season under Brad Childress and force da Bears to win out to have a chance to win the division. Quite simply, it’s a must win game, especially when you consider that the schedule doesn’t get any easier, with the Falcons and Giants coming to town to close out the season. A win likely means the playoffs. A loss could quite easily be the first of three, and the beginning of the end of the season. So let’s all hope that Jared Allen is able to play and he joins a motivated Williams Wall in the Arizona backfield on Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Return of Tarvaris (and the Ragnarok)

Thanks to those who’ve sent me emails—my offline life has been crazy lately, with loads of work, travel for work and lots of other things that have taken up my free time, which, combined with the negativity surrounding the team, lead to no posts. But I’m back now and ready for the stretch run.

Some Quick Thoughts:

  • I have to say, I was really excited to see Tarvaris come in and perform the way he did. 8/10 passes completed, 103 yards passing and 1 touchdown, along with a 9.54 yard per attempt average, his best ever, and better than any game Frerotte's had this year. He did have a fumble and his rushes weren’t exactly productive, but he made some throws that I’ve never seen him make. I’m a lot more confident in his ability to lead the Vikings to victory on Sunday than I would have been if I hadn’t seen the second half against the Lions. I might actually have more confidence in his ability to play well than I do in Gus "The Interception Leader" Frerotte. And no, it doesn't hurt that the Cardinals aren't very good against the pass, ranking 19th in DVOA.

  • The idea of Adrian Peterson winning the rushing title is an exciting one. The fact that he’s no longer on pace to crack 370 carries this year, a number that usually means injuries the next year (he’s currently on pace for 360 carries and if the Vikings can clinch a playoff berth early, and they have an 83.6% chance according to Football Outsiders, he won’t even get that) is even better. I still didn’t like Childress’ decision to give Peterson the ball at the end of da Bears game though (especially because Peterson’s having some fumble issues), when the victory was already wrapped up.

  • Visanthe "the Equipment Manager" Shiancoe is currently 3rd in DYAR among tight ends and 2nd in DVOA. Last year he was 29th and 28th respectively. I don’t know what happened (although he’s apparently been putting in a lot of extra work), but Shiancoe was a player that I thought should be benched or cut earlier this year (and his insistence on dropping key passes that cost the Purple wins really supported my arguments). Now? He just might be the best receiver on the team. Who saw that one coming?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just Great.

Kevin Williams and Pat Williams both tested positive for performance enhancers. They're appealing, but if they're out for four games, the Vikings' season is over. They would be the second and third Vikings in the last two years to be suspended for performance enhancing drugs.

Specifically, they tested positive for "Water Pills", otherwise known as the diuretic Bumetanide. They can be used for weight loss, or, much more likely in this case, to mask steroid use.

So yeah. That's bad. And it means that this season has just been buzzkill after buzzkill.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Da Bears Made More Big Plays

Well, it looks like I was right. The team that made the most "big plays" won the game. And unlike last year, when the Purple always seemed to be able to make one or two more, especially against Chicago, it was da Bears that made more, and it was da Bears that won the game.

When a team throws four interceptions, gives up two special teams touchdowns (now, I'm not the type that thinks Zygi should fire Childress now, because its too Al Davis-like and because he can fire him at the end of year, but Paul Ferraro? He needs to be fired and fired right now.) and a 51 yard touchdown pass to Marty Booker (yeah, I have no idea how that happened either), they aren't going to win. It doesn't matter if Adrian Peterson has a Purple Jesus type day or that Jared Allen has two sacks and a forced fumble. And it especially doesn't matter if you are so afraid of Devin Hester you let Chicago start every drive in field goal range for an entire half.

It didn't help that the lack of Madieu Williams and E.J. Henderson was exploited by Kyle Orton, Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark either. The Bears attacked the middle of the field and it worked to the tune of 9 catches, 133 receiving yards and a touchdown by Olsen and Clark. And the Purple made it worse by not tackling. The thing is, they weren't missing tackles so much as not attempting them. Time after time a Bears' receiver would catch a pass in a crowd of Purple and somehow emerge unscathed. Maybe the orange served as camouflage? I don't know, but that was the worse tackling by the Vikings since 2004 and it couldn't have come at a worse time.

Offensively, this was the first time since December 9th, 2001 that the Vikings' offense put up 40 points by themselves (and their QB was Todd Bouman!), and the first time under Brad Childress that they scored 30 or more without help from their defense, special teams or 250+ yards from Adrian Peterson. They might even have been able to score more if it weren't for the four interceptions, muffed punt by Charles Gordon (remember how worried I was about the lack of a real punt returner on the roster?) and inane decision by Childress to pass the ball on 4th and 1. The Purple averaged 4.8 yards per carry against Chicago on Sunday. They have the best running back in the NFL and an above average runner as his backup. Why not put both of them in the backfield and give it to one of them? It worked in the red zone. Even if you don't want to give Peterson the ball (he does have a pretty mediocre 47% success rate and has been stuffed on multiple 3rd and shorts this year), then give Chester Taylor the ball. Don't put the game in the hands of Gus Frerotte. His job is not to win games-its to stay out of the way while Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor and the defense wins games.

Decisions like that are why there's almost no doubt in my mind that the Vikings should fire Brad Childress at the end of the year (assuming, of course, that they miss the playoffs, a pretty safe bet at this point). The special teams issues, poor roster construction and predictable play calling all reinforce that. Given the two weeks he has to prepare for the final 9 games (in which the Vikings must go at least 6-3, if not 7-2, to have a shot at the playoffs) Childress might turn into Bill Belicheck. I doubt it though.

Coming up: 3 stars (yes, there were good games by Vikings) and later this week, a look at potential replacements for Childress.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Needing Some Big Plays

The Vikings' game against da Bears looks eerily similar to their game against the Titans. It's on the road, against a team with a very good defense, an above average offense and solid special teams (punt. the ball. out of bounds). And just like against the Titans, I'm not optimistic about the Vikings' chances, especially if injured cornerbacks Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman are able to play (both sat out against the Falcons).

One of the problems is that I don't think Brad Childress can come up with a game plan that will be successful against an above average defense, especially one that's as opportunistic as da Bears'. It hasn't helped that Adrian Peterson has three fumbles in his last three games and Gus Frerotte has thrown three interceptions in his four games as a starter. The good thing is that da Bears have not been able to apply consistent pressure this year, although their 5.8% adjusted sack rate isn't much different than the Lions' 5.6% ASR. They're still shutting down the run, however, and trail only the Ravens and Vikings in DVOA against the run.

Offensively, Chicago seems to have found a quarterback, but I refuse to be afraid of a passing game lead by Kyle Orton, especially behind a line as average at protecting the quarterback as da Bears and with receivers like Brandon Lloyd and whatever's left of Marty Booker. Where Orton has been successful is with short passes, particularly to his tight ends and Matt Forte. 82 of his 198 attempts have gone to either Greg Olsen, Desmond Clark or Forte. And while the Vikings are missing their best linebacker, they've still been successful at shutting down tight ends and running backs in the passing game, with a -6.8% DVOA against tight ends and a -10.2% DVOA against running backs. That success is directly attributable to Ben Leber and Chad Greenway, both of whom have been amazing in coverage this year (like, for example, when Leber was blanketing Devrey Henderson).

Chicago won't be able to run the ball either, both because they're playing the Vikings and because Forte has already started to hit the rookie wall (which will go by Jared, Kevin, Pat, Ray, Ben and Chad this week). He's averaged less than 4 yards a carry the last five weeks and da Bears haven't cracked 3.5 yards per carry as a team since Week 3.

So once again, it looks like it should be a close game, with one or two big plays determining the eventual outcome. Can Bernard Berrian or Adrian Peterson break long touchdown? Will the Vikings' punt "coverage" let Devin Hester score multiple touchdowns? Which defense will convert a turnover into a score? The Vikings have made 21 "big plays" to Chicago's 18, but da Bears have been much better at preventing the big play, only allowing 15, while the Vikings have allowed 25.

On paper, the Vikings look like they have a chance against a decent offense and a good defense. That chance, however, rests on plays that are not easy to predict and can't be expected. I'm probably just being pessimistic, but without a huge game from the defense, Adrian Peterson or Bernard Berrian (think 2 TDs, 150 yards type big game), I just don't see the Vikings winning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Killing Time: Tom Powers > Mark Craig

Tom Powers > Mark Craig:
Mark Craig thinks Vikings' fans should be happy with the Vikings' 3-3 record and tie for first place. He's wrong. Yes, the Giants and Redskins all lost games they were favored to win. But unlike the Vikings, the Redskins and Giants have impressive victories. The Redskins first five games were all against quality teams (the Saints have the worst record, at 3-3), including a win against their biggest rival on the road, a win against the NFC West leaders and another road division win. The Giants dominated in their first four games (and won the Super Bowl last year--think Vikings' fans would care if they barely beat the Lions the year after winning the Super Bowl? Yeah, me neither). If the Vikings had been 4-1 coming into the game, having beaten the Packers and Colts, the fans wouldn't have been booing. But they weren't, and, as Tom Powers points out, the fans (and the owner, I'd bet), were promised a Super Bowl contender and Brad Childress has not delivered. This team hasn't shown it has the ability to be a Super Bowl contender and I'm not even sure they've shown that they're going to contend for the division. And I'm not sure that Brad Childress has shown in his tenure that he's a good enough coach to take a team to the playoffs.

Defensive Injuries:
The Bears' secondary is hurting badly. The Viking's linebacking corps isn't beat up, but that's because the Purple have brought back Dontarrius Thomas and Napolean Harris (Yes! The Randy Moss trade continues to pay off!!) to fill in for E.J. Henderson and his injured backup, Noah Herron. Guess which team is better equipped to take advantage of their opponent's injuries? I'll give you a hint--even with Matt Forte nursing a hamstring injury, it's not the Vikings (though, if the Purple could get Sidney Rice back, that might make a difference).

Power Rankings:
Even though they won and even though they are now tied for first place, the Vikings dropped even further in the Power Rankings, with an average ranking of 21. And it's not a surprise that they fell out of the top twenty either--a team that has not won a game impressively doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt after barely pulling out a win against the only win less team left in the NFL.
  1. Cold, Hard Football (20)
  2. (22)
  3. (21)
  4. (22)
  5. Dr. Z's rankings on (20)

Insight via Statistics--Too Many Penalties

  • Despite having a team consisting of veterans, the Vikings lead the league in penalties and penalty yards. They do, however, have the ability to get big chunks of yards, with 18 passing plays over 20+ yards (the 7th highest in the NFL) and 5 rushing plays over 20+ yards (the 6th most in the league).
  • The Vikings are averaging only 5.58 yards per passing attempt, the 11th worst in the NFL. They are averaging 5.03 yards per carry. Despite having big play threat Bernard Berrian, those stats provide all the reasons you need to know about why the teams are still willing to bring 8 and 9 defenders in the box. One would think that a great offensive mind would be able to figure some way to capitalize on defense's singular focus on the running game.
  • The Vikings once again gave up more big plays on Sunday than they made. That's not a good sign, considering how much correlation there was last year between a team's big play differential and it's success.
  • Kyle Orton has been a good quarterback so far this year. Honestly, that's the part that I just don't understand--Kyle Orton? Good Quarterback? Huh? Anyway, he's thrown 8 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, has completed 61.6% of his passes and is averaging 6.25 yards per passing attempt. If the Vikings can get to him, however, he'll crumble under the pressure--in each of the two games in which he was sacked more than two times, he threw 2 interceptions. His offensive line isn't anything to write home about either--they're 18th in adjusted sack rate, while the Vikings' defensive line is 10th.
  • Historically, 3-3 teams have made the playoffs 40% of the time. 49% of 4-3 teams have made it, while only 20.2% of 3-4 teams have made it. Football Outsiders give the Vikings a 23.1% chance of making the playoffs, less than half of the chance they give the Packers and Bears, and a decrease of 2.1%. The Vikings may have won that game, but the way they performed did not say good things about their ability to win future games.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Killing Time: Win Expectancy, the Wild Card and the Return of Dontarrius

  • Gridironmine figured out the play by play win expectancy for Sunday's game (something they've been doing for the entire season). Personally, I love win expectancy--there are very few ways to figure out the importance of a play. For example, the pass interference call changed the win expectancy 47% in the Vikings favor. Another good example--the Lions had an 85% chance of winning (their highest of the game) when they had the ball at 3rd and 1 on the Vikings' 44 with 5:33 left in the game. Without Kevin Williams stopping Justin Felton for no gain, the Purple probably lose.
  • The NFC East may not have surrendered the crown of "Best Division" with three losses this week, but the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins' losses created an opening for a team from another division to grab a wild card spot. I think it'll require the right 10-6 record (with most of the 6 losses to AFC teams), but I wouldn't be surprised to see the second wild card team come from the NFC South (or maybe, just maybe the NFC North. And there I go being unrealistically optimistic again. But the Vikings are 3-1 against the NFC...). I definitely would not be surprised if the Cowboys missed the playoffs, especially with Brad Johnson at quarterback for 4 games. It might just be me, but I don't see him matching Tony Romo's 7.94 yards per pass attempt.
  • Speaking of Brad Johnson, Kevin Seifert has a breakdown of his final year in Minnesota. Let's just say it's not a favorable breakdown for Brad Childress' coaching style.
  • Was Brad Childress' decision to kick the extra point on Sunday a good one? I'm not actually sure. On one hand, it's not a bad idea to ensure you'll only need to score once, even if the other team scores a touchdown (there was no way the Lions would go for two). On the other, the Vikings' offense was playing horrible (and needed an iffy pass interference call to get the field goal they needed). I'm pretty sure that the decision came down to Childress' confidence in the KAO, along with some concerns about a possible punt return touchdown or another big play for a touchdown putting the game out of reach. I'm not going to complain to much about the decision, mainly because I don't think it's too unreasonable to expect the Vikings' offense (or defense, via a turnover) to get in field goal range with 20 minutes remaining in the game and because I don't think the Vikings would have completed the two point conversion.
  • Dontarrius Thomas is a Viking again. He's an upgrade over Vinny Circiu at middle linebacker, but no matter what happens (there really aren't a whole lot of available options at MLB in Week 6), the loss of E.J. Henderson is a big one for the Vikings and it makes it less likely that the Vikings' defense can carry the team to the playoffs.
  • Football Outsiders on why Adrian Peterson's performance on Sunday was a lot worse than you'd think, even after factoring in the two fumbles (and, in a related post, Smarter Stats on why a rushing title doesn't mean a running back had the best season). Also, according to their statistics, Gus Frerotte's performance on Sunday was the 6th worst by a quarterback. Bernard Berrian's performance, however, was the 5th best of any wide receiver.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Three Stars: The Only Three

Ok. That headline is probably a little over the top. There were definitely more than three defensive players that performed well (thankfully, or the Vikings would have lost). Offensively, there was really only one player who was worth celebrating. You can probably guess who it is, but read on, as I unveil the Three Stars for the game.

Third Star: Jared Allen
Jared Allen earned his first weekly star on Sunday for two reasons. The first is because he scared the Lions so much on the edge that they didn't double team Kevin Williams. Forcing teams to choose between doubling Allen and doubling Williams is one of the reasons why I remain excited about his presence on the team. The other reason why he gets the Third Star? This play:

And yes, I think that Allen getting through the line unblocked and scaring Orlovsky so much he forgot where he was means that Allen should get credit, rather than Orlovsky getting blamed.

Second Star: Bernard Berrian
Any surprise here? Berrian turning a 13 yard pass into an 86 yard touchdown was the biggest play of the game. Without it, the Vikings' lose. It was his second straight game with over 100 yards receiving (he's on pace for over 1100), and he remains the Vikings' only real deep threat. And really, that run after the catch was a thing of beauty--he made three defenders miss (and, following a monster block from, I think, Aundrae Allison) and made the kind of big play the Vikings haven't seen their wide receivers make in a long time. The most impressive part? He's still nursing a knee injury. Think about what he'd be able to do if he was healthy!

First Star: Kevin Williams
Is anyone surprised that the Lions thought it was a good idea to single team Kevin Williams (Is there anything worse than that franchise's decision making)? I think he showed, quite clearly, why real teams don't do that. Well, at least I hope that his eight tackles, one of which was for a loss and one of which was for no gain and his four sacks would convince teams not to single team him (actually, wait...never mind--I hope it doesn't). His plays all came at crucial times too--in one sequence, he stopped Jerome Felton for no gain on 3rd and 1, which forced the Lions to punt. Bernard Berrian then scored on the Vikings next play. Then, when the Lions got the ball back, he stopped Rudi Johnson for a four yard loss on first down and sacked Orlovsky on 3rd down, almost single handedly ending that drive. He also sacked Orlovsky on a 3rd and 4 in Vikings' territory in the fourth quarter and then ended any chance of the Lions completing a fluke Hail Mary by bringing down Orlovsky on the final play. The man, quite simply, was a BEAST. And that's why he's the First Star this week.

The Final Straw

The Vikings are wasting a Super Bowl caliber defense because of their inability to score points. There were many signs of this before, but yesterday was the final straw--this team will never win the Super Bowl with Brad Childress' offense.

There are many people who have decided this team is the inverse of the Vikings from 2003 and 2004. They're wrong--those teams did not have anywhere near the talent on defense that this team has on offense. Look at the rosters--the 2003 and 2004 teams had, at most, two Pro Bowl caliber players. The 2004 team had Antoine Winfield and second year players Kevin Williams and E.J. Henderson, but that was about it in terms of Pro Bowl talent (and, let's be honest, E.J. Henderson didn't emerge as a Pro Bowler until well after that year). This year, the Vikings have three players coming off of Pro Bowl seasons (Adrian Peterson, Steve Hutchinson and Matt Birk) and multiple players that have Pro Bowl (or near Pro Bowl) talent, such as Bernard Berrian, Bryant McKinnie, Chester Taylor.

With that kind of talent, the offense should be better. And the fact that Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson are the quarterbacks is no excuse. The Vikings' offense has scored 8 touchdowns this year. That's fewer than the 49ers, who have J.T. O'Sullivan throwing to the 80 year old Isaac Bruce. It's fewer than the Da Bears, who have Kyle Orton's neckbeard throwing to Brandon Lloyd and Marty Booker. It's fewer than the Tennessee Titans, who are basically the Vikings without Bernard Berrian. And I could go on.

Honestly, the Vikings' offense has been pathetic. The Lions' defense had given up 15 touchdowns in their first four games. They held the Vikings to one. They had only 4 sacks before the game. On Sunday, they had 5. Prior to playing the Vikings, they did not have an interception and had only caused 2 fumbles. On Sunday, they got their first interception and caused 4 fumbles. The Vikings' offense was dominated by a defense that could not stop any of the other teams it has played. They've been dominated by average defenses in Green Bay, Indianapolis and New Orleans and they've been dominated by good defenses in Carolina and Tennessee. The Vikings have not been able to score on anyone.

Which leads us to this--unless Brad Childress has some kind of magic potion that will fix the offense, this is not a playoff team. Yes, they are in first place now. But, as cliche as it sounds, you have to score points to win. And if they can't score against a defense as pathetic as the Lions, what are they going to do against the rest of their schedule? There isn't a defense as bad as the Lions left on it (well, except maybe the Lions) and the same goes for the offenses.

And so, in the end, this year's Vikings' team is going to be exactly like last year's team, only with more talent on both sides of the ball. And while that talent just might pull the team into the playoffs, it likely doesn't matter how much talent is added--the coach is never going to be good enough to win the Super Bowl. And that's what the Vikings' goal is--winning the Super Bowl. That's why I wrote that "I'm trying to decide if I'd rather have the Vikings miss the playoffs if it means they get a new coach". And that's why I'm going to treat the rest of this season like I would the rest of a season where the Vikings had already been eliminated from the playoffs. If they win, great. If not, well, at least they're going to get a new coach who might be able to turn this team into the Super Bowl contender it should be.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

First Place

Ladies and Gentlemen--your first place Minnesota Vikings!

That was ugly. U-G-L-Y. Kevin Williams is unbelievable. Bernard Berrian was a great signing. And I'm seriously trying to decide if I'd rather have the Vikings miss the playoffs if it means they get a new coach. But the Falcons win means that the Purple are tied for first with the Bears.

More on the game later today and tomorrow. Then I'm moving on, because a 12-10 win over this Lions team is pathetic, but it could be worse, because the Lions aren't the worst team in the league and because the Lions didn't win.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Going for 11 Straight Against the Lions

Make no mistake about it--this game is a must win for the Vikings if they want to make the playoffs. The Lions are, quite possibly, the worst team in the NFL this year (and the only reason that’s not a certainty is because the Rams are just as bad). Yes, they’ve fired Matt Millen (the Kevin McHale of the NFL), but there’s only so much an interim GM can do during the season to turn around a team in the trade shy NFL, something the Lions’ embarrassing 34-7 home loss to the Bears last week only served to highlight.

It doesn’t even take a knowledgeable football fan to figure out that this might be the worst Lions team ever. They have a legitimate shot at losing every game. They’ve been outscored by 81 points in their first four games (an average of 20.25 points per game), which is the second worst in the league, topped only by the Rams, who have been outscored by 104 points in their first four games (see what I mean about the Rams?). They’ve given up 147 total points, tied with the Rams for the most points allowed and have only scored 66 points. That’s the third fewest points, behind the Rams (who sadly, are not on the Vikings’ schedule this year) and the Chiefs, who tried using Tyler Thigpen, who was cut by the Vikings’ last year, at quarterback for two games. Quite simply, their offense has been horrible, although, it’s probably not a good sign for the Vikings that the Purple’s offense has scored the same number of touchdowns in five games as the Lions have scored in four.

Defensively, they’re just as bad. I mean, what else do you need to know about a defense, other than the fact that they just allowed Kyle Orton to complete 70.5% of his passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns? They’ve yet to hold a team under 31 points, are allowing 180 rushing yards per game, have only four sacks so far this year and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 67.5% of their passes. Quarterbacks have a QB Rating of 121.5 against them so far this year. Basically, they’re turning every quarterback they face into the 2004 version of Peyton Manning. And by every quarterback, I mean Matt Ryan,, Aaron Rodgers, J.T. O’Sullivan and Kyle Orton.

And yet, it seems likely that the Vikings’ offense will continue to sputter. They couldn’t run the ball against the Saints, who held the Vikings to 1.7 yards per carry, despite allowing running backs 5.22 yards per carry in their previous four games. The Vikings couldn’t move the ball through the air either, except when Gus Frerotte closed his eyes and chucked it deep to Bernard Berrian (or Aundrae Allison) and hoped Berrian would adjust and come back to the under thrown ball.

Of course, if Berrian continues to play as well as he did against the Saints, it may not matter that Frerotte and “accuracy” can’t really be used in the same sentence. Then again, he's still battling a knee injury and missed most of practice this week. There isn’t anyone in the Lions secondary that’s as good as Mike McKenzie or Terry Porter (which says a lot, actually, because neither is a Pro Bowl type). And Dwight Smith is still good for at least one blown coverage at safety a game. The Lions don’t have the same type of speed at linebacker as the Saints did either, which means they won’t be able to shut down outside runs the same way the Saints did either (though, if Childress had just, you know, made an adjustment and pounded the ball up the middle against the Saints’ small linebackers, that might not have been an issue). This week, the Purple might want to avoid running the ball to the right (more so than they normally do), because that’s where the Lions’ best player, linebacker Ernie Sims usually is, but aside from Sims, there really isn’t anyone on the Lions who requires a team to game plan for them.

Defensively, the Vikings will have to be careful of the Lions’ passing game. While their quarterback situation is up in the air (it doesn’t matter if the Lions start Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky or Drew Stanton, all three are liable to get yanked or hurt), they still feature the same quality wide receivers they’ve had the last two years (insert your favorite Matt Millen draft joke here). Calvin Johnson has started to play like the #2 overall pick (well, at least as much as he can within the Lions’ offense). Roy Williams remains a threat, although prone to dropping passes (he’s only caught 42% of the balls thrown his way) and Mike Furrey remains a capable third receiver. That’s about it for the Lions’ offensive talent though. Their offensive line has allowed four sacks a game and struggles to open up holes in the running game. While rookie Kevin Smith has shown some promise, he’s only averaged 3.6 yards per carry. Rudi Johnson has been better, with a 5.3 yards per carry average, but neither is a threat to break a big play and neither is a threat against the Vikings, even though they’re missing E.J. Henderson.

No matter which way you slice it, the Lions are an awful team and one the Vikings’ should beat easily. Add in the fact that it’s a division game (which will factor into possible tiebreakers for the division crown and the wild card berths) and it’s a game that the Vikings must win to keep pace. They’ve managed to get most of the way out of the 1-3 hole they dug themselves in just one game against the Saints (with some help from the Packers and Bears), but they have to capitalize on opportunities like this one if they want to see the postseason for the first time since 2004. Odds are it’ll be an ugly game, unless Adrian Peterson goes off for 250+ yards or the Vikings’ defense creates points off of turnovers, but the Vikings should come out with a 30-17 win, and in today’s NFL, that’s all that matters.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Punting, Big Plays and the Pass Rush

  • The Vikings currently have the worst special teams unit in the NFL, ranking last in DVOA. Naturally, Brad Childress has chosen to react to this by bringing in random people to challenge Chris Kluwe for the punting job. Obviously, Kluwe had an awful game against the Saints. That being said, an equal amount of blame needs to be placed on the coverage unit. Kluwe's one of the better punters in the NFL. He didn't look like it on Monday Night, but it doesn't matter if you have Ray Guy punting for you if your entire cover unit has no lane discipline and lets themselves get blocked.
  • Unlike last year, when the Vikings were tied for fifth in "Net Big Plays" at +18 (and had the second most big plays, behind only San Diego, with 61), the Purple this year have given up more big plays than they've made and are currently tied for 22nd, with a -3 Net Big Plays. The problem isn't because they aren't making big plays, however (they're tied for 5th with 17), it's because they're giving them up at an almost alarming rate of four per game. The 20 they've given up is the second most in the NFL (behind only the 49ers) and almost half of the 43 they gave up in 16 games last year. Luckily for the Vikings, the Lions are among the worst at making big plays, and are tied with the Dolphin for last, with only 5. Detroit's net is the worst in the NFL as well, at -13.
  • Despite bringing in Jared Allen, the Vikings' pass rush remains below average, and has actually been about the same as it was last year. The Purple had an adjusted sack rate of 5.5% last year. This year, it's 5.6%. Now, that doesn't factor in the fact that the Vikings have faced two quarterbacks who are almost impossible to bring down due to their quick releases. Peyton Manning has only been sacked 2.8% of the time he's dropped back to pass in his career, and Drew Brees' sack rate is 3.9% (remember, everyone was excited about Frerotte's low career sack rate of 6.0%). Luckily, they don't have to worry about Jon Kitna's ability to get rid of the ball quickly--his sack rate with the Lions is 9.2% (assuming he's able to play despite his back injury, which happened during one of the 15 times he's been sacked this year).
  • If you're looking for a reason not to trust Football Outsiders' stats, I've got one for you--Gus Frerotte is 12th in DYAR and 11th in DVOA among quarterbacks so far. He's ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisburger and his soulmate, Kerry Collins. I have a feeling this will work itself out--as I said during the game, while Gus Frerotte has been a better quarterback than Tarvaris Jackson so far, he's by no means been a good quarterback.
  • The Vikings are the only team in the division to beat a team above .500 so far. They're also the only team to beat two teams in the top 15 in DVOA. Chicago's the only NFC North team to beat a top 5 DVOA team, however, with their win against the Eagles and both Chicago (11th) and Green Bay (18th) have a higher DVOA than the Vikings (19th).