Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Killing Time: More Reasons to Fire Childress and Other Thoughts

A few more thoughts on Childress and other things, now that the Vikings are a quarter of the way through their games:

  • Under Brad Childress, the Vikings are 3-8 against playoff teams. What makes that record even worse than it appears is that all three of their wins required some kind of fluke. Matt Hasselbeck got hurt during their win against Seattle in 2006 and Chester Taylor set a franchise record with a 96 yard touchdown run. Their win over San Diego featured Adrian Peterson setting the NFL record for rushing in a game. And Eli Manning threw x picks, x of which were returned for touchdowns, in their win over the Giants last year. Against winning teams, the Purple are 4-9 under Brad Childress and 1-1 this year (and their two losses to the Colts and Packers will likely qualify at the end of the year). This isn't a case of the Vikings being inconsistent-this is a case of the Vikings being unable to beat a good team unless something crazy happens. That's not good enough for a team this talented or for a franchise that plans on winning a Super Bowl.
  • Despite not rushing for 100 yards the last two games, Adrian Peterson is only two yards behind Michael Turner for the NFL rushing lead. Larry Johnson, who has 415 yards, is the only other running back with more than 400 yards. Peterson's been a lot more consistent, however, and has been successful against more than just the worst rush defenses. Michael Turner has amassed 324 of his 422 yards (76.7%) against Kansas City and Detroit, who are 27th and 32nd in rushing DVOA, and was held to 42 yards by Tampa Bay, who is 3rd in rushing DVOA and 56 yards by the Carolina Panthers, who are 19th in rushing DVOA. Peterson has faced the 29th (Packers), 25th (Colts), 19th (Panthers) and 6th (Titans), while rushing for 438 yards, but he has yet to be shut down in a game like Turner has been twice and his best two games only account for 62.6% of his yards. Larry Johnson has been erratic, like Turner, only rushing for 22 yards against the Raiders (21st in rushing DVOA) and 74 against the Patriots (26th) while racking up 319 of his 415 yards (76.8%) against Atlanta (15th) and Denver (10th).
  • Chad Greenway is 5th in the NFL in tackles, with 34, only 7 behind Dhani Jones, who leads the league.
  • Adrian Peterson needs to average 131.6 yards per game over the last 12 games in order to accomplish his goal of rushing for 2000 yards. If he kept up his average of 5.1 yards per carry, he would need 308 carries to get the 1580 yards he needs. That would also mean he had the fourth most carries this decade, behind Larry Johnson in 2006 (416 carries), Eddie George in 2000 (403) and Ricky Williams in 2003 (397). None of them made it to 1000 yards the next year.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Another Lost Season (A Plea for a new Coach)

I'll admit it--I watched the Twins game yesterday from the start. I only caught the first hour or so, and some of the game during commercials. And you know what? I made the right decision.

The Vikings' have their draws--the Purple Jesus, E.J. Henderson, the defensive line--but this team isn't any more special than last year's team. It has the same talent level, the same massive question marks in the passing game, the same poor play calling and the players make the same fundamental mistakes. So why should I get excited about a team that's on its way to another 8-8 season at best?

And let's be honest--this team is on its way to another .500 season. The Bears are looking like the Bears of 2006 and 2004 again. Brad Childress can't beat the Packers. The Jaguars, Giants, Saints and Buccaneers are all good teams. And really, would any one be surprised to see the Texans or Cardinals beat the Vikings? There are easily 5 losses left on the Vikings' schedule, if not more. I don't know that I see 7 wins, let alone the 8 or 9 that would be required for the Purple to win the division.

And yes, I place the blame for this firmly at the feet of Brad Childress. It is his fault that the Vikings are forced to rely on Gus Frerotte to quarterback. It is his fault that the offense is designed so poorly. It his fault that the play calls are so inexplicable (he called the punt with two minutes to go with the Vikings down two and he called the deep pass play that took Adrian Peterson off the field on a 3rd and 1 to name two horrible decisions). And it is his fault that the Vikings are 1-3 despite having a team that is playoff caliber in every aspect of the game except for when they are throwing the ball.

If the Purple do not make the playoffs this year, Brad Childress should be fired. He's had three years and all the support he could possibly want from his owner. And he's only been able to manage a 15-21 record that includes a home loss to the Redskins with the playoffs on the line. We have to remember that the ultimate goal for this franchise is not the playoffs or the division title. The ultimate goal is a Super Bowl victory. If Brad Childress can't make the playoffs with this team, there's no reason to believe he'll ever be able to coach a team to the title (not that he's shown any reason to believe he could do that so far). And if the coach doesn't have the ability to win the Super Bowl, the Vikings need to get a new coach. It's that simple.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Tale of Two Lines

The Vikings-Titans match up will feature two of the most hyped defensive lines coming into the season. We all know about the Vikings' line, but the Titans, fresh off a playoff berth, feature Albert Haynesworth, one of the only tackles that can be fairly compared to Kevin Williams, a Pro Bowl defensive end in Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Javon Kearse, who while getting up in age, is still a big name defensive end.

And unlike the Vikings line, the Titans have been living up to the hype all year. They have 11 sacks already almost all of which have come from their defensive line. Haynesworth has 3, and Vanden Bosch, Kearse and DT Tony Brown have 2 each. With those sacks have come a 9.9% adjusted sack rate, the third best in the NFL, and well above the NFL average of 7.0%. They've also held opposing running games to 3.54 adjusted line yards, the 7th best in the NFL. And these totals aren't out of line for the Titans, as they've finished 9th and 11th in ASR in the last two years that they weren't missing Haynesworth because he was hurt or impersonating a Riverdancer.

The Vikings will try and counter with an offensive line that is still missing its starting left tackle. But, while they've been below average, allowing 6 sacks and an adjusted sack rate of 7.5%, the 18th best in the league, they're still doing better than the last three years. The Vikings offensive line's best finish in ASR was 22nd, in 2006. Last year, they were 30th, and they were 28th in 2005. Of course, they've always been able to run the ball and they're 2nd in the league, behind Denver, with 5.03 adjusted line yards.

The Titans offensive line is more well rounded, but they haven't had quite the same success running the ball as the Purple. While they're 17th overall in Adjusted Line yards, with 4.15, they were 4th in Adjusted Sack Rate last year and have been even better this year, allowing only 2 sacks in their first three games and with a 2.8% ASR, they have the second best Adjusted Sack Rate in the NFL.

That means the Vikings' defensive line will not have an easy task on Sunday if they plan on meeting their preseason hype. While the new Purple People Eaters have looked impressive the last two weeks, and especially against the Panthers, their ASR still isn't much better than it was last year. The last three years, the Purple have been 28th, 31st and 21st overall in ASR. This year, they're 18th, but they're still below average, with a 6.8% ASR. They've still been dominating the run, holding opponents to a league best 2.66 adjusted line yards, but as we've seen, that's not enough to be the kind of dominant defense line that can carry a team to the playoffs.

For the Vikings' to be successful, they need their pass rush to get to the quarterback like the Titans' pass rush has. They've shown they can do it against the Colts and especially against the Panthers. They need to be able to do it against the Titans as well if they want to continue to climb out of the 0-2 hole they've dug for themselves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Sweet Smell of Victory

A few more thoughts after the Vikings' first win:
  • It was big touchdown catch, but I still don't trust Visanthe Shiancoe's ability to catch. Maybe because he also let a a sure first down bounce off of his chest earlier in the game.
  • In 18 career starts, Tarvaris Jackson has only thrown for more than 200 yards four times. Gus Frerotte did so in his first start.
  • I didn't mention him in the Three Stars post, but Chad Greenway continues to live up to his first round potential. Dr. Z gave him some love in his Power Rankings last week, and Greenway showed why against the Panthers, racking up 9 tackles and a sack that forced Jake Delholmme to fumble, killing a Panthers' drive that started in Minnesota territory.
  • I didn't think the Heath Farwell injury was that big a deal when I found out about it. The Vikings' inability to cover kickoffs and punts has proven me wrong. His loss has been a huge loss to the coverage teams and the Panthers took advantage of it, averaging 29.2 yards per return on kickoff and averaging 10 yards on punt returns. The Vikings are currently allowing the 10th most yards per kick return and the 3rd most yards per punt return. That's especially bad considering the Vikings are a defense and run oriented team--field position is especially important to them.
  • In that vein, the Vikings need to cut down on the penalties. They've been penalized 20 times already, for 147 yards (that's the 9th most penalties for a team). They do not have the kind of offense that can overcome a lot of penalties, as shown on Sunday, when they lost a touchdown and two drives to penalties.
  • The odds of the Vikings making the playoffs prior to Sunday was a little worse than 1 in 8 (11.7%). With the victory, they more than doubled their chances and now have a little worse than 1 in 4 chance to make the postseason (22.4%). If they beat the Titans, they'll have about a 1 in 3 chance of making the playoffs (33.4%), while a loss would drop them down to 1 in 7 again. So, once again, the Vikings' game on Sunday is approaching a must win (though, to be fair, the Chargers went 11-5 and won their division after a 1-3 start last year, so it's not the end of the world if they lose).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Three Stars: First Victory

This post is a lot harder to write after a win. But you know what? I can't say I mind too much. The Vikings first win featured, as all wins do, many outstanding individual performances, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And in a game in which Steve Smith was expected to destroy the Vikings and the Panthers' offense, particularly their running game, had been so successful even without Smith, it was only fitting that all three stars go to defensive players.

So while Adrian Peterson averaged over 4.5 yards per carry on a bad hamstring, he's not going to crack the top three players this week. The same goes for Bernard Berrian, who lead the Vikings in receiving, caught his first deep pass and looked like the deep threat he was supposed to be. Berrian fails to crack the top three because his inability to haul in a deep pass led to the Vikings' only turnover. And while Gus Frerrotte calmed the offense down in the second half and he was the first Viking to crack 200 yards passing, his performance wasn't anything special (except in comparison with Tarvaris' first two games). He still missed open recievers, took three sacks and generally put together an average game. With the defense dominating in the way it did, it was enough to win. It wasn't enough to crack the Three Stars though.

Third Star: Kevin Williams
The lighter of the two Williams had another dominating game, racking up six tackles while helping keep the Panthers and their running game under 50 yards for the game. He also had two crucial sacks while keeping Jake Delhomme under constant pressure. Both sacks came when it mattered, as his first came on final drive of the first half and his second came on 4th and 27 with under 3 minutes to go in the game and basically ended whatever hope the Panthers might have had of coming back.

Second Star: E.J. Henderson
Twelve tackles, three for a loss, one quarterback hurry and one flying, highlight reel tackle. Just another game for one of the best middle linebackers in the game and the leader of the best run stopping defense in the game. What else can you say, except that, in a defense full of playmakers, E.J. Henderson has moved his way to the top of the list of Vikings defenders worth paying to see?

First Star: Antoine Winfield
There's no question that the biggest play of the game was Antoine Winfield's blitz that forced a Jake Delholmme fumble that Winfield returned for a touchdown. Steve Smith was open on the play, Delholmme knew it, Smith knew it, and who knows what might have happened if Winfield hadn't gotten to Delholmme? The best case scenario would have had the Vikings' going into the locker down a touchdown. The worst case scenario would have had them down two touchdowns and staring at a loss likely to end their playoff hopes. Because of Winfield, however, the Vikings' didn't have to worry about the various scenarios that might have played out if Delholmme had gotten the pass off. Instead they went into the locker room tied, with all of the momentum going their way. And the capitalized on that momentum, holding the Panthers scoreless in the second half and giving the offense a chance, which they capitalized on, to take the lead on the first drive of the second half. Without Winfield's play, none of that happens. Really, without Winfield's play, the Vikings' fall to 3-0. And that's why Winfield's the First Star this week.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Desperate for a Win

As I said yesterday, if you look at the Vikings and Panthers' records, this game seems like a mismatch. However, when you delve a little bit further, it becomes apparent that the Vikings not only have a very good chance of winning this game, they've played as well as the Panthers have, only without the results. If Gus Frerotte can get the passing game to work better than Tarvaris Jackson did, the Vikings should beat the Panthers and begin climbing back into contention. If he can't, however, the Vikings will be sitting at 0-3 and basically done for the season, with only a 3.4% chance of making the playoffs.



Total DVOA

Last Week



























As you can see, the Vikings have a slightly better DVOA than the Panthers do and are still considered the better team by DAVE, which combines the preseason projection and the results so far in an attempt to get a more reliable ranking of teams early in the year. The Vikings have been much better on defense overall (you want a negative defensive DVOA) and have been relatively comparable offensively.

When you start to break it down a even more, the differences between the Vikings and Panthers becomes more apparent.




Last Week



Pass OFF

Pass Rank

Rush OFF

Rush Rank





















Offensively, the Panthers are a much better passing team than the Vikings are. You probably knew that. They aren't a great passing team though, as their DVOA passing is negative. Of course, that's without Steve Smith and as we've all seen before, Steve Smith is the kind of difference maker that can practically win a game by himself. Runningwise, the Panthers have a solid line and two good backs, including a stud rookie in Jonathon Stewart. Stewart's actually fourth overall in DYAR and DVOA so far this year, and he's 8th in Success Rate, which isn't a surprise because he is a load to tackle (The Purple Jesus is 2nd, 5th and 6th in those three categories). DeAngelo Williams is a good back as well and is 17th in DYAR and 16th in DVOA. So while it's not unreasonable for them to be splitting the carries 50/50, he's going to start losing carries to Stewart, just like Chester Taylor lost carries to Adrian Peterson. That hasn't happened quite yet, however.

Defensively, the Panthers have trouble against both the pass and the run, but their issues stopping the pass are nowhere near as pronounced as the Vikings.




Last Week



Pass DEF

Pass Rank

Rush DEF

Rush Rank





















The Panthers’ struggles against the pass come from their inability to get pressure. This isn't a new or unexpected issue, either, as the Panthers had the second fewest sacks last year and lost two of their best pass rushers when they traded Kris Jenkins and lost Mike Rucker to retirement. They've also had problems against the run (something the Vikings just might be able to exploit), though they've done a better job than the Packers and Colts, who are ranked 23rd and 24th, respectively, in DVOA against the run.

So, the statistics say that there's hope for the Vikings on Sunday. That might not matter, however. The Vikings' do have the home field advantage and they're definitely the more desperate team, but I think the Panthers still have the edge for two reasons. The first is the Vikings' injuries. Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice are banged up to the point where they might not be able to be effective with Peyton Manning circa 2004 throwing to them, let alone with Gus Frerotte. Adrian Peterson is having hamstring issues. And that's not even factoring in that Visanthe Shiancoe is perfectly healthy and just waiting for the perfect moment to drop a key pass.

The second reason I think the Panthers have the advantage is that this will be Steve Smith's first game back from his suspension. There are few players in the NFL that scare me more than a fired up Steve Smith. And Steve Smith will be fired up on Sunday, which, when combined with the Vikings' mediocre to awful secondary, means that, while we likely won't see him mock-rowing in the end zone, we are likely to see him do some shadow boxing there.

I think the Panthers win this one, 27-13, dropping the Vikings to 0-3 and guaranteeing that a new regime is going to inherit a team one quarterback away from Super Bowl contention. Wonder if Bill Cowher will want to coach a running game like the Vikings have?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Killing Time: Fallout from the End of the Tarvaris Revolution

Fallout from the end of the Tarvaris Revolution:
  • Tarvaris' failure has shaken Brad Childress' confidence (and no, I don't think that's a bad thing--maybe it will lead to him reassessing his awful playcalling).
  • Gonzo and Jason Winters are shocked that Childress would actually make the change after his hard headness this offseason.
  • Cold, Hard Football Facts point out the large knife sticking out of Tarvaris' back.
  • Player reactions.
Playcalling issues:
I still believe Tarvaris' development was hurt by his coaches. Would it have turned him into Jay Cutler? Probably not, but better coaching on fundamentals and better play calling could have been the difference between 0-2 and 2-0. The predictability of the Vikings' offensive game plan is pathetic, and not something that should be a problem for a third year head coach with an offensive background.

Advanced NFL Stats and Smart Football both have pieces on the negative effect of predictable playcalling.

Sydney Rice and Bernard Berrian are both battling injuries right now. Bryant McKinnie is still out for two more games. Tarvaris wasn't able to overcome his top two receivers being dinged up. Will Frerotte? (Probably not. Why couldn't the Vikings get a real backup quarterback?)

And that doesn't even factor in the injury to Madieu Williams, who might not have made the same mistakes rookie Tyrell Johnson has made that have lead to multiple deep completions.

And sadly, Visanthe Shiancoe is not injured, nor will he be on the inactive list.

Power Rankings:
After falling to 0-2, the Vikings continued to fall in the power rankings. They've dropped from just outside of the top ten to inside the top twenty and now, are outside of the top twenty with an average of 20.2. A win over the Panthers, who have an average rank of 7th, would certainly help the Vikings' move up, but don't expect them to get near their preseason ranking unless they go on a winning streak.
  1. Cold, Hard Football Facts.com (19)
  2. Foxsports.com (19)
  3. ESPN.com (21)
  4. CBSsportsline.com (22)
  5. Dr. Z's rankings on CNNSI.com (20)
People are already talking about the Panthers as one of the best teams in the NFL, which is no surprise after going 2-0 against the Chargers and Bears. The interesting thing, is, according to Football Outsiders, the Vikings have a higher overall DVOA. The Panthers have higher DVOA on offense, but they're only ranked 15th, while the Vikings are 18th. Defensively, the Purple have played better, and are ranked 11th, with a -5.8% DVOA, while the Panthers have a positive DVOA (you want a negative DVOA defensively), and are 17th overall.

Then again, Steve Smith is going to be playing for the first time on Sunday, and he'll be fired up (his family is even going to be there). I fully expect him to torch Cedric Griffin like he did Fred Smoot, if Leslie Frazier makes the mistake of not keeping Antoine Winfield on Smith all game long.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Frerotte Ends the Tarvaris Revolution

It's official--the Tarvaris Revolution is over. Gus Frerotte will be starting on Sunday for the Vikings and will, most likely, be the starter for the rest of the year. It's not a surprise, what with Tarvaris completing only 50.8% of his passes and averaging only 4.4 yards per pass attempt. I'm not sure this is the right decision (I really do think that 75% of the blame for the pathetic passing game lies on Childress and the receivers' shoulders), but in the end, if the Vikings don't beat the Panthers, they aren't going to the playoffs, and no matter what Zygi's said about Childress' job security, he's gone if the Vikings don't make the playoffs (and he should be). And to be fair, it's not like Tarvaris did anything to keep the job in the first two games.

Things I like about this decision:
  • Frerotte's has averaged 6.02 yards per pass attempt for his career
  • Frerotte's has a really low sack rate, which, at 6.0%, is lower than Tarvaris' 6.7% sack rate. That means he's not going to force the Vikings into a lot of 2nd/3rd and long situations like Brooks Bollinger (11.8% career sack rate) and Kelly Holcomb (7.4% career sack rate, 13.1% sack rate last year) did.
Reasons why the Vikings should have traded for Sage Rosenfels to be the backup:
  • Frerotte averaged only 5.37 yards per attempt last year, which is worse than Tarvaris' 5.88 yards per attempt average last year.
  • Frerotte cannot scramble--he has 308 rushing yards in 136 games.
  • Frerotte's career completion percentage is 54.2%, which is lower than Tarvaris' 57.1%, and he completed only 56.3% of his passes last year.

Killing Time: From 0-2 to the Playoffs

Yesterday, I mentioned that the Vikings only have an 11.4% chance of making the playoffs after losing their first two games. They've dug themselves a hole that only 27 teams have pulled themselves out of since the advent of the 16 game schedule, and only three teams have gotten out of an 0-2 hole in the last five years. So what did last year's Super Bowl Champions, the 2006 Chiefs and the 2003 Eagles all have in common?

They all won their next two games to get back to .500. It didn't hurt that only the Giants had to beat a team that made the playoffs that year in order to win two straight, but none of the three teams had an easy next two games, as all but the Chiefs faced teams that finished around .500.

The Giants ripped off six straight wins after their 0-2 start, but the Chiefs and Eagles both lost their fifth game to fall to 2-3 and still rebounded. Despite that loss, the Eagles still managed to win 12 games in 2003, while the Chiefs ended up at an uninspiring 9-7.

Which means that Sunday's game against the Panthers and the following game against the Saints are pretty much must wins. A loss against the Panthers would drop the Vikings' playoffs odds to 3.4% and pretty much end any hope of the Purple making the playoffs.

I'm not the only one that's thinking like this either--the Pioneer Press has a comparison of the Vikings and last year's Giants.

The loss of Bryant McKinnie for the first four games has emphasized the ideas in Michael Lewis' "The Blind Side". Advanced NFL Stats and Sabermetric Research both have pieces on the underlying idea behind the book--that the Left Tackle is the second most important position on the offense.

Defensive Indifference on Brad Childress' play calling.

Vikings' Now on Tarvaris' Red Zone issues.

Daily Norseman on why the Vikings' won't be trading for Jeff Garcia.

Terrell Owens passed Chris Carter for second on the all time touchdown list on Monday Night. I can't say I'm particular happy to see Carter passed by Owens, even if I don't hate Owens in the way a lot of folks do. What I was really unhappy about was the fact that Owens managed to close 20 points of a 34 point lead I had in fantasy football in the first half of the game. That second half was pure torture after what I thought had been an easy win.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Frustration of 0-2

If someone told you that the Vikings would hold the Colts to 18 points, hold Joseph Addai to 20 rushing yards and pick off Peyton Manning twice, you'd assume the Vikings won, right? Especially if they told you that Adrian Peterson went off for 160 yards on 29 carries. Of course, if they told you that Tarvaris Jackson only completed 50% of his passes while throwing for a paltry 130 yards and no touchdowns and that the Vikings were unable to score a single touchdown despite getting into field goal range six times, well, you'd probably guess, correctly, that the Vikings lost, and that it was painful. Man was it ever painful.

It wasn't even the final drive that Manning engineered that was the painful part. He's Peyton Manning--of course he's going to drive his team into field goal range with three seconds left on the clock. What was painful was the fact that the Vikings blew opportunity after opportunity to make that final drive meaningless. It is utterly inexcusable for a team to attempt six field goals against a team that could not stop the run and turned over the ball two times. The Vikings crossed midfield nine times on Sunday. They were in the red zone twice. And yet, they weren’t able to get into the end zone.

It was clear on Sunday that something was wrong with the offense. And after looking at the game log, it becomes clear—Brad Childress’ play calling is awful, and Tarvaris Jackson has trouble running the plays that Childress calls. Of those nine drives, six of them ended with short pass attempts that were either incomplete or didn’t pick up the first down. The other three ended with a run attempt on 3rd and 5 that didn’t pick up the first down, a sack (on what I assume was meant to be a short pass play) and a field goal as time expired at the half (which, sadly, one can’t blame Childress for).

Of Tarvaris’ 14 completions, 12 were described as “short passes” in the play by play. Of his 14 incomplete passes, 8 were described as “short passes”. It’s no surprise that Tarvaris averaged a pathetic 4.4 yards per pass attempt (more than a yard lower than Adrian Peterson’s 5.5 yards per carry) when you consider that he only threw two deep passes the entire game. Play calling like that is what turns touchdowns into field goals and victories into defeats. And it’s averages like that begs the question as to why the Colts didn’t start the game with Bob Sanders in the box.

Of course, none of that might have mattered if Visanthe Shiancoe could catch. Of course, he can’t, something that everyone except Brad Childress has figured out and something that he once again displayed in a crucial situation, dropping a touchdown pass on third down, forcing the Vikings to kick a field goal, and costing them four points in a game they lost by three.

And now, at 0-2, the Vikings face long odds to make the playoffs. According to the Pro Football Prospectus, of all the teams to start 0-2 in a 17 week season, only 11.4% have made the playoffs. In the last five years, however, there have been three teams to make the turn around from 0-2 to the playoffs—the 2003 Eagles, the 2006 Chiefs and the 2007 Giants. Of those teams, only the Eagles won their division (though the Giants, obviously, won the Super Bowl). So while making the playoffs from after an 0-2 start is a tough task, it’s not impossible. As the saying goes, it ain’t over, till it’s over.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Three Stars: 0-2

As I said last time, I try and stay positive no matter what. Or at least lead with the positive. I'm as mad/depressed/want Childress' head as anybody right now, but there's way to much rancor here on the internet. That and I want to consolidate my negativity into one post. It's easier on the heart that way. So, without further ado, the Three Stars of the Game.

Third Star: Jared Allen
He said he would get better and he did. After a no show in the season opener, Allen showed up against Peyton Manning, notching one sack, two hurries and generally making Manning's life miserable. This was very much the guy that the Vikings traded for and the Colts troubles offensively can be traced to the fact that the defensive was in Manning's face all game. Oh, and don't look now, but Allen's ahead of his sack pace from last year, when he didn't have a sack in the first two games. (Heh.)

Second Star: E. J. Henderson
Why wasn't E. J. a Pro Bowler again? He was all over the field on Sunday, notching six tackles, three tackles for a loss, one sack and a hurry. He also lead a defense that held the Colts scoreless in the first half (the first time since October 8th, 2006 that Indy failed to score before halftime) and one that shut down the Colts running game so effectively that they only gained 25 yards on 19 carries and got called out by their quarterback. Joseph Addai, who averaged 4.1 yards per carry last year, only had three carries where he gained more than four yards. Not a bad day for a middle linebacker, that's for sure.

1st Star: Adrian Peterson
Once again, Peterson showed why he's the best running back in the NFL. After a 29 carry, 160 yard effort, he's leading the league in rushing, is off to the second best start statistically by a Viking back (only Robert Smith in 1998 had more yards after two games and I'd have to say he had a little more help from his passing game. Only a little bit though) and he's generally looking like the Adrian Peterson everyone expected. He gained at least 4 yards on 19 of his carries and picked up five first downs. He also out rushed the Vikings' passing game. Just think about what he could have done if the Colts weren't able to bring noted run stopper Bob Sanders up in the box on every play.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Week One Power Rankings

The rankings don't look anywhere near as nice as they did a week ago, that's for sure. The Vikings average ranking dropped from 10.6 from 17.4, a huge drop. I guess that's what happens when you lose a game on National TV. A win over the Colts, who's average rank is 10.2, would go a long way toward getting the Vikings rankings back up.
  1. Cold, Hard Football Facts.com (20)
  2. Foxsports.com (16)
  3. ESPN.com (16)
  4. CBSsportsline.com (19)
  5. Dr. Z's rankings on CNNSI.com (18)

Killing Time: Playoff Odds, Recaps and ESPN

Its pretty obvious that Sunday's home opener against Indianapolis is a big game. Aside from the numerous players that need to rebound after a poor first game (paging Mr. Allen, paging Mr. Allen), the difference between 1-1 and 0-2 is a big one (not to mention the fact that Green Bay gets Detroit on Sunday, which means they're likely to be 2-0). OK--stop looking at me like I'm a bit slow. I know its obvious that 1-1 is better than 0-2. I know you know that too. What you probably don't know is how big a difference it makes in the odds the Vikings will make the playoffs. The folks at Football Outsiders know, and they calculated the odds of a team making the playoffs at various points in the season in the most recent Pro Football Prospectus (Have I mentioned that I love that book? You really should go buy it if you haven't already). They did so by looking at how where each team from 1978-2007 (excluding 1993 and its 18 week season) was after each game and calculating the percentage of teams at 1-0, 2-3, 9-6, etc that made the playoffs.

It's by no means definitive, but it gives a good sense of how important each game is. And let me tell you-this upcoming game is important. The difference between the playoff odds of an 1-1 team and a 0-2 team is one of the larger gaps created by a one game swing. At 0-1, the Vikings current have a 24.7% chance of making the playoffs. If they win, their chances increase to 41.0%. If the lose, their chances fall to 11.4%. That's a 30% swing and a loss would leave the Purple in a hole that it would take the Vikings three straight wins to dig themselves out of and get back to having a 50% chance of making the playoffs. So while Sunday's game won't necessarily make or break the Purple's season, a loss would put them in a hole that it will be very hard to dig their way out of.

More From Monday Night
Defensive Indifference, Luft's Locker Room, Skol Vikes and Andrew Sundquist from Pro Football Talk all have recaps of Monday Night's game.

Advanced Football Stats looks at Brad Childress' decision to go for two.

Football Outsiders has their Week 1 DVOA ratings up. Unsurprisingly, the Vikings are 22nd overall in VOA. Their DAVE rating, which is much better at predicting order of finish, is 5th though, and they were one of only two top 15 teams in DAVE that had to play a top 5 team last week (Green Bay is currently 2nd).

Shutdown Corner on the Aaron Rodgers' Bandwagon.

Smarter Stats, a new blog from the Washington Post, on the best statistic to rank pass rushers by. In case you were wondering, he had Jared Allen with sixth most sacks, hurries and knockdowns, despite his missing two games last year. Which means that, despite his missing the first game this year, he can still be one of the top pass rushers statistically again in 2008.

Finally, Cold Hard Football Facts on Tony Kornheiser and the Big Lead on the entire broadcast. The consensus? It was bad, real bad.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Purple Jesus Lays The Wood

Do not get in Purple Jesus' way or you'll end up like this:

As Batgirl used to say--"Boom, BITCH".

Almost, But Not Enough

As usual, after their season opening loss, the Vikings performance left their fans with the ability to choose between optimism and pessimism. They're cool like that-the Minnesota Vikings: something for everyone! Of course, even the most optimistic fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths after Tarvaris Jackson was picked off by Atari Bigby on the Vikings' final drive, effectively ending the game and pushing Brad Childress' record to 0-5 against the Packers.

Even if the Purple had pulled it out, there was a lot to be pessimistic about. Jared Allen, the Vikings biggest off season acquisition, was shut down by Chad Clifton after drawing two early holding penalties. Clifton's performance (and the rest of the Packers' line, which gave Aaron Rodgers enough time to be hesitant and hold onto the ball for too long and still complete 82% of his passes, a stat which dooms him to a career like that of Rob Johnson, Sam Wyche and Stan Humphries) stood in stark contrast to that of the Vikings' line, which, without Bryant McKinnie. gave Tarvaris Jackson the kind of protection that, to put it nicely, allowed Tarvaris to show off his ability to escape sacks. It also meant that Tarvaris was forced to rush throws, throw of his back foot and generally take way too many hits (which reminds me--SLIDE Tarvaris! SLIDE!!). Add that and some ugly throws by Tarvaris (though not anywhere near as many as last year), and you get a 45.7% completion percentage and only 4.7 yards per attempt.

And then there was the big plays. Rodgers' 56 yard pass to Greg Jennings wasn't exactly awesome, but that's what happens when you're forced to play your rookie safety instead of the veteran free agent you signed. On the other hand, Ryan Grant's 57 yard run was inexcusable for a defense that prides itself on stopping the run and which has only allowed one longer run in the last two years, to Stephen Jackson in Week 17 of 2006, a game in which the defense had clearly already packed it in. And for the sake of our collective blood pressure, let's not talk about the long play to Donald Driver that got called back.

The special teams also failed the team, missing Will Blackmon enough times on a punt return that he had no choice but to score and amassing a whopping nine yards on four punt returns and averaging under twenty yards on kick off returns.

The Vikings did manage to create their own big plays on offense, getting a 34 yard run out of Adrian Peterson and a 26 yard pass interference call on Al Harris that put them into position to score. Unlike the Packers, however, they were unable to turn their big plays into touchdowns, settling for only one field goal on the two drives.

Despite all of that, however, the Vikings only lost by five points, at Lambeau, with two important starters sitting out, to a team that went 13-3 last year and returned almost every one of their starters. Adrian Peterson was back to his old Purple Jesus self, a legimate concern after the way he ended last season. Tarvaris Jackson was poised in the second half, leading two long drives and he displayed a good grasp of when to run and when to throw, even under the constant pressure he faced, which allowed him to rack up 65 yards on 9 scrambles (one more time--SLIDE Tarvaris! SLIDE!!). He wasn't afraid to air it deep to Bernard Berrian either, who repeatedly beat Al Harris and drew two pass interference penalties on him (even if the refs only threw the flag on the first). Garrett Mills was a pleasant surprise as well, adding another legitmate option at tight end and leading the team in receiving (maybe he was worth picking a fight with Bill Bilichick). The run defense was as stout as normal--if you drop Grant's 57 yard run, the Packers only gained 3.15 yards per carry and they were unable to pick up a first down when they were trying to run out the clock.

Was it the best way to open the season? Definitely not. This team still has a lot of promise though--they gave the division champions all they could handle at Lambeau. If one or two plays had gone their way, or if they had managed to get touchdowns instead of a field goals, they could have pulled the game out. It could have been worse--last year, it was.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Three Stars: So Close

One of the things I did last year was name Three Stars for every game, even the losses (well, except the loss at Green Bay, when I was too depressed and angry to follow through on it). I figure it's best to try and be positive before doing a game recap, even if it's hard. That, and it helps at the end of the season when trying to determine an MVP (though that was particularly easy last year). The negativity (and some positivity) will come in the next post, which will be up later this morning--I promise. But first, the Three Stars.

Third Star: Garrett Mills
Brad Childress seemed particularly happy last year when he went head to head with Bill Bilichick over Garrett Mills and won. He was probably the only one who was happy about it though, as Mills caught only two passes all year for a total of twenty six yards. He almost doubled his yardage from last year in his first game, catching three passes for forty nine yards and leading the Vikings in receiving. Two of those receptions went for first downs, and while he did drop a catchable pass, it wasn't the easiest catch to make. Not a bad season opener for the "backup receiving tight end", that's for sure.

Second Star: Bernard Berrian
The Vikings signed him to be a playmaker, their number one wide receiver, able to make things happen deep and convert third downs into first downs. The numbers might not reflect it, but Berrian did both those things yesterday. While he only had 3 catches for 38 yards, he also managed to draw two pass interference penalties (The refs failed to call, second one, an obvious penalty on Al Harris near the end of the first half that would have put the Vikings in scoring position, so I'm going to still give Berrian credit for it). He also got open on a slant on 3rd and 4 during the Vikings' first scoring drive, but Tarvaris Jackson one hopped him the pass forcing the Vikings to settle for a field goal. Was he dominate? No. But he did make things happen on his end, even if Tarvaris couldn't get him the ball.

First Star: Adrian Peterson
Let's see here--over 100 yards rushing? Check. Touchdown? Check. Hitting Al Harris so hard he thought he was Fab Morvan? Check. A long run where he moved and cutback in ways people shouldn't be able to do? Check. Power runs that pulled an entire defense an extra three yards? Yup, that too. It was a vintage Adrian Peterson game, where he showed why he's the best pure runner in the NFL, able to punish, evade, out run and gain four yards despite having to drag three defenders the entire way. And considering how often he seemed to have no hole to run through, the fact he was successful on more than fifty percent of his carries (gained four yards or scored) and didn't have a single carry for a loss just shows how great he is. The scary thing (for other teams)? He's still figuring it out.

The Rivalry Kicks It Off

It all begins tonight, and, appropriately, it begins on the NFL's biggest weekly stage, against the Vikings' biggest rival. No Vikings' team has had the expectations or the hype of this Vikings' team since the 1999 version, and tonight we begin to learn whether the Purple are up to the challenge. And make no mistake about it-the Packers will present them with a challenge and are probably the most likely to keep them from winning their first NFC North title (though, if you watched da Bears last night, you probably had the same flashbacks to 2006 as I did-let's all hope their performance had more to do with Peyton Manning and company being rusty than anything da Bears did).

Green Bay, while starting a new quarterback, is still pretty much the same team that went 13-3 last year. Football Outsiders has them ranked 3rd in team DVOA prior to the season, two spots better than the Vikings, who are ranked fifth. And the ranking is justified. The Packers are a young team with a good defense, a deep group of wide receivers and some question marks at quarterback, running back and in the secondary.

The Packers defense was 15th overall in the league last year in defensive DVOA, and while they traded Corey Williams and his seven sacks to the Browns, they still have a pair of the best defensive ends in the game, although KBG's knee issues may be the difference between Gus Frerotte getting 15 starts and zero. The Packers core of linebackers is also impressive, even if A.J. Hawk is battling an injury and announcers (and Packer fans) instinct to overhype a white middle linebacker. The secondary, however, is getting older, especially the cornerbacks. Al Harris is 33 and Charles Woodson is 31 and both could drop off significantly, making the Packers even more reliant on their defensive line to stop the pass. And if the defensive line can't get to the quarterback, well, don't be surprised to see a lot more wide recievers "Plaxico" Harris and Woodson. (Do I believe that Artis Hicks and Ryan Cook can keep the Packers off Tarvaris Jackson, allowing Bernard Berrian to "Plaxico" the Green Bay's secondary? In a word, no. Tarvaris is good at avoid sacks, but he still needs some blocking.)

Offensively, the Packers' biggest question mark, is, of course, at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers was good in his one real appearance against the Cowboys, but that doesn't mean a whole lot. It could be the real Rodgers, or the real Rodgers could be a new version of David Carr. As Adam Duerson of SI.com points out, Rogers has been sacked once every 6.55 times he's dropped back so far and he was sacked once every 7.71 times this preseason. He'll likely be missing his third receiver as well, since James Jones' knee will probably keep him out of the game. He'll still have the second (Greg Jennings) and 25th (Donald Driver) most valuable wide receivers in DVOA last year to throw to though. The Vikings' secondary is good, especially if they are able to keep Antoine Winfield on the inside, but the loss of Madieu Williams leaves rookie Tyrell Johnson at safety, something that doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Basically, like the Packers, the Vikings' ability to stop the pass will hinge on their ability to get to Rodgers. Last year, Clifton shut down Jared Allen, but he got help, something that would require the Packers to leave Ray Edwards and Kevin Williams single teamed (Can you tell I'm excited about the New Purple People Eaters? Because I am.)

Don't expect Rodgers to get any help from Ryan Grant either. He's slowed down by a hamstring injury, a lack of reps in training camp (something important for a player entering their second year) and he'll have to try and run through a defense that is still angry about their performance against him last year. It's one thing to get 119 yards against the Vikings once--it's a whole 'nother thing to do it a second time.

The Vikings will have success at getting to Rodgers and shutting down the run. That means the game will come down to whether or not the Purple's offensive line can keep the Packers off Tarvaris Jackson and open up holes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor. If they can do both, the Purple will win easily. That's not likely, however. While the Vikings will likely continue to have success running the ball, Tarvaris is going to see a lot of pressure tonight. If he can make good decisions (NO JUMP PASSES), wiggle out of a few sacks and make one or two plays downfield, the Vikings can pull the game out. If he buckles under the pressure, however, it'll be Green Bay's fifth straight win against the Vikings. I still have confidence in Tarvaris, which means the final score will look like this:

Vikings 24, Green Bay 13.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Killing Time: Thoughts on Week 1

Man, it's nice to have the NFL back for real, after the tease that was the Thursday night game. And I say that despite having my options consist of the Rams-Eagles blowout, the overhyped Cowboys-Browns game and a game involving Brett Favre. This week, it didn't matter--I was glued to my couch. I'm sure most of you felt the same way (and can't wait until tomorrow night when we finally get to see the new Purple People Eaters in action for real). A few thoughts on the first Sunday:

  • Tom Brady's season ending knee injury opens up the AFC in a way it hasn't been in a long time. The road to the Super Bowl has gone through the Patriots almost every year since 2003, but it won't this year without Brady. The Patriots' offense is still loaded, but Matt Cassell won't be able to run it as well as Brady (Duh), which is a problem, because the Patriots defense is good, but its got holes that need a top offense to cover up. Then again, if Matt Cassell is smart, he'll just throw it Randy Moss every play. It worked today.
  • I couldn't tell if the Rams were that bad, or if the Eagles were that good. Probably both. Either way, the Eagles, assuming that McNabb and Westbrook stay healthy (which is a big if) have Super Bowl talent. DeSean Jackson looks like he'll provide McNabb with his best deep threat since Terrell Owens. He was all over the field today and made an impact in a way few rookie receivers are able to.
  • The Browns showed flashes of the team they could be today, but didn't seem ready for the opening game. They were dropping passes, missing blocks and were unable to put any pressure on Tony Romo (except for a few plays where Shaun Rogers decided he didn't want to be blocked--Rogers is your classic disengaged player, able to dominate one play, but disappear the next five. He's not going to be the answer to the Browns' problems). They have one of the hardest schedules in the NFL this year, and they can't afford to start slow because they aren't executing at the same level as their opponent.
  • I am not happy about my first two fantasy picks right now--Stephen Jackson and Carson Palmer netted me exactly 9 points this week and both of their teams looked lost. Needless to say, I didn't win this week.
  • If Micheal Turner (220 yards) and Jerious Norwood (93 yards) can rack up 313 yards on the ground against Detroit, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor are going to really enjoy the Vikings' two games against the Lions.
  • The Steelers had the most impressive win of the week so far, absolutely destroying the Texans, a trendy pick to make the playoffs this year (I still expect them to, but they got destroyed). The Steelers are a team I expected to miss the playoffs because of its hard schedule and porous offensive line, but if their line plays as well as they did today, they are going to be a Super Bowl favorite.
Tomorrow, I'll have a preview of the Vikings' opening game. Just a few short hours until the season is finally here.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Signifying Nothing

Rather than descend into the negativity that I feel calling me (thank you Twins' Bullpen), I'm going to put off my "season preview" post. And for snapping me out of my funk, I have Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN.com to thank. And by thank, I mean needlessly nitpick to make myself feel better.

And now, to explain that segue, let's take a quick peek at Wojciechowski's season preview, where he picked the Vikings to finish second in the NFC North. I don't really have a problem with that pick. What I do have a problem with is this comment:

"Tarvaris Jackson needs to do four things: stay healthy, figure out a way to complete more than 58 percent of his passes, throw more than nine touchdowns and quit fumbling so much. If he does, then hello playoffs."

Ok. Let's break that his advice to Tarvaris down--"Stay Healthy". That one's fine. Tarvaris' health is probably my biggest concern this year (thank you Brad Childress for signing a real backup...oh wait). "Figure out a way to complete more than 58% of his passes". Again, this advice is fine. I think replacing Troy Williamson with Bernard Berrian will certainly help with this, as will the continued improvement of Sidney Rice. And Tarvaris' did complete 68.3% of his passes this preseason, which bodes well for his ability to improve on his completion percentage. It should also help him "throw more than nine touchdowns" as well.

And now we come to the problem with this comment. Tarvaris Jackson is not Daunte Culpepper. He does not have a problem with fumbling. While he did fumble five times last year, that total didn't even crack the top twenty, and was less than pretty much every quarterback that saw significant playing time. So yeah, I don't think that's really something Tarvaris really needs to improve upon. If, by fumbling, he meant "throwing interceptions and jump passes", then I'll agree with him. If not, well, then no, Tarvaris' fumbles aren't likely to keep the Vikings out of the playoffs.

And yes, I realize this was a complete waste of time and effort. But you know what? It did make me feel better.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Preseason Power Ranking

The day before the season kicks off is as good a time as any to start my weekly look at where the Vikings stand in the minds of the "experts". Obviously, it doesn't mean anything, but, what the heck, it's a way to pass the time. Once again, I'll be using advanced statistics (adding the five rankings together and then dividing them by five) to determine the average.
  1. Cold, Hard Football Facts.com (13)
  2. Foxsports.com (12)
  3. ESPN.com (11)
  4. CBSsportsline.com (13)
  5. Dr. Z's rankings on CNNSI.com (4)
The rankings usually come out on Wednesday, so the ranking will be updated every Wednesday afternoon or so. The Vikings are currently averaging out at 10.6, a marked improvement over last year's preseason ranking of 21.4. If you were wondering, only Dr. Z had the Vikes in the top ten, let alone the top five. There's a reason why I like Dr. Z.

Starting on a Sour Note

Once again, my plans for a big August were interrupted by travel. For some reason, despite being in a far away place for business, by myself, I just never found the time I wanted to preview the season. Of course, part of that was due to the fact that I wasn't able to watch any of the preseason games and the rest due to the fact that the offseason has been one of waiting, rather than one for arguments, once the Vikings finished up their roster selection. I mean, what was there to argue about, aside from the final wide receiver spot?

That being said, the preseason has exposed the current staff's inability to foresee upcoming issues, even when they are staring them in the face. It was an issue last year, when they didn't go out and get a backup for Tarvaris Jackson, despite the fact he was barely a year removed from playing 1-AA football and it is an issue again at quarterback (Do you trust Gus Frerrote? I know I don't, which is not a good sign, what with Tarvaris already suffering his first injury of the year) and now at left tackle, where the Vikings seem to have no problem playing the first quarter of the season with Artis Hicks protecting Tarvaris' blindside and attempting to open up running lanes for Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor on the left side of the line.

I know I don't trust Hicks to protect Tarvaris from right guard, with the help of Matt Birk and Ryan Cook (and neither did the Vikings, who benched him after four games last year), let alone on an island against some of the top defensive ends in the NFL. I could list them here, but I'm sure we'll all get to hear their names often enough, usually followed by some riff on the phrase "sacks Tarvaris Jackson". Luckily, the Vikings saw the writing on the wall and gave Hicks a lot of reps at left tackle with the first unit.

What Artis Hicks might bring, however, is the ability to continue running the ball to the left side. Since signing Steve Hutchinson to pair with McKinnie, the Vikings have been dominate running the ball to the left side (not including the issues created by McKinnie's injuries in 2007). Last year, the Purple averaged 4.68 yards on runs around left end and 4.21 yards to left tackle, compared with 3.49 yards per carry around right end and 4.09 yards on runs to right tackle (these numbers are from this year's Pro Football Prospectus). That was a huge drop from the year before, when Artis Hicks started 14 games at right guard, where the Vikings averaged 5.15 yards around right end and 4.54 yards to right tackle. I don't know how much of that success can really be attributed to Hicks, but it's a reason to be hopeful that McKinnie's suspension won't completely derail the running game like it will the passing game.

Hick's run blocking might be enough to keep the Vikings' offense moving, but in the end, the left tackle's main job is keeping his quarterback from getting killed. So what happens if (when, more likely) Tarvaris gets lit up and knocked out after yet another "Look Out" block by Hicks? Let's put it this way--Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will be facing 9 men in the box again, despite the signing of Bernard Berrian (I'm still pretending his toe injury is no big deal--let me have something, please) and the likely improvement by Sidney Rice. So yeah, lots of excitement heading into the opener on Monday.