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.

Rank

Team

Total DVOA

Last Week

DAVE

Rank

OFF DVOA

Rank

DEF DVOA

Rank

18

MIN

-1.7%

22

17.2%

8

0.4%

18

-5.8%

11

19

CAR

-2.0%

17

2.7%

17

1.4%

15

3.4%

17


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.

Rank

Team

OFF DVOA

Last Week

OFF DAVE

Rank

Pass OFF

Pass Rank

Rush OFF

Rush Rank

18

MIN

0.4%

19

9.5%

9

-18.1%

24

16.1%

7

15

CAR

1.4%

9

2.1%

13

-3.8%

19

6.4%

14


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.

Rank

Team

DEF DVOA

Last Week

DEF DAVE

Rank

Pass DEF

Pass Rank

Rush DEF

Rush Rank

11

MIN

-5.8%

23

-8.0%

7

15.6%

22

-31.1%

4

17

CAR

3.4%

27

-3.0%

11

3.6%

14

3.1%

19


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?