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?