Friday, October 31, 2008

Will Vikings have a problem with Houston?

You know what they say when the Vikings and the Texans collide...

Well, "they" don't really say anything, since the two teams have met only once before, with the Vikings winning the teams' 2004 meeting in Houston, 34-28. I'd say you shouldn't expect a similar score this year, but after following up a 12-10 win with a 48-41 loss, I really don't know what to expect from the Vikings this week. Toss in the fact that Houston is 3-4 after an 0-4 start (and should probably be 4-3, if not for Sage Rosenfels trying to imitate John Elway's helicopter spin), and this game could go either way, with virtually any score.

For now, at least, it doesn't appear that Pat Williams and Kevin Williams will be suspended for violating the league's banned-substance policy, which is some relief. On the down side, Brad Childress is still the head coach. Could the league suspend him, instead? Pretty please?

You know what I'd like to see? The Wildcat. I know, I know, it's a copycat league, but I actually had this idea last December, so maybe I'm ahead of the curve! Imagine Chester Taylor taking the snap, optioning to Adrian Peterson, and then maybe throwing it deep to -- well, obviously not Gus Frerotte, but hey, how about Tarvaris Jackson? If Joe Flacco can catch a 43-yard pass, why can't T-Jack? And Taylor's already got a TD pass this year. It would be innovative, unexpected, and exciting!

All of which probably guarantees Chilly won't do it.

On the bright side, despite giving up 48 points in the last game against the Bears, the defense really is playing pretty well. They're sixth in the league in yards allowed per game, and have only allowed one opponent to gain more than 327 yards (New Orleans, 375) and have held four of seven opponents under 300 total yards. On the down side, there's the special teams, which have given up way too many big returns and touchdowns, even if they have blocked a couple field goals. They're the reason the Vikings are averaging 23.9 points per game allowed (18th in the league). And hey, did we send our bribe to the officials this week? Because we obviously missed it last week.

One other thing to note about Houston's record is that the team's three wins have come at the expense of Miami, Detroit, and Cincinnati -- not exactly an elite schedule -- so they may be a little softer than first believed. But if the Vikings are good at any one thing, it's playing down to the competition, so expect this game to be contested until the final whistle.

Let's just hope someone keeps an eye on what the Williams boys put in their Gatorade.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

TYA after week 8

With the Vikings' season about to go completely down the tubes (but here's some comedy if you need it), I decided to crunch some numbers to while away my sorrow. Remember this set of posts back in January?

No? Then go back and read them. Or, if you just want the Cliff's Notes version, they were my attempt to create a new quarterback rating system that took every aspect of a quarterback's play -- including rushing, sacks, and fumbles -- into account. Part of it was my desire to prove to everyone that Jon Kitna was an exceedingly mediocre quarterback, despite his throwing for 4,000 yards every season, because he threw a ton of times and took too many sacks. I was also trying to give Tarvaris Jackson as much credit as I could for his rushing prowess.

But in general, I wanted to create a system that accounted for every possible stat a quarterback could accumulate, because there was no other formula out there that did so. Passer rating completely ignores rushing and sacks, which are as much the offensive line's "fault" as it is the O-line's "credit" when a QB has all day to throw and nails a receiver 50 yards downfield. If one should count for the QB, shouldn't the other count against him? At least a little bit?

After that brief introduction, I won't go too much more into the methodology -- you can read the old posts if you want to learn more. In any case, here are the TYAs for every quarterback with at least 100 pass attempts in 2008:

1Philip Rivers7.41
2Chad Pennington7.40
3Drew Brees6.95
4Tony Romo6.70
5Jason Campbell6.67
6Donovan McNabb6.43
7Aaron Rodgers6.42
8Jay Cutler6.36
9Eli Manning6.27
10Kyle Orton6.06
11Jake Delhomme6.04
12Kurt Warner6.01
13Trent Edwards5.92
14Matt Ryan5.84
15David Garrard5.61
16Jeff Garcia5.42
17Matt Schaub5.38
18Kerry Collins5.31
19Peyton Manning5.15
20Dan Orlovsky4.87
21Matt Cassel4.49
22Gus Frerotte4.42
23Marc Bulger4.32
24JaMarcus Russell4.28
25Ben Roethlisberger3.98
26Brett Favre3.89
27Matt Hasselbeck3.84
28Derek Anderson3.67
29Joe Flacco3.61
30Carson Palmer3.51
31J.T. O'Sullivan3.51
32Tyler Thigpen3.42
33Brian Griese3.40
34Jon Kitna3.24
35Ryan Fitzpatrick1.84

The average for these 35 quarterbacks is 5.25. (Recall that I can't figure a league average without looking at every QB's rushing numbers, which aren't available in handy tabular form.)

Phillip Rivers, who also leads the league in passer rating, just barely edges out Chad Pennington, of all people, as the top performer so far this year. Pennington's only thrown three picks and fumbled once this year, helping him beat out MVP candidate Drew Brees, who's tossed seven picks and coughed it up six times. Meanwhile, the Dan Orlovsky/Jon Kitna debate doesn't look like much of a choice here, though neither answer is good.

Ben Roethlisberger, notorious for taking too many sacks, takes a big hit when those are taken into account. Granted, he's currently the #18 quarterback in passer rating, so maybe being knocked down to #25 here isn't such a Humpty-Dumpty-esque fall. The league leader in sacks allowed, J.T. O'Sullivan (32) is helped by exceptional rushing numbers (29 carries for 146 yards), though he's still awful. Meanwhile, Kerry Collins, who has still remarkably only been sacked once in 171 dropbacks is just barely above average (5.31) but still shockingly better than Peyton Manning (5.15). And you think the Bengals miss Carson Palmer? Imagine how bad Ryan Fitzpatrick would look if he hadn't rushed for 121 yards on 21 carries?

For Vikings fans, Gus Frerotte clocks in solidly below average (4.42), right between Matt Cassel and Marc Bulger. Tarvaris Jackson, with 76 "touches" (passes + sacks + rushes) is virtually the same, at 4.37. There's really no right answer to the Vikings' quarterback situation. Hey, Kerry Collins is a free agent next year! (Yes, I'm kidding.)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Not good news

Don't have time for a long post this morning, but reading this should make you vomit up your corn flakes.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Williams almost back? And more notes

It's a bye week for the Vikings, which means things are pretty quiet, though things are looking up for one of the Vikings' big off-season free-agent acquisitions.

* S Madeiu Williams finally looks ready to make his regular-season Vikings debut after suffering a neck injury in preseason that has kept him sidelined for nine weeks. Rookie Tyrell Johnson has started in his place and hasn't done much of anything to slow down other team's passing attacks, so Williams should be a welcome addition to a typically soft secondary.

* In other transaction news, the Vikings cut LB Erin Henderson, promoting LB Rufus Alexander from the practice squad, and then re-signed Henderson two days later, cutting Alexander. Bizarre.

* Speaking for guys who were cut and re-signed by the same team (and former Bengals, like Williams), it's a good thing Cincinnati re-acquired WR Chris Henry in the off-season, with owner Mike Brown essentially forcing him on head coach Marvin Lewis. No other multiply arrested, dumb-as-a-rock third receiver on an 0-7 team could have managed four catches in three games (Henry was suspended for the first four games of the season). Maybe when Lewis is inevitably fired after this season, he might be worth a look by the Vikings; I'd be interested to see what he can do when he doesn't have to babysit felons.

* Speaking of wide receivers who shouldn't be in the NFL, Troy Williamson -- who, as usual looked great in training camp and had many Jags fans thinking he was a "steal" -- still officially has just two catches for 11 yards with the Jaguars. The next time someone tells you that Usain Bolt would make a great wide receiver (and boy, did ESPN hammer that into our skulls for about two weeks), remind them that being fast doesn't automatically make you a good receiver.

* Pacifist Viking posts a great assessment of the 2008 Vikings and his (and, to a large extent) my feelings on their chance for success. Meanwhile, Brad Childress is up two points and is finally second in overall votes cast -- to a guy who was fired.

* Finally, after insisting that he didn't want to "wait for one of my fellow quarterbacks to suffer a serious injury," and retiring in September, Daunte Culpepper has taken the Brett Favre approach to retirement and is apparently looking for work again. Because, you know, teams need depth at the QB position because...wait for it...guys are getting hurt. Or in the case of Kansas City, who was apparently inquiring about Daunte's availability before signing Quinn Gray, all their quarterbacks are just awful.

The Vikings' first round picks in 1999 were Culpepper and Demetrious Underwood, who suffered from depression and tried to commit suicide. I'm starting to wonder which of the two was the bigger head case.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

An 8,000-word post

Because a picture is worth a thousand words, and I've got 2 pictures (and 3 videos, which I rate at 2,000 words each) below. And that's not even counting the words I'm typing now. Or these ones. Or these ones. Or these ones. Or these ones...

First off, one of the best hits you'll see in college football this year, and it wasn't even by a player:

Can an official call a penalty on himself?

The video on this page won't embed, but I'm still counting it in my total above. It's probably also a fake, but it's still disturbingly fun.

Next up: A 15-pound hamburger (20+ with bun and condiments) and the man who ate it.

Hold the fries.

Finally, the funniest video you'll see all week of a Major League Baseball player inadvertantly making a gay sex comment:

Thanks, Matt Stairs!

Monday, October 20, 2008

41 not quite enough

Well, at least you can't blame that one on the coaching.

Notable for its high scoring and surprisingly good play-calling from Brad Childress, the Vikings lost to the Bears 48-41 yesterday in a game riddled with miscues and gaffes in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. And when you lose out in all three of those categories, it's awfully tough to win.

Yet even behind by 17 early in the fourth quarter, I had a feeling the Vikings could still pull this one out, and they nearly did. But this game was sabotaged by a number of fluke plays and bad decisions by the players, rather than the coaching staff:

* Gus Frerotte threw four interceptions, and three of them were Tarvaris-Jackson-ugly. The fourth, a long pass down the sideline that was a bit underthrown, wasn't the worst thing you could do, but in the end four picks are four picks.

* Poor Chris Kluwe. Two weeks after being publicly ripped by his head coach, he botched the snap and then (illegally) kicked it straight to the Bears' Garrett Wolfe, who scampered 24 yards for the touchdown. It was Kluwe's first blocked punt ever in the NFL.

* Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of the Charles Gordon play. On the one hand, you always see punt returners try to block off opposing players after the fair catch signal so they can't down the ball. On the other hand, the punt was near enough to the sideline that it probably wouldn't have mattered one way or the other. On the third hand, it was ridiculously unlucky that the bouncing ball should hit Gordon's outstretched arm. On the fourth hand (we're getting into Indian goddess territory here), when you plan not to catch the punt, you should run to the next county if you have to. I'm really just willing to chalk this one up to awful, awful luck.

* The Marty Booker 51-yard touchdown was unconscionable. You can't let a guy run through your whole defense like that.

* When the Bears did try to hand us an opportunity, we couldn't cash in. We recovered a Kyle Orton fumble around midfield but failed to convert on the opportunity. And that Desmond Clark fumble at the goal line could have either rolled out of bounds through the end zone or been recovered by a Viking. Instead, a Bear player jumped on it for the six points.

Yet even for all that went wrong in the game, a fair number of things went well.

* I commented on the play calling earlier, and was amazed that, in almost every situation when I said, "Well, they should do X here, but they probably won't" -- where "X" was "go for it on fourth down" or "kick a field goal" or "run the ball" -- they made the seemingly right call. My only beef was with not kicking off deep to Devin Hester (when he was still in the game). Instead, they gave the Bears good field position several times, and they converted that advantage into points. The one time they did kick deep to Hester, before he left the game with an injury, he managed just a mediocre 20-yard return.

* The run-pass balance was good, despite the team attempting 42 passes to 32 runs. Going into the fourth quarter, the mix was 27 runs to 21 passes, but when you're down by 17, you have to air out out.

* The ugly 48 on the opposing scoreboard might not indicate it, but the defense played surprisingly well, giving up just 327 yards. Only two of the Bears' touchdown drives went for longer than 55 yards, and three of their six touchdowns on the day were the result of special teams plays and a six-yard "drive" following a Gus Frerotte interception.

* Another blocked field goal? Cool, but couldn't you have deflected this one to Antoine Winfield like the last time? I know, picky, picky, picky...

When all is said and done, I really don't have any choice but to chalk this one up to a series of fluke plays that, nine times out of 10, don't happen. Then again, considering how we "stole" our last two wins, it seemed inevitable that we would lose a crazy one. I won't be voting down Chilly this week -- I'll abstain instead and see if he can head into the bye week with a game plan that is similar to the blueprint he used against the Bears, minus the crazy mistakes.

But hey, if we could score 41 when our offense commits five turnovers and has a blocked punt returned for a TD, imagine what we could do without those?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Vikings notes 10/16

To help shore up the linebacking corps, which will miss E.J. Henderson for the rest of the year and might be without his replacement David Herron, who suffered a hip injury in Sunday's game against the Lions, the Vikings signed former a pair of former Viking linebackers this week.

Napoleon Harris is best known in the Twin Cities as the player obtained from the Raiders in the Randy Moss deal in 2005, along with a first-round draft pick that produced Troy Williamson. Also returning to the fold was Dontarrious Thomas, a second-round pick by the team in 2004, who was cut after the 2007 season. Harris, cut by Kansas City earlier this week, spent a little more than one full season as a starting linebacker with the Vikings, while Thomas only racked up 10 starts in his four years with the team.

Obviously, neither will provide the presence that Henderson, or probably even Herron, did over the middle of the defense. While the run defense up the middle is stout, with the Williams boys jamming it up inside, look for teams to run more short passes over the middle against the Vikings to take advantage of their weakness at middle linebacker. As if teams needed another reason to pass on us....

* Speaking of Troy Williamson, I caught a little bit of the Jaguars/Broncos game on Sunday, enough to see him haul in a spectacular 50+ yard reception...which was then promptly negated by a holding penalty on Jacksonville. Even when it goes right for Troy -- which isn't often (officially, he has two catches for 11 yards this season) -- it goes wrong.

* If Tony Romo can't go for the Cowboys, Dallas will start Brad Johnson, who will be backed up by Brooks Bollinger. Is this the 2008 Cowboys or the 2006 Vikings?

* Speaking of the Cowboys, this is the rare week when Minnesota and Dallas play at the same time on Sunday, so Adrian Peterson fans in Oklahoma will be forced to watch the Cowboys/Rams instead of Vikings/Bears at noon local time. I think watching the Rams this year is a form of cruel and unusual punishment, but at least they won't be subject to Detroit/Houston (which occupies only a tiny area of the map), which could have been an epic clash of winless teams if the Texans hadn't ruined it by pulling out a win last week against Miami.

* Former Golden Gopher and Philadelphia Eagle fullback Thomas Tapeh, who signed a free-agent deal to come to Minnesota in the offseason, hasn't even seen the field in 2008. Now it turns out that Tapeh had surgery on his knee just before signing his free-agent deal and the team might be looking to void his contract based on his injury status.

Which is really too bad, because I've been running the Vikings in franchise mode in my Madden '09 and that guy is a great safety valve out of the backfield. Then again, in that third year, Tarvaris Jackson is up to a 96 overall QB, so maybe it's not the most accurate judge of player's abilities.

* 9% and nearly twice as many votes as the second-most guy.

* So it was the Packers who were the front-runners to get TE Tony Gonzalez from Kansas City. Welcome to the world of having to deal with Chiefs GM Carl Peterson. Jared Allen says "Hi."

* Finally, Beverly Hills Chihuahua is the #1 movie in the nation? Really?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Running the numbers, week 6

Twice last year, after week 4 and week 11, I ran a little analysis of how teams were doing with the run vs. the pass and how much their play calling suited their strengths. In other words, if I found that a team was averaging significantly higher yardage through the air, I reasoned that they should be calling more pass plays to take advantage of that. If they were averaging a lot on the ground, they should be calling more run plays.

Obviously, the Vikings came up as one of the best running teams in the league, and good ol' Brad Childress had them passing a ridiculous number of times in the week 4 analysis and calling a much more run-oriented game by week 11. Criticism of Childress's over-reliance on the passing game is still alive and well six weeks into the 2008 season, but is it still actually warranted? Here's how things look now, after six weeks of the 2008 season:

Average Yards per Pass Play:

New Orleans Saints8.47
San Diego Chargers8.32
Dallas Cowboys7.90
Denver Broncos7.26
Arizona Cardinals7.16
Miami Dolphins7.13
New York Giants7.13
Philadelphia Eagles6.87
Carolina Panthers6.72
Buffalo Bills6.71
Atlanta Falcons6.68
Green Bay Packers6.68
Indianapolis Colts6.49
Houston Texans6.34
Washington Redskins6.27
Chicago Bears6.25
New York Jets6.03
Tennessee Titans6.02
San Francisco 49ers6.02
Pittsburgh Steelers5.76
Jacksonville Jaguars5.76
Minnesota Vikings5.58
Tampa Bay Buccaneers5.39
New England Patriots5.26
Cleveland Browns5.23
Oakland Raiders5.16
Baltimore Ravens4.89
St. Louis Rams4.75
Detroit Lions4.58
Seattle Seahawks4.33
Cincinnati Bengals4.32
Kansas City Chiefs3.82

League Average6.15

Average Yards per Running Play:

New York Giants6.08
Atlanta Falcons5.02
Tampa Bay Buccaneers4.95
Dallas Cowboys4.76
Denver Broncos4.72
Seattle Seahawks4.70
San Francisco 49ers4.67
Oakland Raiders4.64
Washington Redskins4.62
Kansas City Chiefs4.57
Houston Texans4.38
Detroit Lions4.32
Miami Dolphins4.26
Minnesota Vikings4.18
Jacksonville Jaguars4.11
Cleveland Browns3.81
Chicago Bears3.78
New England Patriots3.77
San Diego Chargers3.76
St. Louis Rams3.75
Green Bay Packers3.74
Pittsburgh Steelers3.71
Baltimore Ravens3.70
Buffalo Bills3.70
Philadelphia Eagles3.68
New York Jets3.66
Carolina Panthers3.62
Tennessee Titans3.58
New Orleans Saints3.32
Indianapolis Colts3.30
Arizona Cardinals3.24
Cincinnati Bengals3.12

League Average4.12

Note that neither of these metrics takes turnovers into play. It's just raw yardage per play: (passing yards - sack yardage) / (passes + sacks) for passing plays, and yards per carry for running plays. While it's no surprise that the Vikings are below average in passing yards per play, it's a bit surprising to see them barely above average in rushing yards per play.

Now, here's the Yards per Pass Play divided by Yards per Running Play for the league. Teams with a high AYPP/AYRP should be passing more while teams with a low AYPP/AYRP should be running more. That's the theory, at least.

New Orleans Saints2.5559.3%
Arizona Cardinals2.2158.7%
San Diego Chargers2.2152.4%
Indianapolis Colts1.9664.5%
Philadelphia Eagles1.8762.2%
Carolina Panthers1.8651.2%
Buffalo Bills1.8154.6%
Green Bay Packers1.7957.2%
Tennessee Titans1.6845.6%
Miami Dolphins1.6853.0%
Dallas Cowboys1.6656.4%
Chicago Bears1.6552.8%
New York Jets1.6559.6%
Pittsburgh Steelers1.5551.9%
Denver Broncos1.5460.2%
Houston Texans1.4560.1%
Jacksonville Jaguars1.4053.8%
New England Patriots1.4054.5%
Cincinnati Bengals1.3960.8%
Cleveland Browns1.3754.4%
Washington Redskins1.3649.4%
Minnesota Vikings1.3354.9%
Atlanta Falcons1.3346.3%
Baltimore Ravens1.3246.1%
San Francisco 49ers1.2956.9%
St. Louis Rams1.2759.7%
New York Giants1.1752.8%
Oakland Raiders1.1149.0%
Tampa Bay Buccaneers1.0958.4%
Detroit Lions1.0668.0%
Seattle Seahawks0.9252.1%
Kansas City Chiefs0.8458.1%

League Average1.4955.4%

To sum this table up, from a Vikings perspective: Minnesota is averaging 1.33 times as many yards per pass play than it is per running play. The league average is 1.49, so the Vikings are significantly below average (22nd of 32 teams, in fact) in this category.

Meanwhile, the team is dropping back to pass on 54.9% of its offensive snaps (discounting QB runs), just under the league average of 55.4%. Seeing as how the team has never had a lead big enough to abandon the pass and has only rarely been behind enough to abandon the run (at least no more than any other team that might go pass-happy late in the second or fourth quarter), it would seem that the general consensus is true: The Vikings pass considerably more than they should, based on their success in the passing game versus the running game. But I think we knew all that already.

Other teams with badly skewed ratios have understandable reasons for their lopsidedness. The Chiefs and especially the Lions have low AYPP/AYRP ratios yet pass more than the league average, owing to their frequent large deficits, which require them to pass more than they'd like. On the other hand, it looks like Jon Gruden has a little of "Childress disease," having the Bucs pass 58.4% of the time despite the fourth-worst AYPP/AYRP in the league and never having more than a 10-point deficit to overcome.

On the other side of things, most teams with a high AYPP/AYRP ratio have passed more than the league average. One of the strange exceptions is the 5-0 Tennessee Titans, who rank ninth in AYPP/AYRP yet have called the fewest passing plays (by percentage) in the NFL. Having some big leads to protect and a great defense that allows you to play conservatively on offense probably contributes to that and, really, if you're calling the plays in Tennessee, do you want Kerry Collins flinging it all over the field? Also, the high ratio is probably due more to the Titans' ineffective yards/carry of the running game (3.58, 28th in the league) than any significant prowess in the passing game (6.02, 18th), though the team's pass blocking (only two sacks so far this year) is playing a huge part.

All this data does is confirm what we already know: Brad Childress calls far too many passes given his personnel and the rushing and passing ability of his team. It's just nice to have it confirmed every once in a while.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An unenviable task

tBrad Childress is the worst head coach in the NFL.

That point is pretty much undebateable. He might also be the luckiest head coach because, by all rights, the Vikings should be 1-5 right now, but very questionable officiating and some bad plays by their opponents have generously allowed the team to creep back to .500. His debacles are already becoming legendary, from using two time outs for one challenge to an unimaginable man-love for fourth-rate quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

This is why it hurts me so very, very much to do the unthinkable: I'm going to defend Coach Childress today in one of the decisions he made in Sunday's game that he's receiving a lot of criticism for: his decision to kick the extra point when the Vikings were down 10-8 in the third quarter instead of going for two.

There was 4:33 left in the third quarter, when the Vikings scored their touchdown to make it a 10-8 game. That means there was a total of 19 minutes and 33 seconds left in the game. At that point, with over a quarter left to go, a lot can happen. Naturally, fans only look to the positive -- that the team would have made the two-point conversion to tie the game, ignoring the possibility that it might have been unsuccessful and left the team two points down. Two-point conversions are successful about 50% of the time in the NFL, meaning that there was basically equal chances that the game would have been 10-10 as that it would have been 10-8.

With so much time left, any amount of scoring could have occurred. None of it did, and the game stayed 10-9 until Ryan Longwell kicked his last-second field goal for the 12-10 lead. But suppose we miss and the Lions kick two field goals? Now it's 16-8 and we have to score a TD and a two-point conversion to tie it. Or suppose the Lions get a TD. Now it's 17-8 and we need two scores. Or suppose we score a TD. Now it's 14-10, XP pending, and, at best, we can have a six-point lead, which means the Lions almost automatically take the lead with a TD. If we instead kick the (first) XP, go up 15-10 on a TD, then we can go for two and make it a seven-point game. All reasonable scenarios and all still possible given the amount of time remaining.

"The chart" that NFL coaches use to determine if they should go for two is dependant on both the score and the time remaining in the game. If the Vikings were down 14-6 in the second quarter and score a TD, you wouldn't advocate going for two because there's way too much time left (though I have seen NFL coaches go for two in the second or even first quarter). In fact, it probably shouldn't apply at all until the fourth quarter, except maybe in some long-shot scenarios. (Down by 24 in the third? If you can get three eight-point TDs and hold off your opponent, go for it.)

Unfortunately, many fans, and even some announcers, can't seem to grasp how time factors into these decisions. In last night's Cleveland/NY Giants game, for instance, Cleveland scored a touchdown with 8:07 left in the fourth quarter to go up 33-14 on the Giants. They went for two, over the very vocal objections of Ron Jaworski, in the MNF booth, who said it was "way too early" to go for two.

First of all, I believe that in pretty much any situation where going for two might be a good idea and the fourth quarter is (essentially) halfway over, you should do it. In this case, the Browns did it because they wanted to be up by a full 21 points (instead of 20), in the unlikely scenario that the Giants could come back. Scoring three touchdowns in eight minutes would have been unlikely, but not impossible. There's essentially no difference between being up by 20 (with an XP) or up by 19 (with a missed two-pointer) at this point because the Giants would probably need four scoring drives (two TDs and two field goals) to score 20 points and take the lead if the Browns were only up by 19. Four drives in 8:07 is pretty much impossible.

There's plenty to complain about regarding Brad Childress's coaching abilities. Unfortunately, he seems to get more and more smug with each unearned victory, despite fans calling for his ouster. Maybe he needs a little more time with the process/results chart (the Vikings are very firmly in the lower-left corner of this chart; on the other hand, not going for two, even if it would have bitten the team in the ass, fits in the upper right). But then again, this is the man who thought he had a good QB because he "won" 8 of 12 starts in 2007, so he'd probably think global warming was fine if it meant he could get a tan.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

When is a win not a win?

It shouldn't take a last-second field goal and loads of help from the officials to beat the Detroit Lions at home. But that's exactly what happened to the Vikings Sunday, who did everything in their power to hand the Lions their first win of the season, only to be thwarted by questionable officiating and that, when it comes down to it, the Lions are still the Lions. Better luck next week, perhaps?

By now, complaining about the play calling is like living in Alaska and complaining that it's cold. That's just how it is and it won't change until you make a major move -- either to a warmer climate or in your head coaching ranks. (Here's an idea: Send Brad Childress to Alaska.) The Vikings dropped back to pass 38 times and ran 31 times. Gus Frerotte was sacked five times. They dropped back to pass on their first three offensive snaps, resulting in an incompletion, penalty on Detroit, and a sack. Big runs after the catch by Bernard Berrian and, of all people, Jim Kleinsasser, inflated Frerotte's final numbers to just shy of 300 yards, despite having zero or negative yards on 22 of 38 pass plays (incompletion, sack, or completion for negative yardage). Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor racked up 132 yards on 30 carries -- but hey, running the ball is boring. Let's pass more!

Truthfully, I thought the second-half playcalling wasn't so bad from a run/pass ratio. And the defense played remarkably well, allowing only 10 points and only one real big play (a 50-yard run by Kevin Smith) and forcing a safety. And Peterson's two fumbles didn't help any. He now has seven fumbles on 397 career touches, not a terrible ratio, but if it creeps up any more, it might officially become a Problem(TM). That said, Brad Childress is still going to get a negative vote from me this week and will continue to do so until it looks like he actually knows what's going on during a game instead of just riding along the wave of inept opponents and bad officiating.

I didn't think it'd be possible to feel less good about a win than I did following the New Orleans game Monday night, but that's exactly what happened after today's game. At 3-3, the team now has a chance to take the lead in the division with a victory next week against Chicago (hoping that Green Bay loses to Indianapolis) and be over .500 going into the bye week. That's the good news. The bad news is that, if the team does continue to win, no matter how improbably, Brad Childress will likely keep his job after the season. Strange as it sounds, making the playoffs could be the worst thing to happen to the Vikings.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Power Rankings Compilation, Week 5

Online petitions accomplish are about as useful as a three-legged racehorse, but you still might get a laugh or two by visiting this site. It looks like the highlights of the "book" change every week, so check back often!

On to this week's power rankings. My guess would be Vikings at 18.

First up, the good news. says:

18. Hosting the Lions could be a good springboard into following week's visit to Chicago.

Yay! Lions! It's like a bye week that gets you a win.'s Michael Silver says:

16. Along with handing out game balls, shouldn’t Coach Chilly be sending thank-you cards to his players for bailing him out Monday night?

Nah, Chilly told Kevin Williams to block that kick. That's why he did it. And he drew it up so KW would knock the ball right to Antoine Winfield. That's expert coaching and a cunning game plan. Stop knocking my boy.'s Vinnie Iyer says:

22. Everyone knows running back Adrian Peterson is the Vikes' MVP, including every defense that gangs up to try to stop him. That's why it was so huge for Gus Frerotte to deliver through the air when No. 28 was stuffed. Monday's wild win may end up being a big spark.

Wanna bet the Lions don't know it? Last year, the Vikes ran for 339 yards in two games against Detroit.'s Dr. Z says:

15. They're dysfunctional, but they still won a big one in the Superdome on Monday night. The QB's marginal. The receivers are catch-one, drop-one, at least Berrian, their top guy, is. Jared Allen is not the pass rushing demon they figured he'd be. I see him taking an outside rush and continuing on his own track, after the train has left the station. Their special teams got destroyed. And yet, they're up five spots. OK, you emailers, let's hear it. And you'll have the pleasure of hearing me whine about how I had to adjust some other teams.

Regarding Jared Allen: That's the same observation I made last week, too. On nearly every rush, he seems to continue on his outside path and just get taken past the QB. As soon as I realized this, he sat out a play, replace by (I think) Otis Grigsby. His replacement pushed outside, then made an inside move, diving at Brees' leg and grabbing onto his foot just as he threw and forcing and incomplete pass.'s Kevin Seifert says:

19. The Vikings saved their season Monday night -- with a big assist from the Saints.'s Bryan Leonard says:

24. Won a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed offensively. Down field passing game is improving.

Fox Sports' Adrian Hasenmayer says:

22. Minnesota definitely escaped against the Saints Monday night, but give them credit for fighting to stay in the game long enough to steal it. Plenty of folks were ripping Brad Childress for playing too conservatively at the end of the first half, but the way New Orleans was moving up and down the field Childress was wise to keep Drew Brees on the sideline.

So, even if those two runs on the last drive of the first half were the right call, we should give Childress a break for making the right call for about two minutes of the game, thus ignoring the other 2,218 minutes that he's been an awful coach (yes, that's actually two years + four games + 58 minutes)? That's like saying that Tarvaris Jackson will be a great QB in 2008 based on about half a quarter in the last game of 2007 against Denver, when he looked good. Which is what people were saying going into this year.

Oh, and Adrian still ranks the Cowboys at #1 overall. Not bad for a one-loss team that can barely beat the Bengals at home.

CBS SportsLine's Pete Prisco says:

17. That move to Gus Frerotte just might get them to the playoffs. That was a huge road victory Monday night at New Orleans.

I was frankly stunned -- OK, maybe I shouldn't be, considering the source -- at how much Tony Kornheiser and, to a lesser extent, the other talking heads in the MNF booth, were questioning the decision to replace T-Jack with Frerotte. It's a classic case of reverse age-ism. People think Baltimore and Atlanta are making mistakes by playing rookie quarterbacks because they have veteran options at the position. So what? If the rookie's better, play him. On the same note, just because one guy's 25 (and bad) and the other's 38 (and at least mediocre) doesn't mean you should play the younger guy just because he's younger. Tarvaris Jackson is not the "quarterback of the future," as Tony put it. Neither is Gus Frerotte, granted, but at least he's a better "quarterback of the present."

Average ranking: 19.25

Finally, I don't have a "WTF" message with regard to the team rankings, but rather with quarterback rankings, specifically the overwhelming voice in the sports media that is now ready to anoint Eli as the better Manning brother (over Peyton). Everywhere I looked this week, the talk was about how Eli has surpassed Peyton and is clearly the better of the two right now.

OK, taking into account that Eli has had a pretty good run -- eight straight victories (going back to last year's postseason) and 12/2 TD/Int. ratio in those games, it's eight games. And there are still 12 left this season. That gives a lot of time for him to regress back to his 75.2 career passer rating. His last three years, he's thrown 17, 18, and 20 interceptions. Chances are he finishes somewhere in the teens this year, too.

But hey, what's eight good games versus 164 good games? Yeah, sure, not all of Peyton's have been that good, but I'll take Peyton's 164 over Eli's 8 any day. Including right now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


If you watched any of ESPN's pre-game show before the Saints/Vikings game Monday night, you might have seen the results of their online poll that asked visitors to vote on who they thought would win the game. Only four states didn't believe that the Saints would win: South Dakota (which was split 50/50), North Dakota, and, of course, Minnesota, were all pro-Viking.

The fourth state was Oklahoma, which the analysts attributed to the presence of Oklahoma alum Adrian Peterson. I thought that made good enough sense, at least for one night and one game. Given a choice between rooting for your favorite college player or a team that you had no particular tie to (New Orleans), why not root for the college guy?

But it looks like it's not just a one-game trend and that ESPN isn't the only network to notice that NFL fans in Oklahoma still carry AP's torch. It seems that even the networks that broadcast the games are taking note of Peterson's popularity in his home state and are doing their part to convert the "Okies" to "Norsemen."

It started when I looked at the NFL Distribution Maps site for this week's games. Detroit/Minnesota isn't exactly a prime-time matchup, so it didn't surprise me to see that the game would only be covered in the upper Midwest -- and most of Oklahoma? Huh.

Let's flip back to week 4, the last time the Vikings played on Sunday. There it is again. Vikings/Titans are seen in the upper Midwest, Tennessee...and Oklahoma.

Week 3 against Carolina
. Again, OK gets the game.

The week 2 matchup against Indy was seen throughout most of the nation, including about 3/4 of Oklahoma, with the other 1/4 getting Kansas City's game. And in week 1, of course, the Vikings played on Monday night.

This just strikes me as really, really odd, that the NFL would seek to schedule its games so as to appeal to the fans of a college where a pro player used to play, and I'm not sure I've ever seen it before. Does Tennessee get a disproportionate number of Colts games (for Peyton Manning)? Does SoCal get a lot of Saints games (Reggie Bush)? Going back a ways, did Oklahoma State alum Barry Sanders make it so that Oklahoma got Lions games for 10 years? (If so, I'm sorry.) If there are any Oklahomans out there who can offer their input as to this phenomenon, or any other resident of a "college town" who frequently sees his alumni on the NFL gridiron, I'd appreciate some input.

It's especially weird considering how close Oklahoma is to the NFL's darling, the Dallas Cowboys, though it should be noted that the Vikings and Cowboys have yet to have a game at the same time, thus forcing the Oklahoma TV networks to choose between the two. That'll change in week 7, when the Cowboys and Vikings both play an early Sunday game, so it'll be very interesting to see how the maps shape up.

I don't know how Oklahoma will vote in the upcoming election, whether it will be a red (Republican) or blue (Democrat) state. But what happens when you mix red and blue? You get purple, which seems just about right, at the moment.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Saint-ly present

If you're like me, you hate that some stores are already putting up Christmas decorations in early October. Pre-Halloween is just too early for Santa Claus and Jingle Bells, in my opinion.

Fortunately for the Vikings, though, the Saints are were in a giving mood last night, offering up a very early Christmas present Monday night in the form of a 30-27 win where the team looked positively Viking-like, committing a mind-boggling plethora of costly errors.

After the first drive of the game, when the Saints got a kickoff return that set them up at midfield and then promptly marched down for a TD, I thought it was going to be a blowout. When the Vikings punted on fourth-and-6 from the Saints' 36, I knew that Brad Childress and his moronic play-calling would cement the win for the Saints.

Then Martin Gramatica lined up for the field goal. I thought, "Hey, that's right, they have Martin Gramatica! If any kicker can find a way to lose the game, it's him!" And lo, it was made so, both on Antoine Winfield's return of the blocked FG and on Gramatica's missing a go-ahead kick late in the fourth quarter. Between those two points, the Saints, who looked nearly perfect up to that time, made a host of mistakes (interspersed with a few good plays). Notably:

* 11 penalties for 102 yards, including the big PI at the end of the game that set up the game-winning field goal.

* 3 turnovers (discounting the last-gasp interception on the hail mary), two deep in Vikings territory and one deep in their own, all of which essentially took points of the board for the Saints or handed them to the Vikings. And yes, Chad Greenway yanked on Reggie Bush's facemask. Nice to see a bad call go our way for once.

* A failed surprise onside kick, recoverd by Garrett Mills and converted into a Vikings field goal. Not a bad call, really, just a great job by Garrett Mills.

* Signing Martin Gramatica. Really, why?

Meanwhile, I'm not sure what to make of the Vikings special teams. The blocked field goal and Mills' recovery of the onside kick were great. Several long kickoff returns by Pierre Thomas gave the typically potent Saints' offense great field position, nullified only by some bizarrely bad plays later in their drives.

And then, of course, there was Reggie Bush. While I'm personally never a fan of "kicking away" from someone (here's an idea -- cover better), the real culprit in that debacle was Chris Kluwe. There, I said it. Forget that he kicked it to Bush in the first place. The problem was the complete lack of hang time on any of his second-half punts, giving Bush plenty of space to set up returns and torch the Vikings repeatedly. You'd think that having my least favorite coach criticize my favorite Viking player would make me explode, but on this one point, at least, I agree with Coach Childress.

Of course, Childress wasn't exactly a coaching genius throughout the rest of the game. There was that fourth-and-6 punt from the 36. Even more absurd, on the next drive, from the same field position, he attempted (and made) a 53-yard field goal. Huh?

And while I can't argue with the volume of passing this game, considering how much Adrian Peterson was swallowed up (to the tune of 32 yards on 21 carries), the "curious" (as Mike Tirico put it) choice to run twice on the final drive of the second quarter was perplexing. And, given Childress's overwhelming love of the pass, I was deathly afraid he was going to try to sneak a throw in on the final set of downs after the pass interference set up the Vikings inside the Saints' 20, instead of forcing New Orleans to run out the clock. Admit it, you were thinking the same thing, too.

The best coaching of the night? Whoever was calling the defensive plays for the Vikes. The Saints did next to nothing on offense in the second half and it was due in large part to the willingness of the Vikings to bring pressure in the form of extra attackers, whether it be linebackers, safeties, or corners. I haven't seen the Vikings pressure a QB like this since the last time we played Jon Kitna (who must be shaking in his boots after watching this game). Granted, whenever the rush didn't get to Drew Brees, and he had sufficient time, he'd zing it downfield for a completion, but there was just enough pressure to keep him off balance and prevent him from making a truly big play after the long pass to Devery Henderson in the first quarter. And next week we get Detroit. That could get real ugly, real quick.

In the end, a win's a win, and I'm glad for it. The Vikings actually did a few things right, though the Saints' mistakes were what really sealed the win for the Purple. Fortunately, the Vikings face a considerably more inept team next week and, while I shouldn't say we should get overconfident, it's not like the Vikings players read my blog anyway (and I know Brad Childress doesn't). So yeah, I'm going to be overconfident heading into the Detroit game. Why not? I haven't had the chance all year.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Minny vs. N.O.: Monday Night

The Vikings head into tonight's prime-time matchup with New Orleans looking to stay competitive in what now appears to be a very mediocre NFC North. Chicago now inexplicably leads the division at 3-2, while the Green Bay Packers, who looked as good as any team in the NFL after two weeks, have lost three straight to fall to 2-3. And Detroit is, well, Detroit. The best thing that can be said about the Lions is that the Vikings still get two games against them, while their other divisional rivals only get one. So they'll finish with at least three wins on the season, guaranteed.

That said, falling to 1-4 with a loss to New Orleans tonight, while not the end of the world, given the divisional standings (but I guarantee you that the MNF opener tonight will label this game a "must-win" game for the Vikings), would still put the team in a hole it never expected to be in through the season's first five games.

On the bright side, the team gets back LT Bryant McKinnie, returning to action following his four-game suspension by the league. Following matchups with some of the best pass rushers in the league, the Vikings should be fairly satisfied with only allowing 10 sacks through four games with Marcus Johnson and Artis Hicks filling in for McKinnie. New Orleans' starting defensive ends, Will Smith and Charles Grant, have a combined five sacks, and the Saints as a team have dropped the opposing quarterback 10 times, so one would think that McKinnie's return will help give Gus Frerotte the time he needs to find his receivers (whoever they are -- see below) and help create holes for Adrian Peterson (averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 105 rush yards per game without McKinnie) to run through. The "run it left" offense is back!

Unfortunately, with the presence of McKinnie comes the absence of another Viking stalwart. MLB E.J. Henderson dislocated two toes in last week's game against Tennessee and is listed as doubtful for tonight's game. Worse, he may miss several weeks of action due to the injury. If there's any silver lining to the injury, it's that the Vikings have a bye in three weeks, so Henderson would likely, at most, miss tonight's game and the upcoming Chicago and Detroit games. Meanwhile S Madieu Williams is expected to need at least one more week before he recovers from the neck injury he sustained in the presason. Rookie Tyrell Johnson will get another start in Williams' place.

Of possibly greater concern is the injury status of the wide receivers. Also questionable for tonight's game are WRs Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice. If neither can go, Frerotte's top two targets will likely be Bobby Wade and Robert Ferguson, which in itself should be enough to convince coach Brad Childress to run the ball about 40 times (but he probably won't). On the flip side, New Orleans will be without Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston, but that doesn't seem to matter to Drew Brees, who typically throws for about 350 yards a game anyway and could probably even make Troy Williamson look good.

With everything going against them -- multiple injuries, road game, a good opposing passing game, and the typical lunacy of Brad Childress -- the odds seem stacked against the Vikings this week. I'll be honest: In our office pool, I picked the Saints. But strange things can happen in the NFL, and if Miami can beat both New England and San Diego, then the Vikings can beat New Orleans, which, despite all its offensive weapons, is only 2-2, allowing 25 points per game. This might be the night that the Vikings, who haven't scored more than 20 all season, finally break through offensively, but it might take a creative playbook and ingenious playcalling to do it.

In other words, not bloody likely. But hey, there's always hope.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Power Rankings Compilation, Week 4

I wonder how much power rankings take the coach into consideration? That would cost the Vikings at least 5+ points.

My pick for Week 4: 22. Regardless of how they got there, 1-3 ain't good. says:

21. Preseason buzz of Vikes as Super Bowl contenders firmly on the back burner.'s Michael Silver says:

19. Hey, Vikings fans – before we fire Brad Childress, how about we give him a chance to finish first in what suddenly looks like a very winnable division?

Yes, let's embrace mediocrity. I'd love to win the division at 9-7 and get crushed in the first round of the playoffs. That's what every team should aim for.'s Kevin Seifert says:

21. It doesn't get any easier this week at New Orleans on "Monday Night Football."

^^^ Insert ESPN plug here. ^^^'s Vinnie Iyer says:

25. The unrelated Williamses, Pat and Kevin, are 628 pounds of run-stopping force. Likewise, Matt Birk and Steve Hutchinson deliver 622 pounds of push for Adrian Peterson. Now, they need more help from the big guys on the edges.

Remember kids, Pat Williams is only *snicker* 317 pounds.

Fox Sports' Adrian Hasenmayer says:

19. The defense has played much better than the final scores have indicated thus far, but the Vikings may lose an important piece this week in leading tackler E.J. Henderson. They'll need him as they gear up for their season's first shootout possibility against New Orleans.'s Dr. Z says:

20. MLB E.J. Henderson, a serious all-pro choice, limped off the field against the Titans. Frerotte couldn't finish the game...bad hand. Is it all falling apart for a team with such high hopes?'s Ryan Stetson says:

25. Another QB shuffle would spell big trouble in Minnesota.

Honestly? I'd rather live without E.J. Henderson this week than without Gus Frerotte. And that's just messed up, when your 37-year-old backup QB is more valuable to your team than your stud MLB.

CBS's Pete Prisco says:

24. Changing from Tarvaris Jackson to Gus Frerotte has produced a 1-1 record. We'll see how it is for the long run.

I don't know what this means. The team was 0-2 under Jackson (though you know how much I love win-loss records for quarterbacks, especially over the incredible sample size of two whole games). While not great, Frerotte has produced better numbers than Jackson in completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per game, sack percentage, and passer rating. Really, what's your point here?

And you knew it had to come, with Washington beating Dallas, the stiffy that the media has for the NFC East is as large as ever, with the Giants taking over the #1 spot on most polls, if they weren't there already, and the Redskins vaulting all the way up to #2 in Adrian Hasenmayer's poll. He starts his entry with "They may not finish the season at No. 2." So why are they there now? Meanwhile, Ryan Stetson says "So what?" to last week and still ranks the 'Boys at #1. I'm not sure which is more mystifying.

(And on a side note, does anyone else think Jason Campbell is this year's David Garrard? Dude's got 6 TDs and no interceptions through four games. He's taking care of the ball and could finish with single-digit picks, which will endear him to the hearts of everyone who thinks that "managing the game" is the mark of a great quarterback. It's not. It's the mark of a mediocre quarterback who at least understands that he's not good enough to be a great quarterback. A player like that has value, yes, but I'd rather have a guy who can win the game than a guy who can just not lose it.)

Average ranking this week: 21.75. So I was close.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Brad Childress's World

We're just living in it. 6% and falling.

"Based on the way we were playing defense, I thought we’d have a chance to get it back."
-- After punting with two minutes left, down 30-17 with zero timeouts in the Tennessee game. Tennessee knelt three times, as expected, to run out the clock.

"Turnovers are the No. 1 statistic in this business."
-- Following the Vikings' four turnovers in the Tennessee game. Funny, I thought "points" were the #1 statistic.

"He's definitely our quarterback next week."
-- About Tarvaris Jackson, one day before naming Gus Frerotte the starting quarterback against Carolina.

"I'm committed to him coming into training camp. His record is 8-4 in 12 starts."
-- Referring to Tarvaris Jackson's "along for the ride" record in 2007. But we've already been there plenty of times.

"He’s very detailed and he’s straightforward. He’s not going to feed you any lines. He knows the offense inside and out. He was calling plays in preseason and at the end of the year, and I just know how dedicated he is to his work."
-- About quarterback Mike McMahon (55.1 career passer rating), whom the Vikings signed before the 2006 season and cut by the end of training camp

And, as a special bonus, from the mouth of Darrell Bevell:

Am I still confident in Brooks [Bollinger]? Absolutely. He's a very conscientious guy. He is a professional. He has taken care of the football. He knows what we are asking him to do, and he usually does those things."
-- Late in the 2007 preseason

Please, parents -- if you see either of these men near one of your quarterbacks, report it to the local authorities as quickly as possible.