Tuesday, December 30, 2008

More receiver talk (OMG Steve Smith!)

I knew something was bugging me about my receivers post from last week, and I think I may have figured it out.

I mentioned that play calling and offensive scheme would have a lot to do with a receiver's total yardage, and that makes sense. A receiver on a team that throws 600 times will have more opportunities for catches and yardage than one who plays on a team that throws 500 times. So I decided to add that wrinkle to my receiver rankings. What follows is the list of the top 25 receivers in the NFL in 2008, ranked by receiving yards divided by team pass plays (pass attempts + sacks):

1Steve Smith14214343.27
2Roddy White13824513.06
3Andre Johnson15755872.68
4Calvin Johnson13315612.37
5Greg Jennings12925752.25
6Derrick Mason10374662.23
7Vincent Jackson10985032.18
8Larry Fitzgerald14316582.17
9Muhsin Muhammad9234342.13
10Antonio Bryant12485942.10
11Wes Welker11655822.00
12Brandon Marshall12656322.00
13Lee Evans10175171.97
14Bernard Berrian9644951.95
15Reggie Wayne11455991.91
16Santana Moss10445481.91
17Hines Ward10435551.88
18Tony Gonzalez10585781.83
19Terrell Owens10525781.82
20Dwayne Bowe10225781.77
21Donald Driver10125751.76
22Randy Moss10085821.73
23Michael Jenkins7774511.72
24Braylon Edwards8735121.71
25Zach Miller7784601.69

What more needs to be said about Steve Smith? Playing on the team with the fewest pass plays in the league (434), Smith was #3 overall in yardage (10 behind #2 Larry Fitzgerald) and is only one of two receivers to top the 3.00 mark, just ahead of Atlanta's Roddy White, who played for the team with the second-fewest pass plays. The actual leader in yardage, Andre Johnson, comes in third. Meanwhile, the only 1,000-yard receivers to not make the list, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston, both played for the pass-happy Cardinals and barely broke the 1,000-yard barrier; in that offense, even Troy Williamson might have managed 500 yards.

This system's got its obvious flaws. It doesn't count QB scrambles that start out as pass plays, and no receiver is on the field for every pass play. Technically, the ranking should be receiving yards divided by team pass plays when the receiver was in the game. I don't have any way of finding out that data, though, and it especially hurts guys like Boldin, who missed time due to injury and, unbelieveably, Steve Smith(!), who was suspended for his team's first two games. Seeing that the Panthers called 66 pass plays in those games and subtracting those from the team's 434 pass attempts, you can credit Smith with an astonishing 3.86 yards/TPP, or a full yard-plus better than every other receiver in the league but one! And living in Charlotte and having watched a good number of Panthers games this year, I'll tell you that covering the man makes no difference.

The only other thing I considered was whether using team passing yardage instead of team pass plays would be a better denominator, but I decided against it partially because I wanted something that "looked" more like a running back's yards per carry stat and a little like a receiver's yards per reception. Nobody rates running backs based on their rushing yardage as compared to their team's rushing yardage.

So again, you can take or leave this stat which says that, this year at least, Randy Moss wasn't much better than Zach Miller. But if Zach Miller's team had thrown another 122 passes, to get them even with Moss's squad, their final numbers might have wound up a lot closer.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Vikings prep for Eagles

The playoffs are upon us! For the first time in four seasons, the Vikings will be playing January football, and they'll have a chance to avenge their last playoff loss, a 27-14 second round loss to the Eagles after the 2004 season. In fact, the Vikings have never beaten the Donovan McNabb-led Eagles in four attempts. The last win over Gang Green came in 1997, when Ty Detmer threw for nearly 300 yards, but Brad Johnson threw for 3 TDs and Robert Smith ran for 125 and a TD in the 28-19 win.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with the current state of the Eagles or the Vikings, for that matter. But you'll probably hear several times this week that the Vikings haven't beaten the Eagles in 11 years, so why not let me be the first you hear it from?

As I was watching the Eagles/Cowboys play-in game yesterday (before it became a laugher), I said to myself, "I really hate the Cowboys and want them to miss the playoffs so the networks have a conniption, but the Eagles give me nightmares. Little pass-catching backs like Brian Westbrook always seem to kill us." Westbrook only had 92 combined yards (46 each rushing and receiving) in last year's 23-16 Eagles victory, but he accounted for both Philadelphia touchdowns. As has been the case throughout McNabb's tenure with the team, the Eagles lack a real #1 receiver, with rookie DeSean Jackson leading the team with 60 catches for 866 yards, and no receiver had more than 3 touchdowns through the air (Westbrook had 5). So, defensively, stopping Westbrook is key, since it'll be difficult to get pressure on Donovan McNabb, sacked just 3.9% of the time this season.

On offense....well, who knows what to expect? Adrian Peterson had exactly one good play Sunday against the Giants, his 67-yard touchdown run. Other than that, he managed just 37 yards on 20 carries and, BTW, had another fumble, after which I was begging for Brad Childress to bench him, at least for a series or two, and bring in Chester Taylor. Of course, that seemed foolish when Peterson ripped off his big run, but when all was said and done, Peterson's other 20 carries could have just as easily been partially doled out to Taylor, who had just four carries (and one catch) on the day. Peterson finished the year with 363 carries, second only to Michael Turner. I pondered a couple months ago that Peterson might be getting too many carries, strange as it may have sounded, and I fear we might be seeing the results.

As for Tarvaris Jackson and the passing game, I give him a "meh" on this game, which is still light-years better than the marks I was giving him a year ago. A few nice deep balls (against a bungling Giants secondary comprised greatly of backup players) was offset by a "That's the T-Jack I know and loathe" interception in the end zone that killed a promising drive. I know my opinion shifts probably more often than it should on a weekly basis, but I think the Vikings need to at least bring in another, non-fossilized quarterback (i.e., no more Gus Frerottes) to compete with Jackson in training camp or at least to provide a decent alternative in case he turns back into a pumpkin.

And what was with the clock management on the final drive of the game? Really. What...the...hell...was...that?

On the bright side, who knew that Maurice Hicks could actually be a good kick returner, at least for one game?

The Eagles hold pretty much every statistical edge on the Vikings going into next Sunday's playoff game. They scored more points. They allowed fewer points. They had more yards. They allowed fewer yards. They have a better turnover differential. They have fewer penalties.

But there's one thing they don't have: Chris Kluwe.

They don't stand a chance.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Division champs!

Bring on them Iggelz!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Vikings vs. Giants: Sunday

Friend of mine: "If Brett Favre could quarterback the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Yankees, ESPN would explode."

I think they'd have to add constant breaks in the action to discuss LeBron James' contract status for when he becomes a free agent in 2010 for actual combustion.

* Eli Manning has two games in his career with four interceptions. Guess who they were against.

* If the Vikings beat the Giants on Sunday, they'll have as good a chance of anyone in the NFC of going to the Super Bowl. Why? Because they'll have beaten the other three divisional champions (New York, Carolina, and Arizona). And if Tampa Bay and Atlanta both make the playoffs, the Vikings will have played every other NFC playoff team (in addition to two from the AFC). And at the start of the season, everyone said Pittsburgh had the tough schedule...

* Adrian Peterson now leads the league in fumbles by running backs (8).

* Prior to this season, Tarvaris Jackson averaged one interception per 23 pass attempts. This season, he has one interception in 123 pass attempts.

* Only four teams have fewer pass attempts and five teams have fewer completions than the Vikings. But the Vikings are one of only six teams with four or more players with 40+ receptions (Visanthe Shiancoe, Bobby Wade, Bernard Berrian, and Chester Taylor).

* And the season may not yet be over, but that hasn't stopped Bartolis from already putting together a rough mock draft. Now that's dedication.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rambling about receivers

This is the point where I should probably talk about how Green Bay found a way to screw over Minnesota fans one last time this season by failing to beat the Bears on Monday night. I could go over the various playoff possibilities for the Vikings, but they're so straightforward that everyone should already know them (we win or Chicago lose = we're in). I could bring up that the Giants have nothing to play for this weekend and so might rest some of their starters this weekend against Minnesota. Or I could...

Well, I think that pretty much sums it up, Viking-wise. And based on what we, as Viking fans are used to getting from our team when they're expected to do well, I'm not really in the mood for speculation at this time. For all that Chicago Cubs fans moan (and White Sox and Red Sox fans used to moan), you have to admit that the Vikings could lay a claim to most cursed team in professional sports. At least the Cubs have won a World Series, even if it was back in 1908.

No, instead of all that, I'm going to propose a theory that's probably not correct, that's not backed by any real research, but is just wacky enough that it might just be (somewhat) correct. It's a long ride, and it does get a bit rambly, so strap yourself in.

A friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about what stats "really" determines how good a football player is. It's 2008, and we all "know" that something as simple as passing yards or passing TDs, or even passer rating, doesn't tell us everything about how good a quarterback is. Nor does raw rushing yards tell us everything about a running back -- at some point, you have to figure yards per carry and probably receiving stats into the mix. Similarly, the best defensive player isn't just the one who accumulates the most sacks or tackles or interceptions.

Then we came to wide receivers. Who's the "leading receiver" in the NFL? What is "the stat" that determines how good a wide receiver is? After thinking about this for a while, I came up with a so-simple-it-can't-be-true answer:

Receiving yards. That's it. End of story.

Now, I know it's probably wrong, but hear me out. First of all, I understand that receiving yards for a receiver are heavily dependent on the rest of his team, especially his quarterback and the team's play calling. A WR playing for New England is going to get more yards than one playing for Minnesota. Fine. And I'm not taking into account downfield blocking or other intangibles like leadership -- this is strictly a question of "What's the best stat to measure wide receivers." But, all other things being equal, a guy with 1,500 receiving yards is more valuable than one with 1,200, regardless of number of receptions, touchdowns or anything else like that.

Here's how I came to that realization. First, I looked at the other main ways we usually rate wide receivers:

Receptions. Bad because it doesn't take into account the length of the pass. It's easier to rack up lots of catches when you're only running five-yard routes. Do you really think Mike Furrey (98 catches, 1,086 yards) was a great receiver in 2006?

Yards per reception. Apart from being a rate stat (which is subject to variations based on sample size), this has a lot of the same problems as receptions, but on the other side; it's way too dependent on the length of passes being thrown your way.

Touchdowns. Extremely volatile and only more dependant on field position than anything.

Third-down conversions. Similar to touchdowns in situational basis and only a factor less than one-third of the time. Plus, really, does anyone think the guy who leads in third-down conversions is the best receiver in the league?

OK, so now I've cast some negative light on other typical stats, but why focus on raw receiving yardage? After all, I said above that the league's leading rusher, yards-wise, shouldn't automatically be considered the best running back in the league. The best example of this is the 1989 NFL. Christian Okoye led the league that year with 1,480 rushing yards. Barry Sanders was #2 with 1,470.

But here's the rub: Okoye accumulated his yards in 370 carries. Sanders had exactly 100 fewer carries, 270. Does anyone doubt that if Barry Sanders gets another 100 carries, he somehow manages an extra 11 yards to pass Okoye?

So, let's come up with a similar situation using wide receivers. Suppose Jerry Rice has 1,480 yards on 100 catches. In the same season, Don Hutson (remember, this is fictitious!) has 1,470 yards on 90 catches. I immediately declare Rice better.

"But wait!" you say. "If Hutson had 10 more catches, surely he'd make up those 10 yards on Rice!" And I say you're correct. But -- and here's the big difference between a wide receiver and a running back -- why didn't Don Hutson get those 10 catches?

Again, we can point to the different teams, different personnel, different philosophy...yes, those are all important. But again, we'll make the wild assumption that Rice and Hutson played under essentially the same conditions. If the difference between Hutson's and Rice's stats were completely dependent on their ability and their ability alone, why do I declare Rice to be better?

And the answer is simple. If Hutson would have racked up bigger numbers by hauling in 10 more passes, the only reason he didn't catch those 10 passes was because he failed to catch them. Why did he fail? Maybe he ran a bad route. Maybe he didn't get open. Maybe he dropped them. Maybe he was hurt and missed a game or two.

Now, go back to our Okoye/Sanders comparison. When Detroit or Kansas City called a running play that year, they knew who was going to get the ball: Okoye or Sanders. There was no choice involved. Yes, Detroit's play calling resulted in 100 fewer attempts for Sanders, but when the call was made, it was his play, 100%.

Now, consider when my fictional San Francisco or Green Bay team calls a pass. The play might be designed to go to Rice or Hutson, but sometimes that player won't get the reception, for any of a number of reasons, mentioned above. And just catching the pass isn't all you're supposed to do, most of the time. Accumulating yardage (before or after the catch) is just as important. Just before a handoff to Barry Sanders, Rodney Peete didn't just up and decide, "You know, I think I'm not going to hand it to him. There's no hole in the line, so I'll pass it instead. Or maybe run it myself." (Then again, maybe the current Detroit Lions could use some creative play-calling like that.)

The point of an offensive player is to score touchdowns, and the way to do that is to advance the ball down the field (ideally to the end zone on every play). While a running back will automatically get the ball on plays called to him and even a quarterback will accumulate some stats (even if just an incompletion) on every passing play, a receiver's stats are never guaranteed. His ability to gain yardage is dependent, yes, on his teammates and the offensive scheme, but also on his ability to accumulate those stats.

I said earlier that I really don't think my analysis is completely and factually correct, but it's an interesting way to think a little crossways at a traditional issue. And it's nearly Christmas, so I feel like I can be a little wacky juse once a year. If you don't agree, then "Bah, humbug" to you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

More one-liners

My week's still looking pretty lousy, and watching the Vikings "play" this week didn't make things any better.

Seven fumbles? Really?

Adrian Peterson's practice schedule for the next week:

8 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Work on not fumbling
1 p.m. to 2 p.m.: Lunch
2 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Work on not fumbling

Tuesday through Saturday
Same as Monday

"Man, I love it when _________ has the ball in his hands, he can really make things happen, but, boy, am I afraid of a turnover when ________'s got it!"

In week one, you would have filled in those blanks with "Adrian Peterson" and "Tarvaris Jackson." In week 16, you still would, but...

Speaking of which, did anyone else pick Visanthe Shiancoe as the team's late-season MVP?

Uh...that was PI against Sidney Rice at the end. Really, it was, to anyone possessing eyes.

I won the office picks league last week. This week, I have three games right so far out of 14 (New England, Miami, and Oakland).

Go Packers!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

One-liners for Thursday

Having a bit of a stressful week, so I'm going to take it easy with a series of short but sweet links and a dash of smarm for each:

Tarvaris Jackson will start this Sunday for the Vikings against the Falcons. Gus Frerotte, meanwhile, has signed an endorsement contract with LifeAlert. ("I've fallen, and I can't get up!")

Advanced NFL Stats thinks the Vikings have an 84% chance of winning the NFC North and an 8% chance of earning a first-round bye. It also puts the odds at Mike Singletary "dropping trou" again in 2008 at 18%.

NFL Hall-of-Famer "Slingin'" Sammy Baugh passed away, at the age of 94. Which is a shame, because I think he figured into the Vikings' 2009 QB plans.

68%. I'm not sure I believe it. Hell, I'm not even sure I disagree with it.

A fascinating study of the role of luck in the outcome of an NFL season, done by the guys at pro-football-reference two years ago (that I just stumbled upon). He simulated 10,000 NFL seasons and...well, read the several posts yourself. In this one, he simulates 2005 10,000 times, and an obvious flaw in his system is revealed: Somehow, the Vikings win the Super Bowl (which we know is impossible) 36 times.

And one non-football link:

The coolest Christmas present ever? This GPS that features the voice of the guy who voiced KITT in the original Knight Rider! You can set it to use your name or (my preference), leave it on the default setting of "Michael." Only thing that would be better would be a Patrick Stewart-voice GPS that, after it gives you directions, says, "Engage."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pat Williams hurt; and, first-round bye?

The news regarding Pat Williams' shoulder injury is not as bad as it could be, but it's also not great. Big #94 is expected to miss two to six weeks with a broken right scapula (shoulder), with recovery time expected to be about four weeks. That could put him back on defense by the second week of the playoffs, which could be the Vikings' first or second postseason game (more on this below), depending on how things shake out. Fred Evans will take over at defensive tackle with Williams out, with Ellis Wyms also seeing time.

As I've frequently noted, while Pat Williams is a big part (literally) of the defense, and he's a whole lot of fun to watch, I also think he's a big overrated, as he's a near non-factor against the passing game (when he's in the game at all), which teams tend to use a lot against the Vikings, sometimes to the complete exclusion of the passing game.

Now, I certainly agree that part of the reason for opponents' playcalling is because of Williams' presence, but I would have no problem sacrificing some of the Vikings' ability against the run if it meant improving the pass defense. Granted, this year, the pass defense has been notably better than in years past, and the improved pass rush, led by Jared Allen, has had a lot to do with that. The Vikings' last two games are against the best two rushing teams in the league, Atlanta and New York, but Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood aren't exactly between-the-tackles kinds of guys, and the Giants' Brandon Jacobs has a gimpy knee. The Vikings still have Allen and Kevin Williams on the line, along with Chad Greenway (who could be a dark-horse Pro Bowl candidate) and Ben Leber on the next level, so I don't think the Vikings' run defense will suffer too greatly with Williams sidelined.

The question is, though, what will Williams come back to? He's certainly out for the rest of the two-week regular season but might be available when and if the Vikings make the playoffs. And figuring out exactly where the Vikings will land in the NFC playoff picture is an interesting question, indeed.

Right now, the 9-5 Vikings hold on to the #3 seed in the playoffs. The 11-3 Giants and 11-3 Panthers will play for the #1 seed this Sunday night. For the Vikings to work their way into a first-round by, they would have to win both their remaining games and have one of the Giants or Panthers lose their last two. Both teams would then be at 11-5 -- and the Vikings would automatically hold the tiebreaker.

Sound improbable? Well, hang on. Assume the Vikings beat the Falcons at home this weekend, to improve to 10-5. Since the Giants and Panthers play each other, the loser of that game would be 11-4. If the Giants lose, they then have a trip to Minnesota in the last week of the season. That game would then become extremely important to both teams, as the winner would be the #2 seed (the Vikings would hold the tiebreaker, thanks to their victory over the Giants) and get a first-round bye.

If the Panthers lose instead, the Vikings can still clinch the #2 seed if they beat the Giants (who, with home field wrapped up, might have little to play for and rest their starters) and if Carolina loses its final game of the season at New Orleans. Both teams would then finish 11-5 and, thanks to the Vikings' 20-10 win over Carolina in week three, the Vikings would take the #2 seed.

In either situation, as long as the Vikings win this week, they'll win their division and be in the running for the #2 seed -- and might even have a chance to control their own destiny in playoff seeding. Who would have thought that after the team's awful start? Heck, I'm even optimistic that Tarvaris Jackson's looking like he'll make his second straight start this Sunday.

And the full moon was four days ago.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Vikes win Card game

OK, who all started Tarvaris Jackson in their fantasy league? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Exiled to the sports bar, the Vikings/Cardinals game was on the same TV as the Kansas City/San Diego game, which ran forever. I tuned in just in time to see a 3rd and 14 play (great) and see T-Jack drop back (uh-oh), heave a ball down the right sideline (going to be in the third row), which floats down to Bernard Berrian (great coverage, he'll never get it), who hauled it in (he'll go out of bounds), who then took it in for the touchdown (uhhh....).

What the hell do I know?

The game went pretty much exactly as I called it on Thursday, and Arizona was good enough to comply with our plans. The Cardinals completely ignored the run (seven called runs) while the Vikings played the pass and pressuring Kurt Warner (who was sacked four times and knocked down about 20 times) while running the ball down Arizona's throat all day long, to the tune of 44(!) runs for 239 yards. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor combined for 231 yards and a 6.1 yard-per-carry average.

What I didn't expect was the good performance by Tarvaris Jackson. I'm not completely ga-ga over four TD passes -- the passes to Taylor and Sidney Rice were nondescript enough -- but the other two were beautiful. The two TD passes to Berrian and Bobby Wade couldn't have been thrown any better and while they required a nice play by each receiver to go for six, those are passes T-Jack simply doesn't make last year (or earlier this season). Again, 11 for 17 for 163 yards aren't eye-popping numbers, but T-Jack played basically error-free football, the kind he needs to play if he's going to be the Vikings quarterback going forward.

And you know, that might not be a bad thing. Not if he plays like he has the last game and a half and the Vikings commit to the run while playing good defense. That's a recipe for "Uh oh, NFC, watch out for the Vikings."

Now the Vikings are in the catbird's seat with regards to the NFC North. At 9-5, they still own a one-game lead over the 8-6 Bears, but they also own the tiebreaker with the Bears. That means they will win the division unless the Vikings go 0-2 down the stretch and the Vikings go 2-0. I can't believe I'm saying this, but...

Go Pack, go! Beat those Bears!

In the larger picture, the Vikings are in good position to secure the #3 seed in the NFC, now holding a one-game advantage over the 8-6 NFC West champion Cardinals, as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker. And, if things break incredibly well -- if the Vikings finish 2-0 (11-5) and the Carolina Panthers finish 0-2 (to also go 11-5), the Vikings would own tiebreaker over the Panthers, thanks to their victory over Carolina earlier in the season.

But that's all a ways off. Right now, let's just revel in the fact that the Vikings went into Arizona and emerged with their playoff dreams intact. Take that, Nate Poole.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Bulldogs win Div. II Championship!

Congratulations to my alma mater, the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, champions of Division II college football in 2008!

The Bulldogs bested the SW Missouri State Bearcats, 21-14, in today's championship game, but the game wasn't nearly as close as it might have appeared. I only watched the second half, but based on the commentary and highlights from the first half, the Bulldogs dominated the Bearcats defensively, forcing four turnovers and notching six sacks. One of SWMS's touchdowns came on an interception return, and the other on a late desperation drive. SWMS actually outgained the Bulldogs, 301 yards to 272, but you wouldn't have known it by watching the game.

In winning the championship, the Bulldogs capped off a perfect 15-0 season (and remember, those big, tough, BCS schools can't possibly have a playoff because 14 or 15 games would just be too hard on them!). Their smallest margin of victory in the regular season was 17 points, but it was a lot closer in the playoffs, with victories of 20-10, 19-13 (in OT), and today's 21-14 win (along with a 45-7 blowout). All this came after just a four-win season in 2007. Meanwhile, SW Missouri State becomes the Buffalo Bills of college football, losing their fourth straight Div II championship game.

For those who don't know, the University of Minnesota-Duluth (or "UMD," and that's not the University of Maryland!) is a nearly entirely enclosed campus, meaning that most of the dorms and buildings of the campus are connected by tunnels. You can see it on this map; the gray area in the middle is the bulk of the campus, and it's entirely interconnected, and, unless they've changed things in the 12 years since I was last there, those dorms to the left (just below J2) are connected as well.

That's a big help in a town where the average low temperature in January is 1 degree above zero -- and it's usually below average, with plentiful snow. My freshman year, we had about 40 inches of snow on Halloween. That was a Thursday. Classes were cancelled on Friday but picked up as usual next week. Except to grab a delivered pizza, I didn't go outside until the next weekend, and I didn't have to in order to eat in the dinner hall of go to classes.

I can also remember winter days with regular temps of -30 wind chills of -60 to -70. The heat went out in my apartment one night around midnight. I called the office because this definitely qualified as an "emergency." I went to bed as the workers arrived to fix the problem. I wore sweats, jeans, a sweatshirt, jacket, hat, and gloves, and an extra blanket. Not a good night.

Then there's the story about picking vomit out of someone's car at 1 a.m. in -20 weather. But I won't go into that one. You're probably already cold.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

No suspensions!

The Williams boys (and the rest of the players involved in the StarCaps case) are clear, at least for the rest of the season:

In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson asked both parties to propose a schedule by Dec. 22 for further proceedings that would lead to an eventual hearing on the merits of the case, a process that could take months. The regular season ends Dec. 28.

Oh, and Visanthe Shiancoe has an offer to do porn. Thought you'd want to know.

T-Jack back in the saddle

It's official...Gus Frerotte will miss at least two weeks with a fractured bone in his back (ouch). That means Tarvaris Jackson will take over as the team's starting quarterback and, as mentioned before, that's not the end of the world. And there's a chance, however slight, that 12 weeks on the bench have improved T-Jack to the point where he won't be the same inaccurate, error-prone quarterback we've come to know and not love in his time with the club.

Certainly, his half of football against Detroit was promising. And yes, it was "just" the Lions, but it was the same defense that picked off Gus Frerotte twice in the first half and limited that Frerotte-led offense to just three points. If head coach Brad Childress sticks with a run-first game plan that mixes in short, high-percentage passes, Jackson could be a moderately effective quarterback, or at least effective enough to let the defense and running game get the job done.

Regardless of who plays quarterback, however, the bigger challenge against the Cardinals might be in stopping their potent offense, which leads the league in points scored. The Cardinals play right into the Vikings' weaknesses on defense. No team has thrown more passes than the Arizona Cardinals, and they're the only team in the league with fewer than 1,000 yards rushing and one of two with fewer than 300 rushes. They'll pass first and pass often, mixing in just a few runs. Both last week against Detroit and two weeks ago against Chicago, the Vikings frequently used a nickel package on first and second down and, even after seeing what passes for Benny Sapp's defense, I'd still rather have him on the field than Napoleon Harris against a heavy passing team like the Cardinals.

Still, regardless of how the defense plays, most of the attention will be directed at Tarvaris Jackson and how he performs against a relatively soft (23rd in points allowed) Cardinals D. The Cards are only 10th in yards allowed, though, which might lead one to believe that the offense tends to turn it over fairly often and give up a short field. Sure enough, Kurt Warner has 12 interceptions and nine fumbles. With all his pass attempts, though, Warner's only been sacked 20 times on the season, a very good 3.8% clip.

The worst-case scenario for the Vikings would be falling behind early and having to rely on the passing game and Tarvaris Jackson to beat the Cards. Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikings' D will need to get pressure on Warner to prevent him from finding receivers downfield, which could lead to a long day for the Purple and Tarvaris Jackson.

John David Booty
, anyone?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Class is in session

Head coach Brad Childress says Gus Frerotte will start next week against Arizona if his back injury permits. It's unsurprising how much Childress praised Tarvaris Jackson's play Sunday against Detroit. But the last paragraph of the article is very surprising, at least to me:

Interestingly, Jackson's heroics came three days after he and Childress met face-to-face for their first in-depth discussion since the QB was benched.

So it's been 11 weeks since you pulled your starting QB, the man you couldn't say enough good things about in the off-season and whose ego you stroked for the better part of six months, and you couldn't even be bothered to talk directly to him until now? I've been hearing more and more about how few head coaches have an open-door policy and how they don't often communicate directly with their players (instead using position coaches as go-betweens). But shouldn't you at least be man enough to talk to your quarterback at some point over three months, especially after you've spent six months telling the world how great he is? Classy.

Meanwhile, for those who think the team is doomed without Gus Frerotte in the starting lineup, his passer rating for the season (73.7) is now lower than Jackson's (77.1). Grant's Tomb makes the valid point that T-Jack having a good half against an awful Detroit defense is different from his playing well against a good defense that's ready for him, and I think Jackson's accuracy is horrible, especially on deep balls, but, to his credit, he hasn't turned the ball over like Frerotte, with just one pick in 70 pass attempts. Yes, it's a small sample size, and he should have had a ball picked off in the Detroit game, but maybe by putting in a QB with whom he has less confidence, Brad Childress will ease up on the passing game and call more "safe" passes to running backs and tight ends. Five of T-Jack's eight completions were to RBs and TEs, including the touchdown to Visanthe Shiancoe, as Childress definitely seemed to go predominantly with low-risk passes once Jackson entered the game. And a low-risk passing game is just what the Vikings need right now.

* Speaking of Shiancoe...it's old news by now, but here's the best story you'll read about his penis all year (and the inevitable apology from Fox). Best quote: "How'd it look?" from Shiancoe himself. Classy.

I just hope author "MJD" is female, or at least gay, because the grading of "little Visanthe" as "clean and well-groomed...seven out of 10" is very disturbing otherwise.

* I don't really follow the NBA -- being from Minnesota and ostensibly a Timberwolves fan makes that easy, especially now that Kevin Garnett is gone and winning championships elsewhere -- but here's a great article comparing the Timberwolves front office to that of the Detroit Lions. Seems an apt comparison. This anecdote really, really makes you wonder what kind of penny-anty organization Kevin McHale and Glen Taylor are running:

McHale is a deserving, easy target, but this kind of dysfunction always begins and ends with ownership. Over the summer, the Chicago Bulls wanted to hire Timberwolves assistant coach Bob Ociepka for Vinny Del Negro’s staff. Ociepka had been raised in Chicago, had been a successful high school coach and had family there. He wanted to take the Bulls job. For low-level assistants, this is a common transaction. Everyone expected the Wolves to give the blessing and let Ociepka go. It was common courtesy.

Well, the Wolves were willing, but there was one condition, two league sources said: Management wanted five airline tickets as compensation. This way, the Wolves could interview replacements. No one had ever heard of such a low-rent, cheap move, but whatever. This is how Minnesota runs its operation. At all the wrong times the Wolves drive tough bargains.


Monday, December 8, 2008

A win's a win


Even when you beat the league's worst team by four points?

Even when you sweep a historically bad team by a total of six points in two games?


Yes, the Vikings did beat the Lions, sending the Motor City Kitties tumbling down to 0-13 in the process. And the Vikings went to 8-5 on the season, keeping a one-game division lead on the Chicago Bears. And hey, with the Packers losing and dropping to 5-8, that pretty much eliminates them from the playoffs. So it's a good day all around, right?

Well, yeah. I guess I'm happy. Then why don't I feel like it?

Probably because, at least in terms of the "visible" coaching, frequent scapegoat Brad Childress was fine. Play calling was fine, with 30 runs to 22 passes (and two kneeldowns). The defense had four sacks and three fumbles and, apart from one play, held the Detroit offense in check.

No, if any blame has to be assigned for this week's not-as-dominant-as-we-would-have-liked victory, it has to rest squarely on the players' shoulders.

And you have to start with the main man himself, Adrian Peterson. Three fumbles? Really? And nearly a fourth? All this with a "meh" 4.4 yards per carry against the league's worst rushing defense (though some of that blame can also go on the offensive line). Is that really all you've got late in the season when you're team's fighting for the division title?

Speaking of running the ball, at one point, my friend turned to me and asked, "Are you sure they didn't suspend the Williams brothers?" Looking at the final numbers, I'm amazed to see that the Lions finished with just 76 rushing yards and a 2.8 average, because they sure seemed to be running well throughout the game.

Five offsides calls. Guys, there's this thing, see. It's called the line of scrimmage. You're supposed to line up behind it. Got that? Good.

Gus Frerotte. Yech. Now, didn't I say a couple weeks ago that if Tarvaris Jackson has to play, it won't actually be the worst thing in the world, as bad as Gus has looked over the past month? Sad as it sounds, I think the best QBs on the field yesterday were, in order, Daunte Culpepper, Tarvaris Jackson, and Gus Frerotte.

And then there was Benny "the sap" Sapp. Redeemed himself with a late interception last week against Chicago after a boneheaded personal foul gave the Bears a free first down. This week he again had an awful penalty (holding) that negated a third-down sack and gave the Lions new life, which they'd cash in on the very next play for a 70-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson (running right past Cedric Griffin). He was also flagged for one of the offsides penalties above...really, how does a DB line up offsides? Come on.

The thing is, we can never know what amount of coaching leads to these mistakes. And really, to a large extent, you have to blame it on the players. A DB lining up offsides isn't the coach's fault. A running back (who's normally very sure-handed) fumbling three times isn't the coach's fault. A journeyman 37-year-old QB looking his age isn't the coach's fault. If the Vikings would have lost this game, it wouldn't have helped Brad Childress's case any, but I would have had a hard time pinning this one on the head coach.

But...in the end, the Vikings did win, and next week they head to Arizona in what is essentially a battle for the #3 seed in the NFC and a chance to avoid playing the Giants in the second round. Still, this has the look of a team that, if it has to play a good team on the road in the playoffs, will get beaten like a rented mule. But until then, we can hope for a division win, maybe a fluke upset of the Giants (either by us or by another team so that we can host another playoff game), and maybe, just maybe, if Gus can't go, we can hope for another solid outing by T-Jack in the desert next week.

Or is that asking too much?

Friday, December 5, 2008

So far, so good

NFL's drug suspension of 5 blocked by federal judge.

So the Williams Wall will be available for Sunday's game against Detroit. Which could be both good and bad news. Because if the suspensions stick, the Williamses will miss the next four games, no matter when they occur. Meaning that if they still are suspended next week, they'll miss the final three regular-season games and the first playoff game, should the Vikings advance to the postseason. A two-week delay would cost us two regular-season games and stretch into the playoffs or, potentially, next season. It's really an "all or nothing" gamble being undertaken by the Vikings, and it's possible the team could have still made the playoffs even without the Williams boys for the season's final four games. Taking the four-game suspension now could, quite possibly, have been the least harmful move. Now, though, they'll have to completely overturn the NFL's ruling to have any shot of keeping this from being a disaster.

* You know I don't like using this, but...the Vikings are 7-3 with Gus Frerotte in the lineup. Perhaps even more significant, after a 1-3 start without Bryant McKinnie, the team is 7-2 with him.

* Since taking over as the Lions' starter, Daunte Culpepper has been sacked 11 times in 102 dropbacks (a 10.6% rate) and thrown six interceptions in 91 pass attempts (6.6%). His passer rating is 53.6 and he's averaging 2.3 yards on eight rushes.

Really, why didn't this guy have a job earlier in the season? That's what every NFL pundit was asking throughout the season. I know Detroit's awful, but where are all the Daunte defenders now?

* Another note on how awful the Lions are: They've given up 38, 31, 38, and 47 points to low-watt offenses Jacksonville, Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee in their previous four games and their final four put them against the best running back in the league (Adrian Peterson), a guy who knows a thing or two about picking apart a bad defense (Peyton Manning), an MVP candidate (Drew Brees) and the #5 scoring offense in the league (Green Bay).

The NFL record for most points allowed in a season is 533 by the 1981 Baltimore Colts. That's 33.3 per game. The Lions have allowed a league-high 393 points this season, 32.8 per game. This could be a record-breaking defense, and for all the wrong reasons.

That is, of course, assuming the Vikings can score more than 12.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Told ya it wouldn't stick...

For the short term, at least.

Suspensions handed down on Williamses

After weeks of speculation and legal maneuvering, the inevitable happened yesterday when the NFL came down on Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, and four other NFL players, suspending them for four games apiece for taking a water pill that contained the banned substance Bumetanide. The season's not lost yet...the players are expected to file an injunction today that would permit them to continue playing for the time being, so we might still see the Williams boys suit up Sunday against Detroit.

Now, normally, I'm all for athletes getting properly punished for breaking the rules. The NFL has a very strict "You are responsible for what you put in your body" rule and I generally agree with it. And I hope I'm not letting homerism sneak in to my judgment. But there's a lot about this situation that's fishy.

* First, understand that Bumetanide itself is not a performance enhancer. It's used to mask the presence of steroids. So there's no proof that Kevin, Pat, or anyone else using the substance is using any kind of performance enhancer. That said, it's obviously on the banned substances list for that reason.

* Here's where it gets really tricky. The manufacturer of StarCaps, the OTC weight-loss pill that contains Bumetanide, does not list the substance as a component of the pill. Again, the NFL's "You are responsible for what you put in your body" rule is a good one, I believe, but when a banned substance isn't listed among the ingredients of a pill, what are you supposed to do? Take everything you ingest to a lab and have it tested?

In any event, StarCaps won't have the opportunity to repeat this "mistake," if it even was unintentional, as they're getting sued off their asses by the suspended players.

* And even trickier -- and here's the big one -- it seems the NFL was aware that StarCaps contained Bumetanide as early as 2006, but did not inform the players or the players' union. So you have a pill with a substance that you don't want your players using but you don't tell them that it contains that substance. Why not? And then you punish them for taking it when you could have just as easily sent out a memo at any point that said, "Don't take this?"

Again, I'm all for a tough drug policy, but it's hard not to side, at least a little bit, with the players on this one. They took something that the manufacturer told them was OK, that the league told them was OK (or at least didn't tell them it wasn't OK), and then they were suddenly told that it wasn't OK and they would be punished for it.

Suppose you like Pizza Hut pizza. You look over the ingredient list. Everything's fine. Then, after eating it for a couple of years, your boss tells you that it contains something that's against your company's drug policy. You're going to be suspended from your job for a month without pay. Now suppose that both Pizza Hut and your employer knew the pizza had the illegal drug in it and didn't tell you. Great, huh?

We haven't seen the end of this whole affair, not by a long shot. Lawsuits will be filed, both against StarCaps and, possibly against the NFL itself. My feeling is that the Vikings will still have the services of the Williams boys for the remainder of the season and that this whole thing won't be sorted out until the off-season. In the meantime, sorry Lions fans...you can't dislodge the Williams wall that easily.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Vikings 34, Bears 14

OK, so maybe I was a little premature in my consideration of Kyle Orton as future quarterback of the Vikings. The Vikings defense dominated Orton and the Bears for most of the game, forcing three interceptions and putting up an amazing goal-line stand in the 34-14 win. The three Bears turnovers resulted in 17 Vikings points, but it was the stop at the Vikings one that resulted in the most exciting play of the game -- if not of the season.

When the Vikings took over inside their own 1, I thought, "A pass might not be the worst thing in the world here." After being harassed much of the first quarter, Gus Frerotte had received decent protection the last few drives, so a safety wasn't much of a concern. When he launched the ball deep down the near sideline, my only thought was "Just complete it." When I saw Bernard Berrian running free, I thought, "Can he catch up with it?" When he caught it in stride and kept going, I leaped out of my chair and, if they were sleeping, I woke up the neighbors. 99 yards later, and the game had completely changed in just a few plays, and the Bears never recovered.

How big a turnaround was it? Before that play, the Bears had 171 yards of offense to the Vikings' 117. After that play, the Bears managed just 94 yards the rest of the game. The Vikings outdid that on the next play and amassed 268 total yards the rest of the game.

How did the Vikings stuff the Bears so completely in the second half, limiting them to just 6 yards on 7 plays in the fourth quarter? Would you believe by running the ball? Yes, Brad Childress finally appears to have figured out that it's good for the Vikings to run the ball, exclusively when they have the lead. The Vikings' play calls in the fourth quarter? Two passes against 16 runs, including 15 handoffs in a row to close out the game. Overall, in the second half, the Vikings ran 23 times while putting it up only 9 times, the perfect formula for sitting on a team's throat and throttling them, especially with the talent the Vikings have on offense.

The defense wasn't too shabby either, picking off Orton three times and limiting the Bears to just 228 yards of total offense. Nearly a third of that yardage came on one play, the quick slant that Devin Hester took 65 yards for a touchdown (which even John Madden called as being Darren Sharper's fault, further indicating that he's likely done with the Vikings after this season). Though Matt Forte ran the ball surprisingly well (22 carries for 96 yards), the goal-line stand will be what people remember from this game from the defense.

So, what does this leave for the Vikings now? The good news is they're at 7-5, a full game up on 6-6 Chicago and two up on 5-7 Green Bay. The bad news is that the Vikings clearly have the toughest schedule remaining of the three teams. After a visit to 0-12 Detroit, the Vikings travel to 7-5 Arizona, followed by home games against 8-4 Atlanta and 11-1 New York (which, hopefully, will have everything sewn up and can rest some of its starters). The Bears have three straight home games, and all of their opponents are under .500, while the Packers' only .500 or better opponent down the stretch is Chicago -- and they get to play Detroit again, too. Then there's the Kevin Williams/Pat Williams suspensions, which the league is expected to come to a decision on Tuesday, though it's said that the players could ask for an injunction against the suspension, allowing them to continue playing.

But that's all in the future. For now, let's just bask in the glow of another win over a division rival, a one-game lead in the division, and a league-record-tying 99-yard touchdown pass. It was about as complete a win as a Viking fan could hope for, so let's not spoil the moment.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Vikings vs. Bears -- Sorta-hafta-win game

Big showdown with the Bears Sunday night...with a win, the Vikings would be 7-5 with a one-game lead in the division and only Detroit remaining on the divisional schedule. If we assume the Vikings beat Detroit next week (even if the Williams boys are suspended), then they'd be looking at an 8-5 record, 4-2 in the division, and a surprisingly good chance of winning the division, even with a slip down the stretch during that tough December schedule.

If the Vikings lose the game, however, that pretty much ends their division-title chances for the year and puts a serious crimp in their overall playoff plan. At 6-6, the Vikings would be essentially two games behind the 7-5 Bears, who would have swept the Vikings for the season. With at least three other +.500 teams in the NFC that aren't leading their divisions, that would put the Vikings at least in fourth place in competition for two wild-card spots. Not good.

So while I loathe the term "must win" (If the Vikings lose this week, everyone will say that next week's game is a "must win" to keep their faint playoff hopes alive, and so on, and so on, every week until they're actually eliminated from playoff contention. If you can lose a "must win" game and still stay alive, then guess what? It wasn't a "must win"!), this game is pretty close. Fortunately, it's at home, where the Vikings are 4-1 this season, and while the Bears are 3-3 on the road, two of those road wins came against Detroit and St. Louis. All signs would seem to point to a Vikings victory, but you know how that usually goes with this team. Here's hoping for another 14-0 lead in the first two minutes!

* Probably the most cringe-inducing moments in Sunday night's game will come when the Vikings punt to Devin Hester. Interestingly, though, Hester's averaging just a mediocre 6.3 yards per punt return, and has actually been taking off kickoff returns. Nevertheless, expect every announcer and every fan in the Metrodome to expect Chris Kluwe to kick away from Hester, regardless of how effective he actually is.

* The pro-football-reference.com blog recently had a post about unique game scores in the NFL, prompted by that 11-10 Pittsburgh/San Diego game a few weeks ago, and in the process introduced a bunch of neat new toys for finding game scores. Read the post to get all the links, but, for instance, here's the list of all 30-12 games in NFL history, including last week's Vikings/Jaguars game. (That Chicago Bears/Pottsville Maroons game in 1927 was a real barnburner!) Specifically, as it relates to the Bears/Vikings, their earlier 48-41 contest was the first in NFL history with such a score.

My favorite "WTF?" score has to be 5-0, which has occurred three times, including twice in fairly recent times. And then there's this 7-2 gem from 1993, the third of its kind, appropriately between two teams with a combined record of 3-23.

* Another possibility for the Vikings' 2009 QB I hadn't considered: Tim Tebow. Granted, he'll have to declare for the draft and he'd have to slip to the Vikings' pick, but after the Brady Quinn incident in the 2007 draft, anything's possible.

And count me as someone who's not interested. I think Tebow, like Alex Smith in Utah, is a product of Urban Meyer's spread offense and think it unlikely that he'll be even remotely as good in the pros as he is in college. Might be that he could be successful as a part-time QB/part-time WR/slash/Wildcat type of player, but until an NFL player with quarterbacking skills officially declares himself to be that type of player, as opposed to a full-time QB, I don't see it happening.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Your 2009 Minnesota Vikings QB

Yesterday, I proposed that, while neither were who I'd want leading my team, Gus Frerotte really isn't that much better than Tarvaris Jackson. It's almost a certainty that the Vikings will look elsewhere for QB help in the off-season, and there are several intriguing choices out there. True, we've still got five games left in the 2008 regular season, and a lot can happen in that time, but everyone else is speculating about who the Vikings will put under center, so why not me?

Donovan McNabb. The most obvious choice, and the one that's gained a lot more momentum in the wake of his recent falling out with the Eagles -- and I can't really understand why. Yeah, he's had a lousy game and a half, going back to the Cincinnati game. But that's just six quarters! He's still got an 81.1 passer rating and, if you take out his last two games, that number jumps up to 91.3. Even with his recent struggles, he's only thrown interceptions on 2.2% of his career passes, third among active players (behind the very inexperienced David Garrard and Jason Campbell, both of whom will come back down to earth), and if there ever was a team that just needed a QB who didn't turn the ball over and relied on his defense and running game, it was the Vikings.

Naturally, you can't just ignore a few games though. McNabb has thrown five interceptions in his last two contests, and the Eagles are a mediocre 5-5-1. However, in the team's five losses, they've given up 23, 24, 36, 36, and 41 points -- hard for any quarterback to win those games. The 13-13 tie (and Donovan's lack of knowledge of the NFL rulebook) is unfortunate, but hey, sometimes guys just lay eggs. He's got exactly three games in his career with three interceptions, and that was one of them. Meanwhile, he's thrown for zero or one interception in 109 of 127 games played. He's a good player, even if Philly doesn't believe it and, even at 32, has been mostly healthy the last two seasons.

Donovan McNabb represents probably the best short-term fix for the Vikings at the quarterback position, and hopefully would come fairly cheap in terms of compensation (say, a 2nd-round draft pick). But there are other options...

Kyle Orton. Don't laugh. Another possible target for McNabb is Chicago, and if that happens, both Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman will be free agents. Orton's had a very solid 2008, throwing just four interceptions and, yes, I don't like talking about quarterback records when it's obvious the rest of the team is what won the game, but he did take the 2005 Bears -- an all-running, all-defense team -- to a 10-5 record as a rookie, while accumulating some awful numbers. I'm willing to think that means that, even as a rookie, he was able to not make the deadly mistakes to cost his team the game, and he's only improved through the years. And he'd likely be a much cheaper free agent than...

Matt Cassel. With back-to-back 400-yard passing games, Cassel's suddenly on everybody's radar. He'll be a free agent next season and, despite the rumor I've heard that says the Pats might try to trade Tom Brady and keep Cassel (which I also wouldn't be completely against), I think Cassel tests the free-agent waters this off-season, and should have plenty of takers.

I just don't think the Vikings should be one of them. The question I ask is, "It'll be nice to have Cassel, but does he come with Randy Moss and Bill Belicheck?" Even with them, his passer rating is an OK-but-not-spectacular 90.5, and he only has 13 TD passes in 11 games. He's surprisingly mobile (53 carries for 199 yards) but has been sacked a league-high 34 times at an 8.7% clip. And his 400-yard passing games come in contests where he's thrown 51 and 43 passes, Buyer beware. Beware a lot.

And then there's that other guy. You remember him, don't you?

Michael Vick. Someone is going to take a chance on Vick in 2009, but I don't think it should be the Vikings. Putting aside the PR nightmare, consider this: Vick wasn't actually that great of a quarterback with the Falcons and he hasn't played in two years. How good do you think he'll be for his first year or so back in the league? He's simply not a good choice for a team that's trying to content immediately, but I wouldn't be surprised if he surfaces with a rebuilding team in need of a spark like Kansas City or Detroit. In fact, I think he's a perfect fit for the Lions, who can't sink any lower, can they? And they need a draw at the gate to avoid more home blackouts. Imagine Michael Vick and Daunte Culpepper on the same field together. Heck, even I'd pay to see that.

These are, naturally, just a few of the options out there to fill the QB position in 2009 for the Vikings. John David Booty will still be around, waiting for his shot, and who knows what the draft will bring? The Falcons and Ravens have shown that you can succeed with a rookie quarterback right out of the gate, if you have a pretty good team supporting him, so maybe the Vikings will go that way with their first pick, now that they're not as worried about hurting poor Tarvaris Jackson's feelings. And with Brad Childress and Darrell Bevell hopefully out of the picture, the sky could be the limit for the Vikings quarterback in 2009, whoever he is.

Even if it's Kyle Orton.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Slipping off the Gus Bus?

Gus Frerotte isn't going anywhere, at least not for the rest of the season and while the Vikings are in contention for a playoff spot. However, following my initial optimism regarding good ol' Gus, he's been the author of several lackluster passing efforts and is the proud owner of a 75.0 passer rating, with more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (11) in nine starts. And, after being knocked out of the game three times Sunday, Frerotte was replaced for one handoff by Tarvaris Jackson. What would happen if Frerotte were permanently replaced, either by coaching decision or injury? Would there really be that much more of a dropoff with Jackson or even John David Booty in the lineup?

The answer is, "Probably, yes." But it might not be that much.

When I first lauded Frerotte's performances, he looked collected, calm, and accurate in the pocket. But after seeing him throw behind or at receivers' feet for the last few weeks, and that awful interception on a rollout in Sunday's game, I wonder if Frerotte only looked that good compared to Jackson's ridiculously bad numbers. In 2008, Frerotte's completed 58.3% of his passes to Jackson's 51.7%, but Jackson's numbers were only in 60 attempts. For his career, T-Jack's a 57.2% passer and, if Troy Williamson didn't completely suck and Visanthe Shiancoe looked the first two weeks of the season like he's looked the last month, he'd probably push 58%. So that's practically a push -- an ugly push (league average is 61.3%), but a push nonetheless.

Passer rating is similarly close. Gus has a 75.0 this year, right around his 74.4 career average, while T-Jack was 65.7 (68.6 career). But, especially when comparing Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, the ability to run must be taken into account. Frerotte's TYA this season is 3.83, while Jackson's is 3.74. (Yes, that's different than what's in the linked post; I realized an error I'd made in the spreadsheet and fixed it.) That's virtually no difference; Frerotte's slightly better passing numbers are nullified by his greater preponderance for taking sacks (on 8.9% of dropbacks, as compared to Jackson's 7.7%) and lack of running ability (18 carries for 6 yards, compared to Jackson's 11 for 65).

Oh, and Frerotte's 6-3 as a starter this year, but you should know how I feel about bringing that up.

Am I saying that Frerotte should be benched in favor of Jackson? Absolutely not? But I no longer fear the idea that he could get hurt and the Vikings' fate could be in the hands of Tarvaris Jackson. Because, really, Frerotte hasn't played much better than Jackson for the last month or so (nine interceptions in his last five games), so it really couldn't be much of a drop-off. And, shockingly, Frerotte's pass attempts the last four games have been 18, 28, 20, and 20, after starts of 28, 43, 36, 33, and 40, so the passing game isn't figuring too heavily into the Vikings' game plan, which is as it should be.

(It's sort of like dating an ugly girl, hating it, and then moving on to a slightly more attractive girl, kinda liking it, realizing that ugly girls aren't so bad, and being open to the idea of dating the original ugly girl. She's still ugly, but dating the "mostly ugly" girl hasn't killed you, so maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Of course, this analogy makes Drew Brees roughly equivalent to Marisa Miller, so maybe I should stop here.)

Make no mistake, with Gus Frerotte being 37 years old and getting whacked like he did Sunday at Jacksonville, the time will still come this season that the Vikings will have to rely on Tarvaris Jackson to do something more than just hand off a couple of times to Adrian Peterson. And really, now that I've realized what we've truly got in Gus Frerotte, I'm OK with that. My tolerance for suck goes up every week I watch the Vikings' quarterback play.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Vikings tame Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars are consistently rated as one of the least popular franchises in the NFL, despite their generally winning ways. After the show they put on for their hometown fans yesterday against the Vikings, it's easy to see why.

With a 14-0 lead before two minutes had elapsed in the game, the Vikings practically cruised to a victory over the bumbling Jaguars, 30-12. Between the turnovers (5), penalties (8 for 81 yards), and missed field goals (2), the Jags shot themselves in the foot over and over and the Vikings were good enough to take advantage of an extremely sloppy team.

The Vikings were far from perfect, however. Gus Frerotte seems to be getting worse with age, throwing many inaccurate balls and lobbing up a terrible interception while getting battered around and knocked out of the game three times. After the third one, crazy as it sounds, I was actually optimistic about seeing Tarvaris Jackson come in. That's how bad Frerotte's been lately.

And, while I'm not against the early benching of Adrian Peterson -- if he broke the team rules, he should be punished -- Brad Childress again showed how utterly unwilling he is to run the ball unless absolutely necessary. There were 29 called runs in the game (17 to Peterson, 9 to Chester Taylor, 2 by Bernard Berrian, and 1 QB sneak) and 24 called passes (20 passes, 3 sacks, and 1 QB scramble). More runs than passes, yes, but barely...and the Vikings led the entire game! The "best" decision? With the Vikings enjoying a first-and-goal on the one, Childress called a play-action pass. Frerotte dropped back and was immediately dropped for a 10-yard loss. A field goal followed three plays later. Unbelieveable. Brad Childress, why don't you want to run the ball? Please answer that. Please. I'm begging you.

Then there's the defense, which gave up way too many third-down conversions, some of them on long yardage. The Jacksonville run game was shut down, as usual, but that was largely due to Jacksonville abandoning the run early, due to their big deficit. For the early parts of the game, David Garrard had all day to throw or, like Jeff Garcia a week before, was able to avoid pressure and either scramble for yards or find a receiver downfield. His final numbers -- 27-45 for 317 yards, 1 TD and 2 interceptions, along with 4 sacks -- aren't that great, taken from a standpoint of averages, but they hide the fact that the Jags pretty much had their way with the Vikings' pass defense all day and was only stymied by turnovers and penalties.

And where to start on punt coverage? I think I just won't.

Really, this was about the least dominating 18-point win you'll ever see in football. Jacksonville outgained the Vikings by nearly 100 yards (321 to 226), added another 211 yards on returns (compared to 55 for the Vikings) and only lost the time of possession battle (30:29 to 29:31) on the Vikings' final kneel-down "drive."

Next week is a big Sunday night game against Chicago, which, even in week 13, can have the effect of virtually ending the Vikings' playoff hopes. A loss against the Bears puts the Vikings at 6-6 and, having been swept by the Bears, would put them effectively two games back of the 7-5 Bears, with a brutal December schedule upcoming. A win puts the Vikings at 7-5, one game up on the Bears and, depending on the Packers, could put them in sole charge of the division.

But that's getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we'll just have to root for the Saints. And, since I need Drew Brees to get my fantasy team five points, I don't think I'll have a problem with that.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I can't make this stuff up

Good lord, would I pay money to see Troy Williamson and Brad Childress go at it.

It would probably boil down to Troy punching Brad in the head a lot, since his hands are made of stone, and Childress doesn't use his brain anyway.

Vikings in tight situation

Pat and Kevin Williams are still suiting up for the Vikings against the Jaguars on Sunday -- for now.

Actually, since suspensions are usually handed out early in the week, it's pretty much guaranteed that the Vikings will have the Williams' services this week for certain. And Jared Allen only received a $25k fine (not a suspension) for his hits on Aaron Rodgers. And the Jaguars, at 4-6, represent one of the "easier" games on the Vikings remaining schedule, so the team should have a pretty good chance of winning and they need to win, to provide a little bit of a boost in the standings before the inevitable suspensions are handed down. To do so, the team will have to contain the Jaguars' #1 offensive weapon.

No, not Fred Taylor, or Maurice Jones-Drew, or David Garrard. I'm talking about tight end Marcedes Lewis, all 22 catches and 306 yards of him.

Why is Lewis so important? Because, since E.J. Henderson was lost for the season, opposing tight ends have torched the Vikings. Here are the stats for teams' primary tight end since Henderson's week four injury:

Billy Miller (NO): 4 catches, 61 yards
Michael Gaines (Det): 2-24
Greg Olsen (Chi): 6-74 (and 3-59 to Desmond Clark)
Owen Daniels (Hou): 11*-133*
Donald Lee (GB): 1-6
Jerramy Stevens (TB): 6*-84*

* Career high

That's a total of 30 catches for 382 yards over six games to opposing teams' primary tight ends. Prorate that out over 16 games and you get 80 catches for 1,019 yards, so, in effect, the Vikings defense is turning opposing tight ends into the equivalent of Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates. Ugly. At this rate, maybe David Herron should get more playing time over Napoleon Harris in the middle.

Any chance we can convince Jack Del Rio to suit up for us this weekend? No? Damn.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Average is as average does

In a mediocre division with three .500 teams (and the Lions, who only barely resemble an NFL team), the Vikings are still in the race. They can still make the playoffs, win their division, and then, who knows? Teams have come back from worse starts than 5-5 or gone into the playoffs after so-so regular seasons (think last year's Giants and the 2005 Steelers) and gone all the way, so maybe, just maybe, the Vikings can close out strong and ride a late-season surge deep into the playoffs. It could happen.

I just ain't betting on it.

The Vikings season is, for all intents and purposes, over. I know, that's a strong statement to make with six games still remaining on the docket, but really, does anyone believe any more that this team is going anywhere? You can't take an entire half off, like they did yesterday against Tampa Bay, and still think you're a good team. You aren't.

And by "team," I don't mean the players, whom we still think (perhaps erroneously) are good and be dismissive about the coaching or play-calling. The Vikings are 5-5. They are average. The entire team, players, coaching, ownership, everything figures into that 5-5 record. Maybe the team really is just a couple of pseudo-quick fixes (head coach and quarterback) from being dominant, but those changes aren't coming this season. Like it or not, Brad Childress is a part of this team and will be at least until the end of the season, a season that started out looking so promising but now is on track for, at best, an 8-8 or 9-7 finish.

And even that might not be so easy. What looked like a creampuff late schedule at the start of the year now looks like a nightmare. Sure, we still get Detroit (though after that lackluster 12-10 win at home and the fact that Daunte Culpepper looks halfway competent and will sure as heck be motivated to beat his former team, who knows?), and Chicago looked bad yesterday, but they're still not a pushover. Then we have Jacksonville on the road, who, at 4-6, have still outscored their opponents, Atlanta (6-4), Arizona (7-3), and the Giants (9-1) to close out the season. Two wins out of six in that group is a distinct possibility. Three would be decent. Four (which would result in a 9-7 record and possibly win the division) looks nearly impossible.

This isn't a team that's going nowhere. It's a team that's going somewhere, but it just doesn't know where. It has just enough talent to tantalize you but then lays a big enough egg (again, second half against Tampa Bay) to break your heart. You know they can play better, but it's like they're saying, "No thanks, we'd rather be mediocre."

And right now, that's what they are. The Vikings are 5-5, and they'll probably be lucky to get to 8-8. Which still might win the division, save Brad Childress's job, and allow us to get stomped out of the first round of the playoffs, maybe against Tampa Bay again. They should just take the whole game off this time, and save us the trouble of caring.

Edit: Oh yeah, forgot about Pat Williams' and Kevin Williams' looming suspensions. Eight wins might be optimistic.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Another gift win?

From the Star-Tribune:

"Adrian Peterson
should have been penalized 15 yards for removing his helmet on the field after scoring the winning touchdown against the Packers on Sunday."

Yeah, I thought the same thing. And I was just praying (in a metaphorical sense) that the officials wouldn't notice and make the call. If they had, then Packers kicker Mason Crosby might only have had a 37-yard field goal instead of a 52-yarder to win the game at the end of regulation.

So that brings the Vikings' win total up to 2 and the officials' up to 3. Hooray?

* With Charles Gordon's gruesome ankle injury finishing his season, Benny Sapp will move into the nickel role in the secondary and Aundrae Allison should take over most of Gordon's punt-return duties. I don't know much about Sapp, but I've been stumping for Allison as a return man for over a year now. He averaged 28.7 yards on 20 kick returns as a rookie (with one touchdown) and, in limited action this year, has managed 7.1 yards per punt return.

Best of all, he's about fourth on the wide-receiver depth chart, making him more expendable than Chester Taylor, who has inexplicably returned eight kicks this year. Which still brings up the question of why we signed Maurice Hicks in the offseason. Maybe Allison is the new Mewelde Moore -- great return guy who the team absolutely refuses to use. (Although if his recent stint as a starter in Pittsburgh is any indication -- 4.1 yards a carry -- then maybe he was more than a return man all along. Gosh, who knew?)

* Speaking of former Vikings, Chris Hovan is still playing, believe it or not, and he'll face off against his former team this Sunday in Tampa. After John Randle and before Kevin Williams, Hovan was the force in the center of the defensive line for the Vikings and was a crazy, tattoo-wearing disruptive force for several years. His production dropped off significantly after Williams' arrival and the team jettisoned him after the 2004 season, when he latched on with the Bucs.

About his experiences in Minnesota, Hovan says, "It was tough my last year in Minnesota, I'm not going to lie. I was deactivated, I didn't get along with the head coach [Mike Tice]."

Hm. So Hovan didn't like Tice, Randy Moss didn't like Tice. Gee, maybe it wasn't Hovan and Moss we should have gotten rid of after the 2004 season. I'm just sayin'...

* And one more former Viking returned to the NFL this last weekend to the tune of 5-for-10 passing for 104 yards and one interception. Good to see you back, Daunte. Can't wait to play you in four weeks.

* If you've ever read Matthew Berry's columns on ESPN.com or had the pleasure (?) of seeing him on TV, you know that he's about as good at his job as you or I -- namely that he's a reasonably experienced fantasy football player who doesn't offer anything useful beyond the basics of the game (hey, draft running backs early!) and offers up lackluster advice (hey, Adrian Peterson is good) while making the occasional far-fetched prediction and hoping it'll come true so he'll look like a genius.

In fact, Berry made about 50 such predictions at the start of the season, and I've taken it to myself to check out every one at the end of the year and see how he did. He admits that "The idea is not that I nail every prediction," and that his claims might at least steer you toward players who won't necessarily match his predicted numbers but who at least will be worth looking at. So I'll take all that into account (as well as things like Tom Brady's injury -- heck, I thought he'd throw for about 40 TDs this year, too) when I evaluate him at the end of the year.

Even so, there are some major clunkers in the list:

3. Michael Turner will finish with fewer than 1,000 yards rushing and seven touchdowns.

Turner has 890 yards and 7 TDs through nine games.

16. James Jones will have 800 yards and seven touchdowns.

Jones currently has 43 yards and one TD.

21. Reggie Williams will catch double-digit touchdowns again.

He has one TD.

40. Marc Bulger and Torry Holt will return to fantasy prominence. Specifically, Bulger will throw 3,500 yards and at least 24 touchdowns. Holt will get 10 scores.

Bulger: 1,373 yards, 6 TDs. Holt: 2 TDs.

44. Ben Obomanu will reach 800 yards and six touchdowns.

Obomanu (a Seattle wide receiver, in case you didn't know) has 180 yards and 2 TDs, so maybe with a strong second half he can...wait, those are his 2007 numbers. He has zero catches in 2008.

I have to give him credit for #10 (Brady Quinn will start for the Browns by Week 9) and #46 (Chris Johnson will be the leading rusher for the Tennessee Titans), but by and large, it looks like a bloodbath. Hey, how about that Troy Smith in Baltimore (#5)?

And you didn't draft Quinn anyway, did you?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The question I never thought I'd ask

...while Brad Childress was the head coach of the Vikings, but...

Is Adrian Peterson getting too many carries?

Hard to believe, isn't it? Just a few weeks ago, we were all concerned that Coach Chilly wasn't using his star running back enough, but following his 30-carry day against the Packers, AP's carry total in each game this season looks like this:

19, 29, 17, 18, 21, 25, 22, 25, 30

Nice to see that Chilly's decided to give him more carries as the season goes on, but this kind of pace can't be good long-term. Peterson has accumulated 206 carries through nine games. That's an average of just under 23 carries a game and puts him on pace for 366 carries on the season. Only a few backs (Larry Johnson, 417 in 2006, Shaun Alexander, 370 in 2005, Curtis Martin, 371 in 2004) have shouldered that kind of workload in the last five years and most would probably pick Peterson as the most fragile of the group.

On the bright side, Peterson is also very young, just 23 years old, and even if he does have a heavy-carry season, he's young enough to bounce back and still enjoy a productive career. And, after practically ignoring him for the season's first few games, the coaching staff has made heavier use of Chester Taylor the last few games, giving him 10, 7, and 10 carries to spell Peterson. Finally, two other backs -- Michael Turner and Clinton Portis -- have also topped the 200-carry mark so far this season, so maybe Peterson's high carry total is just a symptom of the Vikings playing well the last few weeks and controlling the clock and he'll actually finish with something in the low 300s. In any case, he seems a near-lock to join Chester Taylor as the only 300-carry back in Vikings history.

And yes, I know that it was at about this time last year that I finally caved in and expressed my man-love for Adrian Peterson and admitted that his strong performances were more than a fluke or just rookie luck. In the next game, the Packers wiped out the Vikings 34-0 and Peterson got hurt, so, even though he leads the league with 1,015 rushing yards and his 4.9 yards per carry is third only to Portis and Brandon Jacobs, I'm cautious about projecting his stats too far ahead.

Still, with the playoffs still potentially on the table and AP facing a potential 400+ carries if his team makes the playoffs, Coach Childress should look for any opportunity he can to give his best player a rest. Hey, at least we still have the Lions on the schedule. That game should be a blowout, right? Right?

Sunday, November 9, 2008


It only took him six tries, but Brad Childress finally earned his first win over the Packers. And you know what? They didn't win because of the officials, or because the other team made a bonehead play or anything like that. The Vikings actually won a game with their offense and their defense and their coaching.

Their special teams? Well....that's still a work in progress. Or maybe just an unmitigated disaster.

On the bright side, it was nice that the Vikings weren't the only team with awful special teams plays. The Packers' Derek Blackmon retreating to field a punt inside his own 10 helped the Vikings get their first safety of the game. And when Mason Crosby lined up for a 52-yard field goal in the final minute to win the game, I just had a feeling it wasn't going to go. Doesn't mean I didn't jump up and cheer as it sailed wide right, mind you.

And who replaced Brad Childress's playbook with a book full of running plays? 40 called runs? 30 carries for Adrian Peterson (and 10 for Chester Taylor)? What have the aliens done with our coach? And can they keep him?

Gus Frerotte is still Gus Frerotte, which means he'll throw great TDs and frustrating interceptions, both in batches. I'm not sure if any other quarterback has ever had a game with five touchdowns and four interceptions, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Gus do that again some time this year. The Packers have a very good pass defense, so it wasn't surprising to see Gus struggle, throwing for 120 of his 151 yards to running backs and never hooking up with Bernard Berrian.

Jared Allen suddenly looks like he's worth the money, doesn't he? Another sack gives him eight on the season and he picked up his second safety of the year (after being credited for Dan Orlovsky's fun run a few weeks ago). And hey, how about Napoleon "the human missle" Harris? I say we send him flying over the middle on a blitz every single play. It would be better than watching him trying to cover a tight end.

No hardcore analysis in this post. I'm just basking in the glow of a long-awaited win over the Packers. Let's hope we don't have to wait three years for another one.