Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Clash of egos

Last post of 2009 for me and probably the last post for a while in 2010. Don't worry, I'm not quitting blogging (no matter how bad the Vikings play). Instead, after 4 1/2 years in NASCAR-land (Charlotte), I'm moving to Cowboy-land. Yes, I'm about to become even more "displaced" of a Vikings fan that I was when I started this blog, with a move to Dallas to start my new job with Beckett Media, not to write about sports but to write about entertainment titles and video games. So it'll probably be a week or more before I get settled in and am good to go for a resumption of blogging -- try not to jump off the cliff without me!

I was heartily amused by the picture gracing the top of Greg Easterbrook's TMQ column this week. While I don't agree that the reason for the Vikings struggles is Brett Favre's diva-ness, I still can't understand how anyone would think he wasn't running the show -- or at least thought he was running the show -- from day one.

"Brett, we have a deadline for you to sign by."

"No thanks."

"OK, well how about this deadline?"

"No, that doesn't work for me either?"

"Will this deadline do, Brett?"

"Yeah, maybe. You know, forget about it, I'm not coming back."


"How about now? Please?"

"Well, since you asked so nicely..."

By Easterbrook's reckoning, Favre has "sabotaged" his recent teams by disagreeing with his head coaches over playcalling and possibly other aspects of the game. But look at who he's disagreed with. Eric Mangini and Brad Childress aren't exactly Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells. Given the choice between Favre calling the shots and Childress, I have to say at this point I have more confidence in Favre, as evidenced by that goal-line sequence in Monday night's game.

Easterbrook mentions a similar concept in last week's TMQ in reference to Peyton Manning's playcalling for the Colts:

But here, TMQ thinks, is the real reason the Indianapolis attack is so hard to stop, generating 23 victories in its last 24 games: Manning is the sole NFL quarterback who calls his own plays. [Offensive coordinator] Tom Moore says he radios in "suggestions" to Manning, and he's not being cute. Many plays drawn up by Moore and Manning have multiple options -- any one of several things can happen, depending on the defense. When Manning comes to the line, he chooses which variation to use. Most of the time, Manning simply calls whatever he wants to call. Often several of the receivers are running "sight adjustments." They don't have a specific pattern called at the line -- rather, they run what seems likely to be open given the defensive set.

Having Manning call his own plays is extremely effective. Obviously, many quarterbacks lack his level of ability. But TMQ thinks the real reason more NFL quarterbacks don't call their own plays is coaching bureaucracy. The coaches want to be in control, and maintain their illusion of possessing super-ultra-secret insider knowledge. No mere player could call a down-and-out -- only coaches have that kind of skill! By not letting quarterbacks call their own plays, NFL teams concede an advantage to the Colts. Which, needless to say, is fine with the Colts.

There should be absolutely zero questions that Brad Childress thinks himself a god among coaching and openly bristles at the notion that a mere player -- even one was experienced as Brett Favre -- could possibly call a game even remotely as well as he could. I don't think that Favre should call everything, but in key situations, he should be given more control than Childress is almost certainly willing to give.

Whatever the reason for the Vikings' troubles of late, I don't believe it has anything to do with Brett Favre's ego or lack of ability (but don't tell that to ESPN, which on Tuesday morning applied the headline "Fading with Favre" to the highlights of the Monday night game). As crazy as it seems, Favre probably isn't the biggest egomaniac on the Vikings' sideline, and that's a little scary to think.

(Oh, and congratulations to the Vikings' eight Pro Bowlers. The Pro Bowl -- now with extra meaninglessness!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A tale of two halves

I was thinking about the Tennessee Titans last night.

The phrase people used to describe the Titans during their second-half resurgence this season was that they'd "dug a hole" so deep at the start of the season by going 0-6 that even their remarkable 7-2 run since wouldn't be enough to get them into the playoffs.

By that same measure, the Minnesota Vikings dug themselves into a hole in the first half Monday night by playing the worst half of football I'd seen them play all year. Offense, defense, special teams -- absolutely nothing worked for the entire half, in which the team could only manage about 100 yards on offense while allowing the Bears to march up and down the field. At that point I was already thinking of making plans for the third weekend in January, since I knew I wouldn't be watching the Vikings in the playoffs' second week.

Then came the second half. Somehow, the team that had sleepwalked through the last month or so was replaced with the team that we'd seen during the seasons first three months. That team featured Adrian Peterson running free, Brett Favre zinging passes downfield, and Sidney Rice catching everything. That team scored 30 points in the half. That team looked like a playoff-caliber team. That team looked unstoppable, at least on offense.

The special teams, unfortunately, looked also like a throwback -- a throwback to the 2008 unit. A missed extra point and poor kick coverage allowed the Bears to get back into the game but, oddly, when the Vikings got the ball back with five minutes left to go and needing a touchdown to tie the game, I felt something I hadn't felt in a long time: confidence. Of course Brett Favre was going to lead the team down for a game-tying touchdown. It's what he does. And waiting until fourth down with 16 seconds left to go to do it? Brilliant.

Then came the final stanza. Would we see the first-half Vikings or the second-half Vikings? I didn't know if I should be confident or pessimistic. I figured there was an equal chance of both and, unfortunately, we got the latter. The Bears were in field goal range immediately and it only took a miracle for them not to score on their opening drive. Then, just when I thought a healthy dose of Adrian Peterson would be just what the doctor ordered in OT, it was pass, sack, sack, punt. The next time, the Vikings got the ball to AP for the first time in the extra period, only to have him cough it up yet again and hand the Bears the win.

Certainly, there's more blame to go around to just lump it all on Peterson. The special teams, as mentioned, were horrible. (A bobbled snap and a 15-yard punt? Really, Chris Kluwe?) The announcing team mentioned that Antoine Winfield could be beat one-on-one downfield, which the Bears took full advantage of on the game's last play. And, other than one good tackle, Jaspar Brinkley again looked like a poor replacement for EJ Henderson. And then there was that offensive line that played in the first half, which was definitely not the same five guys who played in the second. I refuse to believe it.

Yet strangely, despite the loss and the fact that the Vikings now need help from Dallas to get a first-round bye, I feel strangely confident. That second half showed me that the team can actually look and play like a good team again, something I didn't think possible after the last few weeks. Yes, they're still fading down the stretch, but they showed at least a little something to give me hope. Maybe it's a false hope, as often is the case with Minnesota Vikings teams, but I'll cling to it for a little while longer. It's all I've got right now.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Random pregame thought

I hope Brett Favre throws for 6 touchdowns tonight. Not just because I want the Vikings to win or that I particularly like the guy but, man, the media's pounced on this whole Favre-vs.-Brad Childress "storyline" like a mother bear pouncing on a hunter endangering her cubs. Only I think the bear-mauling would be less painful (and over much quicker).

Vikings get late Christmas present

With the Saints improbably losing to the Bucs on Sunday, the Vikings are suddenly alive for the #1 seed in the NFC again. On the even brighter side, if the Bucs could travel to the Superdome and beat the Saints, I don't feel too bad about the Vikings' chances to do the same, so a #2 seed would also be a nice consolation prize. In any case, if the Vikings can nail down that #2 seed (or better), it guarantees that the only outdoor game they might be playing January will be in Miami for the Super Bowl. Now if only Denver could have come through and beaten the Eagles, our weekend would have been complete...

Oh right, except for that pesky detail of beating the Bears tonight.

The down side to the wacky weekend? It guarantees that Brett Favre will get no rest, as both the Vikings' remaining regular-season games will have impact for the team. To which I say: fine. Every game is expected to be meaningful, and a quarterback is expected to play all 16 games in a season. If the quarterback can't play a full season, then that's a negative that needs to addressed. In a sense, I've found it a trifle odd that everyone was so concerned about Favre's durability this year. I mean, the guy's only probably the most durable player ever. But if part of his playing well was supposed to entail him getting rest at the end of the season, well, most teams don't have the luxury of resting their starters at the end of the year; in fact, apart from the Colts, the only teams that can do that now are making vacation plans for January. Favre's been excellent, but if we only rented a three-month quarterback, then maybe we should have made other plans. At least he'll (probably) get a week off before his first postseason game in purple.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

About that Viking who always fades in December

No, not Brett Favre. Here are Adrian Peterson's yards per carry by month:


I think that a part of AP's issues might come from his oversized offensive line being out of shape by the end of the season. And it is only a three-year trend, so maybe it doesn't mean anything (and he was still pretty good in December of '08, even though his 4.8 YPC was the second-lowest in any month that season). But it's been brought up a few times that AP's "violent" running style might shorten his career -- could be that it shortens the period that he's useful in any given season.

* Next, I'll talk about the Vikings' head coach. And I'll also bring up Brad Childress.

How anyone could be surprised that Brett Favre is running the show, or at least thinks he's running the show, is beyond me. Over the Vikings' months-long courtship of Favre, several "deadlines" were set and just as many were missed. Hint: A deadline doesn't mean anything if you don't enforce it. Favre was able to come in when he wanted and how he wanted, which likely bore only passing resemblance to when and how the Vikings wanted him. He set his own deadlines and made the decisions that best suited him, not the team. This notion of Favre being his own boss was fine so long as the team was winning, but now that there's a rough patch, suddenly everyone is shocked and amazed that there's a "power struggle" behind the scenes. As far as I'm concerned, there is no "struggle"; Brett Favre's been in control since day one, and that's unlikely to change.

All of which brings up the question of whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, you have the self-serving "diva" of a quarterback; on the other, it's the smug and arrogant head coach who's accomplished very little but has been richly rewarded. I'm not sure who I want to be on top of that pyramid.

But in the end, winning cures all ills. If the Vikings finish strong and have a strong playoff run, then all this talk of a "power struggle" will go away. If the team loses to the Bears and/or Giants and then gets bounced out of the playoffs in the first round, then things will get even uglier.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Theory #287 why the Vikings can't run the ball

Our offensive linemen are too big.

You'll hear it at least once per broadcast, the announcers' open astonishment at the mammoth sizes of Minnesota's tackles. Bryant McKinnie is 6'8", 335 lbs. Phil Loadholt is 6'8", 343 lbs. Toss in Steve Hutchinson (6'5", 313), John Sullivan (6'4", 301), and Anthony Herrera (6'2", 315) and that's an average of 6'5 1/2" and 321 pounds per lineman -- and that' s not taking Artis Hicks' 6'4", 335 lbs. into account. Guys this big should be able to move mountains or, failing that, defensive lineman.

But they're not. And it took this video for me to figure out why.

Chris Johnson is having a spectacular year. Talent-wise, you'd have to think Adrian Peterson is at least on par with him -- perhaps a little slower, but also a little stronger. But where Peterson is struggling, Johnson is thriving. Watch the play that starts at the 0:58 mark. Johnson takes a screen pass and starts running downfield with the ball. Admittedly, he doesn't turn on the jets right away (as he shouldn't), but even so, two of his lineman run downfield with him for about 30 yards! For the record, that's #54 Eugene Amano (6'3", 310 lbs.) and #68 Kevin Mawae (6'4", 289 lbs.) running with him.

Now, name any of the Vikings' linemen -- much less two -- who could even remotely run downfield with Adrian Peterson. (Maybe this is why we don't call may screen passes.) Granted, Kevin Mawae's a future Hall-of-Famer, but, along with Amano (LG) and Mawae (C), the Titans starters include LT Michael Roos (315 lbs.), RG Jake Scott (295 lbs.), and RT David Stewart (318 lbs.). That's an average of 305 lbs. per lineman, or about 16 pounds lighter per player than the Vikings' line. And not only is Chris Johnson on his way to 2,000 yards, but Titans quarterbacks have only been sacked 14 times this year (and only 12 times last year), fewer than half of the 31 sacks Brett Favre has endured in 2009. All this with a line whose heaviest member (Stewart) would be about two missed meals away from being the second-lightest member of the Vikings' line.

I'm no offensive line coach, but I'm thinking it's true that bigger isn't always better. Clearly, there have been some huge lineman, tackles in particular, who have had very long and productive careers (Johnathan Ogden comes to mind), but once you tip the scales over 330 or so, you might be treading a fine line between power and agility. And even the biggest offensive lineman needs agility to react to blitzing linebackers and to move the pile downfield.

Or at least not to get completely owned by Julius Peppers for 60 minutes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mauled by Panthers

It's probably just as well that I didn't go to see the Vikings game last night.

In a game riddled with mistakes, misplays, and poor decisions all around, the Vikings played probably their worst game of the season in a 26-7 loss to the Carolina Panthers. It's no longer a fluke, either: The Vikings officially cannot run the football, and while there are many theories, I think it still starts with the offensive line play. Compare the "holes" Adrian Peterson had to run through last night against an injury-depleted Carolina defensive line to the wide gaps Jonathan Stewart had against the vaunted, all-Pro-studded defense of the Vikings. "Run the ball and stop the run" is a tired old adage, but if it has any value, it's clear that the Vikings can no longer do either, which leaves them one-dimensional on offense and vulnerable on defense.

That one dimension on offense is still pretty good, at least when Brett Favre can find time to throw the ball. Other teams (minus the Packers) have figured out that they need to double-team Jared Allen on every play, but the Vikings were seemingly unable to come to the same conclusion regarding Julius Peppers. Peppers was usually matched up against the rookie Phil Loadholt or, even worse, against Artis Hicks, with little to no help from a guard or running back, and the results were predictable. Even so, Favre and the Vikings can't win by passing every down, but unless they solve what's wrong with the running game, they'll have to.

Then there's the defense, which is no longer the stout run-defense unit that we're used to seeing, giving up 100+ yards on the ground each of the last three games. Jaspar Brinkley has shown that he can read the play and shoot the gap. Now, if he could only wrap up and make the tackle, he might actually be a good player, but in the meantime, the team will continue to miss EJ Henderson. Also, while it may seem shocking to some, a fat 37-year-old defensive tackle isn't playing so great. Or, as I say a year ago:

As for Pat Williams, he ideally only plays on "35 to 40" plays per game, or about half the team's defensive snaps. Hey, I love watching the guy swallow up a running back as much as the next guy, but should we be paying $7 million a year for a part-time player, even if he is a Pro Bowler? That sounds like the epitome of "sell high" to me.

Apparently, the Vikings believe in "keeping a guy one year too late" instead of getting rid of him "one year too soon." Oh, and I hate Steve Smith.

The #1 seed, briefly dangled in front of our eyes, is now just a distant dream that relies on a confluence of miracles to achieve. The #2 seed, once ours for the taking, is now dangerously close to being yanked away from us. And any hopes of resting Brett Favre are all but dashed unless the Eagles misstep next week against Denver.

And just to top off the crappy weekend, I got bounced out of the playoffs of one of my fantasy leagues last week and out of my other league's this week. Great time to have your worst game of the season, Drew Brees!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A distinct lack of Flair

I am such a wimp.

The forecast for Sunday in Charlotte is low of 25 and high of 42. Now, being the good, hardy Minnesota boy that I am, 25 degrees above zero doesn't frighten me. Heck, 25 degrees below zero doesn't frighten me either -- I've gone out in that and worse than that.

But here's the deal. I could go to the Panthers game on Sunday. I know a season ticket holder who's willing to sell me his. So, I could go and watch the Vikings in person, which would entail:

1) A good deal of money spent on the tickets
2) A good deal of money spent on parking and potentially food
3) Sitting on my butt in near- or below-freezing weather for 3-4 hours at night (As everyone knows, the way to deal with cold weather is to keep moving; I was fine walking to school in subzero temps as a teenager but the 15 seconds I had to stop for traffic were excruciating.)
4) Dealing with downtown Charlotte traffic
5) Rooting for my team in a hostile environment; and
6) Probably not getting home until around midnight

All that is weighted against sitting at home and watching a game in the comfort of my own home on national TV. It's really not that hard a decision once you get right down to it. If this game were an afternoon game in October or something, I'd probably be all over it. (I might have been able to get out to the game the last time the Vikings played in Charlotte, in which case, I could have witnessed this infamous game, in which Chris Gamble effectively ended Daunte Culpepper's career and Steve Smith effectively ended Fred Smoot's relevance.)

So, I think I'll go ahead and enjoy this one at home, even if it means missing out on the Ric Flair safety video I saw the last time I went to a Panthers game (a preseason Panthers/Steelers game in 2006); I couldn't find it online, so you'll have to settle with a fan's video of the Nature Boy celebrating a Carolina Panthers goal.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thank you, 49ers

The 49ers gave the Vikings a nice holiday gift this year, in the form of a 24-9 whipping of the Arizona Cardinals. To be fair, the Cards beat themselves, making seven turnovers and making me more confident that, apart from New Orleans and maybe Philadelphia (which just frightens me based on last year), I don't think there's an NFC team the Vikings can't handle, and handle fairly easily at home once the playoffs start. (More on the Vikings' playoff potential seeding at the end of this post.)

Around this time of year, once teams start clinching home-field advantage and other playoff positioning, the inevitably tired conversations pop up about whether teams should rest their players or keep playing hard. This year, with two 13-0 teams, the talk is even more spirited. There are, in effect, four possible outcomes, and three of them are bad:

Team rests its starters:
A) They then win their first playoff game -- Good call, coach, they needed the rest!
B) They lose their first playoff game -- Coach, you were too soft on them!

Team doesn't rest its starters:
A) There's a crucial injury in a "meaningless" game -- What were you thinking playing that guy?
B) There are no injuries -- Whew, we got away with that one!

Remember when the Patriots were 15-0 a few years ago and played all-out in that Saturday game against the Giants? What if Tom Brady or Randy Moss would have been injured during that game? It would have gone down at Bill Belichick's second-worst decision ever (after the 4th and 2 this year, of course).

There are simply so many variables that can happen during a game or games that any talk ascribing any particular meaning or consequences to whether guys play or not during their "meaningless" games is just that -- talk. No matter how it's approached, if something bad happens, it will be because the coach played guys he shouldn't have or didn't give them enough rest.

I especially "love" the argument that guys need to keep playing to stay sharp and if they lose in the first round (result B from above), it was because they got too much rest at the end of the season. Consider this: Suppose that Peyton Manning was hurt in, say, week 8. We'll assume it's a type of injury that wouldn't be expected to linger or otherwise affect his football performance when he comes back, say a poke in the eye or a concussion (which I realize is bad, but once you recover from it, it doesn't generally hamper you like, say, a dislocated shoulder or broken leg). When he comes back in, say, week 12, everybody expects him to be at full strength and to play like he always did. Even Peyton himself, who's been able to work out this entire time and still do pretty much everything expected of him except get out on the field, would think that he'll be perfectly fine when he comes back. And he probably will. If he's a little off or has a bad game, hardly anyone would attribute it to rust or other consequences of missing three weeks.

Ah, but now it's week 15 of the regular season. If Peyton misses the next three games -- strictly on a voluntary basis -- and the Colts lay an egg in their playoff game, it'll be because they "took those three games off," and that will be the beginning and the end of the discussion as to why the team lost. Never mind that most teams that do rest their starters do so because they're good teams that have secured a high seed and have the ability to rest them and usually progress far in the playoffs. It's only the failures that we notice and that we try to ascribe some higher meaning to, other than, "The other team was better."

All of which brings us back to the Vikings. If they can beat Carolina next week and if Philadelphia loses either of its next two games, and the Saints can somehow find a way past Dallas and Tampa Bay at home, then, by the time the Vikings take the field against Chicago on Monday night in 13 days, the NFC standings would look like this:

1) New Orleans: 15-0
2) Minnesota: 12-2
3) Philadelphia: 10-5

No other team in the conference could be better than 10-5 except the Packers, who could be 11-4, but the Vikings would still hold tiebreak over them in the division. Thus, the Vikings would be locked into the #2 seed, with two games left to play, thus allowing them to give vital rest to Brett Favre -- who will probably play enough to keep his streak going -- Adrian Peterson, and other vital members of the team. And if that makes the team go 12-4 and keeps everyone fresh for the playoffs, I'm all for it.

If the Saints lose two of their next three games, the Vikings could run the table and tie them at 14-2 and own a better conference record, thus winning the tiebreaker and securing the #1 seed. There's about zero chance the Saints lose to the Bucs at home in two weeks, so that would require them losing to Dallas at home and one the road against Carolina, an unlikely proposition.

But hey, it doesn't hurt to dream.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Vikes bounce back, bounce Bengals

That's how a team with championship aspirations bounces back from a tough loss against a playoff-caliber team at home!

(Can I just say, too, that I always appreciate the color combination when teams play each other. Dallas blue/silver versus Philadelphia green/white is nice. Green Bay green/gold versus Chicago blue/white is nice. Vikings purple/gold versus Cincinnati orange/black is hideous. I don't know why it bothered me so much.)

I know the Bengals' passing game isn't what it used to be, but limited Carson Palmer to 94 yards passing is sweet.

Adrian Peterson wasn't exactly explosive, and still only managed 3.7 yards per carry, but I'll definitely take it over last week's debacle.

The Vikings' 210 total net yards allowed was their second-lowest total this year, only exceeded by the Chicago game (169).

The last time the Vikings whupped the Bengals this badly in the Metrodome, Vikings' running backs coach Eric Bieniemy was in the building, but as a member of the opposition. As a side note, this was the only game of the 1998 season that I missed, as I was working that weekend. Somehow, I wasn't worried.

I'm still debating whether I want to go to the Panthers game next week. I probably have the chance to get a friend's season tickets, and the stadium is just a few miles down the road. But I'm weighing against it the fact that I'll be sitting at night in 40-ish degree weather for three-plus hours (I know, I know, I've become soft) when I could be sitting at home in relative comfort for a lot less money. If this game were in the afternoon in October, I'd go in a heartbeat. As it is, I'm iffy. Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Around the Internet on Thursday

In keeping with a tradition on this blog of regurgitating other people's hard work and creativity on a Thursday (going back one whole week!), here's some of what I've been reading this week:

First, the professionals:

* ESPN's Greg Easterbrook had an interesting observation with regards to teams extending mediocre head coaches part of the way through their "breakout" season:

Halfway through his first season as Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis had a 5-2 record and immediately was offered a 10-year contract extension containing guaranteed payments that the school and its athletic donors now regret. Less than halfway through the 2008 NFL season, Dick "Cheerio, Chaps" Jauron had a 5-1 record and immediately was offered a three-year contract extension containing guaranteed payments that Bills owner Ralph Wilson now regrets. What's going on here? Why grant coaches extensions when they are already under contract, only to fire them later and be stuck with paying off the rest of the deal?

What's going on is that the general manager or athletic director, by offering an extension when the team is winning, essentially says to the world, "I am a genius for picking this guy." Later, when the same coach becomes a flop, the same front office spins things as, "We gave him everything he wanted and he still failed -- this guy is a failure." The extensions are all about the athletic director's, or general manager's, ego.

He doesn't mention Brad Childress in the piece, but I'm sure every Viking fan who read it was thinking of him...

* Joe Posnanski tells us that Brett Favre can actually be honest, when he wants to. I'm still not sure that I'm buying it.

* ESPN's Kevin Seifert thinks the Vikings shouldn't panic after their loss to Arizona. I, for one, am trying to maintain an even keel. A loss at home to the Bengals, though, might send me over the edge...

And now, the talented amateurs:

* Earlier this week, I was thinking that it might behoove the Vikings to spend a little extra coin -- say, $3 million or so -- on a good nickel corner in the offseason. Vikings Gab then reminded me that, in a way, we're already doing that.

* PJD has some ideas for Chad Ochocinco's touchdown celebrations (which we hope he won't have a chance to use) this week.

* And Joe Fischer tells us that the Vikings should both panic (Arizona could beat us out for the #2 seed) and not panic (Super Bowl teams have often absorbed crushing defeats). That's just the kind of schizophrenic "Our team's good but we'll do our best find a way to be bad" thinking I expect from a fellow Vikings fan!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's wrong with Adrian Peterson?

First, the caveats: I am not a running back, offensive lineman, coach, or even a waterboy, nor have I ever been. What follows are nothing more than observations from a somewhat informed and moderately intelligent (maybe) fan. But it doesn't take much intelligence to realize something has gone terribly wrong with the Vikings' running game for the past month and a half and that the Vikings' star running back has looked more like Adrian Murrell than Adrian Peterson over that span.

First, the numbers: In his first six games, AP accumulated 683 yards at 5.1 yards per carry. In his last six, he's managed just 485 yards and 3.9 per carry -- which doesn't sound too bad until you realize that 133 of those yards came in one game against Detroit (which actually has a surprisingly decent rushing defense this year). Take that one game out and AP has just 352 yards on 105 carries, a 3.4-yard average. That's a far cry from the 5.0 or so a carry we're used to seeing from him and has turned the Vikings into a badly one-dimensional team, which may have finally caught up with them in Arizona.

(Though I again doubt the "wisdom" that says Brett Favre had a bad game because the Cardinals were stopping the run and forcing him to pass a lot. If the Cards are playing eight in the box and stuffing the run, shouldn't that make it easier to pass? Again, the whole "good rushing game helps the passing game and vice versa" argument fails to pass the logic test. The lack of a running game may have forced the team into too many 3rd-and-longs, which would certainly have contributed to a poor passing performance, but that wouldn't explain how the team did on first and most second downs.)

Having watched the Vikings and their suddenly anemic running game over those six games, here are my (likely misguided) on what's wrong with the team and with Peterson himself:

The offensive line isn't opening up holes. Seems obvious enough, but why? How can a team with two road-graders at the tackle position and an all-world left guard suddenly not be able to block? Are John Sullivan and Anthony Herrera (or Artis Hicks) that bad?

I wouldn't say so, because no matter where the team is running, left, right, or center, the blocking is subpar. There's no push up the middle (When's the last time you say the Vikings' O-line move the line of scrimmage two or three yards downfield?) and outside runs are usually stopped before they can get started. Meanwhile, watch any big Chris Johnson run this year, and you'll see either a hole open up for him or a seal on the outside that allows him to turn the corner and run to daylight. Remember when we had an offensive line that could do that?

I don't know what the solution is, but this is one that's hard to pin on AP, at least. Or is it?

AP's slowing down. At least half a dozen times a game, it seems like AP gets just enough of a crease, starts striding downfield -- and then a tackler emerges from out of nowhere to get a piece of his leg or knock him down and he's limited to a three-yard gain. Again, maybe this is just my feeble observations or my expectation that he could do better, but these kind of plays seem to happen with frustrating regularity these days. If AP just had a little more juice or just could make a slight adjustment to his trajectory, he could avoid that tackler and rip off a big run. Clearly, at this stage of the season, every player is playing hurt, running backs especially, but maybe AP's got a little bit more of a hitch in his get-up than he'd like everyone to know and it's hurting his ability to make those sudden moves when he does have a hole to run through, however small. He's also getting caught from behind more times than I'd like to see. It's neat that he can run over William Gay, but is his physical running style costing him speed?

Cut the cutbacks. His TD run against the Lions notwithstanding, the cutback just hasn't been there for AP, but he keeps trying it anyway. It's a simple premise, really: If you stop running, the defense can catch up to you easier. I know that the line isn't opening up lanes for him to run through, but stopping and then trying to run in another direction where there isn't any room doesn't solve anything. I'd rather see AP run straight ahead into the line and hope that he can squirt through the other side or run over someone than cut back into another defender. And speaking of running straight ahead...

Stop running sideways. Going all the way back to the Steelers game, I was lamenting the stretch play every time it was run. The Vikings have stuck with it, though, to their detriment. It has all the potential of a pass to Naufahu Tahi, and usually can't even match the guaranteed three yards that play gets. In fact, I think this play has lost yardage more often than it's gained any. AP's lack of acceleration and the offensive line's inability to get out and throw blocks -- this isn't Matt Birk pulling from center any more -- have relegated his play to an automatic loss of down.

The next time the Tennessee Titans are on TV, watch how Chris Johnson runs and how his line blocks for him. It's amazing to see someone get that much open space, and I wonder how we can get back to that kind of rushing attack. I hope it happens over the next month or so, or else the Vikings will be in for yet another early preseason exit.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Well, that was ugly, on several levels.

* The Vikings' secondary without Antoine Winfield (and, arguably, with him) isn't good enough to shut down opposing passing games without a pass rush. Last night, Kurt Warner barely got a finger laid on him and the results were predictable. Nearly 300 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks, and 8.9 yards per attempt. Toss in 4.5 yards per carry on 25 rushing attempts, and it's a wonder Arizona only put up 30 points. The announcers hyped the Minnesota defensive line, but it was the Arizona offensive line that clearly won the battle in the trenches.

* Meanwhile, Minnesota's offensive line continues to disappoint, again failing to open up any holes for Adrian Peterson, who was held to a season-low 19 yards on 13 carries. It seems like Peterson's good for one of these awful games every season (here's 2008's and 2007's), so hopefully he's got it out of his system, though I'm skeptical. I'll be writing more on AP's sudden collapse later this week.

* E.J. Henderson. Ouch, ouch, ouch. I watched the play where he sustained the injury but didn't see what happened to him. When they replayed it in slow motion, I had to turn away. This makes two season-ending injuries for E.J. in the last two years, and while we can always hope he'll come back next year and regain his form, he was a step down from his usual dominant self for most of the year, and it might be asking too much for him to come back from another devastating injury. The Vikings should definitely be thinking linebacker in the early rounds of the 2010 draft.

* Finally, Brett Favre had that kind of game we all thought he would have. Admittedly, it's hard to fault the guy when the team is so one-dimensional offensively and he has to air it out 45 times because the score is so lopsided. Still, he could have easily doubled his interception total, if Adrian Wilson had held on to a few more ill-advised attempts. Last week, I mused that Favre's low interception total wasn't just the result of luck and that he'd had only three or four of those "oh shit" kind of throws that should have been intercepted all season; he just about matched that total last night.

On the bright side, Dallas losing keeps the Vikings two games up in the fight for a #2 seed and first round bye, though we'll have to outpace Arizona, who now holds the tiebreak edge. New Orleans is virtually out of reach at this point, though they've shown vulnerability the last few weeks. Here's hoping Cincinnati isn't as good as their record indicates and that the 'dome crowd can help the Vikings get back on a winning track next week.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Visual stimulus

Why should I use all those big and complex words when I can entertain you with pictures -- some moving, some not?

From the college ranks: At least this guy didn't get called for a false start.

I know I've ragged on Pro-Football-Reference lately for their overabundance of advertising, but check out the Fantasy Minute video in the lower right of their home page. Bonus points if you can keep your eyes on the upper half of the video. HBWHOF, take note.

Purple Jesus Diaries
includes some lolVikes pictures at the end of this post. My contribution:

And finally, for old times' sake, the best call ever in the NFL.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Plusses and minuses of alternative stats

Warning: Shameless plug for a guy who says he likes my blog -- see, I can be bought for just a few kind words (dollars don't hurt, though)!

Looking over Luis's new QB rating system, as well as his article on the NY Times' Fifth Down, I like it and I get what it's saying but I find it -- I don't know, not confusing, per se, but complex. Which is, naturally, how any system to rank a quarterback is probably going to be, including both traditional passer rating and my system. But I tend to think of it as relatively simple. Is that because I made it myself and I'm intimately familiar with it? Without trying to sound boastful, I naturally think of my system is good, and not just because I spent hours coming up with it and think it's some sort of statistical masterpiece.

I feel that any new statistical measure, if it's going to achieve resonance with the masses, should be both 1) something the masses can compute with minimal effort and 2) something where they can get a concept of what the value means. By "something they can compute," I mean that it should be something the average fan could figure out, like third-down conversion rate in football or WHIP in baseball. My second point means that the value should have meaning; the fan should understand what they're looking at. Third-down conversion rate is just that, and needs no additional definition. So is WHIP; it's essentially how many baserunners a pitcher gives up in an average inning. Something like OPS is a little more squirrely, but if you know the component parts of it (OBP and SLG), you can say someone has a .900 OPS and get an idea that he probably has around a .400 OBP and .500 SLG, and you know what those mean.

Most quarterback rating systems fail the first test. Unless the formula is mind-bogglingly simple and involves very few variables, it's relatively indecipherable to the common fan. The second aspect -- comprehension of what the number means -- can be a little easier to wrangle. Traditional passer rating at least lets you think that a "100" is good, and people like round numbers. A lot of alternate QB systems (mine included) use some form of yards per attempt (including or not including sacks, interceptions, fumbles, TDs, and so on in some way) as their result and that, too, is something most people can grasp. (Passer rating has, I think, become mainstream simply because it was the first attempt to quantify the many aspects of a QB's stats.)

The other thing I tend to dislike about alternate statistical systems is any "imaginary" aspect, simply because, to me, it seems like mostly blind guesswork and highly subjective. Usually, these comes in the form of strength-of-schedule adjustments or, in the case of certain baseball stats like xFIP, what stats the player or team "would have" accumulated if he'd played with a league-average defense (or pitching staff or running game or whatever). Those are, IMHO, fun to look at, but are ultimately unreliable as definitive measures. I understand that Brett Favre's great numbers this season are due, in part, to his playing against a relatively weak schedule, but how good would he be against a league-average schedule? 95% as good? 80% as good? 71.6% as good. Nobody knows. It's just speculation, and I prefer to use "real" stats in my arguments, not guesses. If I can't tell where the numbers are coming from, the average fan probably can't either, and that's going to hurt the acceptance of any new stat. Any "imaginary" stat almost certainly fails point 1) (easy to compute) and 2) (understandability) -- and don't get me started on "intangibles."

This brings me to the subject of this post and something I almost always dislike seeing in any statistical system: negative numbers. They usually crop up in stats that try to say a player or team is better or worse than average and, in the process, fail both of my criteria for a stat that's "acceptable" to the masses:

1) Something the masses can compute. This may come as a surprise to us statheads, but, as someone who's comfortable with math and has had to work with people who aren't, the average joe has trouble working with negative numbers.

2) Something people can understand what it means. With very few exceptions (negative yardage comes to mind), all stats accumulate in the positive. What will someone understand better: that Adrian Peterson averages 4.7 yards per carry or that he averages +0.6 yards above average per carry? Both are true, but one is what actually happens in the game (he gains yardage) and one is just a stat (he gains more than the average back).

I might be wrong in all of this. Maybe the issues I have with "new" stats is just my issue and not something that most people have. The thing "we" -- meaning those of us who try to innovate with new stats and can understand how complex stats are computed -- sometimes get lost in our own heads and can't see how others wouldn't understand our glorious ideas. I'm not bashing anyone's stats, and I know my own ideas need refinement; rather, I'm typing all this because I think these are issues we'll all need to address if we want "our" stats to achieve widespread use. Maybe in a hundred years, passer rating, obtuse as it is, will fall out of vogue with football fans and some other system will supplant it as the standard by which quarterbacks are rated (wins notwithstanding). But it'll have to be something that's palatable not to statheads like us, but to Joe Six-pack.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Vikings pass on running -- as they should

The Vikings rolled over the Bears 36-10 yesterday, completely dominating Chicago in every facet of the game (well, minus a couple of special teams gaffes), but, as usual, the run-pass balance was questionable. Counting his one sack, Brett Favre dropped back 49 times while handing the ball off 31 times...

And, based on how the Vikings ran the ball, I almost think we should have passed more.

First of all, don't be deceived by that raw number: 49. Minnesota ran 83 official plays (discounting penalties and including three kneeldowns) to Chicago's 38 and dominated time of possession, 40:55 to 19:05. You're going to have a lot of passes and runs when you run that many plays. To wit, 59% of the play calls on Sunday were pass plays, not far off from the 56.7% league average. So don't look at "49" and think that Brett Favre was overworked.

That said, there's something just not quite right with the Vikings' running game. Adrian Peterson has averaged 4.2 yards per carry over his last five games, but that number is inflated by a 7.4 yards per carry average against Detroit. His averages in the other four games? 3.8, 3.9, 3.4, 3.4. Serviceable, but not what we've come to expect.

The bulk of the blame has to go on the offensive line, as I can't remember the last time I saw it open a hole for Peterson or get a two- or three-yard push on an opposing defensive line. As such, Peterson's only positive runs seem to be on cutbacks (usually after running up the back of his own linemen) or on runs to the outside. Only Peterson's speed and athleticism have allowed him to manage even three-plus yards per carry in those four games. At the start of the year, you could have said that teams were selling out to stop Peterson and were willing to take their chances with the Vikings' passing game, but a) They've been doing that for the last three years; and b) The way Brett Favre is playing, that's really, really, really stupid. A professional football coach can't take that approach and expect to win -- and I guess, 10 out of 11 times this year, they haven't.

And then there's the fumbles. Seriously, can we get Tiki Barber to come in and tell Peterson how to stop fumbling? Oh, you're not comfortable carrying it in your left arm. Well, get comfortable, son. Or ride the bench.

Maybe it's just a temporary stutter in Peterson's so-far majestic career; it's not like Jim Brown and Barry Sanders were great every Sunday. But Peterson seems to go through stretches like this every year, where he looks average at best, and it's hard to figure out why. I haven't run a pass-vs.-run analysis this year like I did each of the last two years because I've been busier and it takes a while to put together, but maybe I'll get to one this week. If I do, for the first time in a while, I'll probably find that the Vikings are passing a lot more than they're running, and it'll be a good thing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hot new Internet game!

Hey everyone!

Remember when was the no-clutter, find-what-you-need-and-get-out web site that was so much simpler and easier to use than the big-name sites like and Are you like me and bummed that, if you're not careful where you wave your mouse, a typical page now looks like this:

What a mess! Bob from Iowa writes,

"I know the stats are under those ads somewhere, but they're so gosh-darn hard to find! I wish there was an easier way to use the site without having to click on all those silly ads to close them!"

Well, worry no more! No, you can't get rid of those obtrusive roll-over ads, but you can play the newest game that's sweeping the nation! Welcome to the Maze Craze! Just look at this example game board:

Just avoid all the banner ads that will cover up your page and click, click, click your way to stats nirvana! Isn't that fun, kids? It'll be just like the old days of PFR! You know, like last June?

(Seriously, I really appreciate everything PFR's done through the years and still love their site, and I understand that the guys want to take advantage of advertising revenue opportunities... but could they do it without making their site so difficult to use? It's gotten so bad that I now find myself trying to avoid rolling over the ads on other sites just because I'm afraid they'll spring up and obscure half the page. And we won't even get into the ads they have with sound. I click more times on a page to close or quiet ads these days than I do to actually find information and that, to me, is a massive failure.

And yes, I also realize that the Snickers ad isn't a roll-over. I just somehow couldn't find one in that spot when I did this up, having captured the other image a few days ago.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Prediction prediliction

This year's pre-season prediction contest on the blog had an interesting format. You grouped the 32 NFL teams, along with four "wild card" entries into 12 groups of 3. For each group, multiply their wins at the end of the season together and score one point for each group under that group with a lower score. Highest total wins.

Here's my entry (found in comment #6) and their scores through week 11:

1. NE/Phi/Pit (252)
2. Ten/Min/Atl (180)
3. Ind/NO/SD (700)
4. GB/Dal/PLA (259)
5. Chi/Sea/PLN (74)
6. Mia/Ari/HCA (157.5)
7. NYG/Jax/Bal (180)
8. SF/Cle/Buf (12)
9. Den/Hou/Car (120)
10. Oak/Was/NYJ (36)
11. Cin/Det/HCN (25.7)
12. TB/StL/KC (3)

Ideally, you'd want to have the highest number on top, all the way down to the lowest number in the #12 group. My entry looks a bit chaotic, but it currently is worth 54 of a possible 66 points, which seems pretty good but probably isn't the best of the 40+ entries. Some salient points about my entry:

* Having Indy and NO in the same group makes for a killer score that's sure to beat out everyone underneath it even if it costs me two points from the groups above.

* My #2 was looking absolutely dreadful before Tennessee showed a pulse a month ago. If they can finish with 7-8 wins and Atlanta can revive itself, that group could post a near-perfect 9 points for me (discounting that powerhouse #3 group).

* On the flip side, Denver and Houston crashing back to earth are doing wonders for my #9 spot.

* Seattle and Chicago -- you fail me.

* I thought Cleveland would be better than Cincinnati this year. Ouch. Cleveland is murdering my #8 spot. Meanwhile, thanks to Detroit and weak teams with new head coaches in the NFC (the HCN wild card), Cincinnati and its 7 wins isn't doing much damage stuck down in my #11 spot.

* And you can't argue with my #12: 1, 1, and 3 are the win totals of Tampa Bay, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Nice!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

So close to uniqueness

The Vikings and Seahawks could have made history last week, if Seattle would have converted on its two-point attempt in the fourth quarter. There's never been a 35-11 game in NFL history. Instead, we'll have to settle for being in the seventh 35-9 game ever. Yawn. Had the Vikings kicked one more field goal, it would have been the ninth 38-9 game in history and, amazingly, the fifth such contest in Seahawks history.

Yes, I love the Game Score Finder on PFR, couldn't you tell?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Brett Favre might be good

Now that's the convincing win over a subpar team that everyone was looking for...

Even the most die-hard Brett Favre-backers couldn't have predicted this kind of season. 21 touchdowns versus 3 interceptions and a 112.1 passer rating makes folks like me look pretty silly for dissing him early in the season. And after seeing Tarvaris Jackson play for a quarter-plus and look like the Division 1-AA quarterback that he is, it's pretty clear that Favre's not only an MVP candidate for the league as a whole, but he's probably the most valuable player on the Vikings. I could live with Chester Taylor for a while if Adrian Peterson went down, and Ray Edwards has stepped it up enough to make me feel good if the team lost Jared Allen, and the defense has weathered the loss of Antoine Winfield for the last month or so. But right now, Favre is playing as well as he ever has in his career and Tarvaris Jackson (not to mention Sage Rosenfels) would be a huge step down.

It doesn't hurt that Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin are both also looking like stars, and Visanthe Shiancoe has quietly become one of the better pass-catching tight ends in the league. The only negative in the passing game is the looking-like-a-bust Bernard Berrian, who's a distant fourth option in the passing game. I'm also a little concerned at the lack of explosive plays from Adrian Peterson, but I think that's more the fault of the offensive line, which rarely seems to open up holes these days, and some iffy playcalling -- could we please stop calling that stretch play? I'd rather we passed to Naufahu Tahi, that's at least a guaranteed three yards.

One down, six to go. Remember the "poison pill" contracts the Vikings and Seahawks exchanged four years ago? The Vikings' offer to Steve Hutchinson required the Seahawks to make him the highest paid offensive lineman in the league if they retained him. In retaliation, the Seahawks offer to Nate Burleson -- a seven-year, $49 million deal -- would only pay out the full amount if Burleson played seven games in Minnesota during the length of the contract. This was his first game in Minnesota, so if he can manage six more games there over the next three-plus years...

(Really, not that I'd want it to happen, but I sort of hoped that, if the Vikings did move then the Seahawks would move to Minnesota and Burleson's contract would be paid out. I know, they'd release him first, but it would have been cute.)

Next week is the third of the Vikings' three post-bye home games. As I laid out a little while back, the Vikings can practically wrap up their division with a win against Chicago next week. If Chicago beats Philadelphia tonight to go to 5-5 and the Packers win next week against Detroit to go to 7-4, then a Vikings win next week would make them 10-1 with five games to go and in control of all tiebreakers in the division. Chicago would be 5-6 and effectively six games back, putting them out of contention, while Green Bay would be essentially four games back, meaning they'd have to go 5-0 while the Vikings go 1-4 (or worse) or go 4-1 while the Vikings go 0-5. I like our chances.

Of course, if the Bears beat the Vikings, that changes things a bit, but let's not dwell on that...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Four more years!

If you're an owner with a head coach who's got a 32-25 career record and has never won a playoff game, what do you do?

Lock him up through 2013 while making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the league, that's what.

Maybe by 2013 Tony Dungy will want to come back? Please?

(In other news, the decision to move Thursday night games to is working out great. I just now remembered that there was a game last night. Now. 11:04 a.m. Friday. And I live in Charlotte!)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Childress adds new wrinke to offensive playbook

Really, I could see Brett Favre lobbying for this play. I seriously could.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

An Emmy-winning performance

While there's little outright complaining, there seems to be an undercurrent of mild grousing about the Vikings "only" beating the Lions 27-10 on Sunday and not putting the game out of reach until the 4th quarter. In fact, it seems like the Vikings always struggle with the Lions, despite coming out on top in each of the last five meetings between the teams.

My opinion is that a 17-point win is a 17-point win. The Vikings played just fine in Sunday's game, even if it took a while to make the game a pseudo-laugher. Consider some of the other games this past week that matched two teams where one was thought to be clearly superior than the other and yet barely eked out a win:

Miami 25, Tampa Bay 23
New Orleans 28, St. Louis 23

and a few that rank as outright upsets:

Washington 27, Denver 17
Cincinnati 18, Pittsburgh 12
Carolina 28, Atlanta 19
Green Bay 17, Dallas 7

And arguably the New England/Indianapolis and San Diego/Philadelphia games. Against those, I'll take a 27-10 victory any day.

* After the Vikings, my favorite three offenses to watch this season are, in order: Miami (love the Wildcat), New Orleans (for its sheer firepower), and -- wait for it -- Cleveland.

Watching the Browns' "offense" is like watching a good disaster movie, but without the obligatory hot chick. (I will still watch The Day After Tomorrow just to see Emmy Rossum.) I honestly think that Brady Quinn still has some potential in the league and could be a nice pickup for a team (possibly a team in purple) in a couple years when he finishes out his rookie contract, but the combination of terrible play calling (even MNF resident cheerleader Jon Gruden was criticizing the 827th one-yard route the Browns called last night), terrible receivers, and terrible offensive line play give him zero chance to succeed. Until that changes, the Browns offer better comedy than anything Jay Leno can provide on late-night TV.

* 20 carries for 41 yards Thursday for Matt Forte, making his season average 3.4 yards per carry. Good thing Jay Cutler will improve the running game in Chicago!

* Sorry, I'm still thinking of Emmy Rossum. I have to go now...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vikings win division without even playing

It's not technically over yet in the NFC North. But, thanks to losses by Chicago and Green Bay on Sunday, it would take a few minor miracles for the Vikings not to claim their second straight division crown in 2009.

Here's how things currently stack up:

Minnesota: 7-1
Chicago: 4-4
Green Bay: 4-4

With eight games left to play, Minnesota holds three-game leads over both Chicago and Green Bay and owns the tiebreaker over Green Bay (making for an effective four-game lead over the Packers). Let's assume the Vikings can handle Detroit and Seattle the next two weeks at home. We'll also assume that Green Bay beats Dallas and San Francisco and Chicago beats San Francisco and Philadelphia -- neither of which are sure bets and are, at the very least, a higher caliber of opponents than the Vikings face. That would make the standings:

Minnesota: 9-1
Chicago: 6-4
Green Bay: 6-4

going into Minnesota's home tilt with Chicago in week 12. Now, let's assume the Vikings win that game (and GB wins again vs. Detroit). Now the standings are:

Minnesota: 10-1
Green Bay: 7-4
Chicago: 6-5

With five games left to play, Minnesota has an effective four-game lead over Green Bay and an effective five-game lead over Chicago. Why five games? Simple. If Minnesota beast Detroit and Chicago, Minnesota now owns tiebreaker over Chicago. The Vikings would be 5-0 against their division, while Chicago would be 1-2. Even if the Vikings lose to Chicago later in the year and the Bears win the rest of their divisional games, the Vikings would still have a 5-1 divisional record to Chicago's 4-2.

And all that has to happen for this scenario to play out is for Minnesota to beat Detroit and Seattle (pretty likely) at home. Even if Chicago and Green Bay go 2-0 over their next two contests -- hardly a sure thing -- the Vikings are still sitting pretty. If either team goes 1-1 or, even better, 0-2, it all but sinks their hopes of winning the division. And that's awfully nice to hear before mid-November.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The bad, the bad, and the ugly

I'm out of town until Saturday. With the Vikings having a bye and sitting pretty at 7-1, I thought I'd have some fun at the expense of the bad -- really, really bad -- teams in the NFL.

* The Browns fired their GM, who was apparently picked by their coach (shouldn't that be the other way around?) and won't start Brady Quinn because they don't want him earning an $11 million bonus if he takes 70% of his team's snaps. Derek Anderson, meanwhile, is historically bad.

* When the Chiefs wanted to get younger two years ago, they traded 26-year-old Jared Allen to the Vikings. That was confusing. Trading 33-year-old Tony Gonzalez made more sense, though I couldn't figure out why you'd want to trade possibly the best tight end ever and a pillar of your community. Gonzalez, for the record, trails only Roddy White in receptions and receiving yards for the Falcons. But at least the Chiefs got younger, right? if gobbling up 29-year-old Bobby Wade after the Vikings waived him, the Chiefs have claimed 31-year-old Chris Chambers. If their plan is to trade away great receivers and acquire mediocre ones, then they're right on target...

* It was about what you'd expect in a Rams vs. Lions matchup: With Detroit trailing 3-0, Matthew Stafford threw an interception into the end zone. Defensive back James Butler took the ball out of the end zone, ran back in to avoid a tackler, where he was then tackled by Kevin Smith. 3-2. It's the second time I can recall an offensive player scoring a safety. Philadelphia wide receiver Charles Johnson did it in this game, 10 years ago.

* If he had enough attempts to qualify, Vince Young would be the lowest-rated passer among active quarterbacks (69.0). He's also 18-11 as a starter. I know passer rating doesn't include rushing yards, but that's still messed up...

* The Redskins made it through the "easy" part of their schedule -- Giants, Rams, Lions, Bucs, Panthers, Chiefs -- with a 2-4 record. Those teams have a combined 11-34 record. Counting their game against Philadelphia last week, their next six opponents -- Eagles, Falcons, Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles, Saints -- have a combined 32-10 record. Can you say "2-10 record"?

* And oh, those Buccaneers. They rank 28th in the league in scoring, but that should be nothing new to Tampa Bay fans. Amazingly, in 34 years, the Bucs have only ranked in the top 10 in scoring once, in 2000.

But hey, at least their coach doesn't assault women.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

For the first time, Vikings celebrate Favre winning in Green Bay

Apart from a third quarter that had me swearing like George Carlin, the Vikings dominated the Packers in Lambeau Sunday, putting another lopsided number on the scoreboard in a 38-26 road victory that puts them at 7-1 going and in solid command of their division going into the bye. Brett Favre was nearly flawless, Percy Harvin had several big returns and a great TD catch-and-run, Adrian Peterson had just enough explosiveness in him to make a difference, and the defense...well, the less said about that third quarter, the better.

I figured going into the game that one of two things would happen: that Brett Favre would have an amazing performance and add to his improbable highlight reel that includes his Monday Night win after his father's death and his 6 TD game with the Jets last year; or that he would have an absolutely horrid performance -- at least three interceptions and possibly an injury, in a bit of karmic justice that would make Earl Hickey cringe. Fortunately, it was the former.

On the other side of the ball, the absence of Antoine Winfield can't fully explain the poor coverage, poorer tackling, and generally poor effort by what is rapidly becoming one of the more porous defenses in the league. We expect Benny Sapp and Karl Paymah to suck, but when Chad Greenway is missing tackles and Jared Allen hardly sniffs the quarterback for a whole half, something is wrong. And, while not a defensive play, let's pretend what Brian Robison did on that kickoff return never happened.

Against teams with a pulse (discounting Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis), the defense has given up 24, 23, 31, 13 (I'll discount those two return TDs in the Pittsburgh game), and 26 points. Elite defenses don't get routinely shredded by opposing quarterbacks, and right now -- and arguably, all season -- the Vikings have not had an elite defense. They have an exciting defense, one that picks up sacks in bunches and is pretty good at forcing turnovers, but that doesn't mean they're great. This unit definitely needs work during the bye week; Leslie Frazier's got his work cut out for him.

And I'll take a little time to gripe about the officiating again. On the play when the Vikings were called for roughing the quarterback, the defensive end was clearly held by the right tackle. So, not only was it a horrible call on the roughing, but also a horrible non-call on the holding. Even Troy Aikman, he of many concussions, thought the roughing call was lame. That should say something.

In the end, though, a win's a win, Green Bay has been swept, and the Vikings hold a commanding lead in their division. Even if the Packers beat the Bucs next week (likely), they'll be two games back for real and, thanks to the sweep, effectively three back. The Bears host the Cardinals next week, which is hardly a gimme, so they will be two (if they win) or three (if they lose) back after next week.

And the Vikings' next three opponents coming out of the bye? Detroit, Seattle, and Chicago, all at home. 3-0, or at least 2-1, over that run is highly probable. In fact, the Vikings don't even need to leave Minnesota again for over a month, not until a December 6 contest in Arizona. Home cooking sure tastes good when you're 7-1.

Friday, October 30, 2009

You can go home again

So today, I thought, "How well does a QB fare against a team that he previously won a Super Bowl with?"

The answer: Not too shabby. Here's my attempt at a comprehensive list, but since this is just for fun, I make no claims that there isn't an error or two. The record in parentheses indicates the QB's record on the road -- in other words, at his old stomping grounds.

Kurt Warner vs. the Rams: 5-2 (3-0)

Joe Montana vs. the 49ers: 1-0 (0-0)

Jim McMahon vs. the Bears: 2-0 (1-0) (both with the Vikings, ignoring this one-attempt game)

Jeff Hostetler vs. the Giants: 1-1-1 (1-1)

Trent Dilfer vs. the Ravens: 0-2 (0-1) (ignoring this game, where he threw just one pass -- hey, remember when a lot of people were up in arms about the Ravens letting their Super Bowl-winning quarterback go?)

Brad Johnson vs. the Bucs: 1-0 (0-0)

Ken Stabler vs. the Raiders: 0-1 (0-1) (in a playoff game, no less)

And some guy vs. the Packers: 1-0 (0-0) -- no, not Bart Starr

That's a total record of 11-6-1, including 5-3 at the QB's old stadium. Don't talk to me about small sample size, that's great news for this weekend!

Frankly, I'm a little surprised that it hasn't happened more often. If not for Kurt Warner winning a Super Bowl in, essentially, his first year in the league and then moving on to play for a team in his old team's division, we'd only have 11 such games instead of the 18 we currently have. If only we'd gotten Brett about five years ago...

I'm looking forward to Tom Brady's career with the Jets in 2013-2016.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I can't come up for a title for this one

Vikings coach Brad Childress dressed up as a female flight attendant during the team's flight to Pittsburgh on Saturday, ESPN reported. The coach donned a wig, blue nylons and lipstick (framed around his beard).

(Thanks to Daily Norseman for the link.)

This is the mark of a coach of a 6-1 team with a contract extension on the table? Why sure, Bill Parcells and Bill Walsh did this all the time! Those jokesters!

At least he didn't pull his pants down.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Passing Unfancy: Vikings/Steelers

The defense wasn't a problem on Sunday. Even with Antoine Winfield out (for a while, it seems), the Vikings held the defending Super Bowl champs' offense to a reasonable 259 yards and 13 points.

Unfortunately, the Vikings offense had the ball during the game too, and that rarely ended well. To wit:

* My father's name is Ronald, so whenever I see referee Ron Winter calling a game, I joke that he's my dad. If that's true, he's off my Christmas list this year. The most egregious bad call was the tripping penalty on Jeff Dugan, a play that I, my Steelers-fan friend, and the entire crew of NBC's Football Night in America, thought was an awful call. It negated a go-ahead touchdown pass to Sidney Rice, and three plays later, Brett Favre was sacked, stripped, and LaMarr Woodley was running to the end zone.

Also, earlier in the game, Benny Sapp was called for a 15-yard roughing call when he dove at Ben Roethlisberger just as he was heading out of bounds. He left his feet as Roethlisberger still had one foot inbounds, though he made contact after the quarterback was out of bounds. Dubious call, I thought, but since quarterbacks aren't allowed to be hit any more, I tried not to grouse too much...

...until a few minutes later, when Favre was shoved to the ground after releasing the ball. No flag. Again, it wasn't the most egregious sin, and one that shouldn't be a penalty in the NFL, but usually is. I hate to harp on officiating and use it as an excuse, but this was one of those kind of games where every questionable call seemed to go against the Vikings.

Except that tripping call. That wasn't questionable at all.

* When the Vikings weren't having penalties (11 in all) called against them or turning the ball over and giving up 6 points to the opposing defense, they were calling plays. Pass plays. All. The. Damn. Time.

Starting with the fifth drive, in the second quarter, here was the Vikings' play selection:

Fifth drive:
Run; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; run; run; pass; run

Sixth drive:
Pass; run; pass; pass; pass; run

Seventh drive:
Run (kneeldown at end of half)

Eighth drive:
Pass; run; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; pass; run (penalty); run; pass; pass

Ninth drive:
Run; pass; pass

Tenth drive:
Run; pass; pass; pass; pass; run; pass (penalty); pass; pass; pass; pass; run; pass; pass (penalty); pass; pass; pass

Discounting the kneeldown, from 10:34 in the second quarter until the Woodley touchdown at 6:23 in the fourth, the Vikings called 39 passes and 13 runs. Adrian Peterson had 11 runs (one negated by a penalty) and 2 receptions over that span. Five of those runs came with the ball spotted inside one team's five-yard line (four goal-line carries against the Steelers and one with the Vikings backed up on their own three), so Peterson only really had six chances for a big play for over half the game -- eight if you count his receptions (and I'm sure William Gay does).

With Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin ailing, instead of handing off to the best player in football, Brad Childress called plays designed for Greg Lewis, Jim Kleinsasser, and Naufahu Tahi, with predictable results. The Vikings never trailed by more than three during this span, and their last drive in the first half (#6) started with 3:30 on the clock, and actually included two runs in six plays (one a draw on third and long for Chester Taylor). Yes, there were some long-yardage plays in there, when passes seemed obvious, but again, are you better off running with Peterson or Taylor in those situations or tossing it to Tahi and Kleinsasser? And how exactly did you get in second-and-long and third-and-long? Perhaps by not running the ball as much as you should?

This was what I feared more than anything once it became obvious that Brett Favre could still get it done. Brad Childress desperately wanted to throw all the time when he had Tarvaris Jackson as his quarterback, so you knew that he was salivating over the possibility of throwing 50+ times a game with Favre in the game, and that's exactly what he did. The Vikings called 23 runs and 55 dropbacks (passes plus sacks), with 10 of them coming with the Vikings down and three and a half minutes or less in the game, when an all-pass approach is appropriate. Removing those and Favre's kneeldown, it was a 45:22 pass:run ratio. There is no way the Vikings should have a 2:1 pass:run ratio unless the score is out of hand or Peterson (and probably Taylor) is hurt. No way at all.

I know there are a lot of worthy choices, but this is Brad Childress's worst-called game ever. My friend and I kept saying, "This one will be a run. It has to be a run." We were rarely correct. People will say that the two Pittsburgh defensive TD returns and the questionable penalties were the reasons we lost, and while they didn't help, the team shouldn't have been in a situation where those two plays decided the game. This one goes on the coaching staff and a horrendous job of play calling.

Let's hold off on that contract extension talk, shall we?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Why the Broncos are 6-0

The simple answer is, of course, "Their amazing defense and a really lucky play against Cincinnati." But consider the following two quarterbacks, each with the same number of pass attempts:

Quarterback A: 4,526 passing yards, 25 TDs, 18 Interceptions, 86.0 passer rating, 6.8 adjusted yards per attempt

Quarterback B: 3,937 passing yards, 24 TDs, 16 Interceptions, 79.6 passer rating, 6.0 adjusted yards per attempt

Which one is better? Quarterback A, but not by a large amount.

Now, suppose my team has quarterback B. I'll trade him to you for quarterback A. Not a good deal for you, but, depending on circumstances, maybe one you would make...

Oh, and I'll also throw in two first-round draft picks and a third-rounder. Can you toss me a fifth-rounder, maybe, just to even things out a bit?

I bet you're taking that deal.

Quarterback A's stat line belongs to Jay Cutler in 2008. B's stat line is Kyle Orton's stat line in 2008, adjusted to have the same number of attempts as Cutler. The reason Cutler's numbers looked better in 2008 was solely because of his high number of attempts. Plug Orton in for another 200-odd attempts in 2008, and his numbers start to look like Cutler's.

When the deal was made, I was skeptical of both sides. The conventional wisdom of Cutler as a franchise quarterback still lingered in my brain, despite my certainty that his "big numbers" were more the result of his number of pass attempts. Orton, meanwhile, while not great, was reasonably efficient in 2008, few people could dispute that he enjoyed a better receiving corps (Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal) in Denver than Orton did (Devin Hester and Greg Olson/Matt Forte) in Chicago.

(The Vikings also were supposedly interested in Cutler, and he probably would have been an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels, but I was hoping we wouldn't give up the house to acquire him.)

Admittedly, we're only looking at one season's worth of stats here, but that's about all we can do. Orton was awful in his rookie year, starting for the Bears in place of the injured Rex Grossman, and played sparingly in his second year. For Cutler, one year looks pretty much like the other. I'm too lazy to compute all sorts of advanced stats, but his passer rating his first four years in the league (counting this one) are 88.5, 88.1, 86.0, and 86.9. Decent, but not something I'd want to give up three high draft picks and a reasonable quarterback for.

So far, Cutler's performed reasonably well (the opener in Green Bay aside), but he's still looking like about the same passer he was in Denver -- willing to put it up all the time, but interception-prone. Meanwhile, we do harp on Denver's defense, and it's amazing, but Orton has nine touchdowns versus just one interception and a passer rating over 100. I don't think he's that good, but far too many people were just thinking of him as subpar, if not outright bad, going into this season.

But hey, look at how much Cutler is helping the Bears' running game. Matt Forte's 3.4 yards per carry is clearly the result of improved quarterback play.

So the next time you hear someone say Denver's just having a good season because of their defense, know that that's just part of the story. For years, it seemed like the Broncos could make any running back into a 1,000-yard back. Nowadays, maybe they can make any quarterback into a Pro Bowler...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Time to clock Big Ben

It's looking more and more like Antoine Winfield won't be in the starting defensive backfield for the Vikings when they travel to Pittsburgh on Sunday, and that could be trouble, if the second half against the Ravens was any indication. We've always had our reservations about Brad Childress' and Darrell Bevell's ability to think outside the box and craft a quality offense for the Vikings; this week, it might be up to Leslie Frazier to figure out a way to get enough pressure on Ben Roethlisberger to make up for Winfield's absence.

Roethlisberger represents a serious matchup problem for the Vikings. Yes, he holds on to the ball too long and takes a lot of sacks (3rd highest sack percentage among active quarterbacks, and highest among anyone who could be called a starter), but because of that -- and because defensive players tend to bounce off his 240-pound frame -- he keeps plays alive and completes a lot of downfield passes. He currently leads the league with 9.1 yards per attempt, which, if it holds out, would make him the third quarterback this decade (and only 11th since the merger) to average better than 9 yards per pass. He's already #3 among active quarterbacks, and his 12.6 yards per completion is the 2nd-best career mark in the NFL among active quarterbacks.

In other words, this game has all the appearance of mimicking the type of game we had against the Green Bay Packers, where Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times but had 384 yards passing. As long as the final score looks roughly the same, I'll be happy.

On the bright side, no Steelers quarterback has ever thrown for more than 300 yards against the Vikings. In fact, only one has ever managed as many as 250, and it was a while ago. That probably owes more to the fact that the teams don't play each other very often, and both have been known for their defenses (and, in the Steelers' case, their running games) than for high-flying aerial attacks. Vikings QBs haven't fared much better over the years.

Unlike Baltimore, the Steelers still have a defense, though they'll be missing DE Aaron Smith, a major key to their 3-4 who's out for the season. Without him, Adrian Peterson has a very solid chance of topping 100 yards, despite the Steelers' allowing only 74.5 yards per game on the ground. That's skewed somewhat by the 16 yards San Diego put on them in week 4. Without Smith, even Cleveland managed 91 yards on the ground, though 45 of that came from Josh Cribbs in the wildcat. I'd expect a somewhat lower-scoring game this week -- maybe just in the 20s for each team. And hopefully more for the purple.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

I don't mean to alarm anyone...

But here's what happened the last time the Vikings started 6-0.

That won't happen again, of course.

We play the Cardinals in week 13, not week 17. And Nate Poole, may he burn in whatever hell he fears, hasn't played in the NFL since 2005. And there's no more push-out rule. And we have the most fun-loving quarterback in the league, who would never let his defense fall asleep like that.

(The guy's been great, I'll admit. But three hours of Dan Dierdorf praising him is more than anyone should be subjected to. Even Nate Poole.)

The 2004 version of the Vikings fared about the same, getting off to a 5-1 start before going into a nosedive and finishing the season 8-8. Beating the Packers at Lambeau Field in the playoffs was sweet, but it was still another case of the Vikings being just good enough to avoid embarrassment, but not enough to be actually good -- a hallmark of the Mike Tice ".500 and out" regime. In total, the 2003-04 Vikings were 11-1 through week 6 and 6-14 after.

Could they face a similar fate this season? We all want to say "of course not" because all we see is a very good team now and can't imagine a 3-7-like finish. But we felt the same way in 2003 and 2004, and every team that starts out well (like this one and this one) can't possibly fathom the ridiculous notion that they'll collapse down the stretch. "All that matters is wins," they'll say, no matter how ugly the wins or how weak the opposition, only to earn their "overrated" label in the second half.

(That is, by the way, a corollary of my NFL Predictions Rule. In addition to "Always pick four new division winners every year," I espouse "At the midway point, a team at 6-2 or better will fade down the stretch and finish at 9-7 or so." Last year, I picked the Redskins, the year before the Lions. The Broncos are looking mighty tempting this year.)

The questionable play of the defense the last few weeks is a major red flag that teams quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler, Kurt Warner, and Eli Manning might exploit better than teams quarterbacked by Shaun Hill, Kyle Boller, Brady Quinn, and Matthew Stafford did. And then there's Aaron Rodgers -- wait, I think Jared Allen just sacked him again. Still, at this point, I think even JaMarcus Russell could complete half his passes for 150 yards against us. And that's saying something.

In short, the Vikings are ripe for a fall. (And please don't tell me it won't happen because you-know-who is in purple. Remember the Jets last year?) With two tough road games on the slate next, we could be in for a little disappointment after a hot start, though I'll admit I would have been overjoyed to be 6-2 going into the bye. The second-half schedule looks reasonably soft, but that 2003 team lost to four teams with 4-12 records, so anything is possible. I really hope they won't be "that team," but after years like 2003, 2004 (not to mention 1996 and 1997), I won't truly feel good about our record until we've played 16 games.

Then Gary Anderson can miss a field goal in overtime in the NFC Championship Game.