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.