Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Value of Focus

When the Minnesota Vikings relieved former head coach Mike Tice of his duties and brought in former Philadelphia Eagles' offensive coordinator Brad Childress as his replacement, one of the primary justifications was that Tice had failed in disciplining his players. Childress was believed to be a task master and disciplinarian for whom players nevertheless enjoyed playing.

In 2005, the Vikings were among the most penalized teams in the NFL for the third straight season. With the addition of veterans Steve Hutchinson and Artis Hicks on the offensive line, the return of center Matt Birk, and the addition of Childress, the Vikings believed that, at a minimum, they had resolved the bulk of the on-field discipline problems that had plagued the Vikings for the past three season.

After four games, the evidence suggests that the job is more challenging than either the Vikings or Childress believed it to be, as the Vikings have averaged nearly ten penalties per game. And while some of the penalty calls have seemed outright absurd, the vast majority have been warranted even in slow motion and have cost the Vikings dearly in terms of field position, scoring opportunities, and/or defensive stop opportunities.

While it is possible to trace the probable effects of some of the Vikings' penalties by pointing to specific penalties and the subsequent drive outcomes, more beneficial for understanding the effects of penalties is a look at how penalties correlate with scoring and wins and losses.

Four games into the 2006 season, the Vikings' lead the NFL with thirty-eight penalties. That's four more than second-place Washington, fourteen more than the NFL median of 24, nineteen more in one more game than usual league penalty leader Oakland, and, if you want to see disciplined, thirty-two more than Pittsburgh, which has a mere six penalties in three games this season.

What have those penalties cost the Vikings this season? In yardage, the Vikings have been penalized a total of 275 yards. While that yardage doesn't include plays that were lost as a result of a penalty, it still tells plenty about a team that has had its games decided by an average of 3.5 points. For 275 yards of penalties equals an expected net return of eighteen points. With twelve more penalties last Sunday, the Vikings arguably have their own lack of focus to thank for not pulling out at least a close victory over Buffalo.

Up Next: Around the NFL. Plus, where goeth the offensive guru?

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