Monday, November 19, 2007

Winning But Not Really Gaining

Given that most Minnesota Vikings' fans rightfully expected the Vikings to handle the wrong-way streaking Oakland Raiders on Sunday, it's not exactly letting the air out of the euphoria bubble to point out that, win notwithstanding, the Vikings have a considerably long way to go to catch up to the second-tier of teams in the NFL and forever to go to catch up to where the New England Patriots currently stand.

The statistics from Sunday's game support what we already knew to be true about the Vikings. For the game, the Vikings gained 228 net yards rushing and 250 net yards passing, with Vikings' quarterback Tarvaris Jackson netting 171 passing yards and Vikings' rookie wide-receiver Sidney Rice netting 94 passing yards on two passes. The Raiders countered with 61 net rushing yards and 311 net passing yards--344 gross passing yards.

Entering Sunday's game, the Raiders had been riding a five-game losing streak during which they had averaged just over 11 points per game. They doubled that on Sunday and might have tripled it if not for numerous mistakes in Vikings' territory. That doesn't measure well for the Vikings' defense. Nor do the Raiders' passing statistics.

With 344 gross passing yards, the Raiders nearly doubled their season-long, per-game, passing yard average. Part of that result can be blamed on the departure of injured cornerback Antoine Winfield. But, for a team purportedly deep in the secondary to give up 344 yards to the 29th-ranked pass offense in the NFL is difficult to accept, even with a key personnel loss.

While the Vikings have suggested all season that their secondary problems have been the result of an inability to maintain pressure on the quarterback, that inability does not appear a suitable explanation for Sunday's coverage issues as the Vikings sacked Raiders' quarterback Daunte Culpepper four times and hurried him nearly a dozen more times, and forced an intentional grounding that resulted in a safety.

Nor does it suffice to say, as the Vikings' coaching staff and players have argued in the past, that the passing yardage is a by-product of a good rush defense. For, while the Vikings kept the Raiders' woeful rushing offense in check on Sunday, the Raiders still ran 31 rushing plays to 39 passing plays.

What it all suggests is appeared to be true entering Sunday's game. Namely, the Vikings' pass defense isn't very good.

On offense, the Vikings measured up to their billing, relying on back-up running back Chester Taylor to run rough-shod over the Raiders' woeful defensive line and linebacking corps. The Raiders entered the game allowing 144 rushing yards per game, 29th in the league. The Vikings ensured that the Raiders left town with prospects of moving even lower in that category.

The problems for the Vikings' on offense on Sunday were entirely at the quarterback position. Though Jackson had a high completion percentage of 77%, he had a very modest passing-yardage total of 171 yards. The only two times the Vikings' quartback went deep was when the Vikings' quarterback was the Vikings' rookie wide-receiver, Sidney Rice--who amassed with two nicely thrown passes, more than half what Jackson amassed with 22 passes.

Jackson's 171 passing yards, 24 yards less than what the Raiders have been allowing per game this season, were augmented by a poor decision inside the Raiders' ten-yard line that resulted in an interception and a turnover near mid-field resulting from a lack of pocket awareness. That's what one typically gets with a rookie quarterback. And that's what the Vikings are left to rely upon this season despite otherwise having reasonable talent on offense.

In short, the result on Sunday was predictable in nearly every sense of the word. The Vikings ran well, passed below average, stopped the run, and allowed too much in the passing game. The result against a dysfunctional Raiders' team that is as bad as any in the NFL was a victory.

The victory moved the Vikings' to 4-6, ensured them of winning a post-season tie-breaker with the Raiders for drafting priority, should such a tie-breaker be necessary, and, with the continuing below-average play of the pass-defense, probably ensured that Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf will not make a change to defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier this season, if ever.

But the victory certainly did not cement any notions that the Vikings are anything other than what they appeared to be last week at Green Bay. The team still relies on the running game for meaningful yards and has grave difficulty stopping the pass. Against the Raiders, those are passable offenses. Against the Packers, Cowboys, Colts, and Patriots, they are the ingredients for a long afternoon.

Up Next: What the Patriots Have that the Vikings Do Not.

25 comments:

35 yr Vike fan said...

Hey Vikes Geek, nice post. The only bright spot I saw was for the first time TJ did show improvement. He still made a few bad decisions but he did improve. Apparently we are stuck with the current regime for the rest of the year, we need to look for any good thing to grab on to.

Ryan said...

Here are a couple of interesting items I've noticed about our secondary over the last couple games.

Darren Sharper, as much as I love him, looks old and slow. He very rarely makes plays anymore and he is getting by on his "football smarts" alone. The Vikings will definitely need to address FS through the draft next season.

The hot-and-cold play of Cedric Griffin continues to hurt us. I realize he's only in his second season, but sometimes he makes some mind-numbing mistakes on defense. One can only hope this is because he is still relatively green. (This is his first full season as a starter.) I think the Vikings will have to consider CB in the draft, but I believe that we have too many other positions (OL, QB, WR) that need to be addressed.

Vikes Geek said...

35YRFan,

Thanks for the post. TJ certainly looked better yesterday than he had in his previous start, but the Vikings really didn't ask him to do much. And they asked him not to do much against a team that is one of the two worst teams in the NFL. The concern I have is that Jackson's best play seems to be the play that he's always been able to make--the short pass with zip. That's his strength. Pocket presence, check-offs, the deep ball, and touch passes seem to present more of a challenge for Jackson. Next week will probably provide a better barometer of the progress that he has made in these areas.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Ryan,

I loved Sharper when he was with Green Bay, but the Packers clearly made the call to let him go at the right time. Sharper rarely provides the deep support that he used to be known for and almost never puts himself in position anymore to play the ball. He can still hit hard, but, unfortunately, the hit usually comes after the catch these days.

I agree that Griffin is up and down. He is still better than some of the stiffs that the Vikings lined up at corner under Green and Tice, but he plays way too far off of the receiver and still fails, too often, to make plays that he ought to be making. With that said, he shines in contrast to Marcus McCauley.

VG

Motkue said...

Hey Geek,
I loove your blog and it is very informative. I must, however take exception to your criticism of the pass defense.

Quite simply put, if a team historically defends the run more, then that may sometimes expose a team via the pass (or vice versa). Teams throw exponentially more when they can't run.

By the way I am not saying we don't have room for improvement. We can use more pressure from the DE's that can REALLY help.

J. Lichty said...

Motkue - you are making an efficiency argument. VG has adddressed this in the past to show that he vike's pass defense is not as bad as it appears.

So when you are looking for stats, you want to look at pass efficiency numbers.

GW Mush said...

I think people are wrong when they try tojustify the Vikes poor pass defense by saying that is what happens when you you shut down the run.

I see the patriots stop the run, yet they have a good pass defense. Good defenses can slow down the running AND passing game.

In fact, having the best rush defense should make it easier to defend the passing game ecause once you stop the run, you make the opposing offense one dimensional.

That is what all defenses strive for, to make the opposition one dimensional so they know what is coming and can stop it.

The Vikes pass defense is crap because the safeties have poor range, and Cedric Griffin is to slow to play cornerback.
Although McCauley will be a good corner, he is prone to rookie mistakes.
McCauley should take Cedric griffins spot next year at corner and Griffin should be moved to saftey, and if he cant handle that, special teams.

Vikes Geek said...

In a column last year, I noted that the Vikings' contention that they were allowing huge passing yards as a consequence of other teams' abandonment of the run was a bit specious. I noted that several teams performed well against both the run and the pass.

In the final analysis, GW is correct. If you know a team cannot run against you, you know they will pass. That should make it easier, not more difficult, to defend against the pass. The Vikings have turned the argument on its head.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

GW,

The Vikings touted their signing of Mike Doss in the off-season and the return of Tank Williams. Neither has contributed much to the team this year. And that's telling about where those two stand on the team given the erratic performances of Smith and Sharper.

Corner should again be a priority in the off-season, particularly with Winfield finding it difficult to stay on the field.

VG

GW Mush said...

Vikes Geek,

I am new to your blog and I really enjoy it. You seem to be very insightful. I really dont care for the Trib- blog as it has 198 comments of silliness for every post.

I agree that a corner should be a priority, and also a young, fast safety.
Ive seen the difference in the Tampa 2 when Bob Sanders is playing for the Colts.

Vikings have quite a few positions that could use upgrading so it will be an interesting offseason again.

Im thankful the the Vikes have the Williams boys signed for a few years, I do enjoy watching them do what they do, and I love watching Adrian Peterson.

Vikes Geek said...

GW,

Thanks.

More teams than not, including the Vikings, contend that they play the Tampa 2. That should be hard for Vikings' fans to swallow, however, given that the Vikings don't seem to adhere to either of the guiding principles of the Tampa 2 defense.

Under the Tampa 2 defense, the corners play tight at the line and jam the receiver. The safeties then provide support with the strong-side safety coming up and the weak-side safety free to roam. It's a fairly simple defensive scheme for all the discussion that centers on it but never really discusses its primary features.

I don't recall seeing either of Minnesota's corners ever play tight against the receiver or jam at the line and I rarely see the safety come up to take away the mid-range pass in the Vikings' defense. What I see, instead, are corners that give ten yards and safeties that react far too late.

It cannot simply be the personnel when players repeatedly are situated as far off of the line as are the Vikings' corners. Maybe the Vikings are playing a variation of the Tampa 2. If so, it might be time to switch to the standard version.

VG

Sarah said...

I have a question for you, if you get a chance could you email me at sefrakes@gmail.com? Thanks!

Cabrito said...

Thanks, VG, for a great blog. I'll make a longer comment later, once I make sure this one gets through.

Cabrito said...

xxx

Cabrito said...

Thanks again for your excellent blog, VG. I really appreciate your lucid and insightful analyses, as well as the thoughtful comments posted by your readers. Echoing one of those readers, I think your blog is a vast improvement over the Trib blog, which is 99% silliness.

These are trying times for Vikings fans. There are plenty of reasons for our frustration, but a big factor contributing to our disenchantment has to be the Vikings' success in the past. It's hard to be at the bottom looking up, especially at the Packers and Lions -- we're just not used to it, or at least not used to at least being competitive (34-0? Give me a break). A few years ago I got to wondering just how successful the Vikings have been since the 1970 merger, relative to the elite teams in the NFL. To answer my question, I took the trouble of compiling the overall won/lost records of all the current 32 teams. I also calculated the number of winning/losing/break-even seasons and the number of playoff appearances for each team since 1970. I've updated my data, and I'll publish some of the results in my next posting, tomorrow (Wednesday).

In the meantime, interested readers might like to make a few guesses in response to the following questions:

1. Which NFL team has the best winning percentage since the merger?

2. Where do the Vikings place in the list?

3. Where do the Vikings place, with respect to the number of winning seasons? Losing seasons?

4. Where do the Vikings place, with respect to number of playoff appearances (out of 37 years, from the 1970 regular season to the 2006regular season)?

Some of the answers may surprise you. Stay tuned -- I'll give answers to these questions tomorrow.

bgman said...

Cabrito,

Man that sounds like you have a bit of free time to do that. Isn't there some web site that just lists that?

Saying that, I know the Vikings have really only been bad pre-Childress days a few times (and didn't stay bad for long), average-to-pretty good most of the time, but dominant really only in '98. So their won-loss record and number of years with a winning record should place them in or close to the top-5. But playoff appearances, they may be closer to 10th. If you counted playoff wins, then they drop to the middle of the pack.

From the best of my memory, the other teams which since 1970 have consistently been competitive and avoided being bad -- with the exception of a few fluke years here and there -- would be: Cowboys, Broncos, Steelers, and possibly the Redskins. A few years ago you probably could have included the Dolphins, Raiders, and 49ers to the list.

So my guess is the Vikings are 4th or 5th in wins/winning seasons with the Broncos or Cowboys being #1.

Any Packer fans who think they're up there with the Vikings must have selected amnesia to forget that from the end of the Lombardi days to a few years into Favre's career they were consistently one of the worst teams in the NFL.

DC said...

Cabrito:

The fans sense of frustration might also come from the fact that despite all the playoff games and seasons where the Vikings finished .500 or better, were into year 31 since the last Super Bowl appearance and, of course, no Super Bowl wins.

What's Ricky Bobby's line - if you're not first you're last?

The Vikings have been a very mediocre franchise with an overall record of 54-58 since 2000. How long are we going to have to hang onto those glory days from the Seventies?

Cabrito said...

x

Cabrito said...

Thanks for your guesses, bgman. You're right -- now that I'm retired I have lots of free time to pursue trivial research. You're dead on about the Vikes being in or near the top 5 in W/L record and winning seasons, though you underestimated their playoff success. (Note: I didn't calculate playoff wins/losses.) Like every other fan I've queried, you failed to guess the identity of the top team since 1970. So did I.

DC, thanks for your observations about the Super Bowl and the Vikes' mediocrity since 2000. Your points simply reinforce my assertion about fan frustration. We've had brief "down" periods before, but we've always bounced back quickly to become competitive again. Now we're mired in mediocrity with little hope on the horizon. Zygi made the mistake of hiring a coach committed to building a winner by stocking his team with journeyman free agents and Philly/Packer castoffs, mere cogs in his machine ("system") that will prove the real engine for success. Ain't gonna happen.

I can't list the records of all 32 teams here, so I'll settle for the top 8 as well as the Packers, Bears, and Lions. For each team, I first list their cumulative W-L-T records from 1970 to 2006, followed by the winning percentage in parentheses. Then I give the number of winning/losing/break-even seasons (37 seasons in total for all these teams, as all have been in the league since the 1970 merger), followed by the number of times the team has made the playoffs (in parentheses) and the Super Bowl record, Wins/Appearances.

1. Miami 353-213-2 (.624) 28/4/5 (21) 2/5
2. Pittsburgh 341-225-2 (.602) 26/9/2 (22) 5/6
3. Denver 332-230-6 (.591) 24/8/5 (17) 2/6
4. Dallas 334-234-0 (.588) 16/10/1 (24) 5/8
5. San Francisco 325-240-3 (.575) 23/14/0 (21) 5/5
6. Minnesota 325-241-2 (.574) 24/8/5 (22) 0/3 (Note: KC SB loss occurred before merger)
7. Oakland 319-243-6 (.568) 22/10/5 (18) 3/4
8. Washington 316-250-2 (.558) 22/11/4 (15) 3/5
15. Green Bay 280-280-8 (.500) 16/15/6 (14) 1/2
16. Chicago 283-284-1 (.499) 14/21/2 (13) 1/2
27. Detroit 239-325-4 (.424) 11/22/4 (9) 0/0

As the record indicates, Miami has been far and away the most successful franchise since 1970. The Dolphins' W/L pct. of .624 is a stunning .022 higher than Pittsburgh's .602. This gap is greater than the difference between any two other adjacent teams, with one minor exception: No. 30 Tampa Bay (.387) leads No. 31 Cleveland (.313) by .074 pct. pts. The Dolphins also lead in number of winning seasons (28) and fewest losing seasons (4), the latter an astonishing record. They are third in playoff appearances and have won 2 Super Bowls out of 5.

Now, how about the Vikings? As bgman guessed, they are sixth in overall record (.574). Actually, they are virtually tied with SF for fifth in this category -- both have 325 wins, but SF has one fewer loss. The Vikes are tied with Denver for fourth in number of winning seasons (24), trailing only Miami (28) and Pittsburgh and Dallas (26 each). They are tied for second with Pittsburgh in having the fewest losing seasons (8), trailing only Miami (4). Finally, they are tied for second with Pittsburgh again in number of playoff appearances (22). Only Dallas with 24, has more. Fifteen teams have won at least one Super Bowl, so the Vikes are in the group of 17 teams that haven't.

Note finally that the Packers have been the quintessentially mediocre team over the years, with a perfect .500 record. The Bears are close behind. Detroit has been hopeless.

Summing this all up, taking all categories of success into account except for Super Bowl wins and appearances, the Vikings have indeed been one of the top half-dozen teams in the NFL since the merger. Unfortunately, they have nothing to show for it in terms of championships. No wonder the fans are up in arms about Childress and the apparently bleak prospects ahead.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

In addition to the continued poor play of the pass defense, the Vikings also continue to make the type of mental errors that can be killers, i.e., Greenway's trying to run with that int. instead of just getting on the ground which would have ended the game for all intents and purposes.

I too am mystified by Frazier's decision to play the corners off the ball in a hybrid cover 2 scheme. The slants are open all day against even the worst passing teams. I also second the comments that Sharper is finished. He's consistently late in coming over the top and Dwight Smith isn't a whole lot better.

This week the Vikes play the Giants in what will probably be a windy and chilly Meadowlands. This game could be real, realy ugly given the Giants stout run defense and Eli working over the Vikes secondary. Hard to see how we score more than about 14 tops in this one.

DC said...

How well the Vikings do in this game depends a lot on what Jackson can do with his right arm.

Manning's going to get his. The Giants defence will crowd the line of scrimmage to try to take away the run. So Jackson has to be able to complete passes when the Vikings get in second and long and third and long and keep drives alive.

Can he do that with Strahan and Co. breathing down his neck and receivers that have trouble getting open? Like Bill I'm not optimistic.

http://grants-tomb.blogspot.com

krugjr said...

VG - Happy Thanksgiving

I'm new, found you when you were mentioned last week on PFT.com, now I'm a regular, you write great stuff and tell it like it is, unlike most of the Minneapolis writers....I've already read a lot of your past articles...keep up the good work, liked your "pledges" in 2006! Aloha

krugjr said...

VG - Forgive me if you've covered this in the past...I'm new...What's your opinion on the Wilfs, and their ability to operate an NFL franchise? Seems to me they should hire a GM and get out of the way.

Vikes Geek said...

Cabrito,

Thanks for the posts. You are correct in noting one of the sources of Vikings' fans frustrations this season and over the past several seasons. Despite the Vikings having had much more success over the years than have hapless franchises such as Detroit, New Orleans, and Atlanta, to name a few, Vikings' fans simply are not accustomed to long stretches of ineptitude (read .500 or worse ball). While even the recently rewarded Packers' and Bears' fans have had to live through long stretches of misery, Vikings' fans have mostly been spared this predicament.

What makes the current situation even less acceptable to most Vikings' fans than their own ingrained expectations is the sense that, but for a better quarterback and a less austere and predictable offensive system, the Vikings would be very competitive in a watered-down NFL, with Taylor, Peterson, and several others even making that competitiveness seem legitimate.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Krugjr,

I think every team should have someone calling the shots. It's difficult to get a meaningful consensus from three or more individuals who all purport to know personnel and who all are certain to hold onto at least some of their biases in promoting personnel; the human nature element of decision-making in a group only becomes exacerbated by the stubbornness that the NFL seems to engender.

Few teams rely on ownership to make personnel decisions, with the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders being the two most notable exceptions. I don't believe that Zygi is anywhere near as hands-on as either Jones or Davis, but he does not seem suited to be the least bit hands on, as the Childress hire and the subsequent "triangle of power" decision indicate.

With one personnel person making the final decisions, it is also easier to have accountability for poor decision-making. As it stands for the Vikings, it is difficult to know what change most needs to be made, and who should be charged with making it, if and when change becomes necessary.

VG