Monday, October 12, 2009

Rams Provide Measuring Stick of Sorts

Five weeks into the 2009 NFL regular season, the Minnesota Vikings stand 5-0 and seemingly capable of defeating all comers. The standing question is whether the Viking's success, to date, is more a reflection of the team's woeful opposition or the Vikings' ability. The ultimate question, however, is whether it even matters.

Although it is comforting to see a Minnesota team dispatch a pitiful underdog such as the St. Louis Rams, it is not a result that other teams have failed to achieve. Through five games, the Rams have been outscored 146-34. Their closest loss was a 9-7 set-back against nearly equally inept Washington. Their other losses were by 28, 19, and 35 points; two of those losses were by shutout.

In short, the Rams are no measuring stick against which the Vikings accurately can gauge their strength at this point in the season. But the Rams might offer a gauge as to where the Vikings stand in comparison to other Rams' opponents. Yesterday's game might thereby suggest reasons for concern.

Prior to yesterday, the Rams had failed to eclipse 200 yards passing in any game this season and had come perilously close to failing to breach the 100-yard passing mark in two of their games. Yesterday, the Vikings ceded 209 passing yards that, at times, seemed like far more, with the Rams too often moving the ball freely down the middle of the field. But for three turnovers in the red zone, the score might have more accurately reflected the Rams' ability to move the ball against the Vikings.

Presumably, against better competition, the Vikings will need to exhibit a more determined defensive resolve than they displayed against the Rams. Where Kyle Boller threw into triple-coverage in the endzone, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and others are far more likely to put the ball neatly in the hands of the open receiver. And if the Vikings have not yet figured out how to get their run game going, that's going to mean a lot of difficult catch-up for the Purple.

Whether any of that will matter prior to the playoffs is anyone's guess. Of the Vikings' first five opponents, all are in the bottom half of the league in points allowed and only San Francisco is outside the bottom third of the league in that category. Similarly, of those first five Minnesota opponents, only one is solidly in the top half of the league in offense, and two are in the bottom three in the NFL in points scored per game.

Of the Vikings' remaining ten opponents (two games remain against the Bears), only four rank in the top ten of the league in team offense, only three rank in the top ten of the league in team defense, and only one, the New York Giants, ranks in both top ten lists. The next most credible opponent, on paper, is next week's home opponent, the Baltimore Ravens, who rank fifth in offense and twelfth on defense, but who are coming off of a tight home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

That's how the NFL stacks up this season, at least for the Vikings, who, despite feasting offensively against mostly weak defenses this season, have fared no better against mostly woeful offensive teams than the league has fared against the league as a whole. All of which means that the Vikings might not have a true measuring stick for how good they are until their final regular-season game of 2009.

Up Next: What's Up Chuck?


MN said...

The 49ers seemed like a decent enough measuring stick and so I'd say the Vikings are solid, with room for improvement but with proper leadership can be one of the top 6 teams. There I am done with vague generalities!

Also, something that's bothered me for years: why do your "Next Time: X" posts almost always bear no relation to what you actually talk about? Obviously you only blog about worthwhile stuff, but why even bother with the nonsensical next-time stuff?

vikes geek said...


I'm searching for a universal symbol for eye-rolling.

I'd agree with the 49er comment prior to this week. It's difficult to attribute a 45-10 home shellacking to a one off. The Falcons destroyed the 49ers through the air and on the ground. I know that was without Gore, but the Vikings faced the same Gore-less squad and barely pulled it out--at home.


Cabrito said...

I think the score of the Rams game was a trifle misleading. If the Rams had scored on those two trips inside the 10, and hadn't given Allen his gift touchdown, the score could have been 31-24. I realize that kind of analysis is overly simplistic, since the Vikings would probably have turned up their intensity level a notch and maybe scored more points offensively, but I agree with you about their defense, VG. The weak teams they've faced so far have had a lot of success moving the ball against them, especially through the air. Every time I watch the Colts I shudder to think what Peyton Manning could do to their pass D. I hate to be too pessimistic, but the jury is still out on whether the Vikes are an elite team. Time will tell, maybe as early as next week.

I admire your blog and value your insights, VG, but I agree with MN about the "Next Time" comment. In particular, I was looking forward to discussion of a key issue you promised to address last week: How can the Vikings get their running game going? That seems to me to be a crucial question, as AP is now being shut down even by weak teams. Any chance of a future blog on that, as previously promised?

Peter said...

"Every time I watch the Colts I shudder to think what Peyton Manning could do to their pass D."

Yes, but everytime a Colts fan thinks about the Vikings, they shudder to think what Indy's rush-D might give up.

Also, to be fair, Indy's been stomping on bad teams. Pot, kettle, black, I know, but it's worth pointing out.

Even so, there are other teams I'd rather the Vikings meet if they should make it to the Super Bowl.

vikes geek said...


I agree. And the jury might be out until the final week of the season. It's difficult to look at a Baltimore team that lost to Cincy as a Super Bowl contender.

As for the "Up Next" segment, patience is a virtue--or so I am told.


vikes geek said...


I suspect any good passing team will do well against the Vikings, particularly after watching Aaron Rodgers pass for nearly 400 yards against Minnesota.

With Bob Sanders back in the lineup, the Colts seem to be better all the way around on defense.


Peter said...


I'm starting to discredit total yards as a meaningful stat. I think it's useful at halftime to guess who will eventuall win a close game (the winner often outgains the loser in the first two quarters), but there's no separate stats for 'meaningful' and 'garbage' yards.

I don't want the Vikings to become overly reliant on the flawed 'bend don't break' defensive mindset and rely on being opportunistic. Good teams drive the length of the field and stop opponents from doing so, but there's no trophy for having the widest yardage margin at the end of the season.

vikes geek said...


I think I agree with you. Good teams do hold opponents down, but over the course of several games, offensive points allowed is a better proxy for good defense than is yards allowed. Much of that has to do with the fact that some teams--an increasing number--defend the perimeters (line of scrimmage, deep, and, to some extent, the sides) and challenge teams to exploit the softer middle--and risk picks. Even though that's the Vikings' approach, they are giving up too much ground over the middle. That usually is on the middle linebacker, but, when the plays are behind the linebacker on post and cross routes, that's more on the safeties.


Peter said...


You're correct; Minnesota's been hit up the middle for a lot of yards, mostly by TEs. I know that Minnesota's safeties are both new-ish to the system (with one being relatively new to the pros), but I wonder if some of it isn't EJ Henderson's aggressiveness against the run. MN's LB group is better at stuffing the run than in coverage, sure, but I think Leber's the smartest and slowest guy of the three, and he can't cover TEs up the middle all day.

Maybe Henderson and Greenway need to tone down the tackle competition they seem to have going and trade in personal stats for team success. I love watching those two blow up plays, especially behind the line of scrimmage, but I would love to see a defense with no obvious weaknesses.