Saturday, December 12, 2009

Another Costly Tell for the Vikings?

Last week, game analysts for the Minnesota Vikings' game against the Arizona Cardinals noted that Vikings' left tackle Bryant McKinnie was providing opposing defenses a crippling "tell" by lining up one way for pass plays and a different and distinct way for running plays. McKinnie acknowledged not only the gaffe, but his awareness of the gaffe, lamely lamenting that he "didn't think the defense would pick up on it."

While it is not surprising that a guy who settled a barroom dispute by taking a metal pipe to someone's head might be lazy enough not to correct a tell, it is difficult to fathom how McKinnie could believe that defensive coaches paid specifically to scour the oppositions' nuances to find such tells might overlook what those in the play-by-play booth were able to spot.

Against that backdrop, it appears the Vikings might have yet another problematic tell with which to deal--one that ought to be far more apparent to every member of the defense because it requires little other than knowing what just happened. That tell is what the Vikings do on offense following an offensive penalty.

Over the past six games, the Vikings have committed 24 offensive penalties that the opponent has elected to have enforced against Minnesota. On subsequent plays, the Vikings have given the ball to Adrian Peterson 10 times. That, alone, is a high enough percentage to allow teams to gamble that, following an offensive penalty, the Vikings will give the ball to Peterson.

Even if opponents want to play a bit more conservative and hedge against a play other than one to Peterson following a Vikings' offensive penalty, however, they still have plenty of room for hedging. For, on that subsequent play, the Vikings have passed to Sidney Rice five times. That puts the odds at nearly 63% over the past six games of the Vikings going to one of just two players following an offensive penalty. Harvin was the target on four of those post-offensive penalty plays, putting the odds of a Peterson, Harvin, or Rice play following an offensive penalty over that span of games at 79%.

The latter high statistic makes some sense, given that Peterson, Rice, and Harvin are the Vikings' three best offensive options and likely ought to be called upon in some fashion to pull the team out of the hole that is created by an offensive penalty. But the Vikings have compounded the probability of giving a tell on post-offensive penalty plays by running Peterson up the middle on every carry that he has had in such a situation. This allows teams debating between focusing on Peterson and focusing on a pass either to Rice or Harvin to sell out against the interior run and still get to the quarterback. Clearly, this allows opponents to overplay on defense in such situations.

What are the alternatives? The most obvious is to rotate plays and who gets the ball on a given play following an offensive penalty in a fashion that keeps the opposition guessing more than the opposition likely has had to guess over the past six games.

Does this mean passing to Bernard Berrian more? Hopefully not. But it could and should mean employing more screen plays and, presuming Hell already has frozen over, even using some combination of Taylor, Peterson, and Harvin out of the backfield.

In short, there are myriad possibilities for running offensive plays, and there is no reason to show such strong favoritism for a Peterson run up the middle or even a pass to Rice or Harvin following an offensive penalty. Should those options be removed from consideration under such circumstances? Of course not. But they should be buttressed with far more variation far more often.

Of course, if Phil Loadholt stopped getting offensive penalties...

Up Next: Lion in the Jungle.

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