In 2008, the Minnesota Vikings amassed 5,288 yards of offense and tallied 379 points, with 37 offensive touchdowns. Those totals placed the Vikings approximately in the middle of NFL teams in overall offense.
Through 11 games this season, the Vikings have accumulated 4,290 yards of offense and 342 points, with 38 offensive touchdowns. Over 16 games, the numbers project to 6,240 yards of offense, 498 points, and 55 touchdowns.
The natural question is whether this year's nearly 50% improvement over last season's numbers are the product of (a) Brad Childress' kick-ass offense, (b) vastly improved quarterback play, or (c) woeful opposition.
While the Vikings' ownership group clearly considers (a) the correct answer, looking upon the offense's success as justification for extending Childress even though the head coach had one year remaining on his initial contract, there is little evidence that the offensive schemes are any different than they were last season.
The bulk of the Vikings' scripted plays this season appear to be the same plays that the Vikings have been calling since Childress arrived in Minnesota, with a heavy dose of short passing plays and runs up the gut. That script has led to the usual results--mostly short yardage or even loss-of-yard plays.
Where the play-calling has differed, however, has been at the line of scrimmage. More frequently than not, Favre is in audible mode. And, more often than not, Favre's audibles have led to large gains through the air--a modus operandi anathema to Childress' heretofore, self-proclaimed preference for ball-control, caretaker quarterbacking that stuck to script.
Favre's success--25 touchdown passes against three interceptions--bolsters the theory that Favre, not Childress or offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, is responsible for the improvement of the Vikings' offense this season. This conclusion is buttressed by the strong seasons that Visanthe Shiancoe, Sidney Rice, an Percy Harvin are having, all in spite of Adrian Peterson's transcendence to that of mere star running back.
This raises the proverbial chicken and egg question of whether the Vikings' offensive weapons make Favre better or Favre makes the offensive weapons better? The answer clearly is that the two are symbiotic. But, as Favre did for years in Green Bay and for a season with the Jets, he is now doing in Minnesota by extracting more from receivers than anyone else was able to do and making stars out of players previously living on the brink of dismissal.
Though Favre's presence appears far more likely to be the catalyst spurring the surge in the Vikings' 2009 offense than is the inertia of Childress' offensive system, all of the Vikings' success in 2009 comes with one highly substantial caveat, that of strength of schedule.
In 2008, the Vikings had a strength of schedule of 1.2 versus a league average of 0, and an offensive ranking of 1.1 versus the same league average.
This season, the Vikings have a strength of schedule of -3.5 and an offensive ranking of 8.0 versus the league average of 0.
If one accepts the algorithms from which these statistics were derived, there is a clear, positive correlation between the Vikings' weak 2009 schedule and their vastly improved offense output. That correlation, however, does not explain the full extent of the offensive improvement from 2008 to 2009, leaving other factors, such as better average starting field position and other new players, to offer an explanation. Yet, given the correlation between quarterback play, the play of other players, and average starting field position, if one believes that Childress' offense really is no different this year than last year, the inescapable conclusion is that Favre is the primary reason for the Vikings' improvement from 2008 to this year.
Without pondering a future reverting back to a less capable quarterback, that ought to be a digestible conclusion for Vikings' fans.
Up Next: AP's On-Field Woes.