Monday, October 28, 2013

Vikings Continue to Offer Great Numbers

Some interesting numbers from Sunday's Vikings' loss to the Green Bay Packers and for the season.  First, the Sunday stats:

Christian Ponder averaged more yards per rush (7.6) than yards per pass attempted (6.9).

Fourteen NFL running backs rushed for more yards on Sunday than did Adrian Peterson (60).  Among those were Andre Ellington (154), a quarterback (Terrelle Pryor), Kendall Hunter (84), Maurice Jones-Drew (75), Peyton Hillis (70), and Pierre Thomas (65).  Other than Peterson, only Jones-Drew was on the losing side.

Twenty NFL quarterbacks threw for more yardage than Christian Ponder (145).  Among those were Jason Campbell (293), Mike Glennon (275), Thaddeus Lewis (234), Geno Smith (159), and Matt Barkley (158).  Like Ponder, each was on the losing side.

Of the seven quarterbacks with fewer passing yards than Christian Ponder on Sunday, three were garbage time replacements, one was knocked out with an injury, and two won their games.

Only five starting quarterbacks did not pass for a touchdown--Christian Ponder being one of the five-- and ten starting quarterbacks had multiple touchdown passes.

Twenty-two NFL teams had at least one receiver with more receiving yards than the Vikings' receiver with the most yards receiving, Kyle Rudolph (51), and 35 receivers bested Rudolph's figure.  Cordarrell Patterson was second on the Vikings in receiving yardage with 26 yards receiving, good for 73rd best on the day.

On the season, the Vikings have allowed more points (30/game) than all but three teams, and the Vikings are within 1.5 points of all three.

On the season, only three teams are allowing more passing yards per game than is Minnesota (288).  Despite the ease with which teams are able to pass against Minnesota, Minnesota still concedes over 100 yards rushing per game.

Only six teams have converted fewer field-goal attempts than the Vikings.

Only one team has a worse net punting average than the Vikings (37.5).

Only one team has allowed a higher average on kickoff returns.

Only one team has allowed a higher average return on punts.

In short, this team is a mess in all areas.  Everyone looks bad because nobody is doing well.  The quarterback play is awful, blocking is bad, protection is negligible, rushing has disappeared, the defense does not exist, and special teams is mostly bad.  When it can be debated whether the offense or the defense is the cause of the others' problems, the answer probably, as here, rests with each.  That's not very satisfying, but it certainly helps foster decisions on this team.

Up Next:  Four Moves The Vikings Need to Make to Save Next Season. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Vikings' Circus Continues with Ponder Back in at Quarterback

Add another embarrassing chapter to the Leslie Frazier-Rick Spielman personnel decision-making profile.  Today, the Vikings announced that Josh Freeman was suffering "concussion-like symptoms" and will not be starting on Sunday against Green Bay.

Is this for real?

To make way for Matt Cassel's first start against Pittsburgh, the Vikings announced that Christian Ponder had cracked ribs.  The announcement, two days after Ponder's last game, took everyone by surprise, including Ponder.  "I was just informed today that I have cracked ribs," Ponder deadpanned.

The Vikings insisted at the time of the announcement of Ponder's cracked ribs that Ponder was the team's starting quarterback, if and when healthy.  The week of the announcement, Cassel performed at the level that the Vikings previously had expected of Ponder in his high moment(s).  Cassel's performance led Frazier to start him against Carolina, despite Ponder's purported clean bill of health.

Cassel was brutal against Carolina, leading the Vikings to rush into service newly acquired Josh Freeman.  Freeman seemed to pick up Bill Musgrave's five-play playbook fairly quickly, but was "a hair off" on thirty or so of his 53 passes.

Freeman's performance was embarrassing to all involved, but Frazier remained adamant that he would start against Green Bay this week.  The backlash was immediate, with even the usually staid and accepting local media evidencing incredulity.

Today, the Vikings came full circle, essentially admitting that Cassel is the poor-man's Ponder that many viewed him to be when Spielman signed him to "give Ponder competition" and that Freeman is, at best, erratic.

Ponder emerges the clear winner in this debacle of a season, having handled his demotion reasonably well and being permitted to follow his closest competitors' putrid performances.  It is virtually impossible for Ponder not to look good in contrast.

Up Next:  Frazier Reveals That Dog Ate Vikings' Offensive Line

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leslie Frazier Proves Himself Either Entirely Irrelevant or Utterly Incompetent--or Both

Another embarrassing loss, another game without an offensive pulse, another quarterback.  It has become a broken record in Minnesota--a record that could net new lows after this season is done.

In the aftermath of an utterly abysmal performance in the Meadowlands, the Minnesota Vikings were bested by the previously 0-6 Giants.  How bad was Minnesota?  New quarterback Josh Freeman attempted 53 passes and completed just 20 for 190 yards.  The team called only fifteen running plays out of 68 total plays.  Facing a defense that had yielded 35 points per game through its first six games, Minnesota scored seven points.

Sometimes statistics lie.  Sometimes they tell nothing but the truth.  On Monday night, they did the latter.  They confirmed that Minnesota's problems run deep.  They run to talent evaluation, organization, preparation, and execution.

No quarterback has looked good in offensive (yes) coordinator Bill Musgrave's "system"--not the wild-running Joe Webb, not the outside threat turned pocket passer Christian Ponder, not the pocket passer turned pinata Matt Cassel, and not the pocket passer turned indescribable Josh Freeman.  To do so would be a small feat, as Musgrave's system begs failure--dump off, hand off, dump off, punt.  But when you pair sub-par with sub-par, more often than not, you get sub-par.

And Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier seems to be all in on the disaster--at least Musgrave's end.  Asked frequently how he would characterize the Vikings' system, Frazier proudly calls the team a run-first team.  Forget that nobody wins in the modern NFL with a run-first system, the Vikings are not even a good run-first team.  Twenty-eight yards for the best back in the game against one of the worst defenses in the modern era?  Please.

Even if Leslie is merely following orders to play players that clearly are in over their heads, there is no excuse for being lousy virtually everywhere else on the field.  This team has the feel of one of the worst teams in NFL history--not in terms of personnel, but in terms of game plan, preparation for the opposition, and anything taking place on the field.

As for personnel, the Vikings have sufficient talent to line up with most of the teams in the NFL, the utter mediocrity that most teams currently are.  But for the Vikings to prevail even against the mediocre teams, to rise above even the Jaguars and Bucs, they need to have some elemental foundation that simply does not exist under Frazier.  And that rests not just with Frazier, but with his Geppetto, Rick Spielman.

Even if the Vikings are angling for a shot at the player of their choice in next year's draft--long odds given the team's victory and the Jacksonsville Jaguar's only slightly superior contempt for professional football--there is little chance that the Vikings' ownership group wants Spielman making the decision on that player or Frazier, et. al., honing that player's skills.

Were there any meaningful alternative to simply sitting out the rest of the season, the coaching staff would be gone tonight, with Spielman merely permitted time to pad his resume.  Instead, those moves almost certainly will be coming in the off-season.

Up Next:  Some Impossible Numbers Made Possible.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vikings' Seat License Deal All But Ensures Coaching and Personnel Changes Sooner Rather Than Later

Under the otherwise gift-that-keeps-on-giving stadium legislation, the Minnesota Vikings secured the right to charge a seat license on most seats in the new Vikings'/Peoples' Stadium.  Until yesterday, that seat license was one-sided, decidedly benefiting the Vikings' ownership.  That all changed with the Vikings' attempt to replicate the team's 2001 41-0 loss to the N.Y. Giants--a game in which, like yesterday, the Vikings were favored.

Following yesterday's 35-10 loss to the previously moribund Carolina Panthers, the Vikings' ownership now sees the slight blade on the other side of the sword that is the team's plan to rely on seat licensing, among other fees, to fund the team's minority debt on the new stadium.  To sell seat licenses, the Vikings must sell tickets.  As tough as it is to sell tickets for a mediocre team, it is infinitely more challenging to sell tickets for a bad team.  And it is exponentially more difficult to sell tickets for a bad product and to charge a user fee for the right to buy the already expensive tickets.

Unless the Vikings want to see an empty lower bowl at the new stadium--the one thing that the ownership group cannot afford to see happen at the new stadium--changes must be made and they must be made immediately.  The only question is where one begins.

The Vikings' most glaring weaknesses are really everywhere.  The offense is plodding and predictable, the offensive line is awful, the defensive line is not getting to the quarterback or stopping the run, the linebackers are invisible, the secondary is unfathomably worse, and special teams is giving up large chunks of yards on returns without doing much of anything on their own return attempts.

Some of the changes will need to wait until the end of the season.  But some can and should occur immediately, if only to give the Vikings the opportunity to see which players should be retained and which simply should not be on an NFL roster.

The most logical and readily available changes are on the offensive side of the ball.  Bill Musgrave has had some good games, but he has far more bad games.  From the ultra-conservative, short game that got him dismissed as offensive coordinator in Carolina after just four games, the invisibility of Kyle Rudolph, the "incorporation" of Cordarrelle Patterson, the predictability of calls, or the general sense that the two-minute drill is little more than a warm down with no meaningful goal, Musgrave is, at best, a caretaker offensive coordinator.  There are too many good offensive minds in the NFL and college ranks to stay with this bit.

In the short term, Brian Billick offers precisely what the Vikings need in an offensive coordinator.  He is well respected, expects results, is a sound situational coach, and will command the attention of veterans and rookies, alike, the moment that he steps on the field.

The Vikings also need to make a change along the offensive line.  It is impossible to believe that a line that has John Sullivan, Matt Kalil, and Phil Loadholt, whatever their warts, should be performing as poorly as this offensive line has for virtually the entire season.  Bringing in Mike Tice, a coach who always seems to perform miracles with far less capable offensive line talent and who works particularly well with the straight up blocking systems, would almost certainly produce immediate dividends for the Vikings.  Like Billick, Tice offers a veteran coaching voice in a sea of mediocre coaches who are at their highest career coaching levels with the Vikings.  Like Billick, Tice would allow the Vikings to shore up two glaring offensive issues that have substantially stunted the Vikings' fortunes and made personnel assessment difficult, at best.

These two changes could and should be made yesterday.  With the Vikings needing to make changes sooner rather than later to ensure revenue streams later, expect changes soon.

Up Next:  Making Ted Cottrell and Richard Solomon Look Appealing.  Plus, Whither Frazier?  And Mike Priefer--#Karma?

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Spielman's Puppeteering of Freeman's Conference Call a Sign of Vikings' and Pro Sports Culture

On Sunday night, the Minnesota Vikings signed former Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Josh Freeman to a one-year, two-million dollar deal.  Freeman immediately becomes the heir apparent to both Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel.  But while the Vikings have routinely bombarded us with comments regarding Ponder's intelligence, they apparently have a much dimmer view of Freeman.

During Freeman's first press conference with the Vikings' media, Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman can be heard prompting Freeman on how to respond to phoned in questions from various media members.  As with most questions from reporters, none of the questions were the least bit challenging with any angle clearly in view to all but the most dimwitted athlete.

Either Spielman is an absolute control freak, unable to control his impulses in front of a live microphone, or he merely stumbled in implementing the team's modus operandi.  Although one look at Spielman might suggest the former, it is a near certainty that, like every other Vikings' presentation, Spielman was merely toeing the company line.  That that line would require Spielman to prod Freeman to put a gloss on every comment is not the least bit surprising, but it certainly is an embarrassing indictment of the general fraudulence rife in the sporting world.  

Up Next:  Peanuts, Get Your Peanuts Here!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Vikings' Signing of Freeman a Lesson for Fans

When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Christian Ponder with the number twelve pick in the 2011 NFL draft, most pundits wondered why the team would pass on more certain prospects in favor of a quarterback who, most also believed, might not be the best quarterback left on the board and who was likely to be on the board as late as the fourth round.

Rick Spielman answered his critics by pointing to Ponder as the "most NFL-ready quarterback" in the entire draft.  Nothing about that comment made sense at the time and nothing about it makes sense now.  But, until now, Spielman was wedded to his pick.

Through thin and thinner, with one or two games of slightly above thin tossed in, many Vikings' fans supported Spielman's commitment to Ponder, relying, themselves, on the proven loser of an argument that "Spielman is the GM and knows better."  The crux of the logic was that, despite what everyone saw in Ponder's weekly performances, despite what Ponder's statistics suggested, Spielman had some mystical power to read in Ponder something that nobody else could read.

Late Sunday, the Vikings agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman.  The move signaled the end to Spielman's absolute commitment to Ponder and demonstrated that relying on a G.M.'s commitment to a player--despite clear and convincing evidence to the contrary--is foolish and counter-productive.

If a player is modest, at best, and demonstrates a flat line in progression early on while struggling with rudimentary tasks, there is no need to wait for a full season to pass to assess the quarterback's ability and certainly no need to wait for 18, 24, or 30 games to make such an assessment.  These were Spielman's artifices.  Now, they have been debunked.  Fans should take note going forward, not just regarding Spielman's statement, but any statements coming from people with vested interests.

In Freeman, the Vikings will have a young quarterback who has been routinely mishandled by successive coaching staffs.  Over his career, Freeman is a 60% passer--similar to Ponder.  Unlike Ponder, however, Freeman has attained his completion percentage throwing mostly downfield.  That makes that 60% look like 80% in Ponder percentages, with Ponder completing roughly 40% of his passes beyond ten yards.

At $3 million for one season, signing Freeman is a relatively low-risk move that will cause consternation to Buffalo, Oakland, Houston, and Jets' fans, to name a few.  Adding Freeman means that the Vikings will have an experienced downfield passer to either back up Cassel or start sometime in the very near future.  It also means that, after one or two more games as a back up, Ponder is likely to be relegated to third-string, with his future in Minnesota clearly in question.

Adding Freeman will also require dropping a player.  The two most likely candidates for release are both quarterbacks--McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Joe Webb.  Bethel-Thompson is the most likely candidate, given that the team would be wasting a roster spot carrying four quarterbacks.  Given his dual role as both back-up quarterback and wide-receiver, Webb, therefore, might be safe.  With the emergence of Jerome Simpson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, and Kyle Rudolph, however, Webb is unlikely to see the field on many snaps, absent a change in offensive philosophy.  That might make him expendable.

No matter who the Vikings cut to sign Freeman, the team certainly is in better overall position at quarterback than it was in week one of the season.  In Cassel, the Vikings have a capable upgrade to Ponder.  In Ponder, the Vikings have a backup that will not permit the wheels to fall off if called on in a pinch.  In Freeman, the team has a good prospect, who, depending on Cassel's performance, might get the call this year.  In the entire quarterbacking system, the Vikings now have competition, with the links increasingly more properly ordered from strongest to weakest.  And overall, the Vikings have afforded themselves an opportunity to more properly assess other areas of the team.

Up Next: Dayton's Increasingly Publicly Funded Peoples' Stadium Not a Venue for the Unwashed Masses.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Vikings Talking to Winfield

For much of the 2013 NFL season, rumors have circulated that the Minnesota Vikings are keen on bringing cornerback Antoine Winfield back to the team.  Winfield signed with the Seattle Seahawks, after being released for by the Vikings in the off-season.  Slowed by an injury in pre-season, Winfield was released by the Seahawks without playing in a regular-season game.

Winfield's residence in Minnesota and the Vikings' horrid play at cornerback in the season's first four games makes Winfield a natural Viking target.  Today, Vikings' head coach Leslie Frazier all but confirmed the Vikings' on-going pursuit of Winfield, twice commenting that the Vikings were "exploring many possibilities," when responding to whether the Vikings were interested in the cornerback.  In Frazier-speak, that's as solid of a confirmation as one can receive ex ante.

Adding Winfield will not resolve all of the secondary's problems, but adding Winfield as the nickel back and moving Xavier Rhodes to starting cornerback opposite Chris Cook will be infinitely better than what the Vikings have relied upon for the better part of the 2013 season.

Up Next:  Frazier's Lyin' Eyes?