Then why am I feeling optimistic? Perhaps because this game offers a win-win situation no matter the result. Firstly, the team has a decent chance to break that duck in night games. That would make me feel warm and fuzzy on my insides. Secondly, losing gets all of us in the melancholic Vikings Nation closer to a shiny new quarterback, with my preference being Johnny Manziel. Seeing as half the season is still yet to unfold, I will be concentrating my efforts on feeling warm and fuzzy.
For once, I will not be writing about the Vikings’ own defensive frailty; in all fairness until the coaching staff decided to abandon the game plan and play prevent they only conceded 13 points against a Dallas team that has at times looked like an offensive juggernaut. But I digress.
London Fletcher: Looking his age
Washington has ranked 29th in yards per play allowed this year. In the past 3 games, that ranking holds steady. Now they definitely have a bunch of brand name players on that squad. Some of them have actually performed beyond their reputation. Mostly, I am thinking of Ryan Kerrigan. He takes over three quarters of his snaps from the defensive left, and will thus be lining up across from second string tackle J’Marcus Webb. Sorry, back to the optimism.
Washington’s team defense has looked soft. They rank second to last in “2nd Level Yards allowed per carry” (yards between 5-10 yards of the line of scrimmage). At 97.7, their passer rating conceded ranks 27th in the league. Who are the culprits for such yucky (official statistical jargon) numbers?
Of inside linebackers that have played 60% or more of their team’s defensive snaps, London Fletcher and Perry Riley have the second- and fifth-lowest grades, respectively per Profootballfocus.com. Running backs like Danny Woodhead and Knowshon Moreno feasted on them in coverage, with both having nice days catching the ball against the Redskins.
Aside from getting fined, Brandon Meriweather has looked pretty ineffective this year. Cornerback David Amerson was highly touted out of N.C. State, but is still a rookie. The likes of Keenan Allen and James Jones have already taken him to school this season, and if Ponder leaves his blinders in the locker room, Greg Jennings could be primed for a big day.
It is upsetting that Kyle Rudolph is missing this one. Not only is the Cincinnati native Ponder’s security blanket, but he would also be perfectly adept to take advantage Washington’s poor inside linebackers and safeties. I really want to believe in John Carlson, and this is as good a stage as any on which to have a career revival (anybody else thinking ‘The Master of Disguise‘?) Unfortunately, the preponderance of evidence suggests he offers little threat down the seam, but here is to hoping.
Christian Ponder will still have to see open receivers. The defense will have to go against their tendency of being awful on 3rd downs (no. 32 in the league, allowing opponents to convert a whopping 49.15% of the time). Talking about the defense, if you hit the link before the last one (on advanced statistical measures) you may also notice that the Vikings are 31st in the league when it comes to expected-points-added per play by opposing offenses (pass and running combined). To boot, Washington averages over 5 yards per carry, coming in at number 3 in the league.
RGIII, aka RGIII & out from weeks 1 & 2 of the 2013 season, continues to struggle when forced to make multiple reads which poses a problem as his recovery from injury and faith in the reconstructed knee ebb and flow. It looks like staying in eight man zone coverage will cause him to hold the ball too long, and that should aid a defense that has looked helpless against the dink’n'dunk. However, that is a relatively nuanced criticism that has more to say about the long term. The former Baylor Bear is still perfectly capable of making one read and tucking it in if need be. Griffin’s new toy Jordan Reed should also cause some worry, given the Vikings’ struggles against the likes of Martellus Bennett, Jordan Cameron, Jason Witten.
At least our side should have karma with it, given that the Vikings takes its ethnic-based name from a less aggrieved group.
The Washington Redskins are riding high after a thrilling overtime win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 9. This week Robert Griffin III leads his team into Minnesota to take on the Vikings for a critical game if they are going to stay in contention for a NFC East Championship as they are two games behind the Cowboys at 3-5. With a win this week the ‘Skins can keep pace in a division that literally is still wide open for the taking at this point in the season.
Christian Ponder has once again been named the starter but has thrown for less than half of what RGIII has thus far and will need to change that if the Vikings are to keep pace with the Redskins tonight. Minnesota Vikings tickets for this game have been fluctuating rapidly as on Monday they were down by 29% to only $57 per ticket but have since gone up in price for an average price of $94, almost $30 below the Vikings regular season home avg. It’s also 53% below the average price of Redskins tickets on the road in 2013. Any way you cut it, this game is a deal for ticket buyers.
The Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs a season ago, but that team is a distant memory this year as the Vikings have been one of the worst teams in the NFL. Despite having the incredibly talented Adrian Peterson in the backfield Minnesota has been unable to produce any real offense this season as team will overload the box to shut down Peterson, daring the Vikings to throw the ball. That is where the Vikings have fallen short this year as they have already used three different quarterbacks under center this year in Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman.
For the best deals on NFL regular season, playoffs, and Super Bowl tickets, always visit TiqIQ.com.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier attempted to calm the waters Monday after several players publicly criticized play calls in the aftermath of a final-minute loss in Dallas, Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Frazier acknowledged that he intended to discuss those grievances with his players at an afternoon meeting before the team began its crash-course preparation for Thursday’s game against Washington.
Frazier also indicated that he’s not planning any changes to his coaching staff or play-calling responsibilities after the Vikings tied the franchise record for worst start by falling to 1-7 with a 27-23 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday.
“As difficult as the ballgame was for us, those guys will bounce back,” Frazier said. “We have to be able to do that in our profession, whether you win or lose.”
Frustration bubbled over in the postgame locker room as players questioned one offensive play call and the defensive game plan on Dallas’ game-winning 90-yard touchdown drive. Specifically, players questioned offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave’s decision to call a pass on first down after A.J. Jefferson’s interception with 4:29 left in the game.
Several defensive players also were upset that defensive coordinator Alan Williams rushed only three linemen while dropping one into coverage on four of the nine plays on the Cowboys’ final drive.
Frazier said he respects the opinion of his veteran leaders, but he said he prefers that they discuss any issues or concerns with coaches privately.
“I understand the frustration,” Frazier said. “We were all frustrated at the end of that ballgame. But there are so many positive things that occurred before that two-minute drive. But we’ll definitely talk through that situation as a team and just where we are and what we have to do to move forward.”
Due to the abbreviated period between games, I won’t be chewing the cud per se. In lieu, you’ll find a smattering of my thoughts about yesterday’s game below…
Christian Ponder did well at what he is good at, and not so good at what…you get the picture. The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex native punished the Cowboys when he was afforded space to run. Moreover, both his 16 yard scamper on the first drive and the touchdown scramble were no walks in the park. Making linebackers change direction, and getting a few extra yards beyond where initial contact took place are pluses. The flip side of the former Seminole looking skittish, is that when things works he looks decisive: on that 16 yard-er it took barely two seconds for him to take off after reaching the top of his drop back. It’s the kind of stuff that made him look promising as a rookie.
When passing the ball, the offense looked efficient enough on the simple throws. The receivers had opportunities to make YAC through skill or scheme and it was almost enough. Last year with Harvin, the Vikings were amazingly efficient on those safe throws. With Jennings, Patterson, and Peterson, the team does not have to rely so much on one player to extend short passes. This is a good schematic situation, although at 1-7 a blueprint for winning games in 2013 is not as exciting as it could be. To wit, none of those individuals are quite as good at Harvin on such routes.
Then there were the struggles on intermediate and deep throws to the outside, where Ponder was 2-7 (including the last drive 12 yard ball to Carlson against prevent) with one interception. I will once again return to the Alex Smith comparison; with an elite running game (2012 Vikings: check) and an excellent defense (2012 Vikings: check, sometimes)Ponder, like Alex Smith, is good enough to quarterback a playoff team in spite of his limitations. Throw in an offensive guru like Jim Harbaugh (2011-2 49ers: check) and a soft schedule (2013 Chiefs: check) and Ponder could find himself starting a divisional playoff game at home…
Unfortunately, a running game based on the brilliance of Adrian Peterson seems less sustainable than one based on a fire breathing offensive line (2011-present 49ers: check), and the Vikings defense looks to be in dire straits. Not only have they performed poorly (conceding a total passer rating of 95.56*) but three starters (Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Chris Cook) and three major contributors (Everson Griffen, Fred Evans, Desmond Bishop/Marvin Mitchell) are set to hit free agency. All this to say, grabbing a quarterback with a top 5 pick seems more likely to make this team a winner than sticking with Ponder and overhauling the defense. You can win with Ponder, but a Manziel, Mariota, or Bridgewater should offer a surer path.
The advanced statistical crowd suggests a team should win roughly half of their games decided by seven points or less, in the long run. This would mean that while the Vikings were ‘lucky’ last year (5-1) in such games, they have been ‘unlucky’ this year (1-3), hence the suggestion that they’ve rolled snake eyes often. To flesh out this idea a little further, these figures don’t suggest that the Vikings were undeserving losers to the Bears, Brown and Cowboys. Rather, it suggests those losses have little predictive value…
That being said, in those four games with less than four minutes remaining and protecting a lead, the Vikings conceded drives of, on average, 10.25 plays and 72 yards. On all these drives, we have seen missed tackles and coverages busted, with little pressure on the quarterback. Four drives does not make up a large sample space so perhaps this is just symptomatic of a bad defense, period. Either way, it has been hard on my ticker.
Phil Loadholt, probably the team’s best offensive lineman of 2013 (Fusco has hit similar heights, but shown less consistency) is almost certainly out for Thursday’s matchup (officially doubtful) with a concussion. Instead of starting J’Marcus Webb, I would like to see Charlie Johnson at right tackle and Joe Berger starting next to Kalil. I doubt it will happen, but Berger has looked good playing various interior lineman positions since arriving in Minnesota. Charlie Johnson has a lot of experience playing tackle, while the fact that as a free agent Webb could only land a backup role at a low salary in a tackle-needy league says something. He was alright in the Cowboys game, and perhaps the former Bear won’t look so overmatched on the right as he did protecting Jay Cutler’s blind side. Ryan Kerrigan, however, is a better rusher than most coming from that side.
I’ll have some form of preview before Thursday’s game…Skol!
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has been diagnosed with a broken foot a could be sidelined “as much as a month” according to Chip Scoggins of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
The month estimate comes from Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier, who admitted to reporters that the team isn’t sure of the exact timetable on Rudolph’s injury. It could simply be the desperately optimistic estimate of a head coach desperately trying to hang on to his job.
With Minnesota’s 2013 season clearly in the tank, rushing back one of their future stars does not make a lot of sense and it is quite possible that Rudolph could end up on season-ending injured reserve. John Carlson wil now be the starting tight end in the Vikings offense.
Clearly the Vikings have problems that go far beyond the issue of which QB will start on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
The team will be without three starters in their secondary against Tony Romo according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today.
Cornerback Chris Cook has been ruled out with a hip injury and strong safety Jamarca Sanford will miss the game with a groin injury.
The team was already without starting free safety Harrison Smith, who is on the injured reserve/designated to return list with severe turf toe.
Cook, who is the Vikings’ best cornerback, expects to return for their scheduled tilt with the Washington Redskins in Week 10.
Considering that Minnesota was pretty brutal defending against the pass even before they lost three quarters of their starting secondary, fantasy owners with Tony Romo in their lineup should have a field day on Sunday.
This month, the NFL will unveil their “Salute to Service” initiative to honor our troops.
For the first time during this initiative, New Era, the official cap of the NFL, has created an exclusive line of camouflage caps that will be worn on the sidelines by all players, coaches and staff during games throughout the month of November.
Fans will see the caps for the first time during Thursday night’s (November 7th) Vikings-Redskins game. The Eagles will be wearing the caps starting on Sunday (November 10th).
These special caps are available for purchase at www.neweracap.com, with a portion of proceeds going to the troops.
Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said he is excited to still be a member of the team after Tuesday’s trade deadline, Ben Goessling of ESPN.com reports.
Allen added that there are no hard feelings about the Vikings engaging in trade talks involving him.
The Vikings had conversations with a number of teams about the five-time Pro Bowler, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, but nothing materialized before the deadline Tuesday afternoon.
Allen is making $14.28 million this season and will be a free agent after the year, which complicated matters for teams trying to bring him aboard for the final half of the season.
Allen said he talked with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, assistant GM Rob Brzezinski and coach Leslie Frazier after the deadline and told them he was still happy to be there.
“I have a great relationship with Rick and Rob and Coach Frazier and [assistant GM] George [Paton] and everybody here,” Allen said Wednesday. “So, there’s zero animosity, zero anything. But just like with all the trade rumors weeks and weeks ago, I don’t even deal with it until it comes.”
For the second time in four years, the detested Packers of Green Bay have rolled into the dome and absolutely demolished the Vikings. The start was encouraging enough. Cordarrelle Patterson’s record kick return saw the game unfold much like this fixture has over the past two years. In 2011, Christian Ponder matched the anticipation surrounding his first start with an opening 72 yard salvo to Michael Jenkins. Last year, the win-and-in scenario dovetailed with Adrian’s record chase to create a palatable buzz. That buzz ramped-up as Minnesota’s offense opened with a five minute scoring drive while the defense subsequently forced a 3-and-out. There were no 3-and-outs this time.
Where’s the beef?
To the national audience tuning in, it may have come as a surprise that Green Bay achieved great success running up the middle. Per Pro-Football-Reference’s play charting, Green Bay rushed for 103 yards on 19 carries in between their guards. By the second half, this theme was as blatant as the rat scurrying across the screen before the credits in The Departed.
Despite those deep seated memories of the Williams Wall, and a very solid run defense last year (4th in the NFL yards per carry (YPC) allowed), the 2013 Vikings present an entirely different reality. In late downs, with two or less yards to go for a first down or touchdown, what Football Outsiders calls Power situations, the Vikings defense currently sits at 25th in the league, with 74% of such runs being allowed to succeed. This confirms what looked so evident against both Carolina and Green Bay. The defense (or more appropriately defensive line) also ranks 25th in second-level yards (those in between 5-10 yards of the LOS) allowed per carry. All this can be seen clear as crystal right here.
Where is the problem? Per Pro Football Focus, the only lineman on the interior to grade positively against the run is Fred Evans. Sharrif Floyd and Letroy Guion are getting killed, yet other than Kevin Williams who has the highest snap count despite missing a game, the three other defensive tackles are rotating evenly. Compared to last year, it appears that Kevin Williams has been average instead of pretty good, while Fred Evans continues to look like a stud against the run. Sharrif Floyd is obviously new, and has been pretty bad in this aspect thus far. The rookie has flashed as a pass rusher though, and he is, after all, a rookie. Letroy Guion, however, just continues to suck wind. Beyond the gimmick of using him as a fullback, which is always fun, let’s hope to see less of 98. More snaps for him mean less for our best run defender, and our #1 pick who has shown a need to further develop.
What’s Left to Ponder?
In order to write about something fresh (just kidding) and use one of my favorite Zoolander clips (semi-kidding), I will take a whack at the old quarterback piñata.
Firstly, Christian Ponder looked like the worst version of himself. We saw the dual and related faults of happy feet, and tunnel vision. It is hard to say whether this is the normal Ponder, or if the whole quarterback carousel has reduced him to a ball of nerves. The most frustrating thing about watching Ponder when he’s off, which has been too often this year, is his pocket “absence”. Pocket presence is understood to be a quarterback’s ability to stay calm amidst a messy pocket, and to make subtle movements to both evade rushers and allow his blockers to regain leverage. The former Seminole often displays the opposite of these traits. The play that comes to mind from Week 8 is that 2nd-and-6 midway trough the second quarter. After faking the handoff, Ponder waited for a little over two seconds before sprinting to his right, with no receiver on that side of the field. By NFL standards, however, the pocket was quite clean. To boot, Greg Jennings came free running a post.
Secondly, it does make a fair amount of sense to me why Cassel has been relegated to the third string. Christian Ponder’s money is fully guaranteed into 2014. Matt Cassel, on the other hand is slated to make $3.7 million in 2014, which looks as if it can be voided by the team and per Tom Pelissero it can be voided by the player himself. Matt Cassel has on balance played better than any other Vikings quarterback in 2013, but he offers the least for the future. Missing the playoffs is assured, especially with the defense – the chief reason for Sunday night’s loss – playing as it has. The value of the 2013 season for its own sake is thus diminished. I don’t think that means the team has packed it in. What I do think is that the front office is very involved when it comes to the quarterback situation, and it is their job to have a wider perspective than the “week-by-week” boilerplate we hear from the players and the coaches. Having Ponder, Cassel, and Josh Freeman/a first round pick at QB is not a tenable situation for 2014. Someone has to go, and the team can either cut Ponder and absorb a $3.2 million cap hit, keep him and cut Cassel for free, or try their very best in turning up every rock looking for a trade partner for Ponder. I do think a decent amount of teams would be happy to sign him as a backup, but I don’t think the trade market is quite so robust for a backup quarterback with his profile. Look at it this way, everyone involved is getting used to who the #2 quarterback will be at Winter Park in 2014.
Thirdly and lastly, with Cassel out of the race to start next week, and Ponder’s shoddy performances this year outside of the second half at Solider Field, I think it is pretty easy to decipher Frazier’s cryptic messaging on who will start at quarterback. It will be Josh Freeman unless his practices indicate he will be roughly what he was at the Meadowlands. For those who incurred memory numbing as a result of PTSD, I think this graphic representation will remind you how that game went without inducing that PTSD anxiety:
What 3.6 yard per attempt would look like holding a birthday cake
Moreover, I think this means that Freeman gets just about all the reps in practice since he clearly needs them. I’m anxious about how good a job the staff will do in coaching him up. My misgivings about the offensive staff, namely Messrs. Musgrave and Johnson, is how Ponder has been developed. I am generally okay with the play calling and game planning. Given the quarterback play they are quite hamstrung, and when they have “abandoned” the run it has been dictated by the situation. The fact that Ponder has kept making the same basic mistakes does raise questions. It is hard to know how to apportion blame. Perhaps in an alternate universe, Jim Harbaugh gets a hold of Christian Ponder and makes him into a younger yet improved Alex Smith. Maybe #7 just doesn’t have it in him. Either way, Freeman needs good coaching, especially as the defense looks nothing like the units Alex Smith has played with.
I really do hope Cordarrelle Patterson’s twitter handle catches on as a nickname. It’s pretty sweet. The reigning NFC Special Teams Player of the Week has been one of the few bright spots on this team, and he has been a delight to watch. The economy of movement with which he returns kickoffs is elegance embodied. Ceeflashpee never does too much zigging and zagging, instead he trusts the blockers directly in front of him (typically John Carlson, Toby Gerhart, Jerome Felton, and Joe Berger), offering a slight change of direction before exploding through a hole, not always a big one, into the open field. The acceleration is elite.
There is a pretty good breakdown of the film here, and after re-watching that 69 yard return against the Giants, both his patience and decisiveness are apparent. I both understand (frequent use of heavy sets) and am frustrated (need to be more explosive given our defense) with why Patterson has featured on less than a quarter (23.5% to be precise) of the offensive snaps. If the season continues to go south, though, it will be imperative to greatly increase that percentage. For now, I just plan to enjoy watching him when I can.
My alcohol soaked undergraduate years, and the cult of fanhood are responsible for short-circuiting my memory i.e. I am very excited for Sunday’s game in spite of the Vikings’ travails. While Dez Bryant may be giving some of you night terrors, Dallas’ anemic rushing offense (24th in YPC, 25th in yards) means the safeties can stay deep, while Romo’s erratic brilliance means that unlike Rodgers he may leave some first downs on the table. Dallas is also down the two franchise DEs (in Anthony Spencer’s case, literally) that were supposed to start the year, while Morris Claiborne is shaping up to be one of the bigger busts in recent memory.
If the game stays close, Adrian should have some opportunities – Dallas ranks near the bottom of the league in both YPC allowed between 5-10 yards from the LOS (28th) and beyond 10 yards from the LOS (23rd). Offensively, the Vikings ranks first in the latter category, thanks mostly to the most explosive back in the league (not to mention garbage time touchdowns from Ponder and Gerhart). We can expect to hear lots of this:
Beneath all that froth, I can only pray Josh Freeman rediscovers his mid-autumn 2012 form, that Chris Cook and Josh Robinson, both in the top 3 of highest quarterback rating allowed by CBs per Pro Football Focus,* get it together , and that Brain Robison actually sacks the quarterback once he beats his man.
*In all fairness to Chris Cook, I doubt PFF accounts for coverage busts; so when the Bears call a Cover 3 beater, forcing Cook to sit between two Bennetts (no relation) running 9 routes, and he is then helpless on the back shoulder throw to the larger Bennett, PFF records that Cook conceded a touchdown. To wit, he was also shouting like crazy pre-snap for an adjustment. His numbers still look bad without that game winning touchdown, but I guess I brought it up because I am still bitter about that birthday loss.