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Chewing the Cud, Week 4.5

 

It was a gleeful Sunday over in Blighty, as the Vikings and Steelers did a swell job representing the product. The game featured many exciting plays, came down to the wire, and saw one of the NFL’s (slumping?) superstars break out. To boot, the crowd, which shaded slightly purple, would have been happy to see the Vikings pull out the victory. Unfortunately, instead of being able to leverage the good vibes emanating from a victory and imminently permanent QB switch, we’re idle. Shucks. Well then, let’s get to what everybody in the Twin Cities and beyond is buzzing about…

Hello Again

Hello Again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon Fusco Pondering Cassel

I really want to start this off by raving about how good the much maligned (mostly by me?) Brandon Fusco has looked. After looking like the lone bright spot against the Browns, he was looking nasty both on the inside zone and pulling into open space at Wemb Despite my sincerest urges, I will lead off with the quarterback story. It is very interesting, I just don’t want to write about a story that has just about reached its saturation point, especially with the bye. Yes, Matt Cassel did pass the eye ball test. He looked confident in the pocket, stepped into throws and put the ball in places that allowed the receivers to compile YAC.  The 123.4 passer rating he achieved at Wembley is the seventh best rating he’s thrown for .

Should we be so surprised? In 21 of the former USC Trojan’s 63 starts did his rating breach 100. Then again, the last time it happened was in October 2011 against that hapless Colts squad who attempted to go a full NFL season with Curtis Painter under center. Speaking of weak opponents, Pittsburgh’s passing D was not. In their first three games of the season, their defense had yielded a passer rating of 83.0. Both Andy Dalton and Jake Locker threw below their season-long figure (the latter by 25), while Jay Cutler’s 90.8 in week 3 was lower than his previous two efforts, but above the season-long total thanks to the putrid 65.6 he put up against Detroit . For all the talk of Pittsburgh’s decline, they are still no Detroit Lions circa 2008.

Nevertheless, they are a team who has yet to notch a takeaway this year. Matt Cassel is lucky it still stands that way after last week. Ike Taylor dropped two pretty easy picks. Admittedly the first had been dropped after superb impromptu DB play by Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone, after being blanketed on a 9 route. To wit, this kind of interception is just about the least harmful type, although passer rating does not account for interception by “type”. A Lamar Woodley strip sack also went unpunished, as Jerome Simpson’s recovery resulted in a first down, instead of either a turnover in Viking territory or a punt. A few plays later, Blair Walsh did what Blair Walsh does, providing a 3 point margin of safety that could have easily been crucial with Pittsburgh nearly scoring a game tying (as opposed to game winning) touchdown at the end of the game. Cassel’s numbers also get a massive boost from a pass that travelled 8 yards in the air to an open receiver, only for a badly missed tackle and clairvoyant running to transform it into a 70 yard touchdown pass. To Cassel’s credit, Greg Jenning could make the play because the ball got there on time.

This year, it has seemed that Christian Ponder has not been getting the ball there on time. Moreover, his frenetic presence in the pocket has created pressure that would not otherwise exist. His seven giveaways (five interceptions, two lost fumbles) look horrific. Yet fumble recovery has a whole lot to do with luck, while certain of Ponder’s interceptions were also not his fault(e.g. from the local media rumblings, Jerome Simpson was to blame on that pick Tim Jennings took to the house). Ponder has also breached a 100 passer rating in 6 of his 29 starts – a worse rate than Cassel’s 1 in 3, but Ponder never inherited the best scoring offense of all time. He also made due with truly sub-standard wideouts last year after the injury to Harvin, and with a dangerously incapable offensive line in 2011. In Detroit and Cleveland, he also faced off against two of the harder defenses against quarterbacks.

All this QB talk should be broken up by a beautiful vista

All this QB talk should be broken up by a beautiful vista

Don’t get me wrong, between the aforementioned eye ball test, Ponder’s poor play this year, and the apparent energy boost number 16 has given to the team, I would opt to stick with Cassel. Much of what he did, against a decent defense, evoked memories of the Pro Bowl player he has been. BUT, he also showed flashes of the Matt Cassel who had come to be derided by Chiefs fans after four up and then mostly down years. Keep that in mind,

Dome Field Advantage?

-“Mall of America Field, Sacks.”

-“What are things missing from the 2013 Minnesota Vikings season thus far.”

-“(Indecipherable pedantic comment by Trebek)”

Since Jared Allen moved up the Mississippi watershed in 2008, the Vikings have regularly fielded a fearsome pass rush.  Including playoffs, the Purple People Eaters v.II have averaged 2.73 sacks per game from 2008-2012. For regular seasons, the average has been 43.6. A little bit of context – such a total* would have ranked 7th in the league in both 2012, 2011, and 2010, 6th in 2009 and 2008. Furthermore, the average of 43 takes into account the outlying year of 2010, where the Vikings notched a measly 31 sacks. The second lowest total during the period is 44.

It would seem the Homer Dome’s ability to get really loud contributes to our favorite team’s sacking prowess. Only playing 1 of our first 4 games in said Dome could then possibly explain why the team is on pace for a relatively anemic 36 sacks. The dearth of pass rush, compared to previous years was most acutely felt in the first two games, especially as Cutler went unscathed driving down the field in the dying minutes of the games. Both those contests were played on the road. When Minnesota hosted Cleveland, Brian Hoyer was getting the ball out quickly; to blame the front four would be ignorant. In the second half, Alan Williams started calling more blitzes and it definitely helped.

Tony Romo was sacked 6 times when the Cowboys visited for the 2009 Divisional Playoffs

Tony Romo was sacked 6 times when the Cowboys visited for the 2009 Divisional Playoffs

Should we expect more sacks going forward as games become evenly distributed between the Dome and the road? From 2008-2012, including playoffs**, the Vikings have gotten 131 sacks at home to only 99 on the road.  That comes out to 3.11 sacks per game at home and 2.35 on the road. Even though the hypothesis is confirmed, at these per game averages, combined with the 9 so far, we still land at a lackluster figure of about 30 for the year.

This total is comparable to the outlying season of 2010, where 31 sacks paired with a measly 6 wins (amongst other things) made for a bit of a nightmare. Then again, in the less bitter if equally impotent 3 win season of 2011, Minnesota led the league with 48 sacks.  I would also stress that per-dropback figures, which are very hard to come by, tell a more detailed picture of a team’s ability to get to the quarterback. Also, when it comes to pressure sacks are not the be all, end all. Quickly, if the median team averages a total of about 1000 offensive plays per season, anywhere from 25 to 50 sacks per season only covers a small fraction of those plays. Pass deflections, hurries and other such events can equally affect a play.*** These statistics are available behind the paywalls of a few advanced stats website, or through a lot of time, diligent work and NFL Rewind.

I would reckon, that for most of the season we have not put enough pressure, sacks or otherwise on opposing quarterbacks. While the increased proportion of Dome games should provide some relief, home cooking alone will not push the Vikings to the standard they have set.

A Beautiful Mind, Part II

Tortured genius Bill Musgrave

Tortured genius Bill Musgrave

After watching Adrian Peterson’s glorious 60 yard touchdown scamper for the second time, something jumped out at me. Check it here. The key second-level block**** that springs the MVP is made by Joe Webb. The former UAB star simply erases Troy Polamalu. To think of it, at 6’4 and 220 pounds he is one of our bigger wideouts. As a blocking asset, putting Webb on for heavier sets could also allow Musgrave to set him loose into the flat on those bootleg plays the team runs so often. For some reason, and with all due respect, the former QB seems like a much more viable open field threat than Kyle Rudolph or John Carlson.

The Little Things

John Carlson segues are few and far between, but here we find ourselves. The native Minnesotan has been an easier target off the field than on it, but he seems to be a good guy.***** It would thus make me (and Rick Spielman) feel good about myself (himself) to give Carlson kudos when he does something important.

Up by only a touchdown, with about 2:50 remaining in the game we were facing a 3rd and 1. Nobody expects anything other than an Adrian Peterson run. John Carlson is moving around in the backfield pre-snap, and eventually gets settled into something similar to that inverted wishbone Musgrave likes, putting two lead blockers (Felton being the other) in front of Adrian. Troy Polamalu has super instincts, so if everybody expects an Adrian run, he super expects it. Sure enough, as the ball is snapped, that shock of flowing hair can be seen knifing into the backfield. John Carlson does well to get into his way. While the All Pro safety is quick enough to get around the TE to the outside unscathed, altering his path leaves Polamalu behind the play. The first down gained, the offense took another minute or so off the clock and eventually Jef Locke punted****** from the Minnesota 42 instead of the 29.

Both this time and yardage would be crucial in providing cushion for a defense that has not inspired too much confidence  in hurry up situations. Kudos John Carlson.

Adieu!

Will be back next week to discuss the Carolina Kitties.

 

 

 

*Using 43, since 0.6 of a sack means nothing in a team context

**In this period, the Vikings played an even amount of playoff games at home and on the road: hosting Philadelphia in 2008, hosting Dallas in 2009, visiting New Orleans in 2009, and visiting Green Bay in 2012.

***Case in point, on the play before Roethlisberger was strip-sacked, he quickly threw the ball away when Jared Allen was closing in on him unimpeded. This hurry killed the play.

****Both Phil Loadholt and Kyle Rudolph also deserve a shout out; the former for mowing down Ziggy Hood and then a few linebackers on the inside, while Rudolph sealed all 265 pounds of LaMarr Woodley.

*****With 43 receiving yards in the first year of a $9.1 million guaranteed contract, you and I probably would be good guys too.

******Again, in a very important situation, the rookie’s punt went less than 40 yards. This is a problem.

 


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