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Chewing the Thud, Week 7.5

After nearly half a season, and just as the schedule difficulty ramps up a few notches, a summary is in order.

To start the season there was a 78 yard touchdown run by Adrian Peterson, and a performance by Detroit that included two turnovers and 11 penalties, which spotted the Purple and Gold 88 yards. Yet, the Vikings lose. The following two weeks, the team puts up 30 and 27 points. Two touchdowns conceded in the final minute of each game spell doom, and the record reads 0-3.

A breath of fresh air! Amidst the pomp and circumstance of a game in London, the Vikings see themselves on the opposite end of a performance that followed the plot of both Week 2 & 3. Matt Cassel’s encouraging turn at quarterback, and a game sealing strip-sack by Everson Griffen fill the team with good vibrations going into the bye week.


The Good Ol’ Days?

Then, just in time for Canadian thanksgiving, and in the midst of personal tragedy for the team’s superstar, not to mention budding quarterback controversy, the bottom seems to fall out. Fellow one win team Carolina suffocates our favorite team 35-10, with the only Vikings touchdown occurring in garbage time.

No time to sulk; week 7 features a potential primetime pick-me-up against the lowly and winless Giants. To boot, lining up under center will be shiny new toy Josh Freeman. Even if 1-4 means the playoffs would be a huge reach, this season can still be salvaged, especially if a new franchise quarterback has been found…






A Failed Experiment?

Josh Freeman’s completion percentage, yardage, yards-per-attempt, touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating from last night are all very forgettable.

Does that mean the Vikings should just write him off? To be fair, someone with a lesser ‘brand’ would easily be banished to the waiver wire. That being said, let’s have a look at a couple of players who fit the improvisational, gun-slinging profile that Freeman supposedly fits.

Ben Roethlisberger, the most common comparison to the Vikngs’ #12 has had 6 games where his passer rating dipped below 40.6, and another two below 50. Only once has his yard-per-attempt figure been below 3.6, but there have been 5 games where that figure was below 5.

Tony Romo, an oft-maligned improviser himself, has played 3 games with a passer rating that did not exceed 40.6 and another 3 below 50. Romo has never thrown for less than 3.6 yards per attempt, but he has had three games below 5.*

As recently as September 2009, the Cowboys quarterback had a 29.6 rating and 4.38 yard per attempt, going 13 for 29 against the Giants. In 2008, Roethlisberger had two games with passer ratings below 50, another one coming in at 50.6 and just for good measure, two more under 60.

What we can glean from this is that good players can play badly Roethlisberger followed his uneven 2008 campaign with a 100.5 rating in 2009 and 97.0 rating in 2010. Conversely, Josh Freeman’s 10 games with ratings under 50 compare poorly with both Romo and Roethlisberger. Moreover, the eye-ball might be even less kind than the statistics.

In my humble opinion the numbers do not do justice to how poorly the passing offense looked yesterday. Freeman resembled a shot putter warming up in the middle of a football game. The consistently uncatchable throws were painful to watch.

Can this be chalked up to unpreparedness? I am not so sure. This wasn’t the miscommunication that has been a staple of last night’s opponent. These were bad throws, plain and simple. Perhaps it was nerves. To further salt the wound, the one picture perfect deep ball he did throw was dropped by Jerome Simpson in the end zone on what could have been a game changing play, boosting morale while at the same time narrowing New York’s lead to 3.

For what it’s worth, I also hated the sprint-outs Musgrave kept calling. I assume it had something to do with simplifying the play calls; cutting the field in half reduces the amount of possible reads. Yet, if the goal is to put Freeman in a position to succeed, why would you keep on forcing him to throw intermediate outs in tight windows? Let him work from the pocket. Encourage him to tuck it and run when the pocket breaks down.

On balance, the dreck that I watched on ESPN last night was the product of poor quarterback play. If he practiced that poorly, I cannot believe Frazier, Spielaman & co. would have started him. If the Vikings’ newest addition did look like that at Winter Park, and he was indeed fed to the wolves, perhaps the fissure between HC and GM is more detrimental than I had thought.

At 1-5, and after a performance like that, due diligence requires Freeman get another look. It is imperative to figure out whether he can take off, and for that a longer runway will be needed. Christian Ponder is locked up for another year regardless, and while I plan on watching every remaining game and hoping that the Vikings win every remaining game, 2014 has got to be on the brain.

Looks like at some level, somebody who matters agrees with me.

Doesn’t Really Matter

Relative to the mix of ennui, and devastation I felt watching the game yesterday, I was quite excited by one information graphic ESPN provided. Discussing the ‘top heavy’ Giants, they showed what percentage of their salary cap went to their top 5 players. It got me curious about the Vikings and where we fall in the league.

Using data from Spotrac, I charted what percentage of every team’s spend (salary cap**-remaining cap space) was devoted to those players with the five highest cap numbers (base+various bonuses+the amortization of signing bonus). Since I was already there, I figured why don’t I also chart what percentage of  a team’s spend was dead money, which is mostly  guaranteed payments to those who are cut and the remaining amount left on the amortization schedule of signing bonuses of those who are cut. Simply put, dead money is the cap hit on players no longer on the team. I also summed these two percentages, in order to figure the amount teams left for the non-core squad. Using the ten highest cap numbers may have been more enlightening, but I was just following ESPN’s lead. Here are the results:

Sorted by Top 5/total spend

Sorted by Top 5 over total spend. The last column is the sum of the two preceding ones.

Sorted by dead money over total spend

Sorted by dead money over total spend

Looking at Minnesota’s roster construction, it appears to be relatively top heavy with only 8 teams having higher portion of their spend devoted to their top 5 players (by cap hit).*** That being said, these figures don’t really suggest much about winning. The five teams with the lowest Top 5 percentage range from lowly Jacksonville, to San Francisco and Indianapolis, with Oakland and Miami also in there. Then again, at the top end of the list, contenders appear to be fewer and far between.

Given the inverse correlation between ‘Top Heaviness’ and Dead Money (a covariance of -23.46), it is not a surprise to see Minnesota with a pretty low dead money percentage, coming in at the fifth lowest. Other teams in the ‘lowest’ 25% include Green Bay, San Francisco, New Orleans, Cincinnati and Seattle. These teams are all contenders to some degree, and it makes sense that having a higher proportion of your money being spent on your roster would be a good thing. Minnesota has not seemed to have gotten the same return on that money. It is also still possible to work around a somewhat high dead money percentage as Kansas City (7th highest) and New England (10th) show.

What we can see is that Spielman & co. have been responsible with their cap space, as very little of their spend is on players not playing on the team. Rob Brzezinski does have a masterful reputation as a cap manipulator. Moreover, while they rank highly in terms of top heaviness, just about 44% of the league has a top heaviness figure that falls between 36-42. The figure for the Vikings is 39.94. They are thus not overly top heavy – like the St. Louis Rams.

It is important to note that Top Heaviness does not tell us much about the future – contracts both come down, escalate and expire while total spends can increase and decrease based on willingness and cap rollover. In the Vikings case, Jared Allen’s mammoth $17 million will be off the books next year (even if he re-signs, the figure should be lower) but with Everson Griffen also a free agent, his roughly half million dollar figure a pittance, the savings won’t be that lucrative – unless the team decides to replace those two guys with a couple of rookies. Adrian and Greg Jennings, both in our top 5, will see a combined increase of about $3 million, while Kevin Williams’ $5 million is also coming off the books. Between that, and the soon expiring contracts/potential extensions for guys like Kyle Rudolph, Erin Henderson, Jerome Simpson and Brandon Fusco (above all, he has earned one) there will be a lot of fluctuation.

Dead money has some projective value. The flip side of having a lot of it is that the next year will see those teams encounter a relative windfall. The Vikings, with just about no space left this year for rollover, and little dead money won’t be so ‘fortunate’. Suddenly, that found ‘$17 million’ of Jared Allen money is looking pretty dear. Oakland and Jacksonville, meanwhile, are sitting on a gusher.

One note for miscellaneity, the 49ers are the least top heavy team, and the team with the third lowest dead money percentage. Part of it has to do with having a bona-fide starting quarterback on a fixed 2nd round contract ($1.3 million cap figure this year), but the Browns are in a similar boat with a cheap quarterback, yet a far higher percentages for both categories, and lowlier prospects for this season. Credit should be given to that incredibly well-run front office. I wonder if Trent Baalke will ever sprout his own tree à la that Wisconsin Ice Man, Ted Thompson.

Still in the Now

While this season may have jumped the shark, I am going to stick with it. This rising loss total may have me focusing more on bigger picture issues, but I won’t neglect the week-to-week as it is ultimately the key to understanding this team’s future. After that debacle on a national stage, it is both encouraging and frightening that a chance for redemption is coming about so soon. So here is to hoping that this guy shows up, and that the Vikings pull out a miraculous victory at the Homer Dome on Sunday night.



*Excluded is a game where he went 0-2 before being replaced due to injury.

**As team’s are now able to rollover unused cap space from year to year, and there are adjustments e.g. the $17 million dollar penalty Washington is facing for unkosher activities during the uncapped year, each team has a different cap.

***The New York Jets were a difficult case; I had a hard time figuring whether I should count Mark Sanchez’s $12.8 million dollar cap number as part of the Top 5 or dead money.


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