Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A numbers-filled look at the 2014 Minnesota Vikings

Jason Winter, who pops up at Kick Ass Blog now and again as a guest contributor (his last post was about freaking Matt Asiata!), has sent in another column. Today, Jason has a numbers-filled Vikings post for you. Take it away, Jason.

By Jason Winter

About that offense...

Yeah, being 2-5 sucks. Yeah, the offense has usually looked bad. Yeah, Teddy Bridgewater doesn't look like a whole lot better than, say, Christian Ponder.

I'm not here to make excuses, but I am here to provide a little context. I present to you the following stats, with little to no explanation. Draw your own conclusions.

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Last year, Vikings running backs averaged 107 rushing yards per game. Adrian Peterson started 14 games.

This year, Vikings running backs are averaging 94 rushing yards per game. Adrian Peterson started one game.

If this holds, it means that Adrian Peterson was worth about 13 extra rushing yards per game, and we were paying him about $14 million per season to provide those yards. Is that really worth it? Should any running back be paid $14 million in today's NFL? Should the Vikings trade him if they can get any value whatsoever?

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Here are the Vikings' opponents' defenses by points scored/game rank, and the points the Vikings scored against them:

St. Louis: 31st, 34
New England: 12th, 7
New Orleans: 28th, 9
* Atlanta: 30th, 41
Green Bay: 9th, 10
* Detroit: 2nd, 3
* Buffalo: 8th, 16

Obviously, some of a team's defensive rank has to do with how the Vikings did against them, but after six or seven games played per team, the effects of one team are minimal.

Games marked with a * are the ones Teddy Bridgewater started. In other words, he and the offense looked great against a bad defense and lousy against two good defenses. Overall the team has faced three top-10 defenses in its last three games and looked bad against all three. In fact, the New Orleans game aside, every game has played to type considering the defense being faced.

Here's the rest of the Vikings' schedule and their opponents' points allowed ranks:

Tampa Bay: 32nd
Washington: 24th
Chicago: 22nd
Green Bay: 9th
Carolina: 29th
NY Jets: 26th
Detroit: 2nd
Miami: 15th
Chicago: 22nd

Don't be surprised if the offense suddenly “figures it out” the rest of the season.

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That said... Teddy Bridgewater's TD pass to Cordarrelle Patterson on Sunday was the Vikings' first TD pass since the Matt Cassel-Matt Asiata connection in the first quarter of the New England game. The Vikings went 21 quarters, or more than five full games, without a TD pass.

The Vikings have 4 TD passes on the season, through seven games. There have been 10 instances of a quarterback throwing 4 TDs or more in a single game this season.

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And, just for fun, in the wake of the Percy Harvin trade ...

If we treat the “former Vikings going to the Seahawks” trend as starting with Steve Hutchinson's “poison pill” contract, here's the Approximate Value (a Pro-Football-Reference metric that lets you compare players of all positions) of Hutchinson as a Viking and every other significant Viking who since went to Seattle:

Hutchinson: 67
TOTAL: 67

Nate Burleson: 17
Sidney Rice: 15
Heath Farwell: 4
Tarvaris Jackson: 10*
Percy Harvin: 0*
Kevin Williams: 0*
Ryan Longwell: 0
Antoine Winfield: 0
TOTAL: 46

* PFR hasn't computed AVs for players in 2014. That said, it would be hard to imagine Harvin/Williams/Jackson being worth more than a couple points total this season.

Also, counting the playoffs, Harvin played in 8 games for the Seahawks in 2013-14 and accumulated 860 total all-purpose yards, 107.5 per game. Over that same time frame, Cordarrelle Patterson played in 23 games for the Vikings and managed 2,724 AP yards, 118.4 per game.

Yeah, yeah, Seattle has a ring and all. But let's not get jealous the next time Seattle signs one of our “stars.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is Jerick McKinnon the real deal at running back?

What was your favorite positive development from the Vikings 17-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills last weekend?

Was it Everson Griffen's three sacks? Anthony Barr's generally overall standout play? Ted Bridgewater bouncing back from a horrible start to throw his first NFL touchdown pass? That Greg Jennings finally showed a pulse?

My favourite development was realizing the Vikings might have a running back teams must fear and account for whose name isn't Adrian Peterson. That running back, of course, is rookie Jerick McKinnon

When the Vikings drafted McKinnon in the third round of the 2014 NFL draft, I was non-plussed by the selection. I didn't like the fact general manager Rick Spielman chose a guy that early in the draft that the team probably wouldn't use much for a season or two when it had other pressing needs. Also, I didn't know anything about McKinnon other than he was an option quarterback in college who was crazy athletic. It's great to be crazy athletic, but that doesn't mean McKinnon would develop into a quality NFL running back.

But it's beginning to look like it will work. The sample size is small, yet in the three games where McKinnon has been given significant touches (Atlanta game, Detroit game and Bills game), he's rushed for 135 yards, 103 yards and was the only offensive threat the Vikes had against the Lions - totaling 82 combined yards (40 rushing yards on 11 carries, 42 receiving yards on 6 catches.) He's shown elusiveness, good hands, a surprising ability to gain yards after contact, and, yes, he's pretty fast, too.

Like a lot of fans, I viewed McKinnon as a guy who would never be the teams featured running back but more of a third-down supporting player. I (We?) may have underestimated McKinnon. In Football Outsiders weekly "Quick Reads" feature, McKinnon was the judged as the NFL's most valuable "rushing" running back last week, and writer Vince Verhei heaps all kinds of praise on McKinnon. It's the kind of analysis that makes a Vikings fan feel better about the immediate, and long-term, prospects for the Vikings running game.

Losing Peterson was a devastating blow to the Vikings offense and one they probably will not recover from in 2014. But if McKinnon can keep playing at this level - and we have to remember he's still getting the hang of this running back thing - the Vikes running game should be in good shape in 2015 (I'm convinced Peterson will never play another down of football for Minnesota.)

A couple of other thoughts on McKinnon.

- Listed at 5'9 and 209 pounds, its hard to envision McKinnon being an effective runner between the tackles like Peterson has been. But watching McKinnon play lately, his size seems to work in his favor. Peterson is a big back - 6'1 and 220 pounds - who can flatten you as easily as he can run by you. But big backs make for big targets and Peterson isn't able to hide behind his blockers in the trenches. However, McKinnon can, and he's frequently been able to emerge from big logjams of humanity at the line of scrimmage and pop through them for positive gains. It's an extremely valuable skill he should only get better at as he learns how to read blocks and be patient at the pro level.

- When Peterson was put on leave by the Vikings, it was assumed the team would be in the market for acquiring a top running back this offseason either in free agency (DeMarco Murray is in the final year of his rookie deal) or the draft. McKinnon's emergence makes running back less of a need - if he continues to play well. I still think it would be a good idea for the Vikings to get another running back who has the chops to be a featured back in an NFL offense (that ain't Matt Asiata.) But they don't have to sign a big money guy in free agency or draft somebody like Todd Gurley in the first or second round of next year's draft if McKinnon shows he's legit. That will allow the Vikings to be more flexible in how they attack other roster needs (Left tackle? Middle linebacker? Wide receiver? Safety?), and bad teams like the Vikings usually have a lot of them.     

Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting the Vikings signing of Greg Jennings

So after doing his "Invisible Man" impersonation the previous two weeks, Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings finally made an impact in the team's passing game against Buffalo, catching six passes for 77 yards, including a tough 38-yarder down the middle of the field that set up the Vikes one and only touchdown of the day.

It's the kind of day Viking fans were hoping would be common place when Jennings signed a five-year deal with the team in March of 2013 for $47.5 million - including $18 million in guaranteed money.

It hasn't turned out that way, and as the Vikes passing offense continues to look as hopeless as ever, signing Jennings appears to be a dumb move along the lines of the 2008 Bernard Berrian signing.

It's too early to make that call, however. I actually thought the production of Jennings in 2013 (68 catches, 804 yards and 4 touchdowns) was pretty good considering the Vikings three-headed quarterback situation. I've never considered Jennings to be a guy who can elevate a passing game all by himself. He's a great #2 receiver who thrives with a strong supporting cast, which he had in Green Bay.

The plan with signing Jennings wasn't that he'd transform the Vikings offense all by himself. But adding an established WR like him to a core that also featured Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and a dynamic but raw player like Cordarrelle Patterson would give Christian Ponder the diverse set of offensive weapons he needed to allow him to elevate his game, and the Vikes offense.

Obviously, the plan didn't work in 2013. And as the team breaks in another young QB in Ted Bridgewater, tries to find a running game using Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon and waits for someone to emerge opposite of Jennings as a consistent pass catching threat, the plan isn't working in 2014, either.

But that doesn't mean signing Jennings was the wrong move - or that it won't work out.

During the 2013 offseason, Jennings was considered the second-best free agent WR on the market behind Mike Wallace. If Wallace's dad is to be believed, the Vikings were willing to pay the ex-Steeler a lot more than they ended up paying Jennings. Miami would sign Wallace for more than Jennings got as well, and so far they've received only marginally better production from Wallace in return for their investment.

Jennings certainly needs to play and produce better. But when we're assessing a wide receiver's play, we have to take into account that their production is largely dependent on who is throwing them the ball. If Bridgewater can find his footing after a couple of choppy starts, he could be the man to bring out the production the Vikings sorely need from Jennings.      

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coming off the Ledge: Bills 17, Vikings 16

There was the thrill of a close, competitive football game: the fluttery stomach, the pumping heart. There was the thrill of every play being intense and meaningful. And that is something.

And there's the fall down disappointment of being at the wrong end of that thrill. Part of what makes a game like this so thrilling is that you really care about the outcome. And when it ends like this...you really care about the outcome.

You spend somewhere around 57 minutes watching defensive players constantly making a play when the team needed it: Xavier Floyd, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Robert Blanton, Anthony Barr, all of these players were notably good for most of the game. And the running game was notably successful against a strong run defense as the offense played a justifiably conservative game (they did take their shots, but were often punished for any pass play that took time to develop). And then you watch a 4th and 20 conversion and the opponent score with one goddam second left.

This one stings: 3-4 would put the Vikings in a one-game-at-a-time projection to compete. 2-5 puts them in a one-game-at-a-time projection just because there's no other way to handle being three games under .500.

The Vikings are building a defense that is fun to watch. But right now the Vikings lost a breathtakingly close game that's going to take some time to get over.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Revisiting previous posts at KAB regarding the Vikings trading Percy Harvin

With the shocking trade of Percy Harvin on Friday, I thought I'd dredge up a couple of Kick Ass Blog posts regarding Harvin from 2012-2013 when his relationship with the Vikings was going sour.

This post, written by me in December of 2012 before the Vikes traded Harvin to Seattle, hoped the team would find a way to kiss and make up with Harvin.

This post, written by Pacifist Viking, detailed the holes in Harvin's game and why he wasn't terribly worried about Harvin leaving the team.

Knowing what we know now, I was dead wrong, while Pacifist Viking was right. This is a shining example of why I'm a idiot.

And look what general manager Rick Spielman got for a guy who had put a gun to the Vikings head and basically forced a trade where Spielman had no leverage - a first round pick (Xavier Rhodes) and a seventh round pick (offensive tackle Travis Bond, who didn't make the team) in 2013, plus a third round pick in 2014 (Jerick McKinnon). Rhodes looks like he will be the Vikings starting right cornerback for the next decade. McKinnon looks like he'll be a valuable third down back at the worst, and Adrian Peterson's successor at best. That's a pretty nice return on the trade.

Perhaps I'm reading to much into this, but it's also possible the Harvin trade gave Spielman the ammunition to pull the trigger on the Ted Bridgewater trade at the 2014 NFL draft.

I think Spielman still would have done this deal even if the Vikings didn't have the extra third rounder (#96 overall) they got from Seattle in the Harvin trade. But the fact that they would still have four picks in the top 100 of the 2014 draft should have made Spielman feel even more comfortable trading a high second rounder (#45 overall) and a high fourth rounder (#108 overall) to move back into the first round to get Bridgewater.

If Bridgewater turns outs to be the franchise quarterback we hope he will be and Rhodes and McKinnon continue to be assets to the Vikings in the long term, maybe we should all send Harvin thank you cards for being such a dick.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kick Ass Blog makes an appearance on the Purple For The Win podcast

Hey, dear readers! Happy Friday and all that.

I don't want pimp this too much, but a Twitter follower of mine, Andy Carlson, runs a sweet Vikings podcast called "Purple For The Win." Earlier this week, Andy asked me to appear on his Thursday podcast previewing the upcoming Vikings-Bills game for some reason. I agreed.

I don't know if any of you have ever been curious what my voice sounds like on Skype, but if you are curious about that sort of thing, have a listen to the podcast linked below - I said many smart things and I have many leather-bound books and my bookshelves smell of mahogany ...

It will be the best 1 hour, 16 minutes and 11 seconds you ever spent.

And without further ado, here is the link to the podcast.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

National Friday League, Week 7

Where are you, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson?
The wide receivers may be the most frustrating part of the Viking offense. You can find pretty easy answer for why the quarterbacks and running backs are struggling, and certainly the offensive line is frustrating too. But the wide receivers--a position that in 2013 the Vikings devoted a big money free agent signing and a first-round pick that they traded a lot of picks to get--have shown no ability to get separation, and little ability to make a play on the ball when tightly covered.

The poor wide receiver play is a big reason the offense has been terrible, but has also been terrible to watch. A bad team is frustrating; a bad team that is boring to watch can make you want to shut the TV off and go outside to do literally anything else. Jennings and Patterson aren't getting open, and aren't making plays. That's limiting the offense more than bad pass blocking and more than a lack of strong running threat, in my opinion. If the receivers could get open it would cover up for a lot of ills and help other offensive performers actually perform.


Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith
But be a little hopeful, Viking fans.The defense should feature Barr and Smith running around making tackles for the foreseeable future. These guys can play, and they seem to have a coach that is going to let them play.

Vikings-Bills Preview

2014 Vikings
2014 Bills

The Bills are alone with the Vikings in sharing an 0-4 Super Bowl record (you got too good for us, Denver. Now everybody is moving to Denver. Doesn't it seem like everybody is moving to Denver?). It now seems assured that if the Bills lose a fifth Super Bowl in the next 40 years, they'll be doing it in Buffalo (just as the Vikes will be doing it in Minnesota). I have now worked up all the energy I have for a specific preview of this game.

Other Interesting Games

Week 7 Games

Giants-Cowboys. The Cowboys are going to be interesting every week now, because they've established themselves as a contender, yet at the same time be honest: you don't really think they're that good. Whatever happens in their games is going to be interesting, especially those division matchups


49ers-Broncos. There have been a lot of very unentertaining broadcast night games this year, and the Broncos are the perfect cure. Even when the Broncos dominate, it's entertaining. And if they don't dominate--if the 49er defense is finding ways to stop the Broncos or if he 49er offense is keeping up with the Broncos--then that will be even more entertaining to watch.


My Overtime Proposal
I don't know what people hate so much about ties; they don't bother me at all. It does provide closure: two teams played each other even for 60 minutes and neither could get an edge to top the other at the end of the game, and that is indicated in the record. A tie on the record tells you something.

My proposal for the regular season? Abolish overtime. Make teams win or lose the game in the fourth quarter.  


Those fourth quarters will be intense and fun. Think about the drama and sense of urgency in close games. Think about the things we'd see teams do to try and win games. In many situations today where teams settle for getting into the proverbial field goal range, they wouldn't--they'd still aggressively be going for a touchdown. And think about the fun coaching decisions you'll get to watch then, when playing for a win or tie will literally mean playing for a win or a tie. You score a TD with four seconds left to get within one: do you settle for the tie, or do you risk a loss and try for a win?  


Of course this will never happen, because for reasons I don't understand too many people are morally incensed by ties.

Fantasy Box: a Strategy for a Struggling Team

If your fantasy team has been struggling, but not so badly that you've already given up hope for winning a championship, there are two general approaches. You can make some shoot the works trades, radically transforming your team with a nothing-to-lose attitude. If you can work it right with multiple big trades--and a willingness to move any player--you can end up with a much better roster than you started with. But if you like your team, believe you've had a little bit of bad luck, and believe the disappointing players on your roster really have opportunities to improve, then you can stay the proverbial course, keep the proverbial even keel, and stick with your roster and hope for the best. This can work if you've got indicators that your players can produce more: for example, I have Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate, two top-10 WRs in receiving yards per game, who have one combined TD--if they're going to keep getting yards, can't they stumble into a few more TDs at some point?

But I have another recommendation that you can use with either strategy. Fill your bench to bursting with as many handcuff RBs, flier RBs, timeshare RBs, and any other RBs that might, just might if things break a certain way, become Monster RBs.* If one becomes a Monster RB, then you can use him, and maybe he'll carry you to wins. If you're already strong at RB, you're at least keeping a Monster RB off another lineup, perhaps helping you to wins. And you are now in a position to trade if you are weak in other areas (if you're confident he's really a Monster RB, then you can trade your bigger name RB and stick the new Monster RB in your lineup).

Now's the time, before it's too late and you're really out of contention. In my auction league, I have DeMarco Murray, probably the one player on my roster I'm happy about, and I'm not contending for a title right now but I'm not so far out that I can't. The rest of my roster features Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Andre Williams, Khiry Robinson, Carlos Hyde, and Robert Turbin. Right now that looks mostly like a mess. But there is also chance: I can envision several of these players getting a chance to become a Monster RB.

And that's what you're looking for with a struggling fantasy team heading into Week 7: a chance. If things aren't going well there's nothing to lose, and you need some breaks and surprises to turn things around. Try to prepare yourself to benefit from some break and surprises. If your team is doing well, you might want a bench full of solid, reliable subs you could play if forced. If your team is not doing well, then just as for a draft strategy, your bench may as well be filled with high risk, high reward fliers. At this point those are mostly going to be RBs.

*You know a Monster RB, probably the most coveted asset in fantasy football, when you see him: usually it's a top 2-3 RB for the season, or perhaps a RB that becomes a dominant RB for a stretch in the second half of the season. Think of the RBs who regularly get 125+ scrimmage yards a game and a handful of multiple TD games. Just think who will go into the next season as a consensus top 5 pick: that's a Monster RB.

The Commercial Life
Sometimes I get nostalgic. Remember when the announcers always told us that the yellow first down line isn't official? Remember when there wasn't instant replay and you just dealt with clearly incorrect calls?

Remember when we all thought it was weird that you could be watching a football game with your family and then suddenly there's a voice on TV talking about four hour erections? Like, we thought that was really weird, right? And now we take it for granted that every Sunday we'll hear soft music over images of laughing couples having fun together before ending up in separate bathtubs, and we will hear about four hour erections, and we will be reminded to ask our doctor if our heart is healthy enough for sexual activity, and our kids might ask bizarre questions about these bizarre commercials.

Weekend
Have a good one everybody. Except Packer fans. Play something for fun. Even Packer fans.