Thursday, January 2, 2014

National Friday League: Wild Card Weekend

Did Leslie Frazier have this coming?
Bill Barnwell suggests otherwise, including him among coaches that "don't deserve to take the heat for what happened to their teams" because he "was saddled with a quarterback cycle of failure in Minnesota." That the quarterback situation was terrible is true (that the part of it that featured Donovan McNabb was partly Frazier's fault is also, according to most accounts, true). But this line of reasoning ignores the horrendous defensive play of the Vikings during Leslie Frazier's term.

The 2013 Vikings gave up 30 points per game, last in the league, and they were 31st in yards allowed, 31st in pass yards allowed, and last in the league in TD passes allowed (37! Check the box scores, and you'll find there wasn't a single game when the Vikes held an opponent without a TD pass, and they gave up multiple TD passes in 12 of 16 games). The 2012 Vikings were middle of the pack defensively (14th in points, 16th in yards). And the 2011 Vikings gave up 28.1 points per game, 31st in the league, ranking 21st in yards allowed and last in the league in TD passes allowed (34!).

That's three years Leslie Frazier had coaching control of the Vikings, and in two of the three years the Vikes gave up more pass touchdowns than any other team in the league. During this time the Vikes often had an effective pass rush (49, 44, 41 sacks), but were still awful against the pass. Was it personnel? Yes, partly: when the Viking defensive backs weren't bad players they were injured and replaced with really bad players. But was it also scheme? The Tampa Two looks pretty worthless for a team that in two out of three years gave up more passing TDs than any other team. Was it scheming, game planning, game decisions, play calling? I don't know. You don't know. What we have are results. The results are 34, 28, and 37 pass TDs allowed in three seasons. What we have in the coach's third year is a defense giving up 30 points per game.

Leslie Frazier can't be blamed for the Viking quarterback situation of the past two years. But if he can't be blamed for having the worst defense in the league in his third season, who does get blamed?

Quit complaining about those close losses!
This week I heard Rick Spielman on KFAN complaining about the Vikes' close losses this year, suggesting that if some of those games went differently it would be a different season.

When people running a team want to believe the team is better than its record, they tend to remember they lost games by 1, 4, 4, and 3, and had a tie. They tend not to remember they also lost games by 10, 25, 16, 13, 21, and 28. And they also tend not to remember that they won games by 7, 7, 3 (in OT), and 1.

If you're going to get to say "If we won a few more of those close games we'd be competing for the division!" then you had better be ready to say "If we had lost a few more of those close games we'd be the worst team in the league!"  It is subjective recall to do anything else.

The Vikings were 4-4-1 in games decided by one TD or less. Is there anything particularly unlucky in that? Are the Vikings actually better than their record? The Vikings were 23rd in the league in point differential, and they were 25th in record. Their expected W-L record based on points was 6.1-9.9. They lost some close games they could have won. They won some close games they could have lost. They also got hammered a number of times (more frequently than they hammered anyone, which was once, beating the Eagles by 18).

The Vikes were a bad football team. Don't complain about the close losses you remember if you're going to pretend those close wins were simply deserved and couldn't have gone any other way.

(By the way, if you want an empty experience, listen to notorious organization apologist Paul Allen interview Rick Spielman, notoriously untrustworthy and slippery in his public statements. I'll admit I missed the beginning of the interview, but among other things, when Allen asked if Spielman wanted Matt Cassel back, Spielman said he wanted everybody on the team back [there was no pushback on this answer], and Spielman would not admit that the Josh Freeman signing did not work out the way he hoped [there was no pushback on this answer]. Softball question, gibberishy obviously false answer, answer simply accepted by softball questioner. Fun interview!).

Who should the Vikes hire?
I completely agree with Darren: I want the Vikings to hire a coach with past head coaching experience. Lovie Smith would have been a dream come true. With Lovie Smith the Bucs will get the best defensive performance the personnel will allow for, sound--no, exceptional special teams performance, players that respect their coach, and a coach with a lot of head coaching experience and a generally strong record of success (he was fired after a 10 win season, of all things, and was only under .500 twice in nine years).

Jack Del Rio would also be a potentially good coach. He has experience and success as a head coach, and has also been impressive in stints as a defensive coordinator. His Jacksonville reign wasn't superb, but that's usually the case with retread coaches, who can still go on to success with other franchises (Tom Coughlin and Bill Belichick notably).

I don't want to see the Vikes sign a coordinator who just happens to be the coordinator for a recently great unit. Coordinators becoming head coaches can have success, obviously, but it's got to be for their own merits as coaches, not that they had a year or two associated with a great team.

Cordarrelle Patterson's 2014 performance will be based on his improvement as a wide receiver, not his amazing talent (or, Buzzkill: be prepared to be disappointed by Cordarrelle Patterson in 2014)
Cordarrelle Patterson may become an amazing wide receiver in 2014. He certainly has athletic talent and great instincts with the ball in his hands. But his production this season was based on huge, giant big plays--and if one or two little things go just a little bit differently, those big plays don't happen. A holding penalty here, a better tackle there, defenders taking better angles, a choice to cut left rather than right, any number of little things can prevent that. Great players become great based on their ability to consistently make plays, and Patterson will have to do that to become a great player.

Cordarrelle Patterson scored an impressive 9 touchdowns in his rookie year. Here they are:

1. 105 yard kick return (video)
2. 109 yard kick return (video)
3. 2 yard reception (video)
4. 33 yard rush (video)
5. 79 yard reception (video)
6. 5 yard reception (video)
7. 35 yard rush (video)
8. 50 yard rush (video)
9. 8 yard reception (video)

I'm very impressed with Cordarrelle Patterson, but if he stays static and is the same player in 2014 that he is in 2013, he'll be a disappointment. You can't expect a player with 12 rush attempts to get three 30+ yard TDs on those 12 carries every year (I couldn't believe how poorly the Lions tackled Patterson on that 50 yard run: two Lions had him cornered and it was like they didn't even make a move on him as he ran between them. Watch some of those videos and see how many defenders should have had him on other big plays). I'm not sure how reliably you can count on 100+ yard kick returns, either, and I'm certainly not counting on 70+ yard catch and run TD receptions in snow storms happening very often.

The talent is there, and the big play potential is there. But Cordarrelle Patterson will need to be a better wide receiver in 2014. He'll have to be able to run a variety of routes and make basic, normal receptions for first downs. Those big plays show off his superstar potential, but it's also possible to be impressed with the way he controlled his body and positioned himself against defenders for those 5 and 8 yard TD receptions late in the year. That's what we have to expect from him, only moreso, in 2014. He's got to improve to take a leap, not stay static as an occasional big play guy (he was still an occasional big play guy toward the end--they just came with more frequency in the small set of games). He has to progress as a player, or else I suspect his numbers will regress.

Fantasy Box
Whether I won or lost my 12 year old auction draft, cross country scoring (wherein every team competes against every other team each week) league this season depended on whether LeSean McCoy scored 19.3 points in the Week 17 night game.*

I remember buying my first fantasy magazines in late June. I listened to fantasy podcasts through July and August. I remember all sorts of things from my planning that summer, including researching various coaches' past histories with certain positions. I could write a brief paragraph about pretty much every draftable fantasy prospect.

During the season, according to Yahoo, I made 53 roster moves. In a 17 week season with a 16 player roster, I had 53 trades, waiver claims, and free agent picks (I would  have believed 353). During the season there were any number of good and bad lineup decisions by everybody in the league. There were any number of good and bad trades. And there was of course a lot of luck.

And of course throughout the real NFL season, there were any number of influential officiating calls. There were plays that were near misses, and there were plays that were barely made. All sorts of game situations determined all sorts of play calling and player usage. There were injuries, there were bad games, there were amazing games, there was all sorts of great and bad football played.

And when it came down to it, if LeSean McCoy scored 19.3 points I win the league, and if he doesn't, I lose the league.

LeSean McCoy scored 19.4 points. I won the league

Six months of analysis, work, and constant monitoring of the NFL and the fantasy league, and then 256 real NFL games occurring with all sorts of various possibilities on thousands of individual plays, all came down to one player getting 134 yards and a touchdown. And all this just to beat nine friends in a competition that exists largely so we can email insults, .gifs, memes, and dirty jokes to each other. This is almost enough to make me think that I may as well buy a fantasy magazine a week before the draft, and spend my runs listening to podcasts about, well, anything other than fantasy football, and spend any energy I have for analysis on poetry. But that I should still use my time to search for funny .gifs and to create league-specific memes.

*there was also the scenario where McCoy needed 17.6 points if DeSean Jackson scored fewer than 6.3 points (which he did) or if McCoy scored between 17.6 and 19.3 points but outscored DeSean Jackson by 11.5 points (it's a pretty complicated league) but let's not get hung up in specifics.

Interesting Games This Week
Wild Card Games

You know what I really like about the Wild Card matchups? Every matchup features wildly contrasting team colors. Red/Yellow v. Blue/White, Green/White v. Black/Gold, Yellow/Navy v. Black/Orange, and Red/Gold v. Green/Yellow. The aesthetic contrast of movement on the field will be enough to be entertained.

Chiefs-Colts. The Chiefs were 4th in the league in point differential, and had impressive victories against other playoff teams like...the Eagles. Just the Eagles. The Colts were 10th in the league in point differential, with wins against other playoff teams like the 49ers (by 20), the Seahawks, the Broncos, and the Chiefs (by 16). The Chiefs seem to be inherently stronger (6th in points and 5th in points allowed), but the Colts showed they can beat anybody on their roster. Their season also includes losses by 10, 30, 29, and 14 (why waste good play in a game you're going to lose anyway, eh?). The Chiefs' offensive strength (Jamaal Charles) faces the Colts' defensive weakness (25th in yards per rush attempt allowed). The Chiefs' defense should be able to get a pass rush on Andrew Luck.

Eagles-Saints. Here's something you didn't know about the Saints: they rank better defensively (4th in points allowed) than offensively (10th in points allowed). The Saints' weakness is run defense (28th in yards per attempt allowed) and playing on the road (3-5 away from home). The Eagles' weakness is pass defense (32nd in passing yards allowed), so Drew Brees can exploit them. But I wouldn't bet on the Saints winning in Philadelphia in January. I say that metaphorically, because I wouldn't bet at all, and this is obviously not a gambling advice column.

Chargers-Bengals. In 2013, Andy Dalton had 11 multi-TD games, and 5 multi-INT games. He had six games with a passer rating over 100, and five games with passer ratings under 65. But the Bengals are 8-0 at home this year, with a lot of impressive wins. They won two close playoff games against playoff teams (Green Bay and New England), and creamed everybody else who came to Cincinnati (home wins by 10, 40, 21, 14, 28, and 17). The '13 Chargers are about as just-above-average as you can imagine: 9-7, expected win-loss of 9.2-6.8, record against Vegas line 9-6-1, 11th in points scored, 12th in points allowed. They're just better than average.

49ers-Packers. Green Bay brings a bad defense into the playoffs, and without its best player at that. They are 24th in points allowed, 25th in yards allowed, and are bad against the run (29th in yards per attempt allowed) and pass (25th in net yards per pass attempt allowed). And San Francisco comes to Wisconsin with its own offense that is versatile and diverse, capable of beating an opponent in whatever way the opponent allows (they can run Frank Gore, they can run with Colin Kaepernick, and they can throw, to Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, or Michael Crabtree). And the 49er defense allowing 17 ppg isn't as likely to do things the Bears defense did last week, like failing to pick up a fumble that happened to move forward as if it were a pass and instead allowing an offensive fumble recovery or a touchdown, or like letting a WR get past everybody on 4th and ballgame. I suppose the 49ers are as likely to get called for roughing the passer for mildly bumping into Aaron Rodgers as the Bears were, but that is what it is.

Chris Kluwe has something to say.
This is a story you should read about (PFT, Deadspin, City Pages). Chris Kluwe says that while his employer (Zygi Wilf) was supportive, one of his bosses (special teams coach Mike Priefer) made bigoted, offensive statements, and two of his other bosses (Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman) discouraged Kluwe from expressing his personal political and social views (in the case of Frazier, this meant also discouraging him from advocating on a matter of public policy). According to Kluwe, his bosses discouraged his personal expression and political advocacy. Here's something worth reading on that subject  from Charles Pierce:

"Does your job own your civil liberties when you're off the clock? Does it own your thoughts, expressed freely, when you're home? Are we saying that the government can't abridge your constitutional rights, but that The Brand can? If you answer instantly, 'yes,' think again about what you're saying, and about the kind of country in which you want to live."

By request
A. E. Housman's "Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now"

Another Viking season has passed without a Super Bowl win. I hope for many more than three score and ten years, but take 33 from whatever years there are, and that leaves one fewer chance to see the Vikings win the Super Bowl.

Sorry about that unannounced week off last week: the holiday week really got away from me.

Have a good weekend, suckers.


  1. I just wish Kluwe would have spoken out sooner. While I believe his comments, it seems the timing is poor. I see Del Rio as the coach. He would likely restore some discipline to the team.
    Erin Henderson just sealed his fate. 2nd DWI in a couple months will not be allowed, I do not believe.

    1. Anon 3:19:

      Henderson appears to have gone off the rails. It's time for him to go into rehab and get his life in order. You're right about his Vikings career. A star gets kept around when this happens (Aldon Smith for example). But so-so players get released, especially with a new coaching staff on the way.

  2. I hope San Fran is ready for the Arctic conditions.

    1. Anon:

      San Fran is one California team I could see handling the cold weather. Their offense is more about power running than pass, pass, pass and their defense is consistently good, which means Rodgers won't necessarily have his way with them. However, if I had to bet cash on this game (and I don't), I'd go with the Pack, unfortunately.

    2. I realize the temps will be getting downright dangerous. Still, if this can happen, let's hope professional football players can run around in the cold.

  3. If the Vikings hired Del Rio, they'd then have Scott Studwell heading up their college scouting, Rick Spielman as GM, and Del Rio as coach....that's a lot of power in the hands of white, meat-headish, former linebackers.

    But, if they find a good QB, I don't really care who the coach is.


    1. Jainfu:

      Good QB? Where can we finding such a thing?

  4. It's fine for Kluwe to pop off about everything so long as he understands that his employer and the public don't have to listen to it. Just as it is his right to say that Priefer is an a-hole for baiting him with terrible and homophobic epitaphs. It is unfortunate that Kluwe didn't use the proper channels to complain about Priefer when he had the opportunity to. Grandstanding never does anyone any good.