Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Marty Burns has the Timberwolves last in his power ranking. Bill Simmons predicts they'll finish with the worst record. So why am I so excited to start following the Wolves' season?

It's probably because they're so much like the Wolves teams I grew up with. For a while in the 90s, I was watching every T-Wolves game I possibly could. Doug West. Christian Laettner. Chuck Person. Man, those teams were bad. Every year preseason stories focused on whether the Wolves were capable of breaking the franchise record for wins in a season (it was 29). Of course, they never did (and the next season routinely got a lottery pick that left them just missing out on really good players).

Now the Wolves are like that. Nobody thinks they'll be any good at all. A lot of people think they'll be the worst team in the league. They've got all these young players that we recognize but that have never been any good.

Gone is the man, the myth, the legend, the big ticket and face of the franchise, the soul we knew and understood, the spirit that spoke to us, the athlete whose very movements and demeanor seeped into our beings, Kevin Garnett. I understood KG's movements. I knew the looks on his face. They were familiar.

And now it's new. And apparently everybody thinks it will suck.

I don't think it will be quite that bad, and that there's enough hope to make a surprise. I'm ready to root for Sebastian Telfair to become the next great NBA point guard. A part of me really believes it will happen. Why not? Why couldn't it happen? Is this just another Great Pumpkin?

When I look at the roster, I see all sorts of young players that could be good and are worth rooting for. Telfair. Jefferson. Foye. McCants. Smith. Brewer. Green.

Why not? The last three seasons felt heavy. This season feels light. That's all I can say. Let's have some fun.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Charlie Brown and the Minnesota Vikings

Poor Charlie Brown. All he wants to do is kick that football. And that stupid girl always pulls the ball away so that he falls down. Charlie Brown, the archetypal loser. Everybody else gets candy; Charlie Brown gets rocks. But he's not the only member of the Peanuts gang to remind me of the Minnesota Vikings.

In "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," Linus sits around all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin while all his friends go out trick or treating. They don't believe, and they go party; Linus has faith, and so he waits.

Linus writes letters to the Great Pumpkin. While he writes, his friends come to mock and ridicule him. There's no Great Pumpkin and he's a moron for thinking there is. Why is he wasting his time? It's worthy of mockery and laughter.

In a conventional plot narrative, the faithful hero withstands the scorn of society and is rewarded for his faith. But Peanuts never gives us a conventional plot narrative. We see characters suffering through a world they don't understand. We see failure and disappointment. We see cruelty and depression.

And so Linus is never rewarded for his faith. Ultimately, he spends Halloween out in a pumpkin patch waiting for nothing. His friends make costumes and get candy; Linus waits on an empty faith.

Tell me, Viking fans, you don't know this story. It's not surprising that Charles Schulz is a Minnesotan. He was writing Peanuts before the Vikings even existed, of course. But there's something here, something in the long, cold, snowy winters, that prepares us for emptiness and disappointment. It makes the Vikings the perfect team for us. We wait and wait and wait and withstand the scorn of all around us, but our faith is never rewarded. Eventually, some of us are like Sally: we realize it is all stupid and give up in anger, cynical and jaded. But some of us, like Linus, take this year's failure in sadness, but hope and believe that next year, maybe, perhaps, the Great Pumpkin will show up. "Just wait til next year Charlie Brown! You'll see!" Linus is intent, devoted to the idea of the Great Pumpkin, and no matter how badly he is disappointed, he'll be back. Because he believes.

We're all Linus sitting out in a pumpkin patch. Blockheads.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Memo to "Memo to:" go away

Last year, all sorts of people were thrown under the bus. This year, all sorts of people are getting memos.

The cliche of the moment that is all over English writing, including sportswriting, is "memo to." Usually, "memo to" is followed by some obvious bit of advice or information.

Mike Florio of PFT writes: "Memo to Ed: 'Ya think?'"

James Gordon of the Ottowa Citizen writes: "One last memo to Burke: the Oilers are now ahead of your team in the standings with a game in hand."

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal writes: "Memo to UW fans: Take a moment in the next few weeks to appreciate the skill of Mehlhaff."

Clark Judge of CBS Sports writes: "Memo to Dan Snyder: Find a wide receiver by next year."

The New York Daily News' Mitch Lawrence writes: "Memo to Steve Nash's teammates: Stay on the bench next spring."

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun writes: "And, memo to a giddy Red Sox Nation: The other 22 have ended up as world champions."

People: this is just a sampling of sports articles I found from the last two days. What if I expanded my search out for the last week? What if I expanded it beyond sportswriting to include all writing?

Bloggers are really no better, but if I wanted to list blogs that included the "memo to" cliche recently, I couldn't finish this post in time to watch Journeyman.

Such repetitive, unthinking use of language suggests a lack of creativity. Essentially, one sportswriter could be replaced by any other sportswriter, and you'd get a similar result. Send Dan Connolly to Ottowa, send Jeff Potrykus to Baltimore, send Mitch Lawrence to Milwaukee, and you'll still get columns with "Memo to" followed by some attempt at witty obviousness.

On the couch, week eight

My thoughts on the Viking game (and even on military displays at sporting events) are below at "Coming off the ledge: Eagles 23, Vikings 16." "On the couch" is a chance to talk about other goings on in the NFL this week in a fairly orderless, unorganized fashion.

Week Eight Scores at

Hype for New England-Indianapolis
Last week I already heard people complaining about the hype that was being given to the upcoming Patriots-Colts game. I don't complain about the hype for a very simple reason: if I don't like it, I can ignore it. Nobody is forcing hype for this game upon me. If I want to read about the game, I can. If I don't want to, I don't have to.

Not that there aren't valid complaints about hype that is forced upon you. PFT noted that during the Colts-Jaguars Monday night game, ESPN was spending a lot of time talking about the Patriots. This is hype that you can't avoid if you simply want to watch the Jaguars play the Colts.

And, if you think that you simply need to watch ESPN a lot during the week, then you'll probably feel it forced upon you. If you feel the need to listen to a lot of talk radio, you might feel like it's forced upon you. But if you get sports coverage through newspapers and the internet, you can choose what to read and what not to read. If you don't like the hype, for the most part, it's your own fault: you can avoid it.

Each team continues to impress. The Patriots won 52-7 and the Colts won 31-7 this week. And next week when these two undefeated teams play, I'll miss the first half because I'll be driving home from the Viking-Charger game (and now the Chargers are good, moving to 4-3 with a 35-10 win. Glad the Vikings get to play them while their hot--but more on that game later in the week. While I'm in the parentheses, we can also note that the Steelers moved to 5-2, and the Steelers and Chargers are each capable of knocking off the Colts in the playoffs. I'm not sure they can play with the Pats, though. I hope so).

The Cosmos
I just need to process this: in this decade, the Red Sox have won two World Series and the Patriots have won three Super Bowls (and are currently dominating the NFL to an unprecedented level). Meanwhile, in Minnesota, we haven't seen a pro team reach the championship round since 1991.

Of course we all recognize that life is not fair, that the universe isn't striving for equality, that any God in the cosmos isn't interceding into the outcomes of sporting events to try spread joy around (if He is while ignoring everything else, we're really screwed, which we probably are anyway). But this is where I recognize again that the Cosmos has placed me on the side of the losers. Oh, I'm not going to complain about my life, which is pretty good (and I'm very aware of the very real suffering that is occurring all over the world, making this whining about sports always feel irrelevant and stupid). It is just that it is not in my lot to be on the side of the winners, and this extends into my political, social, and moral views. I'm always picking losing sides and fighting unwinnable causes. Is sports reflecting life, or is life reflecting sports?

Let's look at the NFL's statistical leaders at ESPN for fun things. Adrian Peterson still leads the league in rushing--and still has an incredible 5.8 yards per attempt. Trent Cole leads the league with 9 sacks, and from my seat at the back of the Metrodome, it sure felt like he dominated the Vikings (or that Bryant McKinnie is an awful pass blocker). Tom Brady now has 30 TDs and 2 INTs, which really is a Tecmo stat (I don't think you could even pull this off in Madden, as defenders would get some tips or jumps on the ball and pick off more than two passes). Note that Derek Anderson is #2 in the league in TD passes, one of those things nobody has any chance of predicting before the season. I would have predicted that the Browns would throw fewer than 17 TD passes all season and that Anderson would have none of them. And Anderson is having a positive impact on Braylon Edwards, who is involved in a spectacular (and relatively unexpected) fantasy season. It looks like he's everything he was made out to be when he was drafted #3. And let me just point out as a fantasy footballer that Reggie Wayne has been everything I hoped he would be and more.

Three teams are completely doubling up their opponents' points: New England (331-127), Indianapolis (224-102), and Pittsburgh (184-91, and that despite two losses). If this is parity I don't want to know what a league of juggernauts would look like.

Another good Monday night matchup, featuring Green Bay at Denver. It could be the Viking fan in my, but I'm predicting a Denver win (call me Metrodamus). Denver has the defensive backs to make things difficult on Favre. Perhaps I see only what I want to believe.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Coming off the ledge: Eagles 23, Vikings 16

Eagles-Vikings Box Score at

The Vikings lost another game by a one score margin (the fourth such loss this season). And what is there to say that there wasn't to say for the previous three? The Vikes lost primarily because of their deficiencies in the passing game, offensively and defense. They can't mount a consistent passing game and they can't stop an opposing passing game. That's all.

At the beginning of the season, I thought the Vikings' ability to run and stop the run would allow them to keep games close and overcome the passing game deficiencies. I was right that they are able to keep games close, but obviously wrong that they could overcome the inabilities to pass or stop the pass. To win games, this Viking team needs to do the little things right. Like not field a kickoff while stepping out of bounds at the one (Peterson). Like bumbling a ball into the end zone when you have a chance to pin the opponent inside the three (Leber). Like not wasting timeouts on completely unwinnable challenges (Childress). The Vikings can win, but they don't. It's getting harder to find unique things to say about Viking losses, because they all seem the same now. So here's the new template:

It was a close, winnable game, but the Vikings gave up too many plays in the passing game, couldn't really make plays passing offensively, and made a few small mistakes that could have turned the game the other way.

Pass to Peterson!
Today it seemed that every running play with Adrian Peterson was the same play, just left or right. Can't the Vikings find ways to get Peterson involved in the passing game? It just makes such obvious sense.

A. The team doesn't have any consistent threat in the passing game--meaning passing to your best skill position player just makes sense.

B. Peterson is an incredible runner capable of making big plays when he's in the open field--meaning that throwing passes to him gives him such opportunities.

If the Vikings want to score points, they need to throw the pass to Peterson. Today Peterson had 20 rushing attempts, for a pretty mediocre 70 yards. If Peterson catches 3-4 passes, doesn't he produce many more yards?

A pacifist at a football game
As a pacifist, I'm often bothered when promotion of the military is merged so prominently with professional sports. Today at halftime, marines came to the Metrodome put on a show marching around and twirling their rifles. I know that many see such displays as a chance to appreciate, support, and thank soldiers for their sacrfice. I hope you can also understand why I see such displays as glorification of militarism.

Why are marines practicing these exercises in which they march around in silent unison doing tricks with rifles? Yes, I understand it reflects and instills discipline (and perhaps boosts morale, I'm not sure). But what does it serve? If the terrorists could see the marines silently marching in step and spinning their guns, would they give up and stop fighting? The drill/performance of marching and spinning guns appears a deliberate attempt to promote militarism. There's little utilitarian benefit; the primary benefit is to promote the military and instill support among people for military values.

I understand that many people associate patriotism with support for the military. As a person with practical, moral, and religious objection to war, I do not do so. And I continue to be dismayed as sporting events are used to show off the military.

I don't blame people who leave games early. I don't see them as inferior fans. They're just trying to beat the ridiculous traffic around the Metrodome. It's brutal.

Downtown Minneapolis makes it brutally difficult to get back to St. Paul. But that's only part of the problem. No matter where you go, you're getting there slowly. If I choose not to renew my season tickets, after game traffic will be a primary reason.

Who I like on the Vikings right now
E.J. Henderson. The Vikings were wise to sign him to a contract extention, and wise to move him to middle linebacker. He's all over the field making tackles.

Pat Williams. Williams is a monster; teams simply cannot run up the middle.

Adrian Peterson. He's still the only hope for a future offense in Minnesota. THROW him the ball!

Brooks Bollinger. It's not that I really think he's any good. But Tarvaris Jackson can't throw an accurate pass, and Kelly Holcomb gets sacked all the time (because he's immobile, and he holds the ball too long). Bollinger is mobile and throws quickly. Of all the QBs on the roster, he might give the team the best chance to win. Though I'm not entirely sure signing Bo McNobody off the street wouldn't give the team a better chance to win.

Keep Mewelde Moore active and let him return punts.
Just do it. Bobby Wade gives you no chance at a big return; Moore gives you some chance. The offense is crappy; it might be helpful if the punt return team gave the team some better field position.

Looking forward
Let's put off the "We can now give up on the 2007 season" post for at least another week. I'm not saying it couldn't come now, only that I'm putting it off for at least a week.

Friday, October 26, 2007

National Friday League, week eight

The Eagles have been struggling in the red zone; the Vikings have a good red zone defense. Sounds like a field goal game. I really do expect Donovan McNabb to throw for over 300 yards against the Vikings, but for the Eagles to still score fewer than 21 points.

To win, then, the Vikings need to establish the running game and stick with it. That may be a cliche, but for this team, it's true: If Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor combine for 35+ carries, the Vikings can win. If Peterson and Taylor combine for under 20 carries, the Vikings will probably lose (though that's more correlational than causal). We should be quite content if Kelly Holcomb drops back to throw no more than 20 times.

The Vikings really need to win this game. At 3-4, with 5 more home games, they'd have a chance to salvage a respectable season and just maybe fight for a playoff spot. At 2-5 after a home loss to what appears to be a mediocre Eagle team, the Vikings would really look like a team without hope.

Finally, I like Donovan McNabb: I think he's a good quarterback and a good person that has faced a lot of undue criticism. I really wish him well in his career, and if I weren't rooting against him, I'd really enjoy getting to watch him play live (which I still might). But if the Vikings hasten McNabb's departure from Philadelphia--and eventual arrival in Minnesota--by beating up on the Eagles, then by all means, beat up on the Eagles. Give me my fantasies of the 2008 Vikings with Donovan McNabb (fully recovered from his ACL injury) faking a handoff to rushing leader Adrian Peterson and throwing deep to Larry Fitzgerald. We all need our fantasies.

Week Eight Matchups

New England-Washington
Randy Moss has been a man possessed this season, but let's remember something about the Randy Moss we know: he doesn't like to get hit. On those two spectacular TD catches against the Dolphins, did you notice that the defensive backs were basically bystanders? If Tom Brady throws passes like that against Washington, I don't think Sean Taylor is going to prance about watching it happen. And when Moss starts taking hits, he starts not going after those jump balls with quite the blasé intensity.

I'm not saying Washington will beat New England--Randy Moss could stand on the sidelines all day and the Pats would still be the better team. But watch for Moss' performance when the game gets physical.

World Series = No Sunday Night Football
Why? There are 17 regular season Sundays a year; why does one of those Sundays have to feature less televised football because of baseball? Some football fans don't care about baseball. I would guess the majority of football fans don't care about two particular baseball teams. Why does the NFL need to give MLB Sunday night?

Starting your fantasy players against your favorite team is like having sex with a sadist: sure, you'll probably get an orgasm out of it one way or another, but you're not going to come out of it unscathed.
Sunday is the first time this season one of my fantasy players faces off against the Vikings. I'm sticking with the Donovan McNabb experience, even against my beloved Vikings. And I get to watch it all happen live. Obviously team loyalty trumps fantasy loyalty and always does, but it's still a mildly unpleasant experience.

Other wacky fantasy football situations
What do you root for when your fantasy quarterback starts against your fantasy defense? What do you root for when your fantasy quarterback is throwing to your opponent's fantasy receiver? I always liked when Bart Simpson said "George Burns was right: show biz is a horrible bitch goddess." So is fantasy football: it will turn your mind into a bakery twist.

Links asks "what does 2007 say about Randy Moss?"

According to Cold, Hard Football Facts, the Vikes still lead the league in big plays and big play differential.

The Vikings signed punter Chris Kluwe to an extention (blah, blah, blah) (ESPN).

I don't care if the Lions or Bears beat each other (ideally they tie), and the Packers play Monday night. So enjoy your weekend everybody. Except Eagle fans.

Do you want to know why Eli Manning said "Screw you San Diego: I play where I want"? It's explained by birth order. What was that bang? explores more at Epic Carnival.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Uff da!

Check out ESPN's Timberwolves preview. Or maybe, don't. All the experts predict them to be in the bottom three in the Western Conference (actually most predict them dead last), and the comments...ouch. They actually sting a bit.

Oh well. When I was following this team in the early 90s, there was really no hope at all and it was still sort of fun sometimes.

Thursday Blizzard

Look at the Timberwolves' roster. There are currently 11 players on the roster born between 1981 and 1986. Win or lose, I actually think it's going to be fun watching the Wolves this year.

According to the Star Tribune, "Vikings coach Brad Childress said Peterson's role 'will increase as we go through the rest of the football season.'" That's a good thing. I've clearly stated that Childress is wise to mix up Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor to keep Peterson healthy and effective. Mixing them up, however, still means Peterson should be the primary back over Taylor, and needs to get 20+ touches. Of course, if you mix it up and struggle offensively, failing to pick up first downs and thus failing to run very many plays, Peterson might be underused (as he was against Dallas). If you can control the clock, churn out first downs, and sustain drives, then it's possible to get both your RBs 20+ carries (as the Vikes did against Chicago). Honestly, if I had this Viking team in Madden, I would just go to an old college football strategy, and run first, second, and (if possible) third down with Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, and Mewelde Moore. Don't bother establishing a passing game.

The Pioneer Press says Kelly Holcomb probably starts for the Vikes this Sunday.

Daily Norseman discusses the Viking QB situation.

Dr. Z goes off on the quarterback rating stat. I agree--I've never paid attention to the rating and I never will. I feel there are all sorts of numbers for a QB that you can analyze to understand his performance, and there's no reason to try simplify that into one meaningless number. With a QB, you can look at completion percentage, yards per attempt, yards per completion, TD passes, INTs, and yards. All those numbers can tell me something about a QB's performance during a game or season. A rating? Nothing. It means nothing to me.

I like that new show Cavemen, so this Outsports post on "The caveman as sex symbol" is sort of amusing.

At Deadspin, Bethlehem Shoals writes interesting bits on Dirk Nowitzki and on LeBron James.

The Starting Five has a piece up on "The Influence of the Black Athlete on Our Children."

Dave Zirin responds to Jason Whitlock's very odd and awkward column on race in the NFL (also posted at the Starting Five).

The Kelly Reformation

Due to counter-revolutionary activities in Tarvaris Jackson's finger, the Kelly Holcomb Reformation is likely to revive itself on Sunday.

The Vikes were 0-2 in Holcomb's starts, averaging 13 points per game. An inaccurate long pass from Holcomb certainly cost the team a TD against the Chiefs, and another inaccurate long pass likely cost the team a long completion against the Packers. You have three days to convince yourself that Holcomb, who didn't join the team until August, still lacked timing with his receivers in September. Holcomb was also sacked 10 times in his two starts. You have three days to convince yourself that the protection problems have been solved.

The Holcomb Reformation seeks out a renewed faith.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Basketball does exist in Minnesota

With the trade of KG, I think many Timberwolves fans were left disillusioned and wondering what the point of life was. This was especially true for the writer of this post. In my short 27 years of life most spent as a fan of both the Vikings and Timberwolves, I had seen the Vikings trade away my favorite players Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper and now I had to watch the Timberwolves trade away the only face the franchise has really every had. Before this trade, when you said the Timberwolves everyone instantly thought of Kevin Garnett.

Now I think the trade was necessary if the Wolves were going to become successful long-term and I hope it allows KG to have the team success he deserves, but I also think the trade wouldn't have been necessary if we didn't have an inept owner and GM. I blame Kevin McHale for Kevin Garnett not being able to be a Timberwolve for life, but now I am starting to think McHale is learning from his mistakes (either that or Fred Hoiberg is really pulling the strings and McHale will soon be gone).

Today the Twolves traded Ricky Davis and Mark Blount to the Heat for Antoine Walker, Michael Doleac, Wayne Simien and a protected 1st round pick (lottery protected in 2008, Top 10 protected in 2009, and top 6 protected in 2010, unprotected after that).

This was a great move by the Timberwolves. First, it got rid of the team destructing attitude of me-first Ricky Davis (anyone remember when he missed a shot on purpose so he could get the rebound in order to get a triple-double?) and it got rid of the 3 year contract of Mark Blount. In return we get the 2 year contract of one time favorite player of Holy Hitter, Antoine Walker. Michael Doleac is a who-cares make it work and a big body. Wayne Simien is an intriguing players. A former first rounder who has had knee issues his rookie year and had solmonella poisining last year. He is 6-9 and a about 260 pounds which means he is another big body to put down low with the new face of our franchise Al Jefferson (who by the way is dominating the pre-season for the Twolves. He is putting up similar points and rebounds as KG but lacks the overall game in terms of assists, etc.). One article I read believed that the Twolves would probably pull off one more trade before the season began, so we will take a wait and see approach on this one. I am also excited that we now can get a 1st round pick back (making us about even with our worthless Clippers trade for Jaric where we lost a 1st rounder, which we should have until it is unprotected in 2012).

THE ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR MCHALE AND TAYLOR TO DO NOW IS SIGN AL JEFFERSON TO AN EXTENSION BEFORE THE OCTOBER 31st DEADLINE. (His price tag is only going to rise if he plays the season and then is able to receive offers from other teams)

The New and Improved PV's Sports Toothache

A brief explanation is in order for the new title and appearance.

We've changed the title and color scheme for a two reasons. First, we write on this blog about whatever in sports happens to be on our minds. A lot of the time (especially from September through December), that's the Minnesota Vikings. We're very happy to write about the Vikings, and are happy that we have a lot of Viking fans as readers. But a lot of the time, we write about issues and events in sports that don't include the Vikings. I feel the title "Pacifist Viking" with a purple and yellow color scheme tended to give the impression this was primarily a Viking blog. There's a lot about the Vikings (so don't fret, readers who frequent this blog primarily for the Viking talk), but there's a lot that's not. We want to make that a little clearer.

Second, we have three contributors. When one contributor has the same name as the title of the blog, it tends to a. confuse readers as to authorship and b. associate all the ideas with the person of that name. Last winter I briefly changed my own moniker to help it make sense, but I didn't like that. Now, with a new title for focus anyway, we can also make it a little clearer that there are several different voices here (and may be more in the future).

The URL is the same. And if you've already linked to us as "Pacifist Viking," I wouldn't bother changing it, since "Pacifist Viking" is fine shorthand for this blog (and I'm rather fickle, and could change my mind on the title again anyway).

There's also no reason to think the content is changing. As I said, we write about whatever in sports we feel like writing about. That's often the Vikings, and the new look and title won't lower the amount of Viking posts (we also don't want to drive away our Viking fan readers, who provide much of the commenting. We want this to continue to be a place where we can discuss the Purple). We just want to make it a little clearer that we also write about other things (mostly football, but a fair amount of basketball depending on the season, with the stuff on writing and theory thrown in on a lot of sports topics).

The title comes from Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The man from the underground rejects the idea that science, reason, and "our own best interest" governs human behavior, instead claiming irrational desires (primarily the desire to assert free will) drives us. The man from the underground suggests there can even be pleasure in a toothache, as it allows you to bother people with your own groaning. As Minnesota sports fans, we have a massive toothache: we may as well try take pleasure in it and at least enjoy our own groaning.

This extended narcissistic explanation is complete. Enjoy your day, and enjoy the blog.

Wednesday Blizzard

Tom Powers on playing Tarvaris Jackson: "you can't flush an entire season down the drain while you try to develop a quarterback. [...] OK, they screwed up. Everybody makes a mistake. But do they have to pretend they didn't? There's no reason to live with this error week after week." Hey, if I read a lousy columnist long enough, eventually he'll write something I agree with.

Tarvaris Jackson says he can "play around" his injury, but if he's a 46% passer with a good hand, what's he going to do with a broken finger (Pioneer Press)?

PFT's Mike Florio writes at the Sporting News of Adrian Peterson: "
the real question moving forward for Peterson and the Vikings is whether he is going to be a great player on a winning team. Or whether he is going to be the next Barry Sanders, who could run like no other but never really won? [...] Far too many great running backs -- Sanders, Gayle Sayers, O.J. Simpson, etc. -- never had a capable quarterback who could take advantage of defenses loaded up to stop the run." The article focuses on the short-term, so there's no need to hammer it, but it's pure speculation whether Adrian Peterson will be a great RB wasted on a bad team. He's a rookie, and we don't know who the coach or quarterback of the team might be in 2008, much less in the period 3-7 years from now when Peterson could be in his prime (and it's worth noting that the Lions went to the playoffs in 5 of his 10 seasons--pretty impressive since they have a total of 9 playoff appearances since their last championship in 1957. But this perhaps proves Florio's point about Sanders more than negates it).

Outsports writes on a former Gopher basketball player coming out.

Cold Hard Football Facts writes that the Patriots are chasing not the 1998 Vikings' scoring record, but the 1950 Rams' scoring record (I agree--and we need to take note of more per game records to recognize the players and teams from the 12 and 14 game eras).

I take care of my son at home two days a week, and often while we play around with toys on the floor I have the TV on (this is my attempt at an excuse for watching Dr. Phil). Yesterday I saw Mitch Albom on the show, sharing the wisdom of Morrie to help save peoples' marriages.

To further explore my TV watching, last night's Cavemen episode featured one of the cavemen substitute teaching at a high school whose nickname was "The Fighting Savages." Students ran around with clubs saying "Ook! Ook!" and the mascot was a big caveman with exaggerated features. I think it was actually relevant to the controversy over sports teams and Native American mascots: the show presented a member of the offended group attempting to express his concern, and those in power and the majority essentially ignoring and dismissing his complaint.

Finally, there may be a few changes coming at this blog soon. The content will be largely the same, but I'm going to tweak with the visual presentation. Better get your popcorn, I guess.

Let us sing no sad songs if the Revolution is thwarted

In "Vikings have little choice with Jackson," Kevin Seifert writes "Either way, it's a lose-lose situation. Turn to Holcomb and Jackson's evaluation period flows undesirably into 2008. Stay with Jackson and risk a disastrous season if he does not improve."

But no matter what happens this season, there's no rule stating that Tarvaris Jackson must play in 2008. None at all. If the coaching staff benches him now, it could be his final benching.

Though the Vikings have made their 2007 season largely dependent on Tarvaris Jackson, from a draft/money perspective, they don't have that much invested in Jackson. Jackson was the 64th player selected in the 2006 draft. Let's look at for QBs drafted within ten picks of #64 in the last 20 or so drafts.

2005: Charlie Frye (#67) and Andrew Walter (#69): Each player got a chance to show his ability, and when each failed, their respective teams had no trouble cutting their losses.
2001: Marques Tuiasopopo (#59): A wasted pick, but the Raiders didn't make things worse by forcing him in there lest they prove they wasted the 59th pick.
2000: Giovanni Carmazzi (#65): I can't recall Carmazzi throwing a single NFL pass.
1998: Charlie Batch (#60): When Batch actually mustered out an OK career as a backup and occasional starter, it was more of a pleasant surprise than anything.
1995: Kordell Stewart (#60): There are probably varying opinions on Stewart: he was sort of good and sort of bad, and the Steelers gave him a long chance to be good.
1993: Billy Joe Hobert (#58): Did he ever throw a pass? I have no idea.
1990: Peter Tom Willis (#63): I once got a a football card of Peter Tom Willis. I don't know whhere that card is anymore.
1989: Anthony Dilweg (#74): Did he ever play?
1987: Cody Carlson (#64): I recall him as a competent backup and then starter on an awful team.
1986: Bubby Brister (#67) and Hugh Millen (#71): Brister had a solid career as a backup QB (never a great starter); Hugh Millen is Chris Miller's backup in Tecmo Super Bowl and that's all I know about him.

The point of looking at this list is to show that there's no reason the Vikings have to push Jackson's "evaluation period" into 2008. There are other teams that drafted QBs in a similar draft slot, and they didn't seem to feel the necessity to play him if it was clear he sucked. The Vikes could abandon the evaluation now if they wish, and it's a lost pick, but it's still only their 4th pick of 2006. And abandoning that 64th pick is a lot better option than pushing the suckitude into 2008. Stop now and it's a lost pick; push it unnecessarily because you feel you must find out if your 64th pick is good, and it's a lost two seasons.

In Les Miserables, after the uprising has been thwarted, Marius sings "Empty Chairs and Empty Tables," mourning the loss of his revolutionary friends. If the Tarvaris Revolution is thwarted, let us not singly mournful revolutionary hymns, and let us not perpetuate the problem by attempting to revive and continue the Revolution; let us move on and marry Cosette and have a nice happy life having sex with her (alright, at this point the metaphor has gone a little too far).

And if you now define me as another fickle Viking fan abandoning another struggling quarterback, C'est la vie.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Consider the Colts

On Sunday, the Patriots wowed us all with a 49-28 victory over the Dolphins. Tom Brady put up Tecmo Bowl stats (21-25, 354, 6 TDs), and Randy Moss continued his crusade to rid the world of competent defensive backs, bringing his season totals to a 732 yards and 10 TDs in 7 games (and I think Randy Moss is more likely to catch Jerry Rice's single-season record of 22 TD receptions than Tom Brady is to catch Peyton Manning's single-season record of 49 TD passes, but we shall see).

The Patriots are rolling. Football Outsiders points out that they've won their first seven games by 17 points or more each, an historic streak. I really do love Tecmo numbers, so Brady's 27 TDs, 2 INTs, and 73.8% passing is worth cooing over.

But let's consider that Sunday's win was against a still winless Dolphin team.

Tonight the Colts went into Jacksonville and came out with a 29-7 win. Jacksonville came into the game 4-1; the Colts won by 22 points and outgained them 384 yards to 226 yards. Peyton Manning and the Colts put up 29 points (27 offensive) against a team that had given up 58 points in its first five games (#1 in the league).

So consider this: the Patriots played an 0-6 team on the road that had been giving up 30.3 points per game, and and scored 49 points in a 21 point victory. The Colts played a 4-1 team on the road that had been giving up 11.6 points per game, and scored 29 points in a 22 point victory.

Which victory are you more impressed with?

The Patriots are impressively dominant, and deservedly Super Bowl favorites. But the Colts, winners of their last three games against the Patriots (two regular season games at New England and a playoff game at Indianapolis) are the defending champs.

The Patriots' division opponents are a combined 1-12 outside the division; the Colts' division opponents are a combined 8-2 outside the division (NFL standings). In a lot of their games, the Patriots are going to continue to look more impressive than the Colts. That doesn't mean the Colts (who have had some very impressive victories against competitive opponents) aren't ready to compete with the Patriots.

I'm not saying the Colts are better than the Patriots, and I'm not saying the Colts will beat the Patriots (in two weeks, or in three months). But while we're all admiring (or reviling) the incredible success of the 2007 New England Patriots, we have to remember that the 2007 Indianapolis Colts are looking rather impressive themselves.

Playcalling 101

While I was looking up the play-by-play numbers for the post below I was struck by the Vikings' playcalling choices on 3rd and short. I consider 3rd and short to be 3rd and 3 yards or less to go (and for this purpose 4th and short also). With a team that has a devastating running attack facing 3rd and short should be an opportunity to use your strength and extend a drive, but what if the playcalling is off. Could this lead to losses for your team? I think so and when looking at the Vikings I think our record could be better if the playcalling were a tad bit better and played to our strength rather than trying to establish our weakness to improve our strength (i.e. trying to pass in order to establish the running game). So here are the 3rd and shorts for all our games so far and if it had consequence it is noted.

3rd and 3 (50 yd line) Pass Incomplete
3rd and 2 (Min 42) Pass Complete 6 yards
3rd and 1 (Det 37) Moore Rush Middle 3 yards
3rd and 1 (Det 25) Pass INTERCEPTED [Turnover in Detroit Territory we lose by 3 in overtime]
3rd and 2 (Min 42) Pass Incomplete
3rd and 2 (Min 22) Pass Incomplete
3rd and 1 (Min 12) Peterson Rush Middle 5 yards
3rd and 3 (Min 26) Pass Complete 7 yards
3rd and 2 (Det 34) Pass Incomplete [Longwell misses 52 yd attempt at end of regulation, have to wonder if picking up the 1st down would have won this game too]
Kansas City
3rd and 1 (Min 29) Peterson Rush Middle 0 yards FUMBLE LOST [led to FG, we lose by 3]
3rd and 1 (KC 48) Peterson Rush Middle 8 yards
Green Bay
3rd and 1 (Min 30) Dugan Rush Middle 3 yards
3rd and 2 (Min 28) Pass Complete 5 yards
3rd and 1 (Min 29) Pass Complete 11 yards
3rd and 2 (GB 39) Pass Incomplete [Punted-with a few extra yards a FG a possibility]
3rd and 1 (Min 23) Taylor Rush Left 4 yards
3rd and 1 (Min 36) Richardson Rush Right 4 yards
3rd and 3 (Min 33) Pass Complete 7 yards
3rd and 3 (Min 36) Pass Incomplete
3rd and 2 (Chi 49) Pass Incomplete
3rd and 3 (Min 45) Peterson Rush Right 3 yard loss
3rd and 3 (Min 27) Pass Incomplete
4th and 1 (Dal 36) Peterson Rush Right 1 yard
3rd and 1 (Dal 26) Peterson Rush Middle 6 yards [Both 4th and 1 and this play were part of the TD drive opening up the game]
3rd and 3 (Min 23) Pass Incomplete

So lets loook at this in another way.
3rd and 3 = 7 Total
1 Rush Attempt (FAILED)
6 Pass Attempts (2 Converted 4 Failed)
3rd and 2 = 7 Total
0 Rush Attempts
7 Pass Attempts (2 Converted 5 Failed)
3rd and 1 = 10 Total
7 Rush Attempts (6 Converted 1 Failed)
3 Pass Attempts (1 Converted 2 Failed)
4th and 1 = 1 Total
1 Rush Attempt (CONVERTED)
0 Pass Attempts

This means in 3rd and Short (and 4th and short) opportunities of which we have had 25 attempts we have called 16 pass attempts and converted umder 33% of them. Conversely we have called 9 running plays and have converted 78% of them. If you look up at the game-by-game notations, the Detroit game really stands out because there were two opportunities to at least get a FG or a better FG attempt but it was foiled because of pass plays being called on 3rd and short. This might not seem like a big thing, but keeping the ball in our possession and giving Adrian Peterson another touch and chance to breakout are huge. The Vikings need to play to their strength and quit trying to be sneaky by calling pass plays on 3rd and short.

(data compiled from Yahoo box scores)

Fans Perception: When the Masses Revolt

A commenter yesterday got me going. Under the post about the Vikings/Cowboys game the commenter was stating that the left side is nothing special and that the right side is performing just as well. Thus this fan thought that the left side was being overpaid and the money should have been spent elsewhere. But is this true? Is the right side producing as well as the left side of the offensive line when it comes to the running game? I went and looked at the play-by-play for all the games and tracked the production of the halfbacks (Peterson, Taylor, and Moore) here are the reuslts game-by-game and the totals for the season so far.

(Left) 7 carries 42 yards
(Middle) 4 carries 21 yards
(Right) 8 carries 40 yards
(Left) 1 carry 0 yds
(Middle) 0 carries
(Right) 2 carries 18 yds
(Left) 11 carries 44 yards
(Middle) 2 carries 9 yards
(Right) 7 carries 13 yards
(Left) 2 carries 7 yards
(Middle) 3 carries 34 yards
(Right) 1 carry 9 yards
Kansas City
(Left) 6 carries 13 yards
(Middle) 11 carries 48 yards
(Right) 8 carries 41 yards 1 TD
(Left) 1 carry 0 yards
(Middle) 3 carries 21 yards
(Right) 0 Carries
Green Bay
(Left) 9 carries 51 yards
(Middle) 1 carry 2 yards
(Right) 2 carries 59 yards
(Left) 3 carries 3 yards
(Middle) 4 carries 46 yards
(Right) 1 carry 9 yards
(Left) 13 carries 193 yards 3 TDs
(Middle) 0 carries
(Right) 7 carries 31 yards
(Left) 9 carries 44 yards
(Middle) 0 carries
(Right) 13 carries 39 yards
(Left) 4 carries 47 yards 1 TD
(Middle) 2 carries 7 yards
(Right) 6 carries 9 yards
(Left) 2 carries 3 yards
(Middle) 5 carries 19 yards
(Right) 3 carries 25 yards

(Left) 50 carries 390 yards 4 TDs (7.8 yds/carry)
(Middle) 20 carries 87 yards (4.4 yds/carry)
(Right) 38 carries 193 yards 1 TD (5.1 yds/carry)
(Left) 15 carries 50 yards (3.3 yds/carry)
(Middle) 9 carries 65 yards (7.2 yds/carry)
(Right) 19 carries 73 yards (3.8 yds/carry)
(Left) 3 carries 7 yards (2.3 yds/carry)
(Middle) 6 carries 55 yards (9.2 yds/carry)
(Right) 1 carry 9 yards (9.0 yds/carry)
(Left) 68 carries 447 yards 4 TDs (6.6 yds/carry)
(Middle) 35 carries 197 yards (5.6 yds/carry)
(Right) 58 carries 275 yards 1 TD (4.7 yds/carry)

So there you have it. Those are the stats, and my interpretation of the stats is that the LEFT side is superior to the right side in the running game. When over 6 games the halfbacks are averaging 1.9 yds more per carry to the left side that all adds up. Fact is the Vikings have a great running game and perhaps need to stick to it a little more. This team is going to be predicated on getting their RBs a total of 35-45 carries a game. When this happens I predict wins for the Vikings.

(data compiled from Yahoo box scores)

On the Couch: week seven

My initial (and brief) thoughts on the Viking game are below at "Coming off the ledge: Cowboys 24, Vikings 14." "On the Couch is a chance to discuss other football games from the weekend, other issues in the NFL, and further comments on the Vikings. week seven scores

Randy Moss
Patriots-Dolphins Box Score
It likely won't go down as such because it came in a blowout win, but Randy Moss' second touchdown catch on Sunday may have been the greatest catch in NFL history. He appeared to catch the ball with one hand on his side while facing away from the throw. And he made it look easy.

Moss is playing better than I've ever seen him play. And of course we're seeing Randy Moss help Tom Brady to an historic season. I don't care what defenses he's faced--27 touchdowns to 2 interceptions in seven games is unrealistic. We have the Tecmo Colts, and now we have the Tecmo Patriots.

Last week on ESPN's page two I really believe I saw a brief article by LZ Granderson arguing for Randy Moss as MVP, but now that I can't find it anywhere there I fear I may have dreamed it all. The thrust of the argument (as I remember) is that while Tom Brady is spectacular, he's not the first quarterback that has had a career year playing with Randy Moss, and that Moss finally deserves an MVP for his ability to dictate a defense. Since the Granderson argument disappeared (or was entirely imagined), you can look at this Greg Garber article about Randy Moss' presence on two of the greatest scoring offenses ever.

Moss dictates everything. He's so great he can make spectacular long touchdown passes in double coverage. He's also so great the that a defense must constantly double cover him, leaving other receivers with a lot of openings on the field (on Wes Welker's first touchdown, a safety was lined up at the very back of the end zone and moved along with Moss' pattern, helping to leave a big gap for Welker).

The only thing that frustrates me about this all is how much ridiculous pleasure Boston sports fans are getting. On the same day that Tom Brady and Randy Moss lead a team with three championships this decade to their seventh consecutive blowout win, the Red Sox who have already won a championship this decade advance to the World Series (SI). I'm a sports fan in a state that has seen two pro championships since the Lakers moved (the last in 1991). Philadelphia fans haven't seen a pro championship since 1983. Cleveland fans haven't seen a pro championship since 1964. Do we even need to put a number on Buffalo Bills' fans sufferings? Some of us grow up without the real expectation that our pro teams should be relevant championship contenders; others get to bask in sports fan glory repeatedly. Maybe someday. I still face the temptation to start rooting for the Twins and Wild because the Timberwolves and Vikings (the teams I do care about) seem so far away from championship contention.

The Giants are actually good.
Giants-49ers Box Score

They can run the ball. They can make big plays in the passing game. They can rush the passer. They actually look like a team that could advance in the playoffs. Who is better than them in the NFC? Dallas has already beaten them in Dallas, but the Giants can compete with them. Green Bay has a good record, but the Packers can't run the ball and I suspect Favre will wear down this season. The Giants really could make it to the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia is losing control of its season
Eagles-Bears Box Score

The Eagles have lost a lot of close, winnable games, but in a competitive division, in a combative sports city, with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid facing a lot of pressure, at 2-4 they're in danger of coming completely apart soon.

The Vikings get the Eagles at the Metrodome next week (I'm excited to attend the game). I fully expect McNabb to throw for 375 yards, and I'm serious. But the Vikings could be facing a team on the brink of implosion. With a good defense, good running game, and the benefits of the Metrodome (I can't even remember the last time the Eagles played here), the Vikes will make this a fun game to watch.

Brad Childress
Even now, I remain insistent that the Vikings' offensive problems right now are a matter of personnel, not coaching strategy, game planning, or decisions. I don't see bad play calling and I don't see (very many) boneheaded coaching decisions. However, Childress is responsible for whatever role he had in leaving this team with the passing game in its current state. And if he is responsible for the team's failure to address the quarterback position or significantly upgrade the wide receiver position in the off-season, that may be a fireable offense. And he's still the coach, so he is responsible for getting the most production possible out of the personnel he has (which, for all we know, he is). The Vikings have been limited to one offensive touchdown in 5 of 6 games. That is poor.

MDS argues Adrian Peterson is overrated; a flaw in his argument suggests Peterson might be underrated.

Last week Michael David Smith wrote a post arguing Adrian Peterson is overrated. However, a few of his arguments might be used to argue Peterson is better than he looks.

Smith notes that Peterson has had a lot of negative plays:

"Peterson gets stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage quite a bit. He got stopped at the line on four of his carries Sunday and behind the line on four other carries. The Vikings' offensive line deserves plenty of the blame for that, but a running back who fails to pick up a single yard on 40 percent of his carries has some work to do."

I too have observed a lot of plays for no gain or worse from Peterson; however, in very few of these plays was Peterson dancing around, bringing the loss on himself. Often Peterson would get the ball and be immediately met by defensive players. And this brings us to the next point MDS makes:

"According to the advanced statistic DPAR, which breaks down every single play and adjusts for the situation and the opponent, Peterson was only the fourth most productive running back in the league [last] Sunday..."

And here we can explain the fundamental flaw of the argument. The Football Outsiders' DVOA and DPAR stats do not separate individual players from their team contexts: "DVOA is still far away from the point where we can use it to represent the value of a player separate from the performance of his ten teammates that are also involved in each play."

Why does Peterson have a high number of negative or no gain runs? Because he plays on a team with no real passing threat, and defenses are allowed to load up and prepare for the run. That's why Peterson faces a high percentage of plays when defenders meet him immediately.

Adrian Peterson plays on an historically bad passing offense. Imagine Peterson playing on a regularly bad passing offense. Now imagine him playing on a mediocre passing offense. Now, if you can, try and imagine him playing on a good passing offense. Imagine what he could do in the extra space provided when safeties line up deep. Imagine what he could do when defensive formations are designed to prevent passing plays, too.

Peterson is a brilliant runner: you can tell by looking at his numbers, and you can tell by watching him play. However, he's also facing defenses that have no reason at all to legitimately defend the pass, and thus he faces the proverbial eight men in the box pretty constantly. Defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs can play not only with the priority of stopping the Viking running game, but with very little concern at all for stopping the passing game.

This is why the very argument MDS uses to call Adrian Peterson overrated might be used to argue Peterson is underrated: we can only evaluate him in his team context, and his team context (while providing him with good run blocking from the offensive line) provides him with no help in the passing game.

Colts-Jaguars preview

This is probably the first time this season I really miss ESPN (I don't get it at home, which is why I have time to watch Journeyman); I'd really like to see this game (and going to a bar or friends' home to watch is rather inconvenient, as I teach until 7:30 anyway, plus I'd miss Journeyman. My wife and I have a lot of fun trying to name the year he's "journeyed" to based on the music, and making fun of the show in general. We make fun but we really do like the show, sort of like how we love Nip/Tuck but just shake our heads at each other over the sheer outrageousness).

Anyway, this is going to be good. The Colts have a much tougher division than the Patriots (Titans and Jaguars twice is tough), so they're going to have a harder time keeping pace with New England in the competition for homefield advantage in the playoffs. Jacksonville destroyed Indianapolis last season 44-17 (ESPN box score), and a couple months later the Colts were Super Bowl champs. Jacksonville is a good team (great defense, great running game, and so far Jack Del Rio looks smart for picking David Garrard over Byron Leftwich), but I still believe Peyton Manning is capable of putting up as many points as his team needs at pretty much any time.

Plus my Hazelweird fantasy hero Reggie Wayne and Ghosts' Blogger Invitational fantasy heroes Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, and Adam Vinatieri are playing. I've said it before: if you don't have Colts on your fantasy team, you're probably not going to win your league. Certainly the Patriots are going bananas as the best offense this season, but the fantasy domination of the Pats has been limited to Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker (and if you've got them, bully for you). The Colts have a deeper fantasy team.

Enjoy that game, everybody.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Coming off the ledge: Cowboys 24, Vikings 14

Vikings-Cowboys Box Score at

Tarvaris Jackson

It all looks OK. Jackson is tall, mobile, and strong-armed. When he drops back, when he moves around, when he rifles a all looks like a potentially good NFL quarterback playing football.

Then you see where the ball ends up.

Tarvaris Jackson is not accurate. After today's awful 6-19 performance he's completing 45.9% of his passes this season. That's Mike McMahon bad. During today's broadcast, Troy Aikman said accuracy is the most important ability for a pro quarterback. He would say that, since accuracy was probably his greatest asset (he completed 61.5% of his passes in an offense that featured aggressive downfield passing), but I think he's probably right. Because pro football players are so fast and so quick, a quarterback needs to put the ball in a narrow spot; there's not a lot of space, and a quarterback is going to be required to make tight throws in coverage.

So far, Tarvaris Jackson hasn't shown that ability.

I don't know whether accuracy is an improvable skill at this level or not. It makes sense that practice would improve one's accuracy, and many quarterbacks have had lousy completion percentage early in their careers and improve greatly as their careers progressed (for example, see the early completion percentages for John Elway and Steve Young). However, I suspect that once players have reached the pro level, there's a certain natural ability to throw the ball accurately that practice isn't going to change very much.

And if Tarvaris Jackson doesn't improve his accuracy, it is glaringly obvious he cannot be the quarterback of the Minnesota Vikings.

On draft day, I was really desperate for the Vikings to draft Brady Quinn; I believe Quinn could be a 15 year franchise quarterback. I'm glad they drafted Adrian Peterson; I think there are between one and three running backs a decade with his ability. Since I've been watching football, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Terrell Davis, Marshall Faulk, and Ladanian Tomlinson are the elite RBs a class above everybody else. Peterson could be in that class, and I'm glad the Vikings took him.

But if Tarvaris Jackson doesn't show major improvement in his ability to throw the ball accurately this season, the Vikings are going to need to draft a quarterback early next season. That's fine: if they can hit on a good quarterback to pair with Peterson, they're going to be wickedly good very soon. But they need to know that. In 2006, Jackson was the Vikings' fourth draft pick, the last player selected in the second round; they don't have as much invested in him as a lot of people think. If he sucks this bad (and "sucks" is an accurate word to describe a 45.9 completion percentage), he cannot be the Viking quarterback of the present or future.

But 2007 is not lost
OK, the Vikes are 2-4--after playing 4 of 6 games on the road. That means that 6 of the next 10 games are in the Metrodome. The Viking defense is good enough and the pass offense bad enough that every game the Vikings play will be close, and I suspect they'll end up with between 6 and 9 wins. To get to 9 (and compete for a playoff spot), they have to go 7-3 the rest of the way. That's a long shot, and frankly, it will be surprising if they're able to do that; a lot of luck has to fall the Vikings' way. But with 6 more home games, it's possible, right? Right? Oh. I see I'm alone in this chamber, demanding to be treated as the King of Spain.

Sports and War

The 2007-08 Upper Deck First Edition basketball set has a rookie insert set called "2007 NBA Rookie Draft Notices."

A picture of the player is on the left of the card. On the right appear the words "ORDER TO REPORT." Below that reads "To: (player's name)." In a small box labeled "SELECTIVE SERVICE INFO.," you can see the date of birth, hometown, position, and team of the player. Below is an image of a red stamped seal. The seal is a circle with an eagle in it; the circle includes the words "SERVICE REQUESTED" and a banner in the seal reads "DRAFT NOTICES."

Let's accept that the word "draft" for conscription into military service and the word "draft" for selection to a professional sports team has the same root. The Oxford English Dictionary (institution subscription required) includes the following noun and verb definitions with usage as early as the 18th century: "The drawing off, detachment, or selection of a party from a larger body for some special (spec. military) duty or purpose; spec. (esp. in U.S.), selective conscription" and "To draw off or out and remove (a party of persons, animals, or things) from a larger body for some special duty or purpose. Chiefly in Mil. use, and in Stock-farming: see quots. Also (chiefly U.S.), to conscript." The word has the meaning of selection for special service, but was usually associated with military service well before pro sports leagues held "drafts" (the OED doesn't even include reference to a sports draft), so I suspect sports leagues borrowed the term from the military usage.

Even if pro sports borrowed the word draft from the military usage, isn't it a little extreme for Upper Deck to make such a clear analogy on a card? "Draft Notices" sent by the "Selective Service" System inform men that they are being required to report for military duty, where they must sacrifice whatever plans they had for their lives, get training in how to kill people, and then possibly risk their lives in warfare. Is it responsible for Upper Deck to draw such a clear parallel between conscripts and basketball players, for whom a draft notice means playing professional basketball for millions of dollars?

Friday, October 19, 2007

National Friday League, week seven

Gosh, things should look bad. Tony Romo, Terrell Owens, and Jason Witten could exploit a questionable Viking pass defense. The good Dallas run defense should force Minnesota to try beat them with Tarvaris Jackson and the passing game. Yet I've got hope.

Romo-erotic does throw some wild passes; the Vikings will have the opportunity for interceptions. The Viking running game (not just Adrian Peterson, but Chester Taylor and a very good run blocking offensive line) should be good enough to deal with eight-man fronts. And last week's Tarvaris Jackson to Troy Williamson 60 yard touchdown connection can give us some hope that the Vikings are capable of some plays downfield.

It appears that two weak pass defenses and two strong run defenses will face off. The Vikes rank 31st in pass completions allowed, 30th in pass yards allowed, 19th in yards per attempt allowed, and 20th in touchdown passes allowed, while ranking 2nd in rushing yards allowed, 1st in rushing yards per attempt allowed, and 1st in touchdown runs allowed (0). The Cowboys rank 30th in pass completions allowed, 29th in pass yards allowed, and 30th in touchdown passes allowed (but a solid 10th in yards per attempt allowed), while ranking 8th in rush yards allowed and 3rd in rush yards per attempt allowed).

I think this game is as simple as the matchups between run offenses and defenses and pass offenses and defenses. The Cowboys and Vikings both have good run offenses: which team will be able to to run effectively against a good run defense? Considering the Vikes currently rank #1 in rush yards and #1 in rush yards per attempt, I think they should be able to move the ball on the ground against even good run defenses. The Vikings and Cowboys each have exploitable pass defenses: which team is going to be able to beat the other team in the passing game? The Cowboys have an obvious advantage, ranking 3rd in passing yards, 2nd in passing yards per attempt, and 2nd in passing touchdowns, so they should be able to move the ball in the air.

It would be overly optimistic to pick the Vikings in a game at Dallas. To win, the Vikings need to run the ball effectively, connect on some big passing plays, and force Romo into turnovers. Those things are possible, of course--the Vikes have a chance in this game. But this will be their toughest game so far this season.

Fox won't reveal starting lineups
Dr. Z complained about it, and Deuce of Davenport (via Ballhype) agrees with Dr. Z: it's a bad thing that Fox is no longer showing starting lineups at the beginning of games.

I agree that a network should at least let viewers know who is starting a game, particularly on offensive line (so many situational personnel changes at offensive skill positions and at just about every defensive position makes some of the actual starters less significant). But I've frequently been bothered with the way networks do the starting lineups anyway, for two reasons:

They're long and bulky. A simple visual of the team's starters is useful. What I don't need to see, NBC, is each player announcing his name and college. This often gets in the way of seeing the offenses and defenses line up, and for some reason I'm in a blind panic that I'll miss a play because they're going through the lineup. It's easy to present the lineups simply and quickly, and there's no need for the drawn out feature.

They appear inaccurate. Doesn't it seem like you've seen the lineup show two running backs, two wide receivers, and a tight end in the starting lineup, and then for the first play the offense comes out with three or four wide receivers? I don't even trust the lineups I see (plus I know that so many situational changes are going to occur during the game that the starting lineup isn't really going to tell me who is going to be impacting the game from beginning to end).

So I agree, we should get to see the lineups. But it's not as big a deal as all that. It's pretty easy to access rosters to know uniform numbers, and it's pretty easy to later access game books to see who actually started (though I don't know how Dr. Z does his charting, so maybe it is a hassle).

One more look at last week's Viking-Bear game

I don't think you can minimize the significance of the Vikings' win at Soldier Field last week.

Sure, the Bears aren't as good this season as they were last season. But in 2003 the 8-5 Vikings went to Soldier Field to play the 5-8 Chicago Bears (in Rex Grossman's first start, no less)--and lost. In 2004 the 7-4 Vikings went to Soldier Field to play the 4-7 Chicago Bears (with Chad Hutchinson at quarterback, no less)--and lost. The Vikings don't play well at Soldier Field, regardless of the quality of the two teams. To win a game at Soldier Field is good.

The game was also a notable improvement in Tarvaris Jackson's development. The last time we saw Jackson, he was on the road against the Lions throwing four interceptions; on Sunday he went into a road game and had no turnovers.

And regardless of the current quality of the Bear defense, this Viking offense has struggled the past few seasons against good and bad defenses alike. But they had offensive touchdowns of 35, 60, 67, and 73 yards. Something new is happening.

I don't know that a win at Soldier Field is a catalyst or even a sign that the 2007 Vikings are going to compete for the playoffs. But it's a good thing, and I think, a good thing for the future.

Week Seven Matchups
There are a lot of intriguing matchups week seven, and you can check NFL TV Distribution Maps to see what games you'll get to watch (it looks like a lot of you will get to watch my beloved Purple). The best game is the Monday Nighter, with 5-0 Indianapolis going at 4-1 Jacksonville (where last year's Super Bowl champs got pasted last season). The winner of that game will really be showing us something. But there appear to be a lot of competitive matchups Sunday, which may suggest a lot of close games with wild finishes.

I'm finally ready to complain about those Visa Check Card commercials, where everything is humming along quickly and then some bozo tries to pay with cash and slows everything down. The premise is stupid: paying with cash is usually a quick transaction, at least as quick as using a card and possibly faster. Visa seems to be on a propaganda campaign to convince people that paying with a check card is faster than paying with cash, which I doubt is true.

But the recent New Orleans commercial...bleh. All these fun-loving people are buying up Saints merchandise, using their check cards and moving along. And then, here comes a yuppy in a pink polo shirt with a sweater wrapped around his shoulders, and he's buying tennis balls. He pays with cash and everybody stops to stare at him. Goodness, the appeal to populism (the regular folks loving their Saints opposed to the tennis playing and possibly rich snob) is pretty strong, isn't it? Furthermore, it's an appeal to popularity: be like everybody else (in appearance and action), or everybody will stop and stare at you for being an oddball). It annoys me every time I see it.

Tarvaris faces a 3-4
Mark Craig points out that the Cowboys run a 3-4 defense, which could have a big impact on Tarvaris Jackson.

Enjoy your weekend everybody. Except Bear fans.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

In all seriousness, I would watch such a program

From The Onion, "Dan Marino Hosts Hour-Long HBO Special Celebrating Favre's Interceptions."

Thursday Viking Blizzard

The importance of Adrian Peterson's big plays
In the first four Viking games, Adrian Peterson showed the ability to churn out solid runs and first downs. But because of the weaknesses in the Viking passing game, those consistently good runs often came on drives that stalled anyway. As a result, the Vikings had scored just one offensive touchdown in each if their first four games.

Against the Bears, Peterson busted out three long touchdown runs. The Vikings had their best offensive game of the season, racking up four offensive touchdowns and 34 points.

And that's just what this Viking team needs from Peterson. The passing game is currently inadequate to consistently maintain drives. But if Peterson can both run consistently picking up first downs, and break long plays to score himself, then the Viking offense is in business.

The Vikes have eight offensive touchdowns this season. Adrian Peterson has scored five of them--and three of those were plays of 60+ yards. Including special teams, Peterson has had five plays of 55 yards or more.

Running behind a very good run blocking offensive line, Peterson is capable of taking the Viking offense from the "really sucks" level to the "occasionally electric" level.

AP's emergence has brought with it a lot of national attention that the Vikings have lacked in recent years. Here's ESPN's Jeffri Chadiha with a feature on Peterson. Peterson alone can make the Vikings a TV draw, and if he keeps it up, Peterson can be the one to fill those Metrodome seats the rest of the season.

The Pioneer Press' Sean Jensen (a writer/reporter I like) says the "Minnesota Vikings might break out the passing game" against Dallas. The Star Tribune's Kevin Seifert (another writer/reporter I like) also writes about the Vikings' offense and passing game in "Vikings give opposition something to think about."

Patrick Reusse talks to Bryant McKinnie.

I Dislike Your Favorite Team and Daily Norseman also found Jim Souhan's latest Childress-bashing column annoying. I really wonder how Souhan pictures his intended audience. A bunch of unthinking schlubs laughing at his hideous jokes as they read the newspaper, agreeing with his baseless screeds? I don't think he's writing for an internet audience. I don't want to suggest that internet readers of his column are smarter than newspaper readers of his column (that's a generalization, and obviously false). But let's make a few generalizations about bloggers (and other internet commenters and readers). Since we are writing, we understand prose and are capable of evaluating what we read critically. Since we're on the internet, we're generally adept at researching on the internet, meaning we can easily verify facts and access statistics to defend our arguments (or shoot down yours). And finally, the internet is sort of the primary realm for rigorous statistical analysis of sports, and since we're used to well-supported and well-reasoned analysis, we respond to the pulp of columnists like Souhan pretty negatively. takes note of Troy Williamson's 60 yard touchdown catch. You know the expectations for the passing game have slipped since the 1998-2004 period, when a single 60 yard completion has us reeling in excitement.

Oddball fans

At Epic Carnival, What was that bang? wonders about fans who bother writing in to complain about completely meaningless NFL power rankings.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Don't take my word for it.

So I argue that Brad Childress is right to limit Adrian Peterson to around 20 touches a game. But that doesn't matter, because you don't like me and I don't like you ("I like you." "Fine, you like me, but I don't like you." "Maybe you'd like me if you got to know me."). So don't bother with what I think.

Reuben Frank of SI writes "No rush to use Peterson: Vikings' Childress careful not to burn out rookie." Frank writes of other rookie RBs that have been overused and worn out, and suggests Brad Childress is doing the right thing for the good of the franchise by not selfishly thinking short-term and using up Peterson's ability. It's a sound argument.

You should also take note of what Dr. Z writes in this week's "Power Rankings": "Walter Payton ran angry. So did Emmitt Smith. Adrian Peterson runs angry. And he also has a lightning change of direction and more speed than anyone chasing him has. This is a rare package the Vikes have here. I just hope they don't screw it up." I would suggest one way the Vikes could screw it up is by giving Adrian Peterson 350+ carries as a rookie.

Adrian Peterson is special. Quite possibly all-time great special. He's certainly one of the top running backs in the league right now, and the Vikings' best offensive player, so he should get the ball to help the team win now. But 20-25 touches gives him that chance, and another 10-20 carries for Chester Taylor still helps the Vikings and helps Adrian Peterson stay fresh for a game, for a season, for a career. Herm Edwards rode Larry Johnson for a record 416 carries last season (with another 41 catches); Johnson then stunk in a playoff game and doesn't look the same this season. We can't have that with Adrian Peterson: he's too important.

There's still room for complaint. If Peterson starts getting significantly less than 20 touches a game (as he did against Green Bay), we should wonder what's going on. If Peterson is coming out of the game in the fourth quarter when the game is on the line (as he did against Kansas City and Green Bay), we should wonder what's going on. But if Peterson continues to share carries with Chester Taylor? That's just good football.

Wednesday Blizzard: Jim Souhan lacks insight again

Jim Souhan is a columnist that exhibits no desire to bring insight, context, or understanding to sports. Brad Childress talks about keeping Adrian Peterson as the #2 RB (in a system that's clearly utilizing the #1 and #2 a lot), and maintains a modest, even keel approach to his young star to the press (something Bill Parcells did all the time, remember). Souhan responds by comparing Adrian Peterson to shitty and unused backup RBs from years ago in order to try show how stupid Brad Childress is.

But that's irrelevant. See this post on RB usage trends. If Souhan were actually interested in analysis, he might check out posts on RB overuse and injuries here and here, and RB deterioration here, here, and here.

And this should show why blogs can be and often are superior to columnists. The writers at are interested in finding relevant historical context and comparisions, and are interested in looking closely at numbers, in order to bring understanding to football. Souhan just wants to make jokes and make fun of the coach, so he makes silly and irrelevant comparisions to unused backup RBs from the past, ignoring the current trend and the Vikings' strategy of utilizing two effective RBs.

Addendum: Souhan includes this sarcastic passage: "You can't win in the NFL without a great backup running back. Remember those great Cowboys teams, led by Troy Hambrick? Remember the Steel Curtain dynasty, led by Reggie Harrison?"

Harrison was a little used backup RB on two of the Steelers' Super Bowl teams. But if Souhan weren't deliberately trying to mock Childress, he might note that the Steelers often utilized backup RB Rocky Bleier, and that starting RB Franco Harris' career high for carries in a season was a rather low 310 (Harris only twice averaged 20 carries per game), so it's a pretty poor example.

Souhan also has a particularly unfair (and uninsightful) trope he uses three times. He writes that when Childress looks at Adrian Peterson, he "see[s] the next Allen Rice," that he "sees Alfred Anderson," or that he "see[s] Ted Brown." If he were being honest, he could say that Childress sees Peterson as Reggie Bush, Maurice Jones-Drew, Joseph Addai, Ronnie Brown, or Laurence Maroney--other talented rookie RBs that split carries with a veteran for various reasons. Now it's very possible (and I suspect likely) that Peterson is better than any of those RBs. But to say Brad Childress looks at Peterson and "sees" a lousy backup RB that didn't really play much is just stupid. Peterson is getting carries, and the more apt comparisons would be to the other young RBs that were kept fresh and effective by splitting carries. When Brad Childress calls Peterson the number two, he doesn't "see" one of those ineffective backups. He's using a two-back system, like a lot of other coaches use a two-back system. He's not going to wear down one RB by forcing 30 carries a game on him early in the season. It's reasonable strategy. Yes, Peterson should be #1 and Taylor should be #2, but they're both going to get a lot of carries. The thing is, Souhan knows this: he just wants to make stupid jokes and criticize Childress.

Other links
But perhaps we should give Souhan credit for trying to make up jokes. Here are the first two sentences of Tom Powers' recent commentary: "Sixty-five points scored in the Vikings-Bears game! In other noteworthy events on Sunday, the moon turned blue, the cows came home and the devil was spotted throwing snowballs in his own backyard."

According to the Star Tribune, Chuck Foreman is happy seeing Adrian Peterson break his records.

You may have noticed Anthony Herrera on the field for the Vikings Sunday. The Star Tribune talks about his role as starter. In a related story, the Pioneer Press features the Vikings' offensive line performance against Chicago.

This week's Cold, Hard Football Facts' Big Play Index takes special note of the Vikings, who lead the league in big plays and big play differential. Seriously. Take a look: they have more big plays than any other team (despite already having their bye), and they have the best differential over the opponents. The other teams near the top are all good, but the Vikes are under .500. We'll see if this projects to improvement.

Footballguys compares Adrian Peterson to other rookie RBs.

Outsports comments on Brandon Lloyd's implication that Troy Aikman is gay.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Sports Movies You've Never Seen (but should)

I like sports and I like movies, but most sports movies really suck. Here are two movies that are kinda sorta sports movies that I'm guessing not a single reader of this blog has seen. I like them. You might. But you probably won't. If you do decide to watch one, it's your hour and a half, not mine.

Strictly Ballroom
OK, so you likely don't consider ballroom dancing a sport. But this movie is about a competition that requires athletic training and ability. Furthermore, this Baz Luhrmann masterpiece has all the trappings of a sports movie. The scrappy underdog, struggling at first but willing to work. The brash talent that plays by his own rules. Long practice montages set to music. The mentors/coaches. The villainous competition. The corrupt association. The dramatic final competition scene.

Baz Luhrmann is my favorite director: I find in his films a metafictional flair and a mastery of movement, color, and music. You might not care for a movie about dancing, but seriously, it's really a sports movie in disguise.

Beer League

OK, so I think Dirty Work is a masterpiece, and Dirty Work co-writer Frank Sebastiano and co-star Artie Lange team up to bring us this movie about a softball league. It's dirty. It's sleazy. And the karate kid is in in. It's really a vehicle for raunchy jokes about trashy sex, but it's also about a softball team, and you might like it.