2009 Vikings: first half
2009 Minnesota Vikings
7-1, including four wins road wins, 5-0 in the conference and 3-0 in the division, and five home games remaining. It's hard to be in much better shape right now. Let's look at some things that happened in the first half and how it might be relevant to the second half.
Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin: Rice is on pace for 1,000 yards, and has started to fulfill the potential he flashed two years ago. I thought Harvin would make a handful of important plays per game, but I didn't expect him to be this dynamic.
Brett Favre: I'm still worried about whether he can be this effective in January, but I didn't expect him to be this dominant.
Adrian Peterson's workload: He's currently on pace for 326 carries: a manageable load far short of his 363 carries last season. If the Vikes can win without wearing Peterson down, all the better.
Special Teams: the return coverage has greatly improved, Percy Harvin has been a spectacular kick returner, and Darius Reynaud and Jaymar Johnson have been effective as punt returners. Add in Ryan Longwell's kicking, and the Viking special teams have been very good.
Pass Protection: it was a mess during the first two or three weeks, and since then has been really terrific.
Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams: the safeties aren't making enough plays, and they're also a reason the Vikes are vulnerable. Pass defense as a whole has been pretty bad when the Vikes get a lead.
Bernard Berrian: I'm really hoping for an explosive second half of the season from Berrian. Injuries have hampered him in a lot of ways so far, but he's good enough to be better than he has been.
Chester Taylor: 2.7 yards per rush is pretty lousy, and his dropped pass on a screen play was a big factor in the Vikes' one defeat.
Antoine Winfield's injury: Not only because it really affects the entire defense, but because he's so fun to watch play.
The consistency of the running game: whether it's AP's style,struggles on the offensive line, of the defense's focus, I feel far too many of the running plays get stuffed at the line.
Jared Allen: 10.5 sacks is on pace for 21, which would be short of the NFL single-season record. Allen should be doing more.*
*of course I'm joking. But Allen's spectacular play is not a surprise, and as he's arguably the best defensive player in the league right now and in position to win Defensive Player of the Year (essentially an MVP award for defenders, since only QBs and RBs are eligible for MVP), I have to mention him in my mid-way assessment. While we're at it, the versatile dominance of Kevin Williams needs to be once again appreciated, though it is completely unsurprising.
Why I'll continue to fear the Packers
In 2008, the Colts beat the Chargers in the regular season, but lost to them in the postseason. The Eagles beat the Cardinals in the regular season, but lost to them in the postseason. The Titans beat the Ravens in the regular season, but lost to them in the postseason.
In 2007, three of the Giants' four playoff victories were against teams that defeated them during the regular season (the Cowboys had beaten them twice).
During those years, there were also teams that defeated the same opponent in both the regular season and the postseason (the '07 Jags beat the Steelers twice, the '07 Chargers beat the Colts twice, the '08 Ravens beat the Dolphins twice, the '08 Steelers beat the Chargers twice and the Ravens thrice). But if I looked at recent history, I'm not sure I could be confident that a regular season outcome will predict a postseason outcome.
I'll fear the Packers until there's no possibility they could face the Vikings in the playoffs.
Grant's Tomb points out the subtle importance of some special teams play:
"Some of the ways the special teams helped the Vikings were subtle – like punt returner Jaymar Johnson’s refusal to call for fair catches or not catch them at all and let the ball hit the Lambeau Field turf and roll deep into Viking territory on Packer punts. [...] his fearlessness (and sure-handedness) in catching and returning punts shaved a few extra yards off the total the Vikings offence had to gain to get into scoring position."
I remember hearing Bill Parcells (don't ask me when, where, or why) talk about a playoff game between his Giants and the Washington team. According to Parcells, the Giants' punt returner consistently called fair catches, while the Washington punt returner let the ball bounce. Parcells estimated that the difference accounted for around 100 yards of field position. Johnson saves yards by catching the ball in traffic rather than letting it bounce (even when he does fair catch it), and that contribution shouldn't be underestimated.
One reason the Vikings' offense has been so successful at scoring points is because they've consistently had good field position. In '09, Percy Harvin is averaging 30.7 yards per kickoff return and the Viking punt returners are averaging a collective 10.7 yards per return. And, as DC points out, Johnson is willing to field the ball to save the Vikes the yardage a punt hitting the ground could cost them.
The field position helps the Vikes score points and limits some of the wear and tear key players like Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson might have to endure if they were forced to drive the bulk of the field every drive.
Brett Favre had the best quarterbacking day of Week 8 (Football Outsiders).
Jason Cole talks to a scout that is impressed with the Vikings; don't read this if you don't like getting your hopes up (Yahoo!).
Don Banks provides some more optimism going forward (Sports Illustrated).
Mark Craig asks the question that I can't help thinking about every day: what if the Vikings and Saints meet in the playoffs (Star Tribune)?
Comparing Adrian Peterson 2008 to Adrian Peterson 2009 (Access Vikings).
Week 8 was my first week of lineup regret in 2009: Joseph Addai and Austin Collie were in, Pierre Thomas and Bernard Berrian were out. Lineup regret is my least favorite part of fantasy football.
Week Nine Matchups
The bye means relaxing football to follow, and we've got a lot of good games to follow.
Cardinals/Bears: are these teams playoff contenders? Do these teams suck? Depends on the week.
Ravens/Bengals: the three-way race for the AFC North is interesting.
Packers/Buccaneers: during the Vikes' bye, we know we won't get to see the Vikings win. We still can hope to see the Packers lose.
Dolphins/Patriots: after they beat up on Tennesse and Tampa, then took a week off, aren't we anxious to see if they keep rolling? This week I finally partook of the annual tradition of adding Laurence Maroney to my Hazelweird fantasy team.
Texans/Colts: if you depend on Matt Schaub or Andre Johnson for your fantasy prospects, take note: the 2008 Colts allowed six passing touchdowns, a total so low I'm grammatically required to spell out the number. Through seven games the 2009 Colts have allowed three touchdown passes. While they can be run on, the Colts just don't give up passing touchdowns. I'm pretty enthused to be riding the Manning-Wayne combo.
Panthers/Saints: First down, DeAngelo Williams. Second down, Jonathan Stewart. Third down, DeAngelo Williams. Maybe mix in an end-around to Steve Smith. Just do it: run down the Saints' throat, knock them down a peg, help me find another cliche, and resurrect your season to go to .500.
Titans/49ers: another contest of dueling running backs: Chris Johnson and Frank Gore try to top each other.
Chargers/Giants: fantasy matchup of the week? Lots of starters here.
Cowboys/Eagles: Another rich fantasy matchup.
Ramblings on Sacks and Rating
At the Star Tribune, Mark Craig points out that Aaron Rodgers leads the league in passer rating, and also takes a high number of sacks:
"Rodgers' lofty passer rating and his ridiculously high sack total are one of the stranger contrasts in the league at the halfway point this season."
But the contrast isn't really related: sacks and lost yardage from sacks have no impact on a quarterback's rating. It's a problem with using passer rating: throwing the ball away hurts your rating, while taking a sack has no impact. Losing a down and yardage from a sack really hurts a QB's team, yet passer rating doesn't account for it. But the point is that it's not any "strange contrast" to see a high sack total with a high passer rating.
Craig then compares Rodgers' sack total to the sack totals of the #2 and #3 ranked QBs in passer rating:
"Peyton Manning is No. 2 in passer rating (109.3). He's been sacked five times. Drew Brees is No. 3 in passer rating (107.6). He's been sacked 11 times."
Stopping the comparison with the #2 and #3 passers is a bit deceiving: look further at the league leaders in passer rating and you'll see that among the league leaders in sacks, nobody is close to Rodgers, but several have a lot more sacks than Manning or Brees do. Rodgers actually reminds me of Ben Roethlisberger. Each holds the ball a long time, and while sometimes that results in a sack, sometimes that also results in a big play. Either way, the sack total has no impact on either QB's passer rating.
There's another problem here: passer rating is an efficiency stat, while sacks are a total stat. I'd like it better if the comparison were between two efficiency stats: passer rating and sack rate (sack rate is a better number to look at than sacks anyway). Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 12.1% of the time, an extremely high rate. But his rate isn't that far ahead of Ben Roethlisberger's rate in 2006: that year Roethlisberger was sacked 10.4% of the time, and still managed to post a 104.1 rating. If you want a comparison to this season, Donovan McNabb has a passer rating of 103.2, but is getting sacked 9.5% of the time.
If there is any correlation between a high passer rating and a low sack total, it is that an elite QB is likely to have both. But that's not always the case either.
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The Vikings have a bye this week; I've chosen this weekend to take my family out of town to visit my parents. I used a semicolon to link these two independent clauses to show that they are related. The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark; it is perfect for combining two independent clauses into the same sentence.
Have a good weekend, everybody. Except Packer, Bear, and Saint fans.