Tuesday, December 30, 2008

MVP discussion: Chad Pennington and Peyton Manning

Kerry Byrne at Cold, Hard Football Facts calls Chad Pennington MVP, citing in particular the Dolphins turnaround.

But let's point out a few big differences between the 2007 Dolphins and the 2008 Dolphins that had little or nothing to do with Pennington:

--The '07 Fins gave up 27.3 points per game, ranking 30th in the league; the '08 Fins improved to 19.8 points per game, 9th in the league.  That is an improvement of 7.5 points per game.

--The '07 Fins got 8 combined games out of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams; the '08 Fins got 32 combined games out of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams.

--The '08 Fins added the 1st pick in the draft, offensive tackle Jake Long.

--The '07 Fins were coached by Cam Cameron; the '08 Fins were coached by Tony Sparano.

Certainly Chad Pennington was a major reason for the Dolphins amazing improvement.  But these are four significant reasons for a turnaround that have little to do with Pennington:

--a new coach (a change in head coach is the biggest change a team can make, even bigger than a change in quarterback)

--the top available college prospect

--important offensive players avoiding injuries

--a defense that allowed more than a touchdown fewer points per game than the year before (the offense improved 4.9 points per game)

It takes many, many factors for a team to improve from 1-15 to 11-5.  I would in particular highlight the Dolphins' defensive improvement, which can't be credited much at all to Pennington.  Pennington deserves a great deal of credit, but I do not think his role in the Dolphins' turnaround makes him MVP.

We can also use one of Byrne's arguments against him. Byrne dismisses the '08 RB MVP candidates by noting that

"But their seasons pale in comparison to those of the most recent ball carriers to earn MVP honors. LaDainian Tomlinson (2006), Shaun Alexander (2005) and Marshall Faulk (2000) all set TD-scoring records on Super Bowl contenders."

If the numbers for Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, and DeAngelo Williams "pale in comparison" to recent RB MVPs, how do Chad Pennigton's numbers compare to some recent QB MVPs? Pennington threw for 3,653 yards and 19 touchdown passes. '07 MVP Tom Brady threw for 4,806 yards and 50 TDs. '04 MVP Peyton Manning threw for 4,557 yards and 49 TDs. Keep going, and you'll see that all recent QB MVPs had far superior numbers to Chad Pennington. In fact, the last QB to win MVP with fewer than 24 TD passes was John Elway in 1987 (19 TD passes).

If you're going to compare RBs to recent RB MVPs and find their stats lacking, it's hard not to compare Pennington to recent QB MVPs, where you will also find his numbers lacking.

(Let's make two more points here.  First, Byrne claims that none of the RB candidates were the "singular forces" in a team turnaround that Pennington was.  But as I've suggested, Pennington wasn't a "singular force" in a turnaround, and furthermore, one RB candidate, Michael Turner, was a major factor in a team's improvement from 4-12 to 11-5.  Second, the comparison of an MVP candidate from one year to MVPs of previous years is relatively irrelevant.  Byrne himself says this year features a "lack of great competitors" for MVP, that it is a "down year for MVP candidates."  While comparisons to previous MVPs have some use, this year's RBs aren't running against previous MVPs; they're running against the available field this season).

I still think Peyton Manning was more valuable to the Colts than Chad Pennington was to the Dolphins.  Byrne compares Pennington to Manning, and says:

"But Pennington outclassed Manning this year in every major efficiency category, including completion percentage (67.4 to 66.8), yards per attempt (7.7 to 7.2), TD:INT ratio (2.7 to 1 vs. 2.3 to 1) and passer rating (97.4 to 95.0)."

As you can see, however, Pennington was not significantly superior to Manning in any of these categories.  Byrne further notes the team turnaround:

"Additionally, Manning did not spark any kind of improvement in his team. [...] Pennington, meanwhile, sparked a dramatic turnaround in his team’s fortunes and enters the playoffs as division champ."

Of course, one reason Manning did not need to spark "any kind of improvement in his team" was because Manning was on the Colts last year.  Manning was largely responsible for the '07 Colts' success; it strikes me as an odd argument, then, to say that Manning shouldn't be given too much credit for the '08 Colts' success because the '07 Colts were good too.  Of course we don't know, but I'm guessing if the Colts didn't have Manning in '07 and had him in '08, the '08 Colts would have improved greatly, too.  

I think Byrne is fetishizing a year-to-year turnaround more than assessing performance in the 2008 season.  When Byrne dismisses the candidacies of Philip Rivers and Drew Brees, he also notes their respective teams' record difference between '07 and '08.  But I'm not sure why that matters so much: though the MVP award is hazily and diversely defined, I don't think a team's change in record from one year to the next should be the deciding factor that Byrne makes it.

I think a case could be made that Manning is more directly responsible for the Colts' 12-4 record than Pennington is for the Dolphins' 11-5 record.  The 2008 Colts were 8-1 in games decided by seven or fewer points.  It was Manning who keyed the comeback win over the Vikings,  threw the game-winning touchdown against the Texans, threw the game-winning touchdown against the Steelers, led the quick drive for a game-winning field goal against the Chargers, and keyed the comeback win over the Jaguars.  To be fair, at least three of the Colts' close wins featured late defensive scores by the Colts.  But without Manning, I don't see the Colts winning half the games they did.

Manning was also great despite a lack of a running game.  The Colts rushed for merely 1,274 yards (31st in the league) and just 3.4 yards per attempt (32nd in the league).  Whatever offensive success the Colts had relied on their elite passing attack.  The Dolphins were much more solid running the ball, going for 1,897 yards (11th) and 4.2 yards per attempt (15th).  So in the running game, the Dolphins gained an additional 0.8 yards per attempt over the Colts.  You could argue that offensively, Manning had to do more with less than Pennington, since the Dolphins were solid running the ball, and the Colts were terrible.  If we're going to look at team context (which Byrne does in citing the Dolphin turnaround), we can observe that Manning carried his offense despite no running game, and Pennington didn't have to do that.

There's also a statistical argument for Manning over Pennington.  In Football Outsiders' statistical analysis, Manning tops Pennington significantly (36.0% to 25.6% in DVOA, 1,702 to 1,152 in DYAR).  By Football Outsiders' advanced metric, Manning was both more efficient and more productive.  And in cumulative season numbers, Peyton Manning's 4,002 yards and 27 TDs tops Chad Pennington's 3,653 yards and 19 TDs.

Chad Pennington is certainly a legitimate MVP candidate, and Cold, Hard Football Facts is quite reasonable to propose him as a candidate.  But I find some of Byrne's arguments lacking, and find that Peyton Manning is a more deserving MVP than Pennington.

Disappointment and Attendence

I decided not to attend the Viking-Giant game this past weekend (I didn't have tickets, but like Walter in The Big Lebowski can get you a toe, Viking tickets aren't hard to get). Whether I attended the game or not, I was going to be devastated if the Vikings lost; however, if I made the effort to go to the game and had to walk out of the Metrodome after a loss, I knew I'd be dead inside. And frankly, the Vikings have so frequently disappointed our expectations, that it was fair to believe the Vikings would lose the game and miss the playoffs.

So I'm not surprised the Vikings are struggling to sell out this week's playoff game against the Eagles. Viking fans have been repeatedly disappointed by this team. Going to the game is an act of faith that a lot of Viking fans can't muster anymore. Isn't it fair to expect to be disappointed? Isn't a "wait and see" approach reasonable?

I may go to the playoff game on Sunday (if the game gets blacked out, I'll certainly go). But I'm guessing a lot of Viking fans feel right now like I felt last week. We expect to be disappointed, and don't want to give the money, time, and effort to go be disappointed in person.

Perhaps it's like the Seinfeld episode when George's girlfriend says they need to talk; he knows she's going to break up with him, so he leaves, then spends a big part of the episode just trying to avoid her. We want to avoid the in-person breakup. No, it's not like that: we can't avoid it, because whether it happens on TV or in person (or any other way), the breakup is going to happen. So let's create a different analogy:

You know your significant other is about to break up with you. He/she is willing to do it over the phone; it might take a while, but you don't have to exert money or effort to receive the phone call. Or, he/she is willing to break up with you in person, but you'll have to deal with traffic getting to his/her place, pay for a parking space, pay the doorman $30-160 just to get in the door, sit around waiting, then proceed to get brutally dumped in person for three hours, with three minute breaks every ten minutes for you to just think about the awful things this person is making you feel, and when it's all over, you can leave the place and deal with traffic trying to get home while you just feel terrible about everything.

Wouldn't you take the over-the-phone breakup?

I'm guessing that's how a lot of Viking fans are feeling now. Viking fans expect the breakup, and will take it as cheaply and easily as they can. That's what comes from rooting for a team that brutally crushes us at every moment it gives us the most hope. And I don't even have to recite the litany of those crushing moments--they were so memorably heart-breaking, you won't ever forget them.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Repeatedly Disappointed Expectations Begets Apathy

The Vikings still have a lot of tickets to sell for a playoff game (Star Tribune).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Week 17 Blizzard

Sports are a lot about luck and timing. The '76 Vikings got to the Super Bowl, where they got blown out by the juggernaut Oakland Raiders. The '77 Vikings didn't get to the Super Bowl, where they would have blown out the Denver Broncos. Swap those years, and I'm 6% less neurotic.

Some seasons an 8-8 team makes the playoffs, and some seasons a 10-6 team misses the playoffs. Sometimes a 9-7 record will win you a division title, and sometimes a 12-4 record will earn you a Wild Card.

I believe pretty strongly in the power of Hazard, but even I'm appalled that an 11-5 team isn't making the playoffs but an 8-8 team in the same conference in the same year is.

The Vikings-Eagles game is the last game of Wild Card weekend, at 3:30 Sunday.

Drew Brees and Dan Marino
I'm glad Brees didn't break Marino's yardage record of 5,084 yards, but I'm even disappointed Brees became the second QB to break 5,000 yards.

Dan Marino's 1984 season was better than Drew Brees' 2008 season in every conceivable way. Not only did Marino throw 48 TD passes that season (14 more than Brees threw this season), but Marino threw for 5,084 yards while leading the Dolphins to a 14-2 record--that's six more wins than Brees' Saints. Marino averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and had a 108.9 rating. Drew Brees averaged 8.0 yards per attempt (very good, but a full yard under Marino) and had a 96.2 rating. Marino is better than Drew Brees in every way, and his 1984 season was better than any season Drew Brees will ever have.

Colts and Chargers
Here's the difference between the 8-8 San Diego Chargers and the 12-4 Indianapolis Colts: the Colts won close games. The Chargers were 2-7 in games decided by seven or less, and the Colts were 8-1 in games decided by seven or less. I don't think the quality of these two teams is very different. Certainly the Colts were luckier. Maybe Peyton Manning is a clutch QB (at the very least, he's an elite passer and he remains an elite passer when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter). But this should be a good playoff matchup.

2008 Stat Notes
Adrian Peterson wins the rushing title with 1,760 yards.

Peyton Manning threw for 4,002 yards and 27 TD passes. It was his ninth 4,000 yard season, and in each of his 11 seasons he's thrown for 26+ TDs.

Brett Favre led the league in interceptions for the third time; it was his sixth season with 20+ interceptions.

Ed Reed led the league with nine interceptions; it was his second time leading the league and his sixth time in the top-10 in interceptions.

Kurt Warner has now had three seasons with 4,000 yards and 30 TDs.

"No, they weren't all happy days."
Some reasonable complaints about Brad Childress at Grant's Tomb.

"The call is from heroism. Do you accept the charges?"
Pat Williams returns?

It feels like a successful season: 10 wins, a division title, and a home playoff game, all for the first time since 2000. But let us remember the 11-5 1992 Vikings, and the 10-6 1994 Vikings: they each got blown out in home playoff games. Feelings can turn sour quickly. The Vikes have won a bunch of division titles, but those division titles don't keep me warm in the cold, dark night.

Playoff Game Against the Eagles

The Eagles are a very good football team; going into week 17, they ranked #2 in Football Outsiders' DVOA (they're probably back to #1 now).

But they're also capable of terrible duds: if their tie against the Bengals and blowout loss to the Ravens seem too long ago, look no further than their week 16 10-3 loss to Washington.

Playoff football is often about the team on a hot streak; games from earlier in the season don't matter as much as how the team is playing recently.  The Eagles look hot after their 44-6 week 17 win over Dallas, but that Washington game was just a week earlier.

The Eagles have struggled in close games this season: they're 1-5-1 in games decided by seven or less.  Andy Reid has been criticized for some of his decisions in close games; if the Vikes keep it close, the Eagles could choke it (but then everybody else relies on the Vikes to choke when it matters, so don't get too excited).

It will be a tough game for the Vikings to win, and they could get blown out by a very talented Eagle team.  But in Thunderdome (hopefully the crowd is energized for the first home playoff game since the 2000 season), it's a winnable game against an up and down team.


2008 is the Vikings' 17th division title.

Adrian Peterson has likely clinched his first rushing title with 1,760 yards; he is the first Viking to ever lead the league in rushing yards.


10-6.  Division Title.  Hosting a playoff game.

I watch close Viking games with a knot in my stomach.  When Longwell's field goal went through, I had a physical sensation of warm happiness slowing descending upon me from above as I couldn't stop smiling.

Now, who would be a better matchup for the Vikes: the Cowboys or the Eagles?  I watch this Dallas-Philadelphia game not knowing whom to root against.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Sports Illustrated's recent issue proclaims 2008 "Best Sports Year Ever."  Surely, then, the cover would feature one of 2008's exciting sports stories: highlights of the Olympics (Michael Phelps?  The U.S.A. Basketball team?), or maybe the Giants' Super Bowl upset of the Patriots, or maybe even a Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals.


The cover photo and feature was about what's happened to Michael Vick's dogs.

The Michael Vick dog-fighting story was primarily a 2007 story, yet a December 2008 SI cover proclaiming 2008 the "Best Sports Year Ever" features Michael Vick's dogs.

I'm left with two reactions.  First, that sports coverage overkills the negative.  The SI story is supposed to be a positive story about how the dogs are doing well now, but it is another chance to talk about a very negative story (and how does it justify a cover?).

Second, the excessive coverage of the Michael Vick dogfighting story continues to appear to me as scapegoating.  I'm a freaking member of PETA, so I don't think I'm making light of dogfighting when I say this.  But in a society that mostly doesn't care how animals are treated, that continues to eat historically high amounts of meat, that calls killing animals by hunting "sport," the lengthy coverage of a very visible, public, and egregious mistreatment of animals seems to me a psychological distraction.

Interceptions and Success

Advanced NFL Stats notes that interceptions are part of the game, and you can go too far trying to avoid them:

"While a lack of turnovers certainly helps win games, if it becomes a passer's primary goal it could be harmful.

"Interceptions are a part of the bargain, a natural consequence to throwing the ball. You can guarantee zero interceptions by playing in an extremely conservative way, tossing short passes, taking sacks, or throwing the ball away anytime a defender is in the same zip code as the receiver. You can minimize interceptions, but you'll lose every game doing it."

Which suggests to me that an extremely low INT rate isn't the sure sign of an elite QB.  Furthermore, as Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders pointed out in warning fantasy footballers about David Garrard, a low INT rate is often lucky, and will likely fluctuate the next season.  This means if you rank QBs by their ability to avoid turnovers, you'll have a lot of fluctuation from year to year (suggesting further it's not the best way to evaluate the quality of the QB).  For example, this season Chad Pennington is #1 and David Garrard is #19 on Dave Berri's ranking, which heavily punishes turnovers.  Last season at the same time, David Garrard ranked #5 and Chad Pennington ranked #23.  Pennington's INT rate flipped from 3.5% to 1.6%; Garrard's INT rate flipped from o.9% to 2.2%.    If your system puts QBs who avoid turnovers at the top, it will fluctuate a great deal, for as Barnwell points out, a excessively low INT total is usually followed by a "major correction."  Berri's system may accurately assess a QB's performance (his existence), but I don't think it gets at the QB's inherent quality (his essense).  Football Outsiders is probably better at that (though in my opinion, Football Outsiders' statistical analysis is better at assessing team quality than individual player quality).

On winning 10 games

The 2003 Vikings and 2005 Vikings each went 9-7 and didn't even make the playoffs.  So if the Vikings win the division at 9-7, we can be happy, but it's not a special accomplishment--it would make this Viking team no better than other Viking teams this decade.  It would be nice to see the Vikes not only win their first division title since 2000, but have their first 10+ win season since 2000, too.

And I never like it if a team wins 10 games because a better team rests its starters in week 17.  I've never felt good about the 1994 Vikings clinching a 10-6 record and the division against the 49er B-squad in week 17 (it might be easier to feel good about if the Bears hadn't kicked the Vikings' ass in the Metrodome in the playoff game).  But that doesn't mean there would be anything to apologize for.  The 2003 Vikings blew the division themselves (losing four games to the league's 4-12 games, the Charles Tillman disaster, and the Nate Poole disaster game), but they also lost the division because the Packers blew out the Denver Bronco B-squad in week 17.  I've yet to have any Packer fan express any sheepishness about that to me.  So the Vikings should get their 10 wins and division title any way they can get it (and the Vikings have been tough at home this season--I think they'd have a chance to beat the Giants at full strength in Thunderdome, if given the chance.  It's not the Vikings' fault if they don't get that chance).

Friday, December 26, 2008

Viking Collapses

Pioneer Press takes a look at recent late season Viking collapses to prepare us for this season's potential collapse.

Last night I dreamed that the Vikings beat the Giants: they clinched the win when Erin Henderson sacked Eli Manning on 4th and 15 at the end of the game (this dream was rather specific).  In the dream, I then came on to blog about the Vikings winning the division.  Then I woke up, and realized it was days until the game and the Vikes hadn't clinched anything.

Measuring Wide Receivers

Defensive Indifference on why receiving yards is the most important stat for WRs.

Turnovers and Success

A good post at pro-football-reference.com on fumbles, Adrian Peterson, and offensive success.

Monday, December 22, 2008

National Fun League, week 17

The two NFC North games that matter

Vikings v. Giants (in Thunderdome)
If the Metrodome ever mattered, it will be Sunday. If the Vikings win, then there will be a playoff game in the Metrodome the very next week.

This is a game when the Vikes could miss Pat Williams badly; Giants RB Derrick Ward has 948 yards (5.7 per carry), Brandon Jacobs has 1,089 (5.0 per carry), and Ahmad Bradshaw has 347 (5.7 per carry).

Eli Manning has been terrible against the Vikings, throwing four interceptions in a 2007 game and four interceptions in a 2005 game.  

The triumvirate of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Steve Slaton may be able to break the Chicago defense apart.  Or balls could bounce off punt returners' feet, the Bears could block field goals, and a Kyle Orton led team could win its 10th game.

The Residents of the state of Texas are 5-2 at home; the Bears are 3-4 on the road.

The other games with playoff implications

Chad Sexington gets to try beat his former team. This, you've heard from every person who writes about football. Except the part about calling him Chad Sexington.

Cowboys @ Eagles
Holy Crap, does this game look good. Hopefully on Sunday the Vikings have already clinched the division, and we can relax and watch this game.

Broncos @ Chargers
I'm slightly intrigued because I wonder which team will have a better chance of upsetting Indianapolis in the Wild Card playoff game. The Chargers are a better team and can play the Colts close (evidence), but the Broncos play in Denver and could have a snowy, cold game, which could trouble the Colts.

Patriots @ Bills
Have I missed the "Tom Brady is a system quarterback and 2008 proves it" discussions? I assume they are happening on message boards and such.

Jaguars @ Ravens
The Jags just don't look like they have a spoiler game in them.

Oakland @ Tampa Bay
My wild guess is the Bucs make the playoffs.

MVP (is AP the most valuable Viking?)
I really think Peyton Manning will win MVP now: his numbers are good, his team is in the playoffs, and he's getting a lot of praise for gutting the Colts to some close wins. Adrian Peterson just fumbles too much--he could come back into MVP contention with a domination Week 17 game in a Viking win, but I don't think it will be enough.

And in my opinion, Manning deserves it more than AP. Peterson has had some spectacular games in some important Viking wins, but the Vikings are a defensive football team: they've won because the defense has controlled the game (in fact the Vikes have lost some games despite great defensive efforts because of offensive turnovers or offensive insufficiency). I don't think Peterson is more valuable to the Vikings than Manning is to the Colts. In fact if I had to pick one Viking player, I might even say Jared Allen is more important to the Vikes than AP. The Vikings have a lot of good defensive players (Kevin Williams, Pat Williams, and Antoine Winfield rightly join Allen in the Pro Bowl), but it is the addition of Allen that has made the Vikings a fierce pass-rushing team (tied for 4th in sacks) and a complete defense. Chester Taylor is a good running back that can competently replace AP when needed, but the Vikings don't have a DE that can have anywhere near the impact Allen can. I might even say AP is the third most important player on the team, behind Allen and Kevin Williams, a dominant force in the middle that stuffs the run, rushes the passer, and generally disrupts offensive plays.

I love AP (except the fumbling); I just think the defense has been more important than the offense, and that some individual defensive players like Jared Allen and Kevin Williams have been more important to the Vikings' success than AP.

Did you see the Viking episode of How I Met Your Mother?
In the episode, Marshall (a Minnesota native) takes Robin to a Minnesota bar, where everybody wears Viking clothing and complains about the '99 NFC Championship game.  Here's a clip.  It's silly but it was enjoyable to see all the Viking clothing and such.

Robert Smith's advice to AP about fumbles (Pioneer Press).

Ray Edwards and Gary Larsen (Pat Reusse). This is one example of the advantage of having a sportswriter cover the same team for decades.

The Tarvaris Revolution continues (Star Tribune).

What's Marvin Harrison without Peyton Manning (pro-football-reference.com)?

T-Jack starts (Access Vikings, Viking Update).

TNABACG is also having flashbacks.

So it was Esera Tuaolo's fault (Out Sports).

Adrian Peterson has a healthy lead for the rushing title.

An early National Fun League post again, for another unpredictable week: there may or may not be more posts this week.

Happy Festivus!

It will come to week 17

It was hard enough convincing my soul that I wasn't rooting for Green Bay, but rooting against Chicago.  And then the Packers piss the game away anyway (I'd be interested to see if the Bears are capable of winning a game without fluky special teams plays).

Now the Vikings need to either win against the Giants, or have the Bears lose to the Texans.  If you're having flashbacks to week 17 of the 2003 season, you're not alone.

The Vikings will either host a playoff game or not make the playoffs.

Friday, December 19, 2008

National Friday League, week 16 (2)

National Fun League, week 16 (1)

Tarvaris Jackson and the Playoffs
Tarvaris Jackson starts this Sunday (Star Tribune).

If the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl this season, there will be three primary reasons:

1. The defense will dominate.
2. Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will stay hot.
3. The team will get some lucky breaks.

And I'm starting to think that to contribute to those three causes, Tarvaris Jackson will be a better quarterback for the Vikings at this point than Gus Frerotte.

For one thing, Frerotte throws a lot of interceptions: even if the defense dominates, Frerotte often gave opponents direct points or a short field. Frerotte is also immobile: Jackson forces defenses to account for another element to the offense, and he can make positive plays in other ways. But Frerotte has also peaked. Tarvaris Jackson might just add a fourth reason the Vikings could win the Super Bowl: a young quarterback gets surprisingly hot. That alone wouldn't do it, but a productive Tarvaris Jackson, supporting a dominant defense, dominant running backs, and getting some lucky breaks, could push the Vikings far.

Yes, I'm probably delusional anyway, but what of it? Just maybe Tarvaris Jackson has improved, that Tavaris Jackson right now is much better than Tarvaris Jackson of weeks 1 and 2, and of 2007. And what else do I have but my hope? I'm walking around having unsought fantasies about a major Viking playoff push. My imagination is conjuring a Super Bowl, so I may as well try rationalize my imaginative wanderings somehow.

Brad Childress
Is it just that the Vikings have been winning that the railing against Childress has tempered down? Yes, probably. But let's posit another thought: just as players can improve, coaches can improve.

Brad Childress today should be a better coach than Brad Childress in 2006 or 2007 or even early 2008. I think we have a tendency to view coaches as static, but in any field, experience usually brings improvement. Coaches too can change and improve.

Peyton Manning
One thing that makes Manning so spectacular is his downfield accuracy; he often hits receivers in precise spots 20 or 30 yards downfield. Last night he had some passes that he drilled right into gaps, right to the receiver's hands. I like watching him because he does take those mid-range shots regularly, and hits them consistently. Last night he had completions nine completions of 15+ yards: 41, 29, 23, 21, 33, 15, 18, 15, 21. That makes football fun to watch.

Word Choice in Headlines
USA Today has a blog post titled "Gus angry about Vikes' move to Tarvaris." And maybe Frerotte really is angry, and reporters could perceive that anger in their reporting. But in the quote provided, Frerotte says ""Obviously, I'm not happy about it." To me, being angry about something, and not being happy about something, are not the same thing.

A minor quibble, but attention to word choice is important--the English language has a big vocabulary, and a lot of words that seem similar but have nuanced differences.

Sammy Baugh (fuh- baw, Cold, Hard Football Facts, I Dislike Your Favorite Team).

Adrian Peterson and MVP (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press).

The Falcons rank #24 in CHFF's Hog Index (the Vikes rank #4).

Manning and MVP (Jason Cole, Mark Craig).

Adrian Peterson #1 on MVP ranks (Bucky Brooks).

Philip Rivers should have been a Pro Bowler (MJD).

Grant's Tomb on the Viking-Falcon game, Pat Williams, and Brad Childress.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

National Fun League, week 16

Vikings-Falcons Preview
Fear the Falcons?
I haven't watched the 2008 Falcons since week one, and haven't followed their box scores terribly closely, so I wanted to look closely at the stats on pro-football-reference.com to learn about this team. And here's what I think:

The Vikings can destroy this team.

I've heard worries raised that the Falcons are #1 in the league in rushing offense, and they could exploit the Vikings without Pat Williams. But the Falcons rank #15 in rush yards per attempt (in other words, average), and Pat Williams wasn't the entire run defense. Kevin Williams will still line up in the middle, and the linebackers and even defensive backs are good run tacklers. I don't think the Falcons are going to come in and run all over the Vikes in Thunderdome (though there may be room for them to break off some longer runs).

The Vikings can exploit the Falcon defense: they rank #24 in yards allowed, #22 in rushing yards allowed, #22 in rush touchdowns allowed, and (this is key) #29 in rush yards per attempt allowed. And their pass defense is basically average (#15 in net yards per attempt).

The 9-5 Falcons are a surprise story, but they are 3-4 on the road, while the Vikings are 5-1 at home. And the Viking pass rush has been ferocious at home: Matt Ryan could get knocked around.

But here's some snow in your shoes, too. Last week I pointed out the Cardinals bad record outside its own terrible division. It's worth noting, then, that the Falcons are 6-2 outside of their excellent division (inside their division they have a home-and-home split with everybody). The Falcons are a good football team.

I'll trust Thunderdome.

Adrian Peterson: MVP is usually a quarterback's award, but in a season when with no clear QB candidate, a running back can claim it. He leads the league in yards rushing and yards from scrimmage, and his nine 100 yard games have been a major factor pushing the Vikings toward a division title. In the history of the AP MVP, most MVP RBs won the rushing title their MVP year (exceptions: Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, Larry Brown, and Paul Hornung. Thomas, and Brown led the league in yards per scrimmage, Faulk had a record 26 TDs--which looked more impressive at the time; it's now been broken three times--and Paul Hornung is just an overrated running back--he wins MVP with 742 yards from scrimmage because he also kicks, and Jim Brown had 1,867 yards from scrimmage in the same year. Let's be clear on that: Jim Brown had 1,125 more yards from scrimmage than the NFL MVP in 1961. Nobody's ever going to convince me that Paul Hornung lived up to the Golden Boy image. Wikipedia also notes that Hornung "is the only player from a losing team (his University of Notre Dame team finished 2-8 that year) ever to win the [Heisman]trophy." There's a lot of things that don't make sense to me about Hornung's place in football history. But this parenthetical is out of hand even for me, so let's just move on).

Peyton Manning: Manning's numbers are low by his extraordinary standards, and the Colts look shakier than they've looked in years, yet Manning could claim his second-and-a-half MVP (when a player wins co-MVP, I only think we should give credit for half an MVP). I perceive commentators to be giving Manning more credit for the intangible stuff than they have in the past: leadership, willing a limping team to victory, making clutch plays. According to Football Outsiders' stats, he's still one of the top statistical QBs.

DeMarcus Ware: He now has 19 sacks, and it is Dallas' defense that keys the Cowboys now (holding opponents to 10 or less in four of the last seven games). It's an outside possibility.

James Harrison: The stat-filler for a dominant defense and possible #1 seed. I think he'll probably still win Defensive Player of the Year, but the third defensive player to win MVP (after Alan Page and Lawrence Taylor) will probably be a bigger name than Harrison.

Week 16 Games
Games of note:

: only because I've been looking forward to it for weeks. I've been stuck in grim isolation grading end-of-the-semester work. It's to the point I'm talking to the papers while I grade them: my wife overhears me and worries she's now the wife in A Beautiful Mind. And I've known that if I finish all my work, I get to relax and watch Peyton Manning with a peaceful mind.

Cowboys-Ravens: It doesn't seem we get a game like this often: December gives us a lot of intense, important games between playoff contenders, but an AFC-NFC matchup featuring 9-5 Wild Card contenders that could miss the playoffs? That's different.

Steelers-Titans: That Steeler defense scares me; they're pretty much the best at everything. It's the one thing I can barely work into my walking fantasies--but I still manage (see below).

Bills-Broncos: I always root for a division winner to have at least nine wins so I don't have to feel ridiculous watching them host a home playoff game. Go Broncos.

Cardinals-Patriots: See above.

Panthers-Giants: In many of my walking fantasies, the Vikings pull it off with a two-seed (see below). This game could be relevant to that.

Packers-Bears. In week 17, 2003, the Seahawks played the 49ers on Saturday; if they lost, the Vikings were guaranteed to make the playoffs. I watched the game relatively indifferently: I just badly wanted the Vikings to win Sunday to win the division outright. You may remember the rest (IT HAUNTS MY DREAMS!). In week 17, 2004, the Vikings lost a chance to clinch a playoff spot and were 8-8. I followed the other games relatively indifferently: I've always felt like an 8-8 team doesn't really deserve to make the playoffs and is just lucky if it does, so I somehow didn't care whether tie-breaking scenarios gave the Vikes a playoff game. You may remember what happened the next week after they made the playoffs (IT DAZZLES MY DREAMS!). So I've learned my lesson: I don't care how, I just want the Vikings to make the playoffs.

"Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass/ That I may see my shadow as I pass"
Lately, while I'm walking around, I catch myself having deluded fantasies about the Vikings winning the Super Bowl. I try to convince myself to stop, I'm just hurting myself, but my imagination keeps creating wild scenarios in which I'm celebrating a Viking Super Bowl win. I try not to do it, but I start thinking about who to call that night, about which Viking shirt to wear to work the next day, about how big my smile will be. It's brutal.

Fantasy Narcissism
Bernard Berrian and Anthony Gonzalez have been my regular starting wide receivers for a long time, and I'm in 3rd place in the Hazelweird League, with a (very far) outside chance of winning the thing. This still makes no sense to me.

Viking injuries (PFT).

The Williamses could win this legal dispute (Star Tribune).

Tarvaris Jackson (Pioneer Press).

Some Vikings are good fellows (Pioneer Press).

Cedric Griffin (Star Tribune).

Adrian Peterson for MVP (Vikings.com).

Football Outsiders' Ned Macey look at the Vikings-Cardinals game at ESPN (via The Ragnarok, which is once again in action).

Sammy Baugh died (Sports Illustrated).

MVP contenders (USA Today).

Peyton Manning for MVP (Fox Sports).

The Steeler defense (Cold, Hard Football Facts).

Brett Favre in the Pro Bowl (Advanced NFL Stats).

Methodology for ranking defenses (Pro-football-reference.com).

The commercial life
A while back Moderately Cerebral Bias wrote about the religious imagery and language in Nike's LeBron James ads. The new commercial with the rosin continues that vein, in my opinion. When LeBron claps his hands, a mystical cloud explodes from his hands, a powerful burst of air and energy, and it spreads like a spiritual energy (or the Holy Spirit) to all sorts of people he encounters. I just get a religious feel from the commercial.

Whom would you throw a shoe at?
A reasonable question: what person in the world of sports would you most like to throw a shoe at? Well, I don't think I'd throw a shoe at anybody (pacifism and all). So let me adjust: what sports figure would you most want to see react to getting a shoe thrown at him/her during a press conference?

For me, it's obviously Kevin McHale. The man is a disaster, and can't be disentangled from the Timberwolves soon enough. It would slightly amuse me to see him ducking a flung shoe.

Descartes speculated that all reality was an illusion created by an evil genius; sometimes I think an evil genius has devised ways for me to miss Viking games. On Sunday, I will be spending time with family for Christmas, and I don't know if there will be a TV on during the festivities.

But do you think George Bailey ever fretted missing a football game for family time? And he's the richest man in town! Well, I guess he did spend much of his life fretting missing world travel. Maybe an incompetent angel will visit me and show me what the Christmas party would be like if I went to the Viking game instead. I think it would be exactly the same, except there would be more wine left for others.

Have a pleasant week and weekend, everybody.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alack the day

It wasn't all clouds of heaven. Alas, Pat Williams is hurt.

This is bad news, of course. But Kevin Williams has become a dominating player in every way, and I think he'll do a stout job holding the middle. In 2005 and 2006, I thought PW was the team's best defensive player; now it is KW.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Trailing Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 35, Cardinals 14

Much praise to:

Tarvaris Jackson.  It's not just that he threw 4 touchdown passes; it's that he threw two deep touchdown passes with touch and accuracy.  Throughout the day he was accurate and smart.  But it's the deep passes that are key: they're important plays to help the team gain yards, and they force defenders to account for the deep pass, opening up room for the running game.  If Jackson can continue to play like this, he should continue to be the quarterback for this football team.

Bernard Berrian.  He only made two plays, but an 82 yard punt return for a touchdown and a 41 yard TD reception (on 3rd and 15) were the key first quarter plays that put the Vikes out in front.

The Viking Defense.  The pass rushers were able to consistently rough up Kurt Warner.  But more than that, the secondary did a mostly superb job tackling today.  The Cards throw a lot of short passes, and Viking defenders regularly tackled the receiver before he could gain significant yards (the 50 yard touchdown was a notable exception).  It was a total defensive effort, but we should single out a few individual efforts:

Cedric Griffin made a lot of great plays today--tackles, deflections, an interception.  It might have been his best game of the season.

Chad Greenway was also making a lot of positive plays.

Jared Allen was just one of many Viking pass rushers that was regularly hurrying and hitting Kurt Warner.

Adrian Peterson. 165 yards rushing, he churned out positive yards regularly, and he busted out for long runs.  He's now firmly in control of the Viking single-season rushing record.

Bobby Wade. The 59 yard touchdown was notable, but Wade was often making good blocks on off-tackle runs.

Chester Taylor. 103 yards from scrimmage, he was again a big contributor to a Viking win.

Brad Childress.  Let's give him credit.  Today the Vikings dominated rushing the ball, but had effective passing plays.  They played aggressive and well.  On a lot of plays I would have thought they'd go conservative, they took shots.  He just clinched his first winning season as an NFL head coach.

The Vikings move to 9-5, and finish the season 4-4 on the road.  Today was exactly the game many of us hoped for at the beginning of the season: Tarvaris Jackson throwing rarely but effectively, Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor rushing for 200+ yards, the Viking pass rush dominating an opposing QB, and the Vikings winning by three touchdowns on the road against a winning team.  Just spectacular.  After an 0-2 and 1-3 start, the Vikes now sit at 9-5 with two remaining home games (against tough opponents).  Since the bye week, they're 6-1.  They won their last four games by 18, 20, 4, and 21 (three of those wins were on the road).  Suddenly this team looks good.

What an ecstatic feeling.  Skol!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

National Friday League, week 15

Tarvaris Jackson

First let's note the negatives of Tarvaris Jackson (likely) starting over Gus Frerotte. Jackson is not very accurate on deep passes. While this affects the Vikes for only one to three plays per game (it is Brad Childress' offense, after all), it means defenses may not account for the deep pass at all. It also means the Vikes have less chance of moving the ball into scoring position in one play; for an inconsistent offense, putting points on the board keyed by one big play has been helpful. Furthermore, Jackson may take Bernard Berrian out of the game entirely; Berrian has been a threat going deep with Frerotte playing quarterback, but may get fewer targets from Jackson.

Missing Frerotte also means the two-minute offense will struggle (and perhaps disappear entirely).

But, there are several positives.

--Gus Frerotte is tied for the league lead in interceptions; Jackson turns the ball over far less frequently. Frerotte's interceptions have really hurt the Vikes this season--even in victories, his turnovers have kept games close that didn't need to be close. Even if Jackson doesn't make as many positive plays as Frerotte, he may make fewer negative plays.

--Jackson's mobility opens up other plays in the playbook; rollouts can lead to easy yards on passes to Shiancoe, Wade, Taylor, or Peterson.

--Jackson's running ability provides another way to pick up first downs.

--Jackson may take fewer sacks; last season Jackson was sacked half as frequently as the other Viking QBs, and this season Frerotte is getting sacked on 8.8% of his dropbacks. Frerotte's career sack rate is actually better than Jackson's, but at this point Frerotte hangs onto the ball too long; Jackson may find more ways to avoid sacks.

My irrational confidence level is down with Jackson instead of Frerotte; I'd like the Vikes chance better in this game with Frerotte. But as I've suggested, Frerotte is peaked; Jackson may still actually improve. I'm intrigued to see how the team plays with Jackson.

The 'o8 Cards' are 8-5, but they are 3-5 outside the NFC West.

They rank 32nd in rushing yards and rushing yards per attempt; I wonder if they'll even try to run against the stout Viking defense.

They rank 2nd in passing yards, 3rd in passing touchdowns, and 5th in net passing yards per attempt; Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston have combined for 3,055 yards receiving in 13 games. Expect to complain about Benny Sapp, Cedric Griffin, and Darren Sharper on Sunday.

The Cardinals clinched a division title last week; is there a possibility of a letdown? Such letdowns may be mythical.

Learn about University of Phoenix Stadium. It's a grass turf (retractable grass turf). This worries me: the Vikes have only lost one game on turf this year, and in particular the pass rush seems better on turf.

Adrian Peterson runs with urgency.
Tonight during the Saints-Bears game, a pass got tipped by a defender, and WR Marques Colston reached back to catch the tipped ball, but came up just short. He slowly started walking back to the huddle, before finally half-heartedly swinging his arm as if to say "Ah, darn." It's a reasonable reaction, and one I like in a player. I like even keel guys--don't get too up or too down, stay calm and get ready to continue playing. But it made me think of Adrian Peterson.

How often do we see Adrian Peterson, after being brought down for a short gain, slap the turn hard with angry frustration? It seems he could see the "almost" in the play: there was a chance for a long run, he almost had it, but was just brought down by something small. And when that happens, he expresses a passionate, natural emotion. It's like Peterson wants every play to be successful. He plays with urgency--each play he's running is the most important play there will ever be.

Last season I thought Peterson too frequently tried to break plays out to the sideline for a long gain, only to be brought down for a loss or no gain. This season, he's doing a much better job of churning out positive yards, taking what he can while still looking for big runs. But even though he runs with more patience, he still runs with that urgency. He's still emotionally invested in each play, running it for all he can.

I'm not necessarily saying that Colston's reaction or Peterson's reaction to an "almost" play is better than the other; they are just different approaches. Their reactions do reveal attitudes: Colston just missing on a play and calmly walking back to the huddle to ready for another play, Peterson just missing on a play and expressing his frustration physically. There is something positive to both approaches.

There six matchups between .500+ teams this week.

Saints-Bears (alas, Chicago won in overtime)

These are obviously not the only games worth watching; a lot of playoff contenders will lose games to non-playoff contenders in the next three weeks. The Vikings are going to Arizona for a December football game--we should remember that much.

Fantasy Narcissism: Kurt Warner
When a player on your fantasy team go against your favorite team, it's lose-lose. Rooting interests are conflicted at some level, conscious or unconscious, however little (my Viking rooting interests far surpass my fantasy rooting interests, obviously). I've still got an outside shot at the Hazelweird Trophy (it's a longshot), and Kurt Warner has been reliably giving my team solid weeks (how I'm in third place with Bernard Berrian and Anthony Gonzalez at WR is a mystery to me). But I'm seriously debating benching Warner against the Vikings this week (in favor of Eli Manning or Matt Schaub). Even in Warner's bad games his fantasy numbers are outstanding, but I still might bench him. I've usually kept my regular fantasy starters in against the Vikings, but the quarterback position seems different. I might not.

I think I love/I think I hate
I Think I Love My Wife is a funny remake of a terrible French movie Chloe in the Afternoon. For some reason, I think about Chris Rock's line at the end of the movie (the movie title) at various times. For example, when my pure evil cat hisses and lunges her claws at my feet as I walk past her, I say to myself, "I think I hate my cat."* So why not start a new feature here: "I think I love/I think I hate." I realize this bears a resemblance to Peter King's "things I think I think" business, but that's coincidental: it's an OK movie I saw years ago that I think of when my demon cat attacks me, not a football writer I don't like.

I think I hate the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I might be happier if they disbanded, or relocated, or even just changed their name and color scheme. I've stopped enjoying thinking about them. I used to take rooting for a terrible team as a point of pride (Ha, I wear a Christian Laettner shirt to school--I'm the awesomest seventh-grader ever!). Now I wish they didn't exist. I don't trust the owner, I don't trust the management, I don't trust the coaching staff, and even though I like some of the players, I feel doomed anyway (if they couldn't win a title with Garnett, who are they going to win a title with?). If the Wolves didn't exist, I would just devote my basketball passion to the UCLA Bruins and probably the Boston Celtics (who I'd probably be rooting for all along if the Wolves had never existed).

I think I hate the Timberwolves.

*I do love my cat. I have to; there are maybe three people in the entire universe that do. Who else is going to love an evil demon cat?

PW and KW will play for a while (Access Vikings 1 and 2, Pioneer Press, Viking Update, PFT)

Advanced NFL Stats' week 15 win probabilities.

Grant's Tomb is skeptical about Tarvaris Jackson.

Defensive Indifference on Tarvaris Jackson.

Bucky Brooks discusses James Harrison (and now has Adrian Peterson #1 on his MVP list). See my current MVP candidates here. Drew Brees did a lot of stinking Thursday against the Bears, but in the fourth quarter completed a huge pass on 3rd and 15, followed shortly by a go-ahead touchdown on 3rd and 7. Brees made the "clutch" plays, then events outside his control took over. The Saint defense let the Bears drive into field goal range. The Saints lost the coin toss. In overtime, pass interference was called on a deep pass, and the Bears won the game. If events outside Brees' control occurred differently, he'd be praised for his clutch finish and still be an MVP contender; instead, he likely doesn't win MVP because the Saints likely don't make the playoffs. I've been excluding Kurt Warner because he plays in a terrible division (his team is 5-0 in the division, 3-5 outside it) and he's aided by some great teammates (Fitzgerald, Boldin, and Breaston are probably the best WR trio in the league), but if the Cards win out and Warner plays well, I can see him as an MVP.

At Football Outsiders, Mike Tanier overviews "run to win" and looks at the running games of several good teams.

In his Power Rankings, Don Banks refers to Visanthe Shiancoe's "notoriously bad hands." If this statement were made three months ago, it would be true--Shiancoe dropped a lot of passes last season and continued to drop passes early this season. As the season has progressed, however, Shiancoe has been catching the ball fairly consistently. Indeed, according to Football Outsiders, Shiancoe is the third-ranked TE in DYAR, second-ranked TE in DVOA, and has a catch percentage of 67%.

When I was growing up, I mocked my parents' penchant for making so much chili in the winter. Now I have chili all the time (vegetarian chili, of course). It's great for Sundays, and then it reheats throughout the week. Cycle of life: as the hooligan voice says in Tony Harrison's poem "v.," "now yer live wi' all yer once detested..." Now I live with chili all winter.

Enjoy your weekend everybody.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Keats and the Vikings

Today I was teaching John Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," and the discussion naturally turned to the Minnesota Vikings.

In the poem, the poet looks upon images on an urn and reflects upon it.  This passage in particular sent me on a tangent:

"Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!"

The poet looks at a picture of a man trying to kiss a woman.  Because it is a picture, it is frozen, and it will always be frozen.  The man's lips will always be moving toward kissing the woman, but will never actually kiss her.  Keats suggests this is a good thing: because the scene will not change, the man's love for the woman will not change, and she will always be beautiful.  This contrasts real life, where emotions do change and all flesh decays.

Keats is praising desire.  Fulfillment of desire can bring disappointment, and even if it brings satisfaction, it is still fleeting; all things change.  By being stuck frozen in the moment of desire, the man will forever be happy.

And I told my class that one of my greatest desires is to see the Vikings win a Super Bowl.  I talked about how I long for it, how I dream for it, how it has never happened and how I think that if it does happen, life will be perfect and I'll never complain about anything again.

I talked about how I don't understand why my Packer fan friends who did see the Packers win the Super Bowl in the '96 season can ever complain about anything.  "You saw your favorite team win a Super Bowl; isn't your life now perfect?"  I assume that if the Vikings win a Super Bowl, I will never complain about them again, and if they ever disappoint me, I'll just smile and say "Oh well--they already won the Super Bowl."

Maybe Keats is telling me to enjoy what I have.  The tantalizing desire may be a greatly enjoyable part of being a fan, and perhaps fulfillment of my desire will be disappointing (and would be fleeting).  Of course, I consider it a "desperate urge" more than a "tantalizing desire."

But the poem still makes me think of being a Viking fan.  We're that "Bold Lover," frozen on an urn, always leaning in for a kiss but never actually getting to do it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Reflections on Viking Fandom

Two recent articles in the Star Tribune have made me think about the nature of Viking fandom.

Last week, Pat Reusse asked why fans were still so negative toward Brad Childress, but so positive toward Gopher coach Tim Brewster.

First, I'm not sure the comparison works well. Reusse uses the generic "Minnesota fans," but the Viking and Gopher fanbases are not necessarily comprised of the same people. Certainly, many Minnesotans root for both teams. But there are also huge groups of die-hard Viking fans that are either indifferent to or luke-warm toward the Gophers. And do the die-hards that would call themselves "Gopher Nation" share the same deep passion for the Purple that Viking die-hards do? The generic "Minnesota fans" distorts the reality that in many ways, it is two very different fanbases reacting to the coaches.

Second, I think Reusse underestimates the intelligence of Viking fans. For example, he writes:

"The Vikings are 7-3 since Childress made the dramatic switch to veteran Gus Frerotte over third-year player Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback. In most situations, a coach making a key move that worked out so well in the win-loss column would be getting credit for his boldness."

The thing is, most Viking fans are smart enough to know the Vikings have often won despite Frerotte, not because of him. We know he's mediocre at best, and that the Vikings aren't really going to advance very far with him at quarterback. We also know that in three seasons, the quarterbacks Childress has brought to start for the team were Tarvaris Jackson, Brooks Bollinger, Kelly Holcomb, and Gus Frerotte. We also know that Childress is largely in control of the offense. So when the Vikings win defensive battles, when the passing game struggles (Frerotte is tied for the league lead in interceptions), we're not exactly going to become enraptured by Childress and his decision to play Gus Frerotte. We're happy the Vikings have been winning, but we recognize that quarterback is still a giant weakness for the team (which is what prevents them from being realistic Super Bowl contenders), and that there's still no long-term quarterback solution. We also recognize that's largely Brad Childress' fault.

This week, Michael Rand suggests that the Vikings should be getting more love than they are:

"And still there is an overwhelming sense of negativity toward this team. [...] Comments on game stories, even victories, are overwhelmingly negative."

"this team seems worthy of more love than it’s getting. Maybe it’s time to get over personal grudges and negativity and start enjoying a legitimate winning season."

I can't help but think that when I think "Viking fan" and when Michael Rand thinks "Viking fan," we're thinking of two different things. I say that not as a criticism--it's very understandable. You see, Rand (and Reusse, for that matter) are obviously widely exposed to readers of the Star Tribune. I think Rand probably often encounter the views of general Minnesota sports fans--people who follow sports, who root for the local teams, who watch the Vikings and want them to win but are also perhaps more casual about it. And I think that person might be different than, say, a fan that blogs about the Vikings in his free time, or fans that read a lot of their Viking commentary from Viking blogs and Viking message boards, from fans that attend a lot of games and feel emotionally moved by wins and losses. That's not to say Rand doesn't know about us die-hards, but the questions he asks in his post suggest (to me, anyway) that he's thinking about the more general "Minnesota fan" that likes the Vikings. Because as a Viking blogger, my encounters with Viking fans usually seem to be of the die-hard variety. Sure, there's negativity (and maybe too much of it). But here's the key point: nobody is ever going to question whether we're not giving enough love to the Purple. I mean, I blog primarily about the Vikings 12 months a year. If you're a Viking fan reading this, you probably also read other Viking blogs, and you probably spend a lot of time thinking about the Vikings too. If anything, we can be accused of devoting too much love to the Vikings.

Now, maybe I'm just misreading Rand's word choices of "heart" and "love." But it doesn't seem to me that a person asking those questions is really thinking about the die-hard Viking fans (again, that's not a criticism--I'm just exploring here). If people ask me "where are the Vikings in your heart?," they probably mean something like "Do you rank the Vikings ahead of your family, your career, and your religion?" In other words, they certainly don't mean "why don't you love the Vikings more?"

Monday, December 08, 2008

Weekly MVP Post (week 14)

My MVP list has been all over the place: I drop a player one week and add him back the next week. I'm not remotely confident in this list: next week Brees could throw three interceptions or Eli Manning could finish off the Cowboys on national TV. This is simply what it looks like to me right now.

Drew Brees
Brees leads the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns. If the Saints make the playoffs, it will be because Brees deserves MVP; if they miss the playoffs, it will be because he doesn't. I've addressed this.

Peyton Manning
Statistically, Manning has been much better in non-MVP years (of course, I think he deserved MVP in some of those years, particularly 2005). His yards per attempt are the lowest since his rookie season. But context matters: the MVP field is more open this season, and Manning has led this Colts' team to a lot of late-game wins.

Adrian Peterson
Peterson is the NFL's leading rusher (1,413 yards) for an 8-5 division leader. He's had eight 100 yard games, and in major division games he rushed for 192 yards against the Packers and 131 yards against the Bears. A rushing title plus a division title would make Peterson a strong contender.

Troy Polamalu/James Harrison
The Pittsburgh Steelers rank #1 in points allowed and #1 in yards allowed. Despite an inconsistent and mediocre offense, the Steelers are 10-3. Polamalu has seven interceptions and 16 pass deflections. Harrison has 15 sacks, seven forced fumbles, one interception, and one safety. The problem is I don't know which player is actually more valuable: both players have had monster impacts.


I first heard on MPR; the wording on the air was slightly different than the article, but the essence was the same: one statement reporting Wittman is fired (causing one emotional reaction), followed by a second statement reporting he will be replaced by Kevin McHale (causing an entirely other emotional reaction).

Drew Brees, Peter King, MVP, and "Clutch"

In week 13 against the Buccaneers, Drew Brees threw an interception at his own 17 with 2:33 left in a tie game.  Then Brees threw an interception with 1:45 left when down by three.  

Let's be clear here.  Late in a tie game, a Drew Brees interception gave the opponent an easy field goal to take the lead.  Then, with the ball back and needing a scoring drive, Brees threw another interception.

For that week, kicker Ryan Lindell was Peter King's goat of the week, not Brees.  King had Brees 3rd in his MVP ranking, and but to be fair did note:

"In many ways, he's having the best year at the most important position in football, even with a bummer Sunday in Tampa. But it'll be hard for me to hand the MVP to a guy who won't be playing in January, especially after how he played down the stretch in yesterday's must win, throwing picks on the final two possessions."

Normally I'd be less inclined to blame the QB for his team's record (the Saints rank 24th in points allowed and 21st in yards allowed, they play in a strong division, yada yada yada), but Brees clearly bares a big responsibility for the Tampa loss.  But even so, he's not King's "goat," and the game was simply a "bummer."

For his week 14 performance, Peter King dropped Brees to 4th, but called Brees "As clutch as clutch can be Sunday, particularly on a vital two-minute drill before halftime against Atlanta."  Brees is "as clutch as clutch can be" for a drive before halftime.  How did the Saints actually win the game Sunday?  Well, look at the play-by-play.  Atlanta took a lead midway through the fourth quarter.  Pierre Thomas took a kickoff 88 yards to the Atlanta 16.   On that 16 yard game-winning drive, Brees was precisely 0-1; the Saints ran the ball for all 16 yards (including on 4th and 1) to get the go-ahead touchdown.  The Saints then stopped the Falcons and got the ball back with 3:15.  To run out the clock, Brees completed one 10 yard pass, then Pierre Thomas was able to run out the clock (picking up two first downs on the ground).

Drew Brees was anti-clutch against the Buccaneers, but King praises Brees for being "as clutch as clutch can be" in a game because of a great drive in the first half, and because his team won a game in the fourth quarter primarily by returning a long kickoff and running the ball well.  

Peter King has been effluent with praise for Drew Brees all year.  But I think calling Brees "as clutch as clutch can be" for a first-half drive, when late in the fourth quarter his team won the game with special teams, rushing, and defense, a week after Brees threw costly fourth-quarter interceptions, is a strange thing to write.  And it probably should call into question the concept of "clutch:" one week a QB throws two late interceptions that directly cost his team the game, but the next week he plays well and his team makes a lot of plays in the fourth quarter, and he's "clutch."  "Clutch," then, doesn't seem to be an essential quality a player carries with him, but a way of explaining his performance after a team victory.

Perhaps that's existential: "clutch" is an action, not an inherent quality.  An adjective describing behavior, not a noun indicating essence.  But if "clutch" describes action rather than essence, then it can fluctuate: a player may play clutch one week, but not the next week.  Clutch is unreliable (as statistical analysts often suggest), and if it isn't an inherent quality, it starts to lose meaning.

Anyway, Drew Brees currently ranks #1 in passing yards, #1 in passing touchdowns, and #4 in passer rating.  If the Saints win out and make the playoffs, I'll rank him as my #1 MVP candidate.  That's because if they do win out, it will probably because Brees played great and he deserves it.  But if they do miss the playoffs, it's partly because Brees made mistakes (he's tied for 3rd in interceptions), and he doesn't deserve MVP.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Trailling Clouds of Heaven: Vikings 20, Lions 16

I can't say I feel good right now.  After spending much of the game with stones rolling around in my stomach, all I can feel is relieved.

Tarvaris Jackson
I'm not going to lie: I'm slightly intrigued.

Benching Jackson for Gus Frerotte earlier this season was the right move: Frerotte isn't that good, but he was making throws Jackson hadn't shown the ability to make, and going into today the Vikes had won seven of 10 games since Frerotte started.  But as I've said for a while, the Gus Frerotte-led Vikings appear at best to be a 9-10 win team ready to lose early in the playoffs, and then getting a good quarterback would be the team's top off-season priority.

With Tarvaris Jackson?  I don't know.  If he plays like the Tarvaris Jackson we've known in the past, then they're still probably at best a 9-10 win team ready to lose early in the playoffs, and quarterback is still the team's top off-season priority.  I still don't know if Jackson is consistently accurate enough to be a good NFL quarterback.  But...there's just a chance that Jackson was forced into action before he was ready.  There's just a chance he still has potential and that he has improved.  There's just a chance that this time on the bench has been good for him, allowing him to learn and re-focus.  There's just a chance that the Tarvaris Jackson we watched today isn't the same Tarvaris Jackson we've watched in the past.  Today he was 8/10 with 105 yards and a touchdown, no interceptions.  Jackson was mobile and poised, completing a lot of passes for first down.  He's not as accurate on the deep ball as Frerotte, but his running ability opens up new plays in the offense.

Gus Frerotte is what he is: we know what he is, and there's no progression, no development, no upside.  But Tarvaris Jackson is young and athletic, and just maybe there is hope.  Just maybe, there is progression, development, upside.

I don't know (and besides, Frerotte could be back under center next week).  I just say I'm intrigued.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

National Friday League, week 14

Vikings-Lions Preview (or, disorganized sentences and incomplete thoughts on the awful nature of the Lions' defense)

Earlier this season, the Lions played arguably their best game and the Vikings played arguably their worst game of the season.  The Vikings won 12-10.

I  just don't think the Lions are capable of playing that good a defensive game twice in the season against the same team.

According to Football Outsiders, the Lions may have the worst defense in NFL history.  Is the worst defense in the DVOA era going to play that well against the Vikings twice in one season?  I doubt it.  

The Lions rank defensively 32nd in points allowed, 31st in yards allowed, 30th in first downs allowed, 32nd in net pass yards allowed, 32nd in rush yards allowed, 32nd in rush touchdowns allowed, and 32nd in rush yards per attempt allowed.  This defense is awful.  

Last season, the Vikings sucked in their first game against the Lions, losing 20-17 in overtime, but destroyed the Lions in their later meeting, winning 42-10.

And even in the week 6 game when the Vikes scored just 10 points, the Vikes had 392 net yards offensively, but hurt their own cause with three turnovers.

The focus for this week isn't Kevin/Pat Williams; the focus this week is the Lions' awful, awful defense against the Viking offense.  Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor should run all over this team.  Tell me if my Thanksgiving experience somewhat matches yours: For some reason, I'm watching the Lions and Titans.  Just before it's time to eat and I realize there's no reason to watch any of this game (it doesn't matter which came first), I watched Chris Johnson run untouched up the middle for a 58 yard touchdown.  And I thought, "The Vikings play against this team soon."

The Vikings leading the NFC North
The 2003 Vikings managed to blow the NFC North in epic fashion.  The 9-7 Vikings started out 6-0, but were 0-4 against the four worst teams in the league (yep--they lost to each of the league's 4-12 teams), in week 15 they lost to the Bears on the Charles Tillman play, and in week 17 blew a 17-6 lead to the Cardinals when they failed to recover an onside kick then gave up the Nate Poole play while the Packers were blowing out the Denver Broncos' backups.

The 2004 Vikings blew the NFC North, but in slightly less epic fashion.  They started 5-1 and were in good shape at 7-4, but they lost a game to the Seahawks when, down by four, they called an end-around pass and Randy Moss threw an interception, managed to barely beat the Lions when Joey Harrington led a game-tying drive but the Lions botched the extra point, and eventually lost a "winner wins the division" game by three to the Packers at the Metrodome (but at least this happened).

Don't think I'm not ready for another epic failure.  You should be, too.  You know about WeAreVikingFans.com?  

Here's what "We are Viking fans" means to me, and probably many of you.

We are Viking fans.

We root for a team that lost four Super Bowls.

We root for a team that went 15-1 and lost the NFC Championship game largely because a kicker that made every kick during the regular season missed the game-clinching field goal.

We have a long history of watching the Vikings underachieve and collapse in grandiose fashion.

We expect the Vikings to always disappoint us.

We brace for cold winters, we know the cosmos is indifferent to our sufferings, and we have accepted the despair that our football team fills us with.  

We are ready to be disappointed.  We are ready for that sick empty feeling.

We are Viking fans.

This is the time of year to mark down any games between teams at or over .500, and pay close attention.

The fun thing about these games is I have no idea who is possibly going to win a single one of these games.

Fred Evans and Ellis Wyms (Pat Reusse).  See, this is where I learn that Wyms likes Broadway musicals, and now I root for him 10 times as hard.  See Vikings.com profiles of Wyms and Evans.

Reactions on the team to the Kevin/Pat Williams situation (Pioneer Press).

Seven years ago, the 0-12 Lions hosted the Minnesota Vikings... (Viking Update).  But let's remember the 2001 Vikings were 5-11 and had the league's 27th ranked defense (in yards allowed).  That was a bad football team, and they lost to a very bad football team.  This is a decent football team, playing a very bad football team.

Steve Aschburner on the Vikings and Kevin/Pat Williams.  Good stuff.

Adam Schein's current MVP: Peyton Manning.

David Hickey in Cold Hard Football Facts on Tony Romo as an MVP candidate.  As you know, I ranked him #1 earlier this week.  As you likely don't know, I started calling him Romoerotic two years ago.

Athletes doing good things: Warrick Dunn, Shelton Quarles, and Doug Williams build houses (Shutdown Corner).

I Dislike Your Favorite Team to the Timberwolves: hire Sam Mitchell.

The Vikes have an 87% chance to win Sunday (Advanced NFL Stats).

Scattered thoughts on football and writing at Fuh-baw.

Signal to Noise on Roger Goodell and the NFLPA.