Monday, January 12, 2009

Viking Defense: 2006-2008

At I Dislike Your Favorite Team, Big Blue Monkey 2 suggests the Viking defense has been overrated:

"The Vikings defense has been overrated for the last three years--yes, they are great at stopping the run. They've got huge fat guys who fart on the opposing offensive linemen, and let their linebackers stuff the run. They've been great at it. But they've got no real sense in the secondary, and their best players back there are getting older every year."

The suggestion seems based on a common misconception about the team: that it is great at stopping the run but poor at stopping the pass.

It is true that the 2006, 2007, and 2008 Viking defenses have been dominant stopping the run.

2006: 985 yards (#1), 2.8 yards per attempt (#1)
2007: 1,185 yards (#1), 3.1 yards per attempt (#2)
2008: 1,230 yards (#1), 3.3 yards per attempt (#2)

It is also true that these defenses gave up a lot of passing yards.

2006: 3,818 (#31)
2007: 4,225 (#32)
2008: 3,449 (#18)

A closer look, however, reveals that the Vikings gave up a lot of passing yards because they faced a lot of passing attempts:

2006: 599 (#32)
2007: 646 (#32)
2008: 530 (#22)

Because teams failed to run against the Vikings, they attempted a lot of passes. A look at the net yards per attempt numbers shows that the Viking defense was about average in 2006 and 2007, and good in 2008:

2006: 6.1 (#18)
2007: 6.2 (#17)
2008: 6.0 (#8)

In 2008, Jared Allen keyed a Viking pass rush that had 45 sacks, fourth in the league. The 2006 and 2007 Viking defenses were dominant against the run and competent against the pass; the 2008 Vikings became a complete defense (#6 in yards allowed) when they added a pass rush.

Overall, the Vikings have been a very good defensive team. In the 49 games the Vikings played from 2006 to 2008, they gave up one or zero offensive touchdown in 27 of them. Let's make this clear:

In 55% of the Viking games in the past three seasons, the defense allowed zero or one touchdown.

The Viking defense has performed very well for three years, and in 2008, it became a unit capable of guiding a team to championship contention. The Vikings have not been a championship caliber team, however, because of questionable coaching, poor quarterbacking, inconsistent receivers, and poor special teams. Big Blue Monkey 2 is correct that it cannot all be pinned on Tarvaris Jackson (though I'm doubtful Jackson will become a good quarterback--his biggest weakness is inconsistent accuracy, and I don't know that that will improve with experience). And while "overrated" is a subjective term, I think Big Blue Monkey 2 is incorrect to claim the Viking defense has been overrated.

I'd also argue with Big Blue Monkey 2's apparent hinting that Antoine Winfield was not Pro Bowl caliber in 2008 by citing Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders: "The charting numbers show Winfield with 5.5 yards allowed per pass and a 67 percent Success Rate, second among cornerbacks with at least 40 charted passes. [...] If you prefer league PBP to game charting, I can tell you that Winfield had 56 pass tackles and a 45 percent Stop Rate on those tackles, the best Stop Rate of any cornerback if we include only pass tackles and not passes defensed."


  1. Anonymous8:37 AM

    Everyone likes to take a piss on the Vikings, sure they can do it justifiably on our Spec. Ed. Teams or QB play, but on our defense!!!

    That guy's overrated comments reek of very poor sports writing. Most of the time these past 3 seasons, the Vikings defense has been more fun to watch than our offense. You know why, because our defense is that good, even if everyone goes empty set and throws 40+ times!!!

    Please Chilly get Hasselbeck and pray his back holds up!!!

  2. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Pass defense is not good. Yards/completion is meaningless. How many passes did they give up in critical situations? Can you say our offense is great? We do one thing, run the ball. Our defense does one thing, stop the run.

  3. Anonymous5:02 PM

    The defense also SACKS the quarterback!!! Where were you anon.?????? Obviously not watching the Vikings Pass Rush!!! Take you NEGATIVITY elsewhere!

  4. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Sacks are good defensive football. If the opponent is winging it 40 times a game, sacks will happen. What game are you watching when our opponents pass all over the field? There is more to defense than stop the run. See Baltimore or Pittsburgh if you want a great defense.

  5. In the first half of the year, Cedric Griffin was regularly beaten, and after E.J. Henderson went on IR, the Vikes were very vulnerable to passes to TEs and RBs. Certainly the Vikings had some issues against the pass. But in several games the Viking defense did a good job stopping/containing good quarterbacks and passing games (against Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers). That's why on the whole they gave up very few touchdowns (15 passing TDs, 5th in the league, to go with the 10 rushing TDs allowed, 6th in the league).

    If you want to ignore the factual data (ranking #5 in TD passes allowed, #8 in net yards per attempt allowed, #4 in sacks) to claim the Vikings were a one-dimensional defense, you can. But you'd be asking me to ignore a lot of factual data in favor of your unsupported, subjective claims.

  6. Also, the Vikings were 4th in the league in defensive third-down stop %, and fifth on defensive fourth downs, so I don't know what "critical situations" Anon is talking about (stats here)

    (Though I swear, they're better at stopping a team at 3rd-and-2 than they are stopping them at 3rd-and-10. Purely irrational though, I know, and probably not backed up by data, but damn if it doesn't seem that way sometimes.)

  7. Jason, I think that gets at why we need to check our subjective memories with the data (which is why I need to bother writing posts like this one).

    My guess is that when the Vikes stop a team on 3rd and 10, it's fairly ho-hum--it's hard for an offense to convert on 3rd and 10, and thus we expect the stop, giving no special credit to the defense for actually making it. But when a team does convert the 3rd and 10 against us, we are frustrated and disappointed, and it sticks in our memory as we think "Why do the Vikes always allow these 3rd and long conversions!?"

    Perhaps the same is true of 3rd and short--a stop feels like an awesome defensive play, but a conversion on 3rd and short is, well, a basic short yardage play that is easily forgotten.

  8. Anonymous9:34 PM

    Gentlemen, the Vikings are a lockdown corner or ball hawking safety away from being down right Ravenesque on defense. They are the best team in the N.F.L. against the run, subsequently teams have to pass against them and teams stats can't help but reflect the obvious.

    They can rush the passer and have good linebacker play. They have the potential to be exceptional with the right additions and of course no significant injuries.

    Our kick coverage (punts & Kick offs) killed us all year. I should say, special teams in general probably cost us more games than anyone would care to admit.

    I cannot see Paul Ferraro coming back next year. I know he has tons of coaching experience, but we sucked on special teams the entire season and there was a spec. teams break down of some kind in every game.

  9. oh what a coincidence I was reading some posts on Idislikeyourfavoriteteam blog and then I found this blog and now I am reading this, what a small blog world LOL