Week 13: Vikings @ Cardinals

After delivering three satisfying home victories by wide margins the Vikings got a taste of their own medicine last Sunday evening in Arizona. The question after such a debacle is (and should be): are the Vikings not as good as people thought they were? Last week I talked about how the Vikings haven’t played anyone good; and I still feel that way. They played a very inconsistent Cardinals team that was consistent for one game. They hit on all cylinders and the Vikings misfired in all aspects of the game. Vince Verhei, of Football Outsiders, provided this analysis on ESPN.com: Despite their 10-2 record, the Vikings have their flaws, and those flaws were in full display in their 30-17 beatdown at the hands of the Cardinals. The bad news for the Vikings is that Arizona\’s strengths match up perfectly with Minnesota\’s weaknesses. Even worse, a playoff rematch between the two seems inevitable — and the Cardinals seem like a team designed in a laboratory with the specific goal of ending Minnesota\’s Super Bowl run. Verhei discusses (at length) that Adrian Peterson is the center of the Vikings offense, and while his raw statistics look great, his DVOA is terrible (he ranks 24th on their list). What is DVOA you ask? Well, it’s a proprietary statistic that Football Outsiders uses to judge running backs: Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. This number represents value, per play, over an average running back in the same game situations. The more positive the DVOA rating, the better the player\’s performance. Negative DVOA represents below-average offense. Peterson ranked 22nd last year when he led the league in rushing and scored 10 touchdowns. Sammy Morris ranked 5th in DVOA in 2008. Point being that it’s hard to trust any statistic in a vacuum. Additionally Verhei nails Peterson on his fumbles. Yes, it’s troubling, and there have been some bad ones. But… The top 3 running back fumblers of all-time are: Tony Dorsett, Franco Harris, and Walter Payton. They fumbled once every 33, 33, and 45 attempts (respectively). Peterson to date: one fumble every 44 attempts. Verhei nails Peterson for his “Success Rate” (defined as percentage of runs that gain 40 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth downs). He also ranks just 28th

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out of 38 qualifying backs in Success Rate (percentage of runs that gain 40 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth downs; 100 carries to qualify). Furthermore, Peterson has been playing behind an offensive line whose performance has not lived up to their reputation. Finally Verhei makes a coherent point. The Vikings offensive line has played poorly this year, but I don’t know if I would go so far to say they have not lived up to their reputation. In my season preview I asked, “Will the Offensive Line step up in pass protection and run blocking with a new Center, suspect Right Guard, and rookie Right Tackle?” The answer has been yes and no. Farve has been sacked 25 times (though many of them have been his fault for holding onto the ball far too long). And they have struggled with run blocking all season. This shouldn’t be surprising. What should be surprising is that the Vikings have played as well as they have with an offensive line that is 3/5ths inexperienced. Specific to the Cardinals game the Vikings only had a healthy center. Hutchinson has been injured for several games; McKinney came out of the game briefly. Herrera sat on the bench, and Loadholt dislocated his shoulder. On the defensive side of the ball I agree that the Cardinals provide a bad matchup for the Vikings as they do not need to establish their run game to pass effectively. But the Cardinals also need to protect Warner to pass effectively. 9 of the 16 sacks that Warner has received have have been in their 3 losses (Warner didn’t play in the loss against the Titans). The most striking thing about the Vikings/Cardinals game wasn’t the lack of fireworks by the Vikings offense, but the lack of pressure by the Vikings defense. The Vikings also played poorly on Special Teams and were outcoached (which isn’t terribly surprising). I was thinking/hoping the Vikings would play better in the second half. They have come out strong in the 3rd quarter in nearly every game this year. But Favre (by his own admission) imploded in the 3rd quarter. The defense and special teams played better, but it was far too late. Losing a road game against a division leader (even one as mediocre as the Cardinals), who needed the win badly, isn’t the end of the world. Losing to the Bengals, badly, at home would be far more concerning. Should be a good match-up… especially with Ocho Cinco promising that if he scores a touchdown he is going to steal Ragnar’s horn (and possibly motorcycle). In closing, the only thing I completely agree with Verhei on is that the Vikings and Cardinals will likely face each other in the playoffs; however I expect that meeting to be in the Metrodome. I think you’ll see a very different game that weekend in January. Skol Vikings!







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