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06 Nov 2007

Any Given Sunday: Vikings over Chargers

by Ned Macey

The NFL is supposed to be a difficult league. Some of the world's best athletes put their skills on display each and every Sunday afternoon.

Adrian Peterson is apparently unfazed by this level of competition. Only eight games into his career, Peterson set the single-game rushing record with 296 yards against a playoff-caliber Chargers team. At a certain point, the superlatives lose meaning because nobody can exaggerate his impact through the first eight games of his rookie season.

The fact that the Chargers played Washington Generals to Peterson and the Vikings' Harlem Globetrotters is embarrassing for a team that only last season had the best record in football. The weak defense that was exposed by Peterson remains a serious concern. The sputtering offense, however, was the result of a terrible on-field matchup. The run-first Chargers encountered a team perfectly designed to stop them. The Vikings rush defense over the past season and a half is nearly as impressive as Peterson has been in his debut.

Peterson deservedly gets the lead in all stories currently told on the Vikings, including this one. We will get to the analysis of his exceptional performance, but the Vikings run defense deserves top billing in an article for a change. The Pat Williams-led crew is performing at a level rarely seen.

The Vikings' run defense DVOA this season is -32.2%, first in the league. Last season, they were almost exactly the same at -33.6%. (Remember, a negative DVOA means the defense is better, so negative is good here.)

DVOA can sometimes be hard to understand, so let's put those numbers in context. DVOA has been calculated back to 1996. Only three defenses during that period have had a better run defense DVOA in a season than the 2006 or 2007 Vikings. The only team to achieve even back-to-back -20% or better run defense DVOAs are the Chargers themselves, who actually did it from 1998-2001. Great run defense generally undermined by terrible quarterback play and shaky pass defense? At least Chargers fans were familiar with what they saw on the other side of the field Sunday.

Even the great LaDainian Tomlinson was no match for the Vikings interior. He totaled only 40 yards on 16 carries. His one touchdown came on his third attempt from the one-yard line, and he barely got in on that try.

The reason the Vikings defense as a whole has not been dominant is because they have been decidedly mediocre defending the pass. Their linebackers and safeties both struggle in coverage, and their zone defense can be picked apart. The situation is exacerbated by their struggles to get consistent pressure on the quarterback.

Sunday, the Vikings broke form against the Chargers and blitzed them over and over and over. The Chargers were without their starting center, Nick Hardwick. The Vikings responded by sending middle linebacker E.J. Henderson across the line of scrimmage repeatedly. In our eternal quest to compare players, Henderson was sometimes compared to Derrick Brooks last season when Henderson played weakside linebacker in a base Cover-2 scheme, the same position Brooks plays in Tampa Bay.

On Sunday, Henderson looked distinctly like another recent Pro Bowl linebacker: Jeremiah Trotter. People picture Trotter in his recent past when he had lost a step, but the Trotter who starred for the Eagles early this decade was fast, aggressive, and packed a wallop. He always excelled attacking the line of scrimmage, happy to take down the ball carrier or continue to the quarterback.

The similar role may not be too surprising because the Vikings current defensive coordinator, Leslie Frazier, was a defensive assistant for those stout Eagles defenses. Frazier's natural inclination is to blitz, a tendency he has fought perhaps due to head coach Brad Childress' apparent fondness for the Tampa-2.

The results of this scheme were disastrous for the Chargers. Quarterback Philip Rivers rarely faces an opposing defense that has not committed extra people to the run. The Vikings, thanks to their stout run defense, only occasionally brought a safety near the line of scrimmage. The secondary, therefore, was free to play its safeties in coverage.

The inefficiency in the running game forced the Chargers to the air, but Rivers was repeatedly hurried and harassed by blitzing linebackers. The pressure almost always came up the middle and prevented Rivers from stepping into his passes. When flushed out of the pocket, Rivers was inaccurate. The blitzing Vikings frequently doubled Antonio Gates, taking away Rivers' primary option. The great tight end caught only one pass on the day.

The solution last season for Rivers would have been to work underneath routes with his starting receivers, Eric Parker and Keenan McCardell. That proved impossible this season, as neither has suited up for the Chargers. Parker, in particular, was an outstanding intermediate option. More than 70 percent of his receptions gained first downs last season.

McCardell was clearly on the downside, and the Chargers' sensible plan was to replace him with emerging deep threat Vincent Jackson. Unfortunately, Parker suffered a toe injury and will miss the season. The Chargers struggled to find a second receiver before acquiring Chris Chambers, who unfortunately replicates Jackson's strengths. On Sunday -- with Gates taken away and constant pressure coming up the middle -- Rivers was rushing his deep throws and unable to connect to either receiver who beat man-to-man coverage on several occasions.

The results were a desultory performance that saw Rivers only complete 19 out of 42 passes. For the season, Rivers has clearly regressed from his impressive debut in 2006. Growing pains as a second-year starter are not unique, and Rivers simply needs to relax in the pocket. The easy plays that came against nine-man fronts last season are no longer there, and his inconsistent accuracy down the field is holding him back.

The pressure on Rivers will only build if the defense remains the sieve that it was in the second half. They reasonably contained Peterson in the first half, holding him to 43 yards on 13 carries. The convenient explanation is that the Chargers lost defensive end Luis Castillo to an injury early in the third quarter. The problem is that the Chargers have been a terrible second-half defense all season. For the season to date, they rank 21st in defensive DVOA in the third quarter and 29th in the fourth quarter. They are an above-average defense in the first half.

Explanations for this phenomenon are unclear at this point. The defense certainly appeared slow in the later stages of Sunday's contest. The Chargers have a rather large defense, so potentially the front seven is tired by the end of the game. They certainly could not keep up with Peterson or Chester Taylor, who gashed them repeatedly as the game progressed.

The emergence of Peterson is truly an amazing story. The Vikings have no threat of a passing game, so defenses can concentrate all their force on defending Peterson. The offensive line has talent but is inconsistent and particularly weak on the right side. Taylor, a solid NFL running back, is not having nearly the success Peterson has had despite running behind the same line.

Peterson is embarrassing the league at this point with a ridiculous 6.6 yards per carry. His only blemish is three fumbles. Most impressively, Peterson, as a running back, has brought a big-play capability to a team otherwise lacking. In half a season, he already has six plays of 40 or more yards and 12 over 20 yards. Taylor had only two plays over 40 yards and six over 20 yards in 15 games last season. The great Tomlinson only had eight plays over 40 yards and 16 over 20 in his MVP season a year ago. Peterson may challenge Eric Dickerson's rookie record of 1,808 rushing yards, and he will challenge it with far fewer carries.

The big-play threat makes the Vikings offense competent. Teams will begin to put nine men in the box to stop the run and dare the Vikings to win in the passing game. It's far from certain that the Vikings are able to perform such a feat. Brooks Bollinger appears to be the default quarterback after injury and ineffectiveness shelved Tarvaris Jackson and Kelly Holcomb. The run defense should keep Minnesota in a number of games and give them opportunities to win nearly every game on their schedule. To date, four of their five losses have been by a touchdown or less.

The Vikings have likely dug too big a hole in a division where the Packers are 7-1 and the Lions are 6-2. They close with four games against teams with winning records, including road games at the Packers and Giants in two of the next three weeks. The Vikings will fall short of the playoffs, but they will remain an interesting team to follow, because at times they will dominate against and with the run.

For San Diego, the good news is that their offense was particularly poorly suited for the Vikings. The only team with a comparable ability to stop the run is Baltimore, which fortunately has no offensive weapon resembling Peterson. The offense will not be as dominant as a season ago, but the team is down its starting receivers from last year and has seen an overall decline in offensive line play. Their offense will likely perform not too far behind what they did in 2004 and 2005.

Even in its diminished capacity, the offense is good enough to get many teams into the playoffs. The problem is that the Chargers defense is not getting the job done. They have allowed 30 points in all four of their losses. That unit needs to start putting full games together against quality competition if the Chargers expect to make a playoff run. Given their lackluster performance against a one-dimensional offense, the defense is clearly still searching for answers. If San Diego continues to sputter, the once-proud AFC West will be sending a very mediocre Kansas City squad to the playoffs as their representative.

Each Tuesday in Any Given Sunday, Ned Macey looks at the most surprising result of the previous weekend. The NFL sells itself on the idea that any team can win any given game, but we use these surprises as a tool to explore what trends and subtle aspects of each team are revealed in a single game.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 06 Nov 2007

65 comments, Last at 07 Nov 2007, 5:41pm by raffy

Comments

1
by Joseph (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 1:44pm

Re: the Chargers: Is there any way to measure the negative impact that Turner & Cottrell have had on this team? I believe some of the fan comments in Audibles remarked about this.

2
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 1:52pm

So the Vikes were blitzing and doubling Gates? That doesn't say much for their wide receivers and/or Rivers. Did the Chargers ever try to cross up the Vikes by going max protection (leaving Gates in to block) and just running some two man routes? That should have given Rivers time and left his receivers in single coverage.

3
by B (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:01pm

1: Chargers DVOA last year - Chargers DVOA last year = Turner effect. It's not really that simple, but it gives a good idea of how this team is not playing as well as it should be.

4
by Dwayne (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:03pm

Philip Rivers is regressing. Amazing that Norv can mold QB's when he is the coordinator, and hurts them when he is head coach. Norv continues to live up to his billing.

5
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:07pm

The blitz is kind of like the press in college basketball. It can work consistently against a bad team but a good team exploits the advantage it offers.

Even though Norv has his issues I am surprised that a guy around this long in the pro game couldn't get his team to adapt to what Minnesota was doing.

6
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:17pm

I think most blow out games are actually a lot closer than they look. In the first half the Chargers barely missed several big pass plays. Jackson dropped a 30 yarder, Rivers made a horrible throw to a wide open Chambers on what would have been a 40 yard + play, they lost a 25 yarder on a very questionable off pass interference play and Rivers under threw Jackson on a bomb that allowed a beaten Dwight Smith to get back in the play.

Yes the Vikings dominated in the second half but they were pretty lucky all told in the first half.

7
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:20pm

3.

SD's total DVOA is +20%, after being severely negative at the beginning of the season.They were +30% last year.

I hardly think DVOA is showing how bad of a coach Turner is.

8
by Flounder (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:43pm

Re: 6 on the flip side, a 109 yard return of a missed field goal is awfully lucky.

9
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:44pm

As noted in other threads, if the Vikings try to blitz Favre on Sunday like they did Rivers, the Packers will pass for more than 400 yards. Coaching means adjusting, except in those circumstances when the personnel is truly dominant in the historical sense. I hope Leslie Frazier has no illusions of disrupting Favre and his receivers in the manner he did Rivers and Co..

Some defenses (not coached by Ted Cottrell) have already schemed for the Vikings offense intelligently. The Eagles in particular did so, seldom not having at least eight in the box, sometimes nine, and almost always having at least nine players close to the line of scrimmage, and sometimes ten. The Eagles crowded the box, pressed the Vikings wideouts at the line of scrimmage, and dared the Vikings to try to throw downfield. The Vikings could not, although it should be noted that this was a game in which they started a weak-armed statue named Holcomb at qb. Jackson and Bollinger aren't any good, but Holcomb has zero physical ability left.

Unfortunately, I expect the Packers, not having morons for coaches, to find that a scheme like the Eagles', as opposed to the Chargers', is more appropriate for this Sunday. On the Peterson's first long td run on Sunday, Ted Cottrell, Football Genius, decided to have six guys in the box(!), and on the 2nd long t.d. run there were only seven. I don't think Peterson will see much of that against the Packers. The Vikings should consider taking a chance of being severely ridiculed Sunday, and come out with play action deep passes in their first couple of series, in hopes of making the Packers defend the pass at least a little, and then let Peterson do his stuff.

10
by blacksuit (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:49pm

As a niners fan, you can't help but shake your head at Norv Turner. Both teams lost out in that deal.

11
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:50pm

Actually, one of the more hopeful signs for the Vikings on Sunday was that Cedric Griffin defended some passes well while blanketing a receiver effectively. The Packers are a much more difficult challenge, but I thought it easily was Griffin's best performance of the year.

12
by RickD (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:53pm

Based on the success the Vikings had on Sunday, and on the fact that the Colts are (at least up through week 8) the top-rated running team in DVOA in the NFL, should we expect a slaughter on Sunday?

If we considered the Colts of a year ago, we would expect to see them utterly dismantled by the Chargers, as the Chargers' power running game is exactly the kind of offense that was beating up the Colts week after week last year. Have things changed so much in twelve months that the opposite is now true?

13
by Mike (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 2:58pm

I still wonder this: The Vikings run a (modified) Cover-2, but that's a defense that I always thought traded rushing defense for shutting down the big play, e.g. you give up the 3s and 4s, figuring that if you make one stop between the twenties, you'll get them into a 3rd and long they won't be able to convert, or else you'll get a turnover from your secondary.

The Vikings are dominant against the run. Is it just an issue of sheer talent compensating the weaknesses of the scheme?

Or am I misinformed with what the coaches tell us about why our (the Bills') run defense isn't up to snuff this year.

14
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:08pm

Mike, it's just unusual to have two defensive tackles who are so dominant in the run game as the Williams non-brothers are. The Vikings really don't have the classic Cover Two defensive line. Even one of their starting defensive ends, Udeze, is a superior run defender, while only an average pass rusher. The Vikings, to improve on defense, need more pressure form the outside on a consistent basis, or better play fromn their 2nd corner, nickel, and safeties. They are pretty decent on defense, especially given how the offense has performed, but there are some easy to spot weaknesses.

15
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:10pm

So when does Ron Rivera become the next big-time head coach?

16
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:12pm

Nice write-up Ned. I will say though that "The pressure almost always came up the middle" isn't the whole story. While EJ Henderson had a terrific game, Rivers was under pressure from his blind-side the whole time. Marcus McNeill was, frankly, awful.

Sunday was the first time I'd seen the Vikings this year, so I'll take your word on their inconsistency, but Minnesota's O-line really impressed me.

17
by taxistan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:37pm

I believe Norv's given name is Norbut. But for Norv the Chargers would be good!

18
by Jin (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:38pm

Will, to add to your plan, the Vikings should open with 3WRs so GB puts that Bush guy Sidney Rice murdered all game. Because Harris and Woodson singled up against our WRs is advantage Packers.

19
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:39pm

James, I think Ned overstated the deficiencies of the right side of the Vikings o-line, at least in run blocking. Ryan Cook is improving rapidly, as many 2nd year players do, and starting Herrera instead of Hicks a few games ago was a definite upgrade. Herrera isn't the most physically gifted guy, which gets exposed more in the passing game, but he is an extremely nasty fellow on the field, whch aids run blocking quite a bit. One of the reasons he didn't become a starter sooner was his tendency to become a little too nasty at times, which hurt with the mental adjustments critical to o-line play. He has reeled it in just a little, and now more fully benefits from his unpleasant demeanor.

Finally, Kleinsasser is frequently out on the right side, and there are few tight ends or h-backs who can just absolutely stone a defensive end in the run game while matched up one on one, in the manner Kleinsasser frequently does. It's not very unusual for him to put his opponent flat on his back.

20
by CA (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:50pm

Re: 15 Sunday was the first time I’d seen the Vikings this year, so I’ll take your word on their inconsistency, but Minnesota’s O-line really impressed me.

The Vikings' offensive line did look good against the Chargers, especially on the right side, surprisingly. However, the entire offensive line was consistently and completely manhandled by the Eagles just the week before, especially in the first half. "Inconsistent" is right. I'll throw in "underachieving" too, given the salaries and reputations of the left tackle, left guard, and center. The Vikings' offensive line should impress a lot more frequently than it actually does.

21
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:51pm

Jin, I think you are correct, and I also belive they need to send Shiancoe deep down the middle a few times. Anything to make the Packers face Peterson without nine in the box. If whomever the Vikings start at qb can have a couple accurate deep throws, or one of the receivers can manage to have an above-average play on the ball downfield, everything gets much, much, easier.

22
by jim's apple pie (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 3:53pm

Once again, Ned Macey comes through with a great Any Given Sunday. I am always impressed when Ned covers my team (the Chargers) because his analysis makes it seem like he's been following the team all year. I only have a couple of points to add to the discussion:

1) Luis Castillo getting hurt at the start of the second half is probably a too-convenient excuse for the disparity in the run defense, but I think it was important because by that point he was the third starter out. Quentin Jammer re-injured his hamstring in the second quarter and Shaun Phillips sat the game out with a groin injury. Phillips is one of the best players on this defense and Jammer has always been a solid, physical run defender and tackler (even if he sucks at coverage). Cromartie replaced Jammer in the starting line-up and he's almost the exact opposite player: he excels in pass coverage and hates contact so he defends the run poorly. The consistent second half decline of the run defense is probably due to the lack of depth on the defensive line. The Chargers have nobody that can replace Jamal Williams, Castillo, or Igor Olshansky if those guys go out.

2) The Vikings defensive tackles were awesome, and I don't think having our starting center (Nick Hardwick) would have helped much. Hardwick tends to have a lot of trouble handling those big guys. McNeil was awful and played much better last year with two broken hands.

3) Rivers had plenty of opportunities to hit open receivers for big gains and was just off on all of them. If he did hit the receiver, it was called back by a questionable penalty. The first half of this game was UGLY and the refs seemed very flag-happy. The PI called on Jackson was atrocious and somehow there was a false start on a play that ended up being a 40 yard completion, yet somehow the play wasn't whistled dead and there was no flag indicator until after the play was over.

23
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 4:01pm

CA, go check the fronts the Eagles used in that game. Nobody would have effectively run against them, and if you can't get open at all downfield against press coverage for an entire game, and you have a statue at qb, the o-line will look bad. Hell, even if you do have receivers who beat press coverage consistently, a statue at qb will make a line look bad. The Cowboys last year are the classic example. With Bledsoe behind center, the Cowboys line looked awful in pass blocking. They switch to Romo, and suddenly the o-line looks decent. Unless I have a coach's tape and a stopwatch, I'm extremely hesitant to be critical of an o-line when they are blocking for the likes of Kelly Holcomb.

Yes, Mckinnie had his bad moments in Arrowhead against Jared Allen, with Holcomb starting at qb. That isn't exactly harsh criticism. He also had a bad game against Green Bay when he was suffering from food poisoning, and was puking into a trash barrel on the sideline for most of the game. The criticism of Mckinnie in particular has been completely over the top.

24
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 4:20pm

In a stab at optimism, I'll say this much: if the Vikings figure out a way to beat the Packers on Sunday, and Lambeau is a venue in which the Vikings have frequently performed well, even when the talent gap favors the Packers more than it does this year, the Vikings will have a non-trivial opportunity to win nine games and be in contention for the playoffs into week 17, although they may have already lost enough conference games to make the tie-breakers problematic. Who knows? This may be another year in which 8-8 qualifies for the NFC playoffs. It doesn't seem to be the case now, but at mid-season in the NFC, it is frequently underestimated how difficult it will be for many teams to win nine.

25
by Peter (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 4:33pm

The Chargers had several opportunities to blow the game open early in the first half. Peterson was kept in check, and the Charger receivers were running wide open all over the field. Philip Rivers, who is fast becoming the Chargers' weak link on the field, failed to connect with any of them.

When the Chargers failed to take advantage of those openings down field, the game turned into a time of possession battle that the Vikings were perfectly suited for.

Again, San Diego showed a decline in production from one half to the next. This is the clearest indication that the team's coaching is sub par. Norv Turner and Ted Cotterrel seem to be incapable of making a competent game time adjustment. Nice win for the Vikings!

Adrian Peterson is awesome!

26
by Otis Taylor 89 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 4:43pm

The 2006 Chargers didn't exactly play the 1985 Bears every week. They were in a weak division, playing a 3rd place schedule and playing the NFC West(!!). They were exposed in the playoffs by a HOF coach. The 2007 Chargers are playing a 1st place schedule, in a weak division, but against a strong NFC North. They are 4-4 in the worst or 2nd worst division in the AFC. They are...wait....who they are. They will finish 9-7 in a bad division, otherwise they would be 8-8 or 7-9.
Now if Drew Brees was their QB....

27
by Peter (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 4:51pm

#25:

Let's not have any misgivings about the 2006 Chargers. They were awesome. A lot of that had to do with Marty, but even more had to do with better quarterbacking.

It's clear that Rivers is having a sophomore slump that San Diego is not likely to recover from (as far as Super Bowl aspirations go). But even with that, his numbers are pretty good (still completing 60%+ of his passes with more TDs than INTs).

If he recovers like quarterbacks often do, the Chargers could be very very good next year.

28
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:02pm

Up until Sunday's game the conventional wisdom seemed to be that the Vikings were a bottom dwelling team. Even the writers on this site seemed to lump them in with teams with far lower DVOA ratings. The Vikings have not been outplayed significantly in any game this year with the possible exception of Dallas. The QB play has been very weak all year, yet they are likely going to rank in the top 13 or so after the new DVOA rankings come out. The guys like Sagarin who do pure points ratings have the Vikings 9th.

The Vikings are a decent football team. Bad teams don't outgain playoff calibre teams 500-200.

29
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:11pm

2. No, not really, and it seemed like the only possible effective strategy. The Chargers did little to try protect Rivers beyond running ineffective screens.

12. I've never seen a more dominant defensive tackle than Pat Williams. The amazing thing is that individually, 2005 was probably his best year (he was constantly penetrating the line). Together with Kevin Williams, they simply overwhelm interior linemen--the Vikes can actually be exploited on runs around the edges (which SD also never really tried Sunday).

15. It's simplistic, I know, but I basically feel the Viking o-line is very good in run blocking, and very disappointing in pass blocking. Of course, the fact that they have good RBs to block for and bad QBs/WRs to block for might skew that perception.

30
by Pacifist Viking (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:14pm

And by "exploited on runs around the edges," I just mean they'll occasionally give up positive plays on off-tackle plays, but even then not usually. They're still very good against any run, they're just completely dominant in the middle.

31
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:19pm

As I mentioned yesterday, starting safety Nick Collins is out and rookie Aaron Rouse is starting in his place. The other safety, Atari Bigby, has been regularly beaten in pass coverage over the last 3-4 games and when not giving up long completions is being called for PI.

If the Vikes don't take some shots deep then Childress deserves every invective a Viking fan can muster. The situation couldn't be more tailor-made for chancing some long passes.

That and the Packer offensive line is a mess. I understand folks will think I am overstating things since Favre threw for 360 on Sunday but Daryn Colledge, Jason Spitz and Tony Moll were all embarrassed at different times against the Chiefs. And for Colledge this is just the latest in a string of ugly outings. If Junius Coston weren't hurt Colledge would have been benched some time ago.

The notion that these schmoes will get any movement against the Williams "twins" is laughable......

32
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:29pm

The Vikings are a very, very, strange football team, which makes them hard to gauge, but interesting to watch, even when they become hopelessly one- dimensional. I can't say they are a decent to good team until an opposing defense completely sells out to stop Peterson, like the Eagles did, and the Vikings take advantage of it. Maybe it is because of the type of football I like, but I preferred watching last year's team go 6-10 much more than I did some of the Moss and Culpepper teams with losing records, and if this team goes 8-8 or 9-7, I'll prefer them to the Moss and Culpepper teams that posted records like that. I have a hard time warming to physically soft football teams, and from 1999-2005, that's what the Vikings mostly were, even when they were advancing well into the playoffs in some years.

33
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:32pm

Will:

Agreed. Which is why it drove me nuts that the Packers lost to those schmucks.

34
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 5:56pm

Well, Badger it's been a welcome gradual change that began when they added guys like Antione Winfield, the Williams tackles, etc., and got some better coaching on defense, although O'Leary was actually pretty good in the couple years he was on the Vikings staff. Obviously, adding a Hutchinson helps as well. Like I said above, Herrera is an over-achieving brawler, which is the kind of guard I really appreciate. Actually, David Dixon was a consistently nasty fellow as well, before he got too old and heavy. Now, the Vikings are not yet fairly categorized as a good team, but they are a group that relishes putting the hammer to the anvil, on both sides of the ball, which I really like.

Actually, the teams I disliked the most since the Les Steckel debacle of more than 20 years ago were two teams that advanced deep into the playoffs, the 1999 and 2000 versions. Yes, they were offensively dominant at the skilled positions, and the o-line was not a bunch of softies, but good grief, how I hated watching their defense. I didn't even bother to watch the Conference Championship Game against the Giants live, because the thought of waiting between plays as the Vikings defense got pushed around like a junior high squad was too painful a prospect. Instead, I went car shopping that afternoon, and then sped through that debacle that evening on video tape. I hope to never see that kind of Vikings team again.

35
by DR Ryan (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:09pm

Don't know where to post this but....

How much cross-referencing / checking do the Outsiders do of their stats?

E.g. you quite often see player X has Y passes defensed on MNF or Linemen A is responsible for B blown blocks.

If these are cross referenced, do they matchup?

36
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:14pm

One of the interesting elements of McCarthy is that while looking like a docile, roly-poly fellow he has built a defense that is comprised by some mean mofos. Nick Barnett is playing at a fever pitch just about every game. Brady Poppinga can't handle pass coverage but delivers some brutish hits to running backs. Atari Bigby flies around looking for someone to smack and has physically hurt several wideouts with legit but vicious hits. Charles Woodson, yes Charles Woodson, has been a 1000 times more physical in GB then the last few years in Oakland. And of course the defensive line is led by Kampmann who just continues to amaze. Big tackles can keep him at bay but slip once and he's all over your qb like a cheap suit.

The defense has its flaws. But soft is not one of them. And I'm digging it.

Who would have thunk it??

37
by Disco Stu (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:17pm

Apropos of nothing- "Purple Jesus" might be my favorite nickname ever. Anyone know who coined that one?

38
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:22pm

I was stunned that somebody was able to convince Woodson to come out of active roster retirement. I thought he was finished as a player who gave a damn.

39
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:31pm

Badger - In watching GB play defence I've been amazed at how aggressively their DB's play. I think I read a few weeks back that they were leading the league in illegal contact penalties by some ridiculous margin. I know in the Viking game the last interception was the result of some incredibly tight coverage (holding?) by Woodson immediately after he'd been flagged for the same thing. He also lost an interception return for a TD on a play in which he was flagged. As well, I though Harris was close to be flagged on a long pass to Williamson as well in that game.

Have you seen the aggressive DB play hurt the Packers yet this year?

40
by JJcruiser (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:35pm

I think Adrian Peterson is the first NFL player I've seen where I thought he was literally beautiful to watch. I've never seen anyone with such amazing strength, speed and grace. It's a rotting shame he's on that miserable offense. For the sake of the NFL, I hope they trade for a decent QB this offseason like McNabb, get lucky on a great rookie WR draft pick, and open things up for Peterson.

41
by James, London (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:44pm

Will,

Totally agree on Kleinsasser. He's a monster. And for all the rending of garments caused by Vikings WRs, I thought Sidney Rice had a good game. Now, if you could just find a QB...

42
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:46pm

Rice is the one glimmer of hope in their passing game. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.......

43
by Bill Barnwell :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:56pm

Rice is the one glimmer of hope in their passing game.

Free Martin Nance!

44
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 6:59pm

jimm:

Both Harris and Woodson have been flagged on average once a game. In fact Woodson got flagged four times on Sunday though in his defense two were ridiculously poor calls.

To answer your question, no. My personal belief is that most receivers are p*ssies and will back down as the game goes on especially if they don't get a call early from the ref. Harris and Woodson freely talk about this mindset and relishes taking a receiver, particularly a young one, out of the game purely by smacking him in the chest or face.

The penalties have been broached with McCarthy. He shrugs. He deems it the "cost of doing business".

Woodson is revitalized with McCarthy and raves about the guy. Mike pretty much gives Al and Charles a free hand as long as the results are there.

45
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 7:13pm

Will:

Here is Bob McGinn's summary of Woodson's play on Sunday. McGinn is the outstanding football writer for the Journal-Sentinel.

"Three of Woodson's four penalties appeared warranted. But he also didn't give up much of anything and filled from the slot against the run like a strong safety."

I figured it would be that last passage that would have you gasping in disbelief. Let me tell you, after his first preseason in 2006 when Woodson walked through several games like he was half asleep Packer fans were beside themsleves wondering how the team could give this guy all that money. Then about Game 5 he woke up and since then has been good to excellent to every so often amazing.

He cheats. He gambles. He will work every angle. But he is successful way more often than not.

46
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 7:18pm

I believe Rice is now 4th among rookie receivers in catches, which given the state of the Viking passing game is quite an accomplishment.

I think one has to give Spielman/Childress some credit in the development of this teams offence. They inherited a team with an injured QB not ready to play for another year and a 37 year old backup. Their best receiver was Travis Taylor and their top running back was Mewelde Moore.

Now they have a Superstar at running back. A 21 year old wide rookie receiver playing very decently and a tight end who seems to have a little athleticism as well. The offensive line is clearly getting better as well.

It is true they haven't addressed the QB situation but other than signing Jeff Garcia I don't see any glaringly obvious good moves they could have made in the past two years to improve that situation. I think they showed great wisdom in passing on Quinn and taking Peterson. Sometimes you have to suffer for a while until the right situation presents itself (McNabb next year - a QB in the draft?).

47
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 7:26pm

I thinhk it says quite a bit about how badly mismanaged the Oakland franchise has become that superstar talents like Moss and Woodson just decided to pack it in while on their roster. No, neither guy is a candidate for the all-effort Hall of Fame, but to have people with that level of talent simply quit, nearly completely, and then come back with other teams as strongly as they have, is indicative of an organization completely devoid of leadership. Leisure Suit Al must be completely out of it.

48
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 7:32pm

Will:

Something to keep in mind is that McCarthy doesn't make Woodson practice except on Friday for the final walk through. Charles has mentioned how he appreciates being handled like a "professional" and not having to practice while nursing what seem to be a chronic spate of injuries.

While it's currently working for the Packers I could understand how this setup might not work elsewhere. Woodson isn't a lazy guy. But he is clearly high maintenance from a coaching perspective.

Along with Charles production one also has to note that he while some of his injuries may be somewhat overstated in the latter half of the 2006 season he was clearly playing through pain due to hits from his punt return duties. Writers close to the team marvelled at Woodson's ability to play well despite getting nonstop treatment during the week leading up to games.

It's a puzzler.

49
by Dave (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 7:38pm

The 2006 Chargers didn’t exactly play the 1985 Bears every week. They were in a weak division, playing a 3rd place schedule and playing the NFC West(!!). They were exposed in the playoffs by a HOF coach.

The 2006 Chargers didn't have the toughest schedule in the league, no, but they were a very, very good team. They were exposed in the playoffs by a series of self-inflicted brain cramps, not an HOF coach. They'd have steamrolled the Bears just like the Pats would have or the Colts did.

I believe the '06 Chargers would be at least 6-2 against this year's schedule, but Just Add Norv and all bets are off.

Now if Drew Brees was their QB...

Here's hoping Rivers turns it around, because I don't want to think that any more often than I already do.

50
by Paging Roger Cossack (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 8:06pm
51
by Chris Owen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 8:12pm

Random observation, somewhat OT: Visanthe Shiancoe is normally on the FG unit, and on the Cromartie TD FG return, I believe he's the Vikings player holding his arms up in triumph as the kick was on its way. If so, he has the distinction of being on the field for the wrong end of both this play and Hester's return against the Giants last year.

52
by Wade (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 8:28pm

The Vikings have three very tough games left on their schedule against GB, the Giants, and the Redskins. With just a little consistancy at QB like we saw with Bollinger Sunday, and they have a legitimet shot at winning any one of them.

53
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 8:33pm

I like the Vikings chances against the Redskins in Minneapolis quite a bit. If they can steal one Sunday, they have a chance for a 2nd half of the season with something to play for.

54
by CA (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 9:15pm

I watched the Packers' three game stretch against the Chargers, Vikings, and Bears, and I thought that Woodson looked bad in coverage in those games (I was going to say “terrible,� but I’m trying to be less negative per BadgerT1000’s implicit advice). He was frequently out of position and getting beat, looking confused and slow. His physicality did not seem to be strategic but rather a desperate attempt to prevent receivers from blowing past him. He was getting away with a lot of illegal contact, holding, and pass interference. It got so bad that at one point I wrote on one of the Open Game Discussion threads something to the effect of, "Charles Woodson does not know how to play cornerback in the NFL." He looked no better than he did during his last few years in Oakland or in 2006, with one important exception: His tackling seems to have improved. Woodson always has been capable of being a good tackler and has shown flashes of brilliance in that area, but he blew many easy tackles, much like a receiver who makes the occasional highlight reel catch but then drops the pass that hits him in the numbers. In the games I watched, Woodson wasn't making those head-slap-inducing mistakes as a tackler, admittedly in a small sample of plays. Apparently it's easier to tackle a player who has not yet touched the ball. The legitimately superb play of the Packers' defensive line (See, I can be positive!) and the inexplicable unwillingness of officials to flag him for obvious penalties did a lot to mask his deficiencies. I haven't watched a full Packers game since the Bears game a month ago, so perhaps he has improved in that time, but, based on what I've seen, I don’t accept the Woodson rejuvenation story. I’m not trying to start an argument, Badger, just issuing another perspective. I’m very interested to see how his game charting project numbers look.

55
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 9:49pm

Re #35
Pardon us for the off-topic chatter, but to answer the question...

There is a common universe of generally available NFL stats compiled from data provided by official scorers. If you wish, you may aggregate this information yourself by visiting NFL.com. Official passes defensed is one of those statistics, though you are at the mercy of the official scorers-Lincoln Financial Field's scorer tends to credit way too many passes defensed.

As to those statistics that are not compiled officially, like blown blocks or FO's Pass Defensed figure, it's dependent on who watched the game. Per Aaron at the Chicago signing, Stats LLC, KC Joyner, and FO through the Game Charting Project are the only ones who watch and chart every single game, and they aren't necessarily looking for the same stuff, and even if they are, it isn't necessarily defined the same way. Basically, there's almost nobody to cross-check with, and no guarantee of the worth of cross-checking even if both sides wanted to.

56
by Mungo (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 9:52pm

Packers fans, what has happened to Colledge? I thought he looked like a good emerging talent at guard last year, in fact one Packer fan told me that he played a game/part of a game at LT and held his own.

57
by ShowMeYourLightningBolt (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 9:55pm

Horrible in the second half, hmm? Isn't that indicative of an inability to make the proper adjustments during halftime. Ted Cottrell is no Wade Phillips . . .

58
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 11:33pm

Mungo:

He keeps lunging instead of punching guys and his feet stink. But ALL of the young guys are struggling which causes SOME of us in Packer country to wonder if it's the players or offensive line coach James Campen. It's like they have regressed from last year which is obviously not part of the plan. Thanks to the tackles and Favre sliding this way and that disaster has been averted more often than not. But unless these guys get their act together quick don't be surprised to see Number 4 planted upside down a half dozen times in a game at some point.

59
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Tue, 11/06/2007 - 11:42pm

CA:

Please note I quoted others who are professionals paid to follow the game who have complimented Woodson's performance. Bob McGinn has been charting/analyzing/discussing Packer teams for several decades. And while I know football writers don't receive much respect around here McGinn is legitimately good.

And for Packer fans accustomed to seeing Ahmad Carroll chasing someone into the end zone Charles Woodson is a godsend. That and for a team that gave up oodles of pass plays of over 20 yards in 2005 since Woodson's arrival that number has dropped dramatically. Oh, in Football Prospectus 2007 he was deemed a solid number 2 cornerback.

Woodson does lurch from poor to amazing. It's possible that you caught him at one of his low moments which are not infrequent.

I understand that folks prefer their players to be consistent with minimal variance. Woodson is not that player. He is one serious Sine wave. I imagine that can be bothersome to some who want things "just so".

60
by J Mathers (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 1:03am

This was a great article, and some of the best in depth analysis that I have seen yet about a football game.

It is unfortunate that it is mostly lost on an audience that wants to ignore every thing said to continue focusing on their weird angst against Norv Turner.

I have to give hats off to the Vikings for this game and Peterson in particular, they played well and to blame a coach, as opposed to giving credit for an NFL record breaking performance by a superior athlete is kind of wrong.

61
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 1:27am

JMathers, what is "wrong" about noting the stark disparity between how the Eagles scehmed to counter the unique talents of Adrian Peterson, and how the Chargers did so? Is it "wrong" to note that a stark disparity in scheme may have contributed greatly to a stark disparity in results?

62
by lights out (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 1:51am

re22: Jammer is actually damn good in coverage, so you obviously haven't been watching the Chargers much. His reputation for getting burned is a combination of having to play too much zone (he and Flo, both great athletes, are better at man-man)and the poor play of the safeties (releasing a WR to them, only to have them not being in their assigned area)

63
by Speedegg (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 2:23am

Wow! While it's right to give a person, or team, their due (congrats to Peterson), but it's also because the Chargers were so inept. I'd be more impressed if this was a Patriot's, Cowboys, or Giants.

The Vikings offense adjusted and adapted to the Charger's D. The Charger's D did not. When Peterson ripped off a huge TD run for 50 yds, the Vikes were 3rd and 3 and came out in a 3 WR set. The Chargers came out in their Nickel 2-4-5 defense (2 down linemen, 4 linebackers, 5 defensive backs).
This only left 6 defenders in the box. The Vikings ran to the weak side, their tackle shoved aside the LOLB, their slot WR got a good block on CB Florence, their Split End (?)receiver got a downfield block on CB Cromartie, and worse, FS McCree bounced off of Peterson.

Around this point, the Vikes coaches seemed confident in their D's ability to hold Philip Rivers and LT, so they began to forgo the pass and served up some poundcake.

Next series, they came out in a Singleback Big formation (2 TE's on the outside of both tackles) with 2 WR to the short side of the field.
Chargers came out in what looked like a 3-4 base D, with the Jack (weakside) ILB a yard closer to the LOS than the Mike ILB. It was a running play to the (weak) side of the defense. On the shanp, the Jack ILB got caught in the wash, the safeties were too deep to assist and Peterson ran for 17 yds.

That play worked so well, they used it again. Except on the next play, they motioned one of their WR to the short side of the field and ran to the long side. Peterson would've been stopped for a short gain, if FS McCree made the tackle. Unfortunately, he missed and gave Peterson another 5 yds.

Norv needs to sit down with Cottrell the way Detroit Lions head coach Marinelli sat down with Martz. Martz NEVER ran the ball, until last week against the Bears. I don't think I've seen that many runs from a Martz offense, but resulted in a win. Head coaching isn't just coaching the players, it's coaching the coaches. I think this is overlooked with Norv and it's resulting in losses.

64
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 2:45am

Yep, that's Teddy Cottrell!

65
by raffy (not verified) :: Wed, 11/07/2007 - 5:41pm

#63 Great qualitative analysis on breaking down the defensive alignments on the Peterson runs in the second half. Pretty much shows the atrocious coaching on the SD side of the ball. Let's face facts, no one in the NFL coaching ranks should be as unprepared as SD was to face the outstanding talent of Adrian Peterson at this point of the season. To face the Vikings of today and not adjust your defensive schemes to at least give your players the chance to stop the Vikes running game is incredible. I cannot see how it belittles Peterson's efforts to point out the subtleties of the game such as key personnel being injured and poor defensive positioning. Besides, if I want to have brainless hyperbolic cheerleading regarding an outstanding athlete's accomplishments I would certainly not be reading FO and would be devouring the trash served up by the TV talking heads every Sunday.