23 Dec 2009
As promised, here's a look at what Mike Tanier and I learned on this year's trip to NFL Films.
You probably knew the Minnesota offensive line was not as good this year as in years past, but you may not have quite realized just how big the problem is. We watched a lot of film of the Vikings' loss to Carolina as well as other Vikings games from throughout the year, in preparation for a piece that will be on this week's show.
The surprise may be which Vikings have the biggest problems run-blocking: multi-million dollar left tackle Bryant McKinnie and Pro Bowl left guard Steve Hutchinson. Hutchinson has really lost something and Cosell and Jaws seem to feel McKinnie never really had that something in the first place. These guys were getting pushed backwards and split on double teams. It was remarkable. Mike Tanier wanted to know: Who is that young unknown nose tackle number 75 from Carolina who was pushing them both backwards? It turns out that wasn't some young kid on the rise. That was Hollis Thomas, who has practically been around since the days of the Providence Steam Roller.
This is one place where the stats agree with the film. Check out our offensive line stats, and you will see that the Vikings are 17th in Adjusted Sack Rate, 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards, and DEAD LAST in the percentage of running back carries stuffed at the line.
By the way, the production staffer responsible for finding all the clips from past games of McKinnie and Hutchinson blowing double teams is former Missouri wide receiver Sean Coffey. He says "Hi" to Bill Connelly.
Carolina's defensive domination wasn't just about problems with the Minnesota offensive line. The coverage on the Vikings receivers downfield was excellent, so Brett Favre couldn't throw there. And short stuff was taken away a lot of the time by Jon Beason, who has excellent anticipation and awareness of where a back is going on a pass route. Another Carolina linebacker who looked very good was James Anderson, who is a fourth-year player finally starting for the first time. Greg Cosell feels he's an unknown but solid player, the kind of guy every team needs to have to surround stars like Beason.
We also watched some of Buffalo's defense against New England's offense. After watching this film, combined with watching the game Sunday, I feel comfortable saying that the main reason why the Bills are so high in pass defense DVOA is the pass rush. They may only be 12th in ASR, but they are harassing the quarterback much more than that. (Too bad they can't stop the run worth a damn.) I felt proud that Mike and I were actually able to properly identify Buffalo's coverage scheme from TV angles -- as we suggested in Audibles, the Bills actually ditched their usual Cover-2 zone and primarily played in a Cover-1 Robber coverage. The deep safety takes away the deep pass to Randy Moss, and the short cover guy (normally Paul Posluszny) really makes the short crosses to Wes Welker difficult. It's a really good game plan against the Patriots since they really don't have a third receiver this season, and I would not be surprised to see other opponents copy it.
Cosell definitely feels that Brady is nowhere near as good as he was before the injury, and he showed us how Brady is skittish in the pocket. He's feeling pressure sometimes before it even gets there, which he never did two years ago, and that caused a lot of those missed throws against Buffalo (and, I assume, in other games this year). However, the good news for Pats fans is that the team finally showed some classic Belichick adaptation against Carolina and Buffalo, taking advantage of bad run defenses by going to a lot of two-back, two-TE formations. Laurence Maroney has played really well the last couple weeks, to the point where Cosell was talking about actually doing one of Merrill Hoge's "Factor Back" segments on him. He's not bouncing around like he usually does, he's running downhill and even getting his shoulder into guys to gain a couple of extra yards at the end of the play, Adrian Peterson-style.
A few other quarterbacks we discussed in passing, as well with a little bit of film:
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