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24 Oct 2016

Any Given Sunday: Eagles Over Vikings

by Rivers McCown

The Vikings were the last undefeated team in the NFL, but hardly a flawless one. Outside statistical observers have been waiting for the Sam Bradford train to crash. He had been making a lot out of Minnesota's offensive line for the first five games of the season. This time, there were no bailouts for the unit on which head coach Mike Zimmer blamed the loss.

Bradford took six sacks, fumbled four times, and was hit 16 different times by Eagles defenders. To put that in context, last year's Bengals finished last in the NFL with 58 quarterback hits -- the Eagles essentially fit a quarter-season of quarterback hits in one game. The last game I could think of off-hand that featured so many blows on the quarterback was last year's AFC Championship, where the Broncos bludgeoned Tom Brady to the tune of 20 hits.

It isn't very surprising that the Vikings had trouble on the offensive line. Minnesota released center John Sullivan at final cuts, lost tackles Andre Smith and Matt Kalil for the season, and have guard Mike Harris on the NFI list with an ailment that hasn't been revealed to the press. The only Vikings on last year's offensive line -- which was bad anyway -- who are still getting regular snaps are T.J. Clemmings, Joe Berger, and Brandon Fusco.

Clemmings, along with scrapheap tackle Jake Long and 2013 UDFA Jeremiah Sirles, rotated at tackle against Philadelphia. You probably shouldn't expect either Long or Sirles to be good, especially since Long just joined the team last week. But it's worth pointing out how bad Clemmings has been. He was a draftnik favorite, someone who even NFL.com thought would be a second-round pick before he tumbled into the fourth round over injury concerns. Last season, Clemmings allowed 17 blown blocks and 4.5 sacks, numbers that ranked among the league's worst at tackle.

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In this game, he was completely overmatched. Clemmings was the primary culprit on Bradford's interception, barely even slowing down Brandon Graham on his way to Bradford. You would have hoped for a bigger leap from the second-year player, but he's still not on his way to being even an average tackle.

There's a lot of blame to go around in this one for the Vikings, though. More of it needs to go to offensive coordinator Norv Turner. After the bye week, the Vikings gave Bradford more deep dropbacks, trying to emphasize the long ball in place of the precision short-passing shotgun game that had served them well in the early season. This was a classic case of over-tinkering. Even if Turner would prefer to play that way, it simply doesn't suit the strengths of his offense.

This isn't a problem that's going away for Minnesota. Joe Thomas isn't walking through that door. (Harris needed to take a paycut just to fit Long onto the roster, as Minnesota is right against the salary cap.) But it's also not a problem that's devastating. In fact, it's almost the new NFL vogue to pair your otherworldly defense and passing game weapons with a bad offensive line. Seattle has been doing it for years. Carolina's tackles were their weak link on the way to the Super Bowl.

Minnesota can do a bit more than it did in this game to mask the issue. But should we see the Vikings stumble in a big spot this year, this is your likely culprit. When game scripts put the Vikings into pass mode, they had no prayer.

By the VOA

MIN -42.0% -31.2% -17.9% -28.7%
PHI -24.3% -57.7% 28.6% 62.0%
MIN -61.5% -29.6% -17.9% -49.8%
PHI -46.2% -57.6% 28.6% 40.0%

This game knocked the Vikings down to No. 4 in overall DVOA, and boosted the Eagles up to the Vikings' old spot at the top of the heap. (The ratings on our stat pages will update on Tuesday afternoon.) Philadelphia has had the best two special teams performances of the year over the last two weeks: 28.7%, and 28.6%. This probably has something to do with the fact that they have returned kicks for touchdowns in both games, but they also rank second in the league in net kickoff value and fifth in placekicking value.

Whither Wentz?

After three weeks, the hype train on Carson Wentz was already out of control. He was "Peyton Manning before the snap, and Aaron Rodgers after it," according to talking heads.

And then, the Eagles lost two games in a row, with Wentz's bad game this week likely to lower him even further down the DVOA rankings. Have you ever seen a good quarterback throw a ball into four different defenders?

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Matt Waldman, formerly of FO and now with Football Guys, espoused a theory recently that I think fits here: when NFL advance scouting departments don't have much on a guy, it's hard to figure out his weaknesses. After about four weeks of season, there's enough tape to start to make some more general conclusions about the situations instead of just having the defense play their game.

Combine the tape being out on Wentz with Lane Johnson's suspension, and the Eagles have been a bit lackluster on offense the last few weeks. Two special teams touchdowns have hidden it from the raw points scored/points allowed numbers. Unlike last week, Wentz didn't take any sacks against Minnesota, but he fumbled three times. There are no special receivers he could use to move the chains. Based on Sports Info Solutions charting, Eagles had broken just 33 tackles through Week 6, a number that put them 26th in the NFL.

I'm not sure that the Eagles are doomed or anything. I've got a lot of respect for the job Doug Pederson did early in the season that set Wentz up for success in the first place. But with the NFC East suddenly a tough division, this offense is going to need to be better. You can excuse this game against the Vikings, because Minnesota's defense is great. But the Eagles, like the Vikings, are best-suited at this point to play with game script in their favor. Just ask Washington what happens when you can run on the Eagles.

Is Wentz going to be able to recapture his early-season form? A lot rides on that question. Philly's defense is good enough to kill an opposing passing game, but they've got to be put in the spot to do that first.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 24 Oct 2016

18 comments, Last at 26 Oct 2016, 12:56pm by tuluse


by Will Allen :: Mon, 10/24/2016 - 11:30pm

It was a game where getting out to a double digit lead was even more valuable than is typical. If the Vikings had punched it in from the two on Wentz's first int, and then had kicked a field goal on the Eagles fumble deep in their own side of the field on their next possesion, the game changes a lot. Instead, they gave it right back.

by jmaron :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 12:54pm

Philly had 5 possessions in the 1st quarter and gained 27 yards never crossing their own 39 yard line. They also turned over the ball 3 times giving the offence the ball at the Philly 2, 17 and Minn 39. The offence of course scored 0 pts as a result of all that great defensive play.

One play not talked about much, was a picked up pi flag on Philly that would have given the Vikings their 3rd red zone possession of the quarter. Horrible reversal, that was about as obvious a PI as you will see.

If you get that many chances to get a lead and you don't capitalize, things tend to go badly the rest of the way.

I think the most disappointing aspect of the game is the Vikings didn't adapt in the 2nd half offensively. They gave almost zero help to the Tackles. David Morgan was dressed and never played and Ellison only had about 13 plays.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 1:05pm

Heck, the 5 yard penalty, on the two yard line, on the 2nd offensive snap, was one of the most important plays. When you block that poorly, the penalties are even more costly.

This coaching staff is usually very good at half time adjustments, so it was a bit of a surprise that nothing was forthcoming in the 2nd half.

by jmaron :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 2:52pm

just read an article that summarized the cost of injuries by position in terms of games lost. It suggests losing two tackles will cost you an additional .9 expected games lost for every 4 games missed. QBs were rated as the most significant position loss, followed by wr, te and ot. No other position showed any significant value - including all defensive positions. I attached the link in case you're interested. I listed the summary of games lost by position based on missing exactly 4 games.


Table 3. Estimated Effects on Total Wins of Missing Exactly Four Games due to
Injury/Suspension at Each Position.
Quarterback -1.30**
Running back 0.036
Tight end/Fullback -0.56**
Wide receiver -0.56*
Interior offensive line -0.02
Exterior offensive line -0.45*
Cornerback -0.002
Safety -0.027
Linebacker -0.079
Defensive line -0.040
** Indicates statistical significance at the 1 percent level
* Indicates statistical significance at the 5 percent level

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/26/2016 - 12:56pm

I'm very surprised at no correlation between losing pass rush and losing games.

3-4 vs 4-3 and all the variants make it trickier to measure as d-line and linebacker mean very different things to different teams.

If o-line was just o-line instead of separated out into interior and exterior, one might draw the conclusion that it had no effect.

by TGT :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 12:57am

The VOA numbers for Minnesota don't add up. Off by 10%.

by Eddo :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 12:18pm

Total VOA = OFF - DEF + ST
Total VOA = -61.5 - (-29.6) + -17.9
Total VOA = -49.8

Same holds for the DVOA table.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 9:33am

"Have you ever seen a good quarterback throw a ball into four different defenders?"

For purposes of this argument, is Brett Favre considered a good QB?

by Insancipitory :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 12:40pm

In a lot of ways Favre is a QB protagonist from some sort of Flash Gordon Evil Dead crossover. He's equally at home knocking guys down on a Japanese gameshow, the housewares section of S-Mart, and presumably fighting deadites. He's really more of a roguish anti-hero QB.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 2:12pm

As a Lions fan, I consider him a villain protagonist.

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 3:42pm

2027 called and said it was sad wbhen B. Favre was mauled by escaped bear in 2021

by Joe Pancake :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 2:21pm

I get that you are being facetious, but football fans forget how great Brett Favre really was in his prime. His five year stretch from 1994-1998 is up there among the best half-decades of all-time.

Unfortunately (for Packers and Vikings fans), later in his career he became the king of the inopportune, back-breaking playoff interception, and that has really shaped people's perception of him as the good, but careless gunslinger, instead of the consistently awesome quarterback he was in the late '90s.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 4:05pm

I know by classic measures that he's a HOF QB, but I wasn't entirely certain what the stats guys thought of him. He tended to be a walking turnover machine at times.

by Joe Pancake :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 5:04pm

In his prime ('94-'98), the "stat guy" stats paint him as exceptional. He did have a somewhat high INT%, but he made up for it with a tremendous TD%. If you look at stats like DYAR, AV, and ANY/A, it's clear that the only quarterback in the same class as him at the time was Steve Young.

Over at Football Perspective Brad Oremland wrote a very good series ranking the greatest 100 quarterbacks ever. Favre was #9. He's a HOF QB by anybody's measures.

by Will Allen :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 4:17pm

Every time that int in the Supedome is mentioned, as being an example of Favre's deficiencies, I am prompted to note that Favre hugely outplayed his fellow HOFer Brees on that day, by any measure, and if you factored the easy ints the Vikings dropped on that day, the disparity grows even more wide.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 10/26/2016 - 12:50pm

Favre's ur-INT was chucking a grenade deep into double-coverage.

by rosmith51 :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 2:24pm

"Wentz didn't take any sacks against Minnesota, but he fumbled three times."

Errmmm... dropping two low and off-center shotgun snaps and not connecting on a hand-off are not the kind of fumbles implied by the first half of that sentence.

Besides... he made chicken salad out of two of the three.

by Perfundle :: Tue, 10/25/2016 - 6:00pm

Really? I would've felt those was exactly the kind of fumbles implied by the sentence, considering Wentz is not a running QB. Most QB fumbles that aren't strip sacks are because of bad snaps and mishandled handoffs. I think he also had a third mishandled snap that he barely avoided fumbling.