Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting the Vikings signing of Greg Jennings

So after doing his "Invisible Man" impersonation the previous two weeks, Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings finally made an impact in the team's passing game against Buffalo, catching six passes for 77 yards, including a tough 38-yarder down the middle of the field that set up the Vikes one and only touchdown of the day.

It's the kind of day Viking fans were hoping would be common place when Jennings signed a five-year deal with the team in March of 2013 for $47.5 million - including $18 million in guaranteed money.

It hasn't turned out that way, and as the Vikes passing offense continues to look as hopeless as ever, signing Jennings appears to be a dumb move along the lines of the 2008 Bernard Berrian signing.

It's too early to make that call, however. I actually thought the production of Jennings in 2013 (68 catches, 804 yards and 4 touchdowns) was pretty good considering the Vikings three-headed quarterback situation. I've never considered Jennings to be a guy who can elevate a passing game all by himself. He's a great #2 receiver who thrives with a strong supporting cast, which he had in Green Bay.

The plan with signing Jennings wasn't that he'd transform the Vikings offense all by himself. But adding an established WR like him to a core that also featured Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph and a dynamic but raw player like Cordarrelle Patterson would give Christian Ponder the diverse set of offensive weapons he needed to allow him to elevate his game, and the Vikes offense.

Obviously, the plan didn't work in 2013. And as the team breaks in another young QB in Ted Bridgewater, tries to find a running game using Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon and waits for someone to emerge opposite of Jennings as a consistent pass catching threat, the plan isn't working in 2014, either.

That doesn't mean signing Jennings was the wrong move - or that it won't work out.

During the 2013 offseason, Jennings was considered the second-best fee agent WR on the market behind Mike Wallace. If Wallace's dad is to be believed, the Vikings were willing to pay the ex-Steeler a lot more than they ended up paying Jennings. Miami would sign Wallace for more than Jennings got as well, and so far they've received only marginally better production from Wallace in return for their investment.

Jennings certainly needs to play and produce better. But when we're assessing a wide receiver's play, we have to take into account that their production is largely dependent on who is throwing them the ball. If Bridgewater can find his footing after a couple of choppy starts, he could be the man to bring out the production the Vikings sorely need from Jennings.      

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Coming off the Ledge: Bills 17, Vikings 16

There was the thrill of a close, competitive football game: the fluttery stomach, the pumping heart. There was the thrill of every play being intense and meaningful. And that is something.

And there's the fall down disappointment of being at the wrong end of that thrill. Part of what makes a game like this so thrilling is that you really care about the outcome. And when it ends like really care about the outcome.

You spend somewhere around 57 minutes watching defensive players constantly making a play when the team needed it: Xavier Floyd, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Robert Blanton, Anthony Barr, all of these players were notably good for most of the game. And the running game was notably successful against a strong run defense as the offense played a justifiably conservative game (they did take their shots, but were often punished for any pass play that took time to develop). And then you watch a 4th and 20 conversion and the opponent score with one goddam second left.

This one stings: 3-4 would put the Vikings in a one-game-at-a-time projection to compete. 2-5 puts them in a one-game-at-a-time projection just because there's no other way to handle being three games under .500.

The Vikings are building a defense that is fun to watch. But right now the Vikings lost a breathtakingly close game that's going to take some time to get over.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Revisiting previous posts at KAB regarding the Vikings trading Percy Harvin

With the shocking trade of Percy Harvin on Friday, I thought I'd dredge up a couple of Kick Ass Blog posts regarding Harvin from 2012-2013 when his relationship with the Vikings was going sour.

This post, written by me in December of 2012 before the Vikes traded Harvin to Seattle, hoped the team would find a way to kiss and make up with Harvin.

This post, written by Pacifist Viking, detailed the holes in Harvin's game and why he wasn't terribly worried about Harvin leaving the team.

Knowing what we know now, I was dead wrong, while Pacifist Viking was right. This is a shining example of why I'm a idiot.

And look what general manager Rick Spielman got for a guy who had put a gun to the Vikings head and basically forced a trade where Spielman had no leverage - a first round pick (Xavier Rhodes) and a seventh round pick (offensive tackle Travis Bond, who didn't make the team) in 2013, plus a third round pick in 2014 (Jerick McKinnon). Rhodes looks like he will be the Vikings starting right cornerback for the next decade. McKinnon looks like he'll be a valuable third down back at the worst, and Adrian Peterson's successor at best. That's a pretty nice return on the trade.

Perhaps I'm reading to much into this, but it's also possible the Harvin trade gave Spielman the ammunition to pull the trigger on the Ted Bridgewater trade at the 2014 NFL draft.

I think Spielman still would have done this deal even if the Vikings didn't have the extra third rounder (#96 overall) they got from Seattle in the Harvin trade. But the fact that they would still have four picks in the top 100 of the 2014 draft should have made Spielman feel even more comfortable trading a high second rounder (#45 overall) and a high fourth rounder (#108 overall) to move back into the first round to get Bridgewater.

If Bridgewater turns outs to be the franchise quarterback we hope he will be and Rhodes and McKinnon continue to be assets to the Vikings in the long term, maybe we should all send Harvin thank you cards for being such a dick.   

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kick Ass Blog makes an appearance on the Purple For The Win podcast

Hey, dear readers! Happy Friday and all that.

I don't want pimp this too much, but a Twitter follower of mine, Andy Carlson, runs a sweet Vikings podcast called "Purple For The Win." Earlier this week, Andy asked me to appear on his Thursday podcast previewing the upcoming Vikings-Bills game for some reason. I agreed.

I don't know if any of you have ever been curious what my voice sounds like on Skype, but if you are curious about that sort of thing, have a listen to the podcast linked below - I said many smart things and I have many leather-bound books and my bookshelves smell of mahogany ...

It will be the best 1 hour, 16 minutes and 11 seconds you ever spent.

And without further ado, here is the link to the podcast.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

National Friday League, Week 7

Where are you, Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson?
The wide receivers may be the most frustrating part of the Viking offense. You can find pretty easy answer for why the quarterbacks and running backs are struggling, and certainly the offensive line is frustrating too. But the wide receivers--a position that in 2013 the Vikings devoted a big money free agent signing and a first-round pick that they traded a lot of picks to get--have shown no ability to get separation, and little ability to make a play on the ball when tightly covered.

The poor wide receiver play is a big reason the offense has been terrible, but has also been terrible to watch. A bad team is frustrating; a bad team that is boring to watch can make you want to shut the TV off and go outside to do literally anything else. Jennings and Patterson aren't getting open, and aren't making plays. That's limiting the offense more than bad pass blocking and more than a lack of strong running threat, in my opinion. If the receivers could get open it would cover up for a lot of ills and help other offensive performers actually perform.

Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith
But be a little hopeful, Viking fans.The defense should feature Barr and Smith running around making tackles for the foreseeable future. These guys can play, and they seem to have a coach that is going to let them play.

Vikings-Bills Preview

2014 Vikings
2014 Bills

The Bills are alone with the Vikings in sharing an 0-4 Super Bowl record (you got too good for us, Denver. Now everybody is moving to Denver. Doesn't it seem like everybody is moving to Denver?). It now seems assured that if the Bills lose a fifth Super Bowl in the next 40 years, they'll be doing it in Buffalo (just as the Vikes will be doing it in Minnesota). I have now worked up all the energy I have for a specific preview of this game.

Other Interesting Games

Week 7 Games

Giants-Cowboys. The Cowboys are going to be interesting every week now, because they've established themselves as a contender, yet at the same time be honest: you don't really think they're that good. Whatever happens in their games is going to be interesting, especially those division matchups

49ers-Broncos. There have been a lot of very unentertaining broadcast night games this year, and the Broncos are the perfect cure. Even when the Broncos dominate, it's entertaining. And if they don't dominate--if the 49er defense is finding ways to stop the Broncos or if he 49er offense is keeping up with the Broncos--then that will be even more entertaining to watch.

My Overtime Proposal
I don't know what people hate so much about ties; they don't bother me at all. It does provide closure: two teams played each other even for 60 minutes and neither could get an edge to top the other at the end of the game, and that is indicated in the record. A tie on the record tells you something.

My proposal for the regular season? Abolish overtime. Make teams win or lose the game in the fourth quarter.  

Those fourth quarters will be intense and fun. Think about the drama and sense of urgency in close games. Think about the things we'd see teams do to try and win games. In many situations today where teams settle for getting into the proverbial field goal range, they wouldn't--they'd still aggressively be going for a touchdown. And think about the fun coaching decisions you'll get to watch then, when playing for a win or tie will literally mean playing for a win or a tie. You score a TD with four seconds left to get within one: do you settle for the tie, or do you risk a loss and try for a win?  

Of course this will never happen, because for reasons I don't understand too many people are morally incensed by ties.

Fantasy Box: a Strategy for a Struggling Team

If your fantasy team has been struggling, but not so badly that you've already given up hope for winning a championship, there are two general approaches. You can make some shoot the works trades, radically transforming your team with a nothing-to-lose attitude. If you can work it right with multiple big trades--and a willingness to move any player--you can end up with a much better roster than you started with. But if you like your team, believe you've had a little bit of bad luck, and believe the disappointing players on your roster really have opportunities to improve, then you can stay the proverbial course, keep the proverbial even keel, and stick with your roster and hope for the best. This can work if you've got indicators that your players can produce more: for example, I have Emmanuel Sanders and Golden Tate, two top-10 WRs in receiving yards per game, who have one combined TD--if they're going to keep getting yards, can't they stumble into a few more TDs at some point?

But I have another recommendation that you can use with either strategy. Fill your bench to bursting with as many handcuff RBs, flier RBs, timeshare RBs, and any other RBs that might, just might if things break a certain way, become Monster RBs.* If one becomes a Monster RB, then you can use him, and maybe he'll carry you to wins. If you're already strong at RB, you're at least keeping a Monster RB off another lineup, perhaps helping you to wins. And you are now in a position to trade if you are weak in other areas (if you're confident he's really a Monster RB, then you can trade your bigger name RB and stick the new Monster RB in your lineup).

Now's the time, before it's too late and you're really out of contention. In my auction league, I have DeMarco Murray, probably the one player on my roster I'm happy about, and I'm not contending for a title right now but I'm not so far out that I can't. The rest of my roster features Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman, Andre Williams, Khiry Robinson, Carlos Hyde, and Robert Turbin. Right now that looks mostly like a mess. But there is also chance: I can envision several of these players getting a chance to become a Monster RB.

And that's what you're looking for with a struggling fantasy team heading into Week 7: a chance. If things aren't going well there's nothing to lose, and you need some breaks and surprises to turn things around. Try to prepare yourself to benefit from some break and surprises. If your team is doing well, you might want a bench full of solid, reliable subs you could play if forced. If your team is not doing well, then just as for a draft strategy, your bench may as well be filled with high risk, high reward fliers. At this point those are mostly going to be RBs.

*You know a Monster RB, probably the most coveted asset in fantasy football, when you see him: usually it's a top 2-3 RB for the season, or perhaps a RB that becomes a dominant RB for a stretch in the second half of the season. Think of the RBs who regularly get 125+ scrimmage yards a game and a handful of multiple TD games. Just think who will go into the next season as a consensus top 5 pick: that's a Monster RB.

The Commercial Life
Sometimes I get nostalgic. Remember when the announcers always told us that the yellow first down line isn't official? Remember when there wasn't instant replay and you just dealt with clearly incorrect calls?

Remember when we all thought it was weird that you could be watching a football game with your family and then suddenly there's a voice on TV talking about four hour erections? Like, we thought that was really weird, right? And now we take it for granted that every Sunday we'll hear soft music over images of laughing couples having fun together before ending up in separate bathtubs, and we will hear about four hour erections, and we will be reminded to ask our doctor if our heart is healthy enough for sexual activity, and our kids might ask bizarre questions about these bizarre commercials.

Have a good one everybody. Except Packer fans. Play something for fun. Even Packer fans.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Depressing Minnesota Vikings offensive stats

Football Outsiders published its weekly NFL DVOA rankings today, and the news isn't good for your favourite team's offense.

The Vikings have the 31st ranked offense. Only 0-6 Jacksonville is worse, and the 1-5 Buccaneers are one spot ahead of the Vikes. Even if you don't believe in these math-based analytics sites, you do know the Vikings have scored 7, 9, 10 and 3 points in four of their six games. They don't have (and won't have) Adrian Peterson. This offense is performing badly no matter how you assess it.

Can it be fixed? If it can, there is still a chance the team could contend for a playoff spot. But, as you'd guess with an offense that's played this poorly, there are so many issues dogging it that I don't think that's realistic to expect. A few basic statistics illustrate this nicely.

First, I present you the Vikings top three wide receivers:

Greg Jennings is currently ranked 56th in receiving yards in the NFL and tied for 65th in catches. Cordarrelle Patterson is 88th in receiving yards and tied for 86th in catches. Jarius Wright is 84th in receiving yards and tied for 81st in catches.

Now let's look at the running backs:

Matt Asiata is tied for 33rd in the NFL in rushing yards. Jerick McKinnon is 40th overall. If you're a "glass is half full" kind of person you could take solace that McKinnon is averaging 5 yards per carry and looks like he's taken over for Asiata as the starting running back, so the Vikings running game could improve. But 135 of McKinnon's 206 yards came in one game, and 55 of that total came on one run. I don't think it's clear McKinnon will improve the running game all by himself if he does remain the starter.

Now let's take a look at the quarterbacks:

The Vikings have started three of them - Matt Cassel, Ted Bridgewater and Christian Ponder. Their combined stats include a 57.9 completion percentage, 1.302 passing yards (an average of 217 per game), 3 touchdown passes (all from Cassel) and 9 interceptions. That's pretty bad.  (For the "glass is half full" crowd, Bridgewater has completed 62.1% of his passes, so with him playing for the remainder of the year - assuming he stays healthy - some of these numbers should improve.)

When you have so many members of a unit performing inadequately, and I should mention the Vikings offensive line has given up 23 sacks (only Jacksonville has given up more) and Football Outsiders has the O-line ranked 24th in the NFL (and last in pass protection), that's pretty hard to overcome. Whom on the offense is the dominant player that will lift a position or the entire unit up? The Vikings really don't have one now that Peterson is gone. Bridgewater could become that guy in a couple of years, but I don't expect it to happen in his rookie year.

It's a pretty depressing situation with no obvious fixes. We may have to accept the offense isn't going to be very good in 2014, and it will drag this team down for the remainder of the season. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

How does it feel when the Minnesota Vikings become the Detroit Lions? Well, let me tell you about it ...

Note to readers: This could be the start of several "I'm pissed off at the Vikings" rants this week. Bear with me. It's my way of coping. Or don't bear with me and return next week for our regularly scheduled programming. Totally your call.

The Minnesota Vikings are worse than the Detroit Lions.

But you didn't need yesterday's brutal beatdown loss to realize that sorry fact. Just take a look at the records of both teams since those crazy, hazy NFC Championship game days of 2009.

Since the 2010 season the Vikings have amassed a regular season record of 26-43-1. During the same period, the Lions regular season record is 31-39.

(Has that sunk in yet? Good. I'll move on then.)

Even as Viking fans endured the entertaining (but mediocre) Mike Tice years and (in retrospect) the not-so-bad Brad Childress era, we could always take solace that we weren't the Lions. Detroit was a football wasteland. Poorly run. Often poorly coached. Often with poor personnel and a fanbase that was wearing brown paper bags over their heads by the 10th game of the season. No matter what the franchise did, it never turned out right. It felt like it would remain that way forever.

Sunday's loss to the Lions was an absolute kick to the balls. When the NFL's gold standard for suckitude makes you their daddy, well, it more than sucks. In 60 unwatchable minutes, an off-season's worth of hope in Mike Zimmer, Ted Bridgewater, Norv Turner and much more disappeared for me. Now all I have are doubts - lots of them. Is Zimmer really going to be a good head coach and turn things around? Is Bridgewater really the messiah? Does Rick Spielman really know what the hell he's doing?

I hope all these doubts are just that. But when you wake up one morning and realize your favorite team is now the new Detroit Lions of the NFC North, well, you start to question every thing you once thought and believed. And you start fearing you could be in the process of enduring an endless loop of 4-12 and 5-11 seasons, because when you're the new Lions, that's what happens.

This is probably coming off as the ravings of madman, but yesterday's loss has left me unbelievably grumpy, pissed off and depressed. I don't think I'm the only one, either. I mean, Pacifist Viking didn't even bother to write his usual postgame post mortem yesterday (you OK, PV?)

Anyway, the Vikings better win in Buffalo next weekend or I might not bother to watch another Lions game - err, I mean Vikings game - all season. 

Fucking Vikings. Fuck sakes ...