Thursday, December 18, 2014

National Friday League, Week 16

Vikings-Dolphins Preview
Have the Dolphins been the most boring team in the league for years? They play in the division that only one team ever wins and they've never really pushed that team for contention for anything. They haven't had a really meaningful fantasy player since...Ricky Williams? They're neither bad nor good enough to be interesting, with few interesting players or personalities at all. "Cameron Wake is good" is probably the most meaningful thing to say about the Dolphins in total, because...

Oh yeah. That Richie Incognito thing.

They're still a boring team on the field, but that may be entirely fantasy-focused. I can't recall the last time a Dolphin player was a meaningful performer. Brandon Marshall even managed to sandwich a relatively modest Dolphin career in between elite fantasy production in other cities.

This year's Dolphins are still suitably boring, going 7-7, ranking 12th in points scored and 15th in points allowed.

Teddy Bridgewater
Teddy Bridgewater's improvement is showing up in the numbers. His efficiency statistics have been steadily rising (he's now at 63.5% and 7.0 yards per attempt, solid rookie numbers), and despite some bad throws, his interception rate is still not startling at all (2.8%). He's completed 70+% of his passes in his last three games.

This is getting exciting.

On calling your favorite team "we"
Roughly 240 years ago, a group of Englishmen fought a war against other Englishmen to not be Englishmen anymore. It's pretty easy for me to say "we" fought this war, but why? I clearly wasn't born yet, and in fact those Englishmen aren't even my ancestors (my ancestors were Germans and Scandinavians who came here in the 19th century). How in the hell is there a "we" that includes those Englishmen who fought that war and made that government and me?

The answer is stories: we tell ourselves a story that involves being a unified group with those people. In fact any group of people has a story it tells in order to be that group, in order to feel that the individual parts of that group have some shared history, shared purpose, shared identity. The stories may be true, but the point is there are certain stories a group picks to tell who they are. And the story of that shared history might be necessary to keep that group together, and to make society function.

And now because of that war fought by Englishmen against other Englishmen, I go to the YMCA to vote. I have not yet voted in an election that was decided by one vote. Not a single candidate, not a single issue, was voted in or voted out because I showed up at the YMCA. And yet I always feel good about voting, and I will continue to always vote. Why? Because voting is a ritual that shows us and proves to us what sort of society we have, that we have a stake in this society, and that we have a say in this society. It is a necessary part of the story that makes society function, that makes us know and feel our position in this society.

By its nature in membership of any group or community, you involve yourself in a "we" or an "our" that involves actions, for good or ill, that you didn't directly contribute to or participate in. This might involve pride or shame about things you didn't do. This is how an American might say "We landed on the moon." This is why a current church might bother to make statements of apology or renunciation the beliefs, statements, sins, and crimes of its founders, or earlier members. This is why an organized body feels some responsibility for its past actions, practices, and beliefs, that it must be accountable to and for them.

So is it worth our time to study these stories? These stories that can give people meaning, that bind a group together, even that makes a society function the way it does (for good or ill)? I would say so. It is worth it to keep telling stories, and it is worth it in various ways to keep examining and understanding these stories and how they function.

The key thing required to assert membership in a group, to use "we," is shared history, shared values, a shared mission, and a shared future. We have to have a story we tell about ourselves.

Are Minnesota Viking fans, then, part of the Minnesota Vikings?

A professional franchise does not really have "values." A professional franchise's duel mission--to win games and to make money (not in that order)--is its primary value, and supersedes any other values it would claim. That is not what we share. It is also difficult to talk of a shared mission between the team and its fans. While we desire for the team to succeed, we have either a nonexistent or tiny, minimal role in the team succeeding.

But what we most certainly share is a history and a future.

Like many of you, I've been cheering for the Vikings for longer than any current Viking player has been on the team. We've experienced this team's history: we were there for the highs and lows, and we felt the deep emotions of those highs and lows. For better or worse, we really have been a part of it. Some or a lot of the team's history might predate your fandom or even your birth. But so what? Think of any group you've been a part of--from a family to a nation--and the part you think of as "our" probably predates you.

And if I'm lucky, like many of you, I'll be cheering for the Vikings after every current player is no longer on the team. That gives us a shared future. Sure, citizens of Minnesota can make a further claim here because it is our democratically elected government which facilitated the building of a stadium that will keep the team here for 40+ years. But I don't think it requires that either (hey, Canadian fan!). We're going to be rooting for this team for years: in some ways, we've made a commitment to the future.

So unless you think it's incorrect to say "we" about things your country, or your religious group, or your community, or your family, or the institution you work for, did before you joined that group or before you were born (and maybe that is weird to do), then it seems fair to say "we" when talking about your favorite team. Asserting a group identity does not always mean your actions created that group identity.

Fantasy Box
It's quite a thing to be picking up free agents off waivers to immediately start in a fantasy football championship game. But really, it's probably a good reflection of what it takes to succeed in fantasy football. The team you take to a championship game may not reflect the team that brought you to the championship game, because in fantasy football, you usually need to make all sorts of moves on the fly to succeed. Because you deal with disappointing performances, injuries, bye weeks, and suspensions, you have to constantly be ready to pick up and sub in. So picking up free agents and immediately starting them is just a matter of playing fantasy football.

Good luck with your fantasy playoff games this weekend, people. Except for Little Brother and Star Man: you guys can #%&@ yourself.

Weekend
Ugly Christmas Sweaters are OVER.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Adrian Peterson and knowing when to say when

I've gotten pretty tired of the Adrian Peterson saga, but I thought this post by ESPN reporter and legal analyst Lester Munson was worth commenting on.

In a nutshell, Munson says legal precedent shows the NFL Player's Association appeal of the NFL's discipline handed out to Peterson has a snowball's chance in hell of being successful.

I'm pretty sure the NFLPA's lawyers know this. I'll assume they've informed Peterson that these appeals almost never work. So given this reality, why is Peterson going ahead with this?

Obviously, he doesn't think he's been treated justly in this case. Did the NFL have all its ducks in a row as it dealt with Peterson after his child abuse charges hit the public arena? No. Does the league look two-faced in its dealings with Peterson - having Troy Vincent promise Peterson things he had no authority to promise? Yes. Is Roger Goodell some kind of dictatorial prick, handing out suspensions based on what comes up during nightly sessions on his Ouija board at home? Probably. (But an important counterpoint - could Peterson have avoided all of this if he hadn't decided to make a horrible parenting choice and beat his four-year-old son bloody with a tree branch? Absolutely.)

Anyway, no matter how badly Peterson and his legal team feel he's been wronged, they must also realize that it looks like they are fighting a losing battle here. Since the NFL suspended Peterson for the rest of the season on Nov. 18, he's gone to arbitration, lost, and now the NFLPA is appealing that decision in a U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, which it also looks like it will lose. 

And as the off-the-field stuff drags on, it has the potential to delay Peterson's return to the field in 2015 - whether that's with the Vikings or some other NFL team. Peterson's missed all but one game of the 2014 season. He turns 30 in March. What if his legal battle to reverse the NFL's imposed discipline causes him to miss most (or all) of the 2015 season? Will he even be able to get an NFL job at 31 - an age where a lot of running backs are considered washed up? (My guess: probably, but for a much reduced salary than he'd get if he plays in 2015.)

Peterson is facing the possibility of losing two of his final seasons where he'd be realistically viewed around the league as an "elite" running back, and all for a cause that appears to have an extremely slim chance of succeeding.

Hey, Adrian - we get it. You think the NFL did you wrong and you want to fight it. But sometimes you've got to know when to fold 'em and cut your losses.

This looks like one of those times.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Coming Off The Ledge: The Happy Bridgewater Thoughts Edition

To eyeball Pacifist Viking's take on Sunday's Vikings loss, click here.

Here is a question for you, Vikings fans. Would you have been happier if the Vikings had beat the Lions but Ted Bridgewater had gone something like 12-for-18 for 140 yards, no interceptions, no touchdown passes, and wasn't asked to do much other than stay out of the way - sort of a Christian Ponder 2012 special?

The Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs on Thursday night, so it's all about development now for this team. And no player's development is more important to its future than Bridgewater.

So, yeah, Bridgewater's back-to-back interceptions late in the first half were not very good throws - although the first INT was partly the result of Charles Johnson tripping - and they played a huge role in this loss. The Vikes were rolling up until that point and Detroit was doing fuck all. I highly doubt the Lions beat the Vikings in this game if Bridgewater doesn't throw those INTs. The turnovers got Detroit back in the game.

However, on the road, against an extremely tough defense that no one can run against, the Vikings were going to have to pass the ball effectively to have a chance to win this game. That necessitated that Bridgewater would not just have to "manage" the contest, but win it with his right arm. He almost did it, too. The Vikings haven't asked their starting QB to win a game with his arm since they had Brett Favre. That says something to me - in a good way - about Bridgewater. (Note: ESPN's Kevin Seifert, not a guy to throw around faint praise, thought this performance was a turning point for the rookie as well.)

The loss was annoying, almost infuriating in the way it happened (why didn't Matt Asiata run out of bounds on the last drive?) But in a season where nothing is at stake anymore, I'll take a performance like this from Bridgewater over one where the Vikings win but he doesn't really contribute to the win.

Other things

- Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has taken some heat for how his unit has performed in 2014, but I loved his gameplan against the Lions. Run just enough to remind Detroit you won't abandon it. Spread out Detroit's defense with three receiver sets and a running back lined up wide as well. Then get the ball out of Bridgewater's hands quickly to his pass catchers with some room to run. And Bridgewater was able to execute it effectively (except for the two INTs.) Norv Turner called a good game.

- Blair Walsh has now failed to make 6 of his last 7 field goal attempts (although one was blocked  and asking him to hit a 68-yarder is a bit much.) On Twitter after the game I saw some tweeters writing "Blair Walsh sucks!" and commenting that he needs to compete for his job in 2015. This seems ridiculous to me. It's a rough patch and the first bit of adversity Walsh has faced as a pro kicker. I guess it's possible he could completely lose his confidence and need to be replaced in 2015. But I really doubt it. Remember how badly Green Bay's Mason Crosby struggled in 2012? Yet the Packers stuck with him because he had an established track record as a very good kicker. And that's what he's continued to be since 2012. I expect Blair Walsh to do the same thing. Save me the rubish overreactions, people.

- They weren't flawless, but I thought a makeshift Vikings offensive line protected Bridgewater about as well as I could have expected today against Detroit's great pass rush. I've shit on the unit a lot this season (especially left tackle Matt Kalil), but credit where credit is due. The offensive line ...  played ... struggling to spit this out ... passably. There - I got that out.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Coming off the Ledge: Lions 16, Vikings 14

First, the consolations.

A Viking win today would have helped the Packers, possibly more than it would help the Vikings since we aren't going to the playoffs anyway.

This late in a season with no playoff hopes, the wins still feel sort of good, while the losses feel, well, like nothing. I wanted the Vikes to win out and go 9-7, but ultimately it won't matter to this team's eventual destiny whether they go, say, either 7-9 or 8-8 this season.

Early in the game, Teddy Bridgewater was playing like an early-career Tom Brady, plus mobility. If you remember Brady's early years, it was a lot of quick passes, WR screens, short stuff in the middle, etc. It took a few years for Brady to become the master who could make any throw at any part of the field (and for his team to build around that possibility). Bridgewater looked like that to me, with quick, short passes requiring quick, correct reads. That fell apart, though. That fell apart.

The defense can play. There's that.

And consider, if the Vikings were in playoff contention, how utterly angry, furious, disappointed, distraught, disconsolate, and devastated you would be by that blocked kick? If it hadn't been blocked, the Lions might have still won: they would have been more aggressive generally on that drive, and they'd certainly go for it on fourth down rather than kick a field goal. But I'd be out on a walk right now in the damp dark night, picturing that block and trying not to picture that block. Instead, it's just a thing that happened.

And now, the bad.

[...]

You know what, screw it. It's not my job to rehash the disappointments of a loss in a season when the Vikes aren't making the playoffs anyway. We're coming off the ledge here, not staying there, and not jumping off.

Let us come off the ledge, watch some more football, and keep on rooting and hoping for the Vikings.

Coming up in National Friday League this week: an argument in favor of using "we" to talk about your favorite team.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pray for Ted Bridgewater - plus other Viking odds and ends

Stay safe, Ted

As Pacifist Viking points out in yesterday's National Friday League post, the Detroit Lions front 7 is pretty good. And eight weeks ago, Ted Bridgewater and the Vikings offense was completely overwhelmed by that front 7.

If anything, the situation has gotten a bit worse for Bridgewater since then. Back in October, the unit still had Phil Loadholt and Jerick McKinnon. Those guys are long gone. And now the Vikings have Matt Kalil, probably Vladimir Ducasse, John Sullivan, Joe Berger and Mike Harris blocking for Bridgewater on the offensive line versus Ziggy Ansah, Ndamukong Suh, plus whomever else the Lions run out there. The Vikings probably won't be able to run on the Lions (nobody else has managed it). That will put Bridgewater in plenty of obvious passing situations where the Lions front 7 can tee off on him. I'm genuinely terrified Bridgewater could get hurt in this game and we'll be forced to watch Christian Ponder quarterback the Vikings for the final two games of the 2014 season. Won't that be a peach.

Xavier Rhodes - elite cornerback

If you've doubted what your eyes have been telling about Rhodes the past month (that he's been awesome), rest easy - Pro Football Focus concurs. This post (you need to read it) by the site's Sam Monson puts Rhodes in Darrell Revis/Richard Sherman territory. High praise, indeed.

Antoine Winfield is one of my favorite Vikings of all-time. But he was not a cornerback I ever sensed team's avoided throwing at. But over the past month or so, opponents seem to be going out of their way to not throw to whomever Rhodes is covering. And when they have thrown at Rhodes the results have been bad (but good for the Vikings.) Rhodes might be on the verge of being Minnesota's first "shutdown corner" since Carl Lee's 1986-1990 salad days. I'm no defensive guru, but it seems to me having a cornerback who opposing quarterbacks won't throw at makes those QBs and the offenses they lead easier to defend. If Rhodes can keep playing at this level consistently, I expect the Vikings road to becoming a dominant defense will get a lot easier. There is already a lot of young talent there that should only get better under Mike Zimmer, who seems to know how to get the best out of the players under his care.

The legend of Mike Mauti is not growing (unfortunately)

More knee issues for Mike Mauti, whose season ended this week.

When the Vikings chose Mauti in the 7th round of the 2013 draft, several fans I follow on social media hoped the team had gotten themselves a steal. 2013 would be a bit of a pro redshirt year - he'd nurse his knee injuries and get healthier. Then 2014 he would seize hold of the Vikings middle linebacker job, and do the things he did at Penn State - be a relentless tackling machine.

That hasn't happened. Mauti didn't stand out in any way during the preseason with the little playing time he got. He couldn't beat out Jasper Brinkley for the starting MLB spot. He couldn't beat out Audie Cole for the backup MLB spot. Instead, he found himself listed on the Vikes depth chart as a backup weakside linebacker to Anthony Barr, which doesn't seem to be Mauti's natural position.

Have knee injuries prevented Mauti from being the kind of player Chris Borland has become in San Francisco? It's too bad if that's the case, because the Vikings still have issues at the MLB spot they'll need to address in 2015.

It's looking like Mauti won't be part of the potential solution there.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

National Friday League, Week 15

Vikings-Lions Preview
Vikings, Lions

The Lion defense is making a mess out of the league right now, ranking #1 in points allowed (17.2 ppg), #2 in yards allowed, #7 in net yards per pass attempt allowed, and #1 in rush yards per attempt allowed. The front seven is scary, and for the Vikings to have a chance to win this game and for Teddy Bridgewater to survive, they had better be making a lot of quick read, quick release throws.

Matthew Stafford is an average NFL quarterback, no better or worse. He has played with an all-time dominant WR in his prime, and in Stafford's career, the Lions have once managed to rank higher than 13th in the league in points scored (they were 4th in 2011; they're 24th right now). This year he's averaging 7.4 yards per attempt (league average is 7.2), a TD percentage of 3.6% (league average is 4.7%), and an INT percentage of 2.0% (league average is 2.5%). That's why Football Outsiders has him as the 14th best QB of the season, sandwiched between Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick. His DVOA ranking the last three seasons was 10th, 12th, and 15th. And this, again, is throwing in an offense that includes an all-time dominant WR. And this year he's getting sacked at a high rate too (39 sacks, 7.3%). Stafford is nothing to be afraid of, but nothing to sleep on either, because an average NFL quarterback throwing to an all-time dominant WR (and an excellent #2 WR) can sometimes destroy you.

Kick Ass Links
"The Time a Guy Named Flipper Set the Single-Game NFL Receiving Record" (FiveThirtyEight).
It's still a little crazy to me that as pass-friendly and pass-focused as the NFL has become, Flipper Anderson's 336 receiving yards in a 1989 game is still the record. But I would guess it will fall soonish: Tom Fears' record of 18 receptions in a game lasted from 1950 to 2000. Dan Marino's 5,084 passing yards in a season lasted from 1984 until it became commonplace to beat in 2011. The other weird record that will probably fall soon is Norm Van Brocklin's 554 passing yards in a game in 1951.

"Vikings look to 3M to make stadium bird-safe, but solution not clear" (MPR).
It would be nice if the Vikings built a stadium that didn't, you know, unnecessarily kill a bunch of birds for the duration of its existence, but this sentence isn't encouraging: "There is no product that actually exists right now..." OK.  But 3M!

"Jay Glazer Calls Out ESPN for Stealing His Johnny Manziel Scoop" (Deadspin).
I don't know if reporters know this or not, but most of us don't give a rolling shit about who breaks a story that we were all going to find out about pretty easily anyway. I get professional protocol and respect, and pride in your work, and it doesn't require public concern to make the level of effort and attempted excellence you put into your work worthwhile. But as I've said before, if reporters are getting early "scoops" on things that the team is going to announce hours or days later anyway, or that we'd see when the player trots out onto the field anyway, the reporter is doing a mostly pointless thing.

Fantasy Box
Playoffs! The seasons roll along: I spend the summer months dripping sweat running around thinking about what players to draft, and now that the snow crunches under my feet and layers of clothing are wicking away sweat, I need those players--and a bunch of others I either didn't think I'd ever need at this point (LaGarrette Blount!?!) or didn't know existed (Mychael Rivera!?!)--to perform well so I can have a trophy sitting in my living room for a year.

Weekend
Have a good one, suckers.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Trailing Clouds of Heaven (Part Two): The Hope Edition

On Sunday, Pacifist Viking wrote that Vikings fans have reason to hope with this team.

I agree. At 6-7, Mike Zimmer's 2014 Vikings team has eclipsed the win total of Less-lie Frazier's (yes, the misspelling is on purpose) 2013 Vikings team. This club has warts, but they are warts that seem born from youth and inexperience. We can expect those warts to be corrected through growth on the field and more tutelage under a coaching staff that appears to know its head from its ass. This is a team that is headed in the right direction.

Playoff hopes?

Christopher Gates at the Daily Norseman broke down the Vikings playoff odds Monday. They aren't very good.

Honestly though, I haven't thought "Vikings" and "playoffs" in the same sentence since they lost to Buffalo. I do enjoy Vikings wins, however. If they finish 9-7 and still don't make the playoffs after all that's happened to this team this season, I think we can feel pretty good about the Vikings chances of making the playoffs next season. Even an 8-8 or 7-9 season could feel pretty good. I think how Minnesota fares in its next two games - on the road against Detroit and Miami, two clubs with something important to play for - could indicate how far away they are from being a playoff team in 2015. Play both of those teams tough and maybe steal a win, plus beat a (likely) dispirited Chicago team at home in the season finale and that sets the Vikings up nicely for the offseason. Vikings rubes will have the warm fuzzies for months.

Bridgewater hopes

A guy I follow on Twitter, Darren Page, posted this tweet Monday of rookie QBs of recent vintage who threw at least 150 passes in their first season. This list, of course, includes Ted Bridgewater.

Now there are a lot of numbers there, but the important thing to note is that Bridgewater is in the upper echelon in most of them, and above average in all but two categories. And he's doing this behind a shit offensive line, with no superstar wide receivers and tight ends to throw to, and no running game. (Football Outsiders is less impressed with Bridgewater's rookie year - saying he's played at a "replacement level.")  Anyway, screw them. Vikings fans watch all the games, and most seem to like what they are seeing. Regular reader Jianfu commented on Monday that watching Bridgewater play as a rookie feels much different than watching Christian Ponder play as a rookie. It's true. Bridgewater doesn't have a cannon, and the ball looks a little funny coming out of his right hand sometimes, but we also know the mental side of the game is very important in QB play. It sure looks like Bridgewater excels at that. Here we have a rookie winning mental "chess matches" against a veteran defensive guru after just nine starts. Encouraging stuff .

Linebacker switch hopes

Dan Zinski at The Viking Age blog writes that second-year linebacker Gerald Hodges should take Chad Greenway's starting strongside linebacker spot when (if?) Anthony Barr returns to the lineup. I think that's a good idea. Hodges interception return for a touchdown against the Jets was an incredibly athletic play for a linebacker. It's also a play Chad Greenway would not make if placed in the same position.

Some Viking fans like to point out Greenway always leads the team in tackles. But how much is that worth if the tackles are often made five yards or more past the line of scrimmage, partly because Greenway gets pushed around and can't fight off blocks? (By the way, Arif Hasan called Greenway's run defense against the Jets "abysmal" in his weekly positional analysis post at Vikings Journal on Monday. And we're still starting him and keeping him on the field for 100 % of the defensive snaps. Lovely.)

It's been my theory that the Vikings problems stopping the run are largely due to poor performance from the starting linebackers. For that to change, Barr must improve his tackling and the Vikings must replace either Greenway or Jasper Brinkley - possibly both. The Vikes appear to have a promising in-house candidate to replace Greenway in Hodges. What are we waiting for? 

Charles Johnson hopes  

The Vikings haven't had much luck developing wide receivers since Randy Moss was drafted in 1998, which, if you do the math, was 16 years ago. High draft picks like Nate Burleson, Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice, and Percy Harvin haven't been the long-term answer to the Vikings' crying need for a dominant #1 wide receiver for various reasons. And Cordarrelle Patterson isn't looking like the answer, either.

So I think the Vikings were due to get lucky with a wide receiver - like they got lucky plucking Cris Carter off the waiver wire 20 years ago. Charles Johnson is starting to look like one of those "he fell into our lap" kinda players - snatched off the Cleveland Browns practice squad.

I'm not suggesting Johnson is going to have a Hall of Fame career like Carter. But he has become Bridgewater's go-to receiver since the Chicago game, he's getting open consistently and making big plays consistently. Right now, and I know it's a very small sample size, Johnson is resembling a #1 WR. Will this continue if teams start to try to take him away? That's hard for this fan to say. But Johnson's looking more legit to me with each passing game.