Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Can the Minnesota Vikings morph into ball hawks in 2012?

If you watched the Minnesota Vikings much in 2011 (I did, and it sucked), you don't need a reminder that the club wasn't very prolific when it came to intercepting passes.

But in case you did need a reminder, Viking Update's John Holler has this little ditty for you.

It's not a pretty picture and Holler's thesis is that the Vikings need to develop a ball hawking mentality among its secondary if the team wants to avoid another 3-13 debacle in 2012.

It's an interesting viewpoint, and you can't argue that the Vikings will be a better defense and a better team if they can up their paltry interception total of eight in 2011. But can this secondary do it?

That might be difficult. While the Vikings shook up their secondary, the talent that is on the roster now and set to play significant roles for the team do not have a track record that suggests Minnesota is going to suddenly morph into a gang of opportunistic thieves. So let's look at the players who will likely make up the 2012 Minnesota Vikings secondary to see what their body of work can tell us about the Vikes chances of intercepting a few more passes in 2012.

Chris Cook: The starting right cornerback has yet to intercept a pass in two NFL seasons (one caveat – he's only suited up for 12 of a possible 32 games during that period) and some writers are expecting a breakout season from him in 2012. But even at the University of Virginia, Cook was no interception machine. His best total was in his 2009 senior season when he picked off four passes. In his three other years with the U of V, he intercepted one pass per season.

Antoine Winfield: As great a player as #26 has been for the Vikes, he's never intercepted more than four passes in a season and hasn't picked off more than two since 2006. At 35 years of age, and with the Vikings trying to limit his snaps a bit, don't expect Winfield to reverse that trend.

Chris Carr: If healthy, Carr will play a lot. But again, his playing history doesn't suggest he's going to be a source of a lot of interceptions. He's had just six in seven NFL seasons.

Josh Robinson: The Vikings have high hopes for the third round pick (so do Viking fans). However, even as he was selected as a first-team all conference player at the University of Central Florida his last two years, he only intercepted two passes each season.  

Zack Bowman: In 2009, the ex-Bear picked off six passes in a starting role. But that seems like eons ago for Bowman, who lost his starting job in Chicago and was running with the third-stringers during the Viking OTAs this spring. Bowman might not even make the team. Even if he does, his role will be limited unless injuries hit the Vikings secondary hard.

Marcus Sherels: The University of Minnesota product was the Vikings main punt returner in 2011, and unless a number of corners drop dead this season, that's where Sherels figures to spend most of his time in 2012. As a dime back in the Vikings porous secondary last year, Sherels didn't intercept a pass - or come close to intercepting one, if memory serves. 

Harrison Smith: Everyone expects the Notre Dame product to be the starting free safety this fall. He did not, however, intercept a pass during his senior season at South Bend (although it's fair to point out he picked off SEVEN passes in his junior year.)

Mistral Raymond: It's hard to figure where Raymond fits right now. He ended 2011 starting at free safety, but that was based on necessity, not performance. Now he's listed as Smith's backup on the Vikings depth chart. And I've read he may win the strong safety job in training camp. Wherever he ends up, Raymond probably isn't going to turn into Ed Reed. He picked off one pass in 2011. He'll do well to equal that total in 2012.

Jamarca Sanford: And the Minnesota Vikings interception leader in 2011 was .... Jamarca Sanford? Yes, that's correct, and yet Sanford played so poorly last season he may not be able to keep his starting job this season. In fact, if he does keep his starting job, that's a sign the Vikings 2012 secondary might not be any better than the Vikings 2011 secondary. Starting or not starting, Sanford will be lucky to match his 2011 interception total.

Robert Blanton: The Notre Dame grad was consistent – if not spectacular – when it came to picking off opposing passes during his Fighting Irish career. He intercepted two passes in each of his four seasons at South Bend. A cornerback in college, the Vikings are turning Blanton into a safety and the talk is he could beat out Sanford and Raymond for the strong safety job. But would you bet on a rookie fifth round draft pick - playing the kind of "take-no-chances" philosophy the Vikings Cover Two defensive system asks of its safeties - picking off more than a pass or two next season? I wouldn't. 

Look at that list of players above and tell me the Vikings are going to reverse their interception fortunes in 2012. I believe the unit will be improved compared to the sorry crew Minnesota had to trot out for most games in 2011. But I don't think that improvement is going to translate into a lot of picks.The Vikings Cover Two system has something to do with that, as the goal seems to be to play zone, keep the play in front of you and tackle well rather than jump routes and take chances. However, the talent at the Vikings disposal also suggests the team will continue to drive its fans crazy with their inability to pick the pockets of opposing quarterbacks. I hope I'm wrong.


  1. The Vikings' INT total from 2011 might bee even worse than it looks. It would be interesting to see something like passes attempted vs INTs by team or something comparable. I'll bet the Vikes vs league average would look pretty dismal.

    1. Yes, that was a bit of legwork I wasn't willing to do for this post. For what it's worth, Viking opponents threw 538 passes in 2011 and the Vikings picked off just eight of them. Not sure what that is as a percentage, but it's pretty low.

    2. OK, So I went ahead and looked. MN finished in last place for TDs allowed (34 -OAK had 31, BUF and TB each had 30), INT (8 - Indy also had 8 and NO and DEN each had 9), completions per interception (45.9 - Indy had 43.9 and NO 40.2), and TD per INT (4.3 - next worst was Indy at 3.1 - quite the difference!).

      MN was only 2nd to last in attempts per interception though (67.3) - NO did worse with 69.6. MN was also 2nd to last in completion percentage (68.2 compared to Indy at 71.2).

      The silver lining here is that Ponder gets to Pass against that Indy defense early in the season and will hopefully gain some more confidence.

    3. Well, that good info. I didn't realize the Saints pass defense was that poor last year. I guess when your QB is breaking every passing record known to man, the other stuff gets lost.

      I hope you aren't going to get fired for doing "research" during work hours.

  2. nah. I got 30 hrs quality work in this week before I started today.

  3. By the way, are you living in Georgia now? Your IP address says so on Sitemeter. But I thought you had moved back to Minny a couple of years ago ...

  4. I'm in Minneapolis right now. I might have a dynamic IP through the office - not sure.

    Just for fun: I grew up in Minnesota, moved to Colorado for 8 years (college + early married life), then back to MN in 2008. Happy to be back! Colorado was nice, but I got my fill. Still fun to visit though.

    The Broncos remain the only non-Vikings team I've seen more than once.

  5. I believe you're going to see some variances to the typical Tampa 2 scheme from years previously. Our personnel from the conerback position is more man to man based talent (i.e. Cook, Robinson, and Carr). Look for them to use a lot of "Man under 2" style attacks in order to capitalize on their players' strengths with how young they are.

    If the season started today I think you really have to look long and hard at putting Winfield into the strong safety position because of his diminishing speed and heightening experience/knowledge. If you want to create the turnovers you're looking for, you're going to have to think about utilizing a blitz scheme to force early passes (as most teams don't take to long to realize they just have to keep an extra blocker in to slow down Allen).

  6. Taylor:

    Haven't seen Carr or Robinson play, so I can't comment on them, but everything I've ever read about Chris Cook is that he's the perfect Cover Two/zone corner. And that's why the Vikings drafted him. I do expect him to excel in his third year – he was playing really well until he got arrested. If he can keep his nose clean – and that's a big if – I think he's going to have a very good year.

    Winfield has already said he's got no interest in playing safety, so I don't he's being moved anywhere. And having him play safety and play way off the line of scrimmage doesn't play to Winfield's strengths. He's a great tackler and that is so important in taking down WRs and RBs. If you've got him playing way off the line of scrimmage, he won't be able to do that.