Thursday, September 20, 2012

National Friday League, Week 3

Vikings-49ers Preview

As Darren noted, at Football Outsiders, the Vikings currently rank 4th in VOA--the statistical measure of the team without adjustment for quality of opponent. So either the Vikings are a better team than you think, or they've played really bad opponents. Frankly, it's probably the latter.

We as fans may be dreading this week's game: not only do the Vikes seemingly have little chance to win, but they have a seemingly high chance of being utterly and embarrassingly destroyed. It's hard not to think that every Viking first down is going to look and feel like a major accomplishment. But as we watch a rebuilding team, we want to see improvement, and we also want to see the team measure itself. Where are the Vikings, and how far do they have to go? A blowout loss and we know: the Vikes can compete with any non-playoff team in the league, but they are a long way from being meaningfully competitive. If they manage a strong showing, maybe that VOA will still be good when it is DVOA, and the Vikes have moved forward more than we expected.

What would the Vikings need for an upset? Some game-turning turnovers--not just forced fumbles or interceptions, but forced fumbles or interceptions that put the offense in great field position (or that the defense scores on outright). Some huge special teams returns. I don't think the Viking offense can sustain long drives, so they'll need somebody to break out some big plays to get points. It's all possible...but it's also possible that if the Vikes hang in there, the secondary is going to give up big gains late and blow the game anyway.

Percy Harvin
I may be getting repetitive on this topic, but I'll say again: Harvin is an excellent football player, productive and fun to watch, but if he's your team's best WR, your team is in trouble.

If the Vikings let Harvin go when his contract is up, one of two types of teams will sign him. A team like New Orleans could sign him, integrate him into an already explosive offense, and use him properly to explode on the league. Or a team that stinks offensively will give him a big contract and a #1 job hoping he can transform their offense, and that team will be very disappointed.

This is just another reason getting a dependable downfield wide receiver has to be a priority soon for the Vikes: when Harvin's contract is up, it would be good for the Vikings to know if they could sign him into a role where he can best be used, or whether a big contract would be unjustified based on how the team could and could not use him. Speaking of...

Acquiring Wide Receivers
Teams that are desperate for wide receiver talent often use free agency to offer a big contract to an unworthy player. We've seen this first-hand: the Vikes were desperate for a WR when they signed Bernard Berrian, and the Vikings let Sidney Rice sign a big contract with Seattle and he's largely been a disappointment (partly for injuries, yes, but Seattle signed him despite a pretty clear injury history). We've seen plenty of other decent WRs sign big free agent contracts only to disappoint. It seems to me that if a team is willing to let a WR go via free agency, that team usually knows what its doing, and it knows that the player is replaceable.

I'm getting a little ahead of things here (it's Week 3: I'm still loving autumn and football), but this is a position the Vikings need to improve via the draft. That may mean developing a later pick or targeting worthwhile receivers early. Speaking of...

Jarius Wright, anyone?
He's ready to play (1500 ESPN Twin Cities). This is a player that the Vikings may be able to help develop into a playmaker, and that development may as well start now when the Vikes are desperate for playmakers at the WR position. The non-Harvin talent currently at WR is so poor, that Wright's inexperience should not be enough to keep him on the sidelines. We don't see what the coaches see in practice, of course, but if they think he's got more talent than the likes of Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu, they should play him immediately. I have trouble believing any mistakes he makes will cost the team more than playing WRs that can't separate from defenders is costing the team. If he could make one or two big plays a game, this offense could be very different. Speaking of...

Hoping on Wide Receivers
The wide receivers are so bad right now we're going to be talking ourselves into any potential savior for the whole year. It will be Wright, then Jerome Simpson, and then, what, John Carlson getting healthy? Any WR that gets released (I know Rick Spielman is committed to rebuilding, but do you pass on signing an old WR to play short-term because you are committed to letting ineffective WRs play short-term?  How does that help you rebuild?)? Until finally we'll have to give up and accept that for now, this is it, and the savior is somewhere else, ready to join the team in the future.

If Andrew Luck has a long career...
He's going to push punny headline writers to absurd extremes. It's hard for me to believe that all the obvious luck puns won't be used up by the end of his rookie year (he was a prominent college player too). Eventually it's just going to get silly as headline writers try to find a new way to make a joke. What could happen? There will be convoluted headlines that you need a moment with ("Colts pLuck Eagles' feathers"? Don't be surprised if it gets close). There will be obscure cultural references (if there is a song that hipsters enjoy with the word "luck" in the lyrics, it will be a headline someday). Eventually they'll use up all the luck puns and move on to things that just sound sort of like luck (has "Luckadaisical" been used?).

Other Interesting Games
Week Three Schedule

Falcons-Chargers. The Falcons are a team I look at as a model for rebuilding. In 2007, in the aftermath of Michael Vick and Bobby Petrino, no team could look much lower. And from 2008 on, they've had nothing but winning seasons. They got lucky to draft a franchise quarterback with a top-three pick (and that is luck: every year shitty teams get early picks, but there's luck involved with how early the pick is and whether a franchise QB is available to you there), of course, but they also hired a quality coach and built a strong, balanced, deep roster.

Eagles-Cardinals. I notice a lot of sports teams name their teams after birds these days. Did you ever notice this? Huh? Huh? You know what I'm talkin' about!

Steelers-Raiders. The Steelers are one of those teams that are televised so often that you just sort of get used to them. I'm not sure I've seen more than three Texans games in my life, but everything about the Steelers, offensively, defensively, special teams, is so familiar. Maybe it's because they've been replacing linebackers with differently named linebackers and doing the same goddam thing and doing it well for almost 20 years. Maybe its because they are usually in the playoffs getting even more games. And doesn't Ben Roethlisberger seem to be perpetually on television holding onto the ball too long and running around back there? Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but he's always running around back there.

Texans-Broncos. Really intriguing game. They have unique offenses (the Texans with their focus on the run, the Broncos with Manningball), but each have defenses that have shown some flashes of being very, very good. This game is televised in the Twin Cities. When Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos, I pointed out how often we'd get to see (or, depending on your view, subjected to) Bronco games. Manning would draw plenty of prime time games, and since the Vikings are usually on Fox at noon, CBS shows an AFC game for the 3:00 game, and those 3:00 AFC games are often AFC West games. I think we'll see 10+ Bronco games this year.

Patriots-Ravens. Is there any QB for a perennial contender that you trust less than Joe Flacco? Any f*&#ing thing can happen when he's in a game.

Packers-Seahawks. Its only two games, against two tough defenses, but the Packers rank 20th in points and 23rd in yards.

Fantasy Box: you'll only find this interesting if Arian Foster is on your team
If Arian Foster is your starting fantasy running back, do not stress about Ben Tate rushing for touchdowns.

Of course you want your fantasy starter to get his team's touchdowns--but you also recognize that the team is going to score other touchdowns. If you have a running back, his team is going to throw for some touchdowns, including red zone touchdowns. Well, the Texans run a lot. This year they have 83 runs to 68 passes/sacks. Last year they had 546 rushes to 500 passes/sacks. And last year they had 18 rush TDs to 20 pass TDs. Some of their non-Foster TDs might go to another RB.

Big deal.I view Ben Tate's rushing touchdowns like I would view another team's passing touchdowns. The Texans will score touchdowns, Arian Foster won't score all of them, and sometimes the Texans will use Ben Tate.

This year the Texans have scored six touchdowns, and Arian Foster has scored three of them. If Foster comes anywhere near scoring half of the Texans' total offensive touchdowns this year, he's going to be a fantasy demigod. As it happens, the Texans have only thrown one touchdown so far. If you viewed Ben Tate's two rushing TDs as passing TDs, you wouldn't even think of those TDs as being stolen from Foster. And that's why I don't.

Furthermore, I'd like to see the Texans use Tate even more late in games. Foster currently has 54 carries, and they've given him carries late in the game to milk leads. I understand that teams can come back in the NFL quickly and that you have to play to the end--but do you have to slam your star RB into the line for short or no gains to milk the clock? Isn't this what you have backup RBs for? The high number of carries helps fantasy numbers in the short term, but I worry it could wear him down throughout the year.

Now here's the real question for you. If you've drafted Foster, hopefully you've handcuffed Tate. Now bye weeks are coming up. Now injuries are piling up. You need to start two RBs. Can you start Foster and Tate? I wouldn't. Some weeks Tate might get 8 touches for 28 yards while Foster gets 27 touches; other weeks Foster might get 34 touches but Tate can still get 16 touches for 97 yards and 2 TDs. I think the quiet Tate games will be more frequent (while you can still count on lots of touches for Foster no matter what), and would only start both (at this point) in desperation.

The thing to do on a Sunday is put chili into a pot around 11:30 and stop thinking about food for the rest of the day.

Enjoy the weekend, everybody. Except Packer and 49er fans.


  1. PV:

    I was thinking the same thing about this game. If the Vikings are going to pull off an upset (mercy!), the offense will need some short fields to work with and the Vikes will need a couple of big plays that result in points that the offense has no involvement in.

    One of those plays is Percy Harvin taking a kickoff to the house (very possible, and I think he's close to breaking one). The other would be a pick six or a fumble recovery the Vikings return for a touchdown. That seems a lot less likely and it's hard to see the 49ers playing such a sloppy game when they normally don't beat themselves.

    Still, I've got a funny feeling the Vikings could play the 49ers tough and pull off an upset on Sunday. But I'm also the guy who picked Carolina to beat the Giants in my football pool this week.

    1. Boy, Carolina sure stunk up the place last night.

      If the Vikings get a TD on ST and a TD off of a turnover and somehow hold on to beat the 9ers, FO's VOA might still drop the team. Doesn't it normally reward more sustainable stats like net yards per attempt?

      Remember several years ago when the Vikings beat the heavily favored Giants with a kick return TD, a punt return TD and a pick-six (plus one field goal, thanks offense.)? 24-21, I believe. In NY, if I remember correctly. I want to say it was around 2005..? That was AMAZING. I cheered and cheered. And that's why I'll be recording Sunday's game and watching it later when I have the chance even though other good football will be live on TV and the Vikings will most likely lose.

    2. Peter:

      You do remember correctly. The Vikings only ran for 21 yards and passed for 144, but Manning threw four INTs in that game (could be a while before we see that again).

  2. PV,

    Harvin is not a traditional #1 receiver, but the guy is elite. There is no one in the NFL with an identical skill set. The problem isn't that we don't have a #1. The problem is that we don't have anyone else resembling an NFL WR on the roster. What Harvin can do with the amount of attention he gets from a defense is amazing.

    Otherwise, great post, as usual.

    1. Raindog:

      Good point, although Jerome Simpson is at least one other guy I think can be a legit NFL WR. Unfortunately, we don't get him until next week and we need him this week. I really am curious to see how the Vikings fare today against San Fran.

  3. I've long been skeptical of finding WR in free agency because they seem more system dependent than anyone else. And I'm not convinced that this coaching staff can adjust any outsiders into their offensive schemes.