Wednesday, December 26, 2012

How Did The Vikings Get So Much Better This Season?

It's obvious that RB Adrian Peterson is having an epic 2012 season for the Minnesota Vikings. He should be a shoo-in for comeback player of the year and he probably should be named league MVP. But, you might recall, that Peterson was a great player before this season and he only missed four games in 2011. He also had a pretty average game last week (25 carries for 86 yards and no touchdowns) while his teammates demolished the Texans. He's their most valuable player, but he's not the only reason why the Vikings improved from 3-13 in 2011 to 9-6 in 2012.

Here's how the Vikings have improved on offense, percentages and rankings from Football Outsiders:
Season Pass Offense Pass Rank Rush Offense Rush Rank
2012 -2.9% 23 6.0% 8
2011 -21.3% 28 11.7% 5
Surprisingly the rush offense has declined this season, which has nothing to do with Peterson, and everything to do with the 49 empty carries they've given to RB Toby Gerhart, who remains one of the worst rated running backs in the NFL. QB Christian Ponder's future is still in doubt, but he has improved this season. In 2011, his passer rating was only 70.1, and it's up to 78.8 this season.

Here's their defense, percentages and rankings again from Football Outsiders:
Season Pass Defense Pass Rank Rush Defense Rush Rank
2012 15.8% 23 -13.7% 9
2011 22.9% 32 -10.5% 9
The run defense is slightly improved, but for all practical purposes it's just the same. The real improvement is against the pass and that improvement might be summed up in two players: CB Antonie Winfield and S Harrison Smith. Winfield, even at age 35, remains their top cornerback and he's played in every game this season (so far, he broke his hand against the Texans) after playing only 5 games in 2011. Smith was their second first round pick last April and he's played like he deserved that high selection and his stats are almost identical to that of Winfield's. While those two players haven't made them an elite pass defense, they have made the Vikings a whole lot better as a team.

One other key addition is rookie kicker K Blair Walsh, who's been a big improvement over former Packer K Ryan Longwell, and he's carried the Vikings' special teams up to No. 6 overall.

Bottom line: the Vikings' secret this season is that they aren't as unbelievably awful as they were in 2011. That's a back handed compliment, but they have managed to improve in the two areas (pass offense and pass defense) where they really needed it. Moving up from the bottom to almost average in those two areas has made them an average team this season (No. 16 overall) which is good enough to earn a playoff spot.

1 comment:

PackFaninFl said...

Vikings fans are so excited about this game. But I can't help but agree with you. I see the Vikes as being average to slightly above average. I just can't get excited about a team with such a mediocre QB/passing game.

They do some "nice" things. Jared Allen is a difference maker. Winfield is really good. But that's mostly it on D? I mean, we should overwhelm them with our varied weapons.

This is not a team to which we should lose. So, I expect anywhere from a 10 to a 17 point win.