Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dr. Z Effectively Ends Vikings' Title Hopes

By picking them to win it all.

Last year, I locked in my Super Bowl pick early and felt very good about the choice. For once, I wasn't trying to do a roster breakdown or getting myself all tied up in strengths and weaknesses. I was looking for a team with a chip on its shoulder, one that would be coming into the season with something to prove, a hungry team, nasty, etc.

Yeah, I mean, when any sportswriter is fatigued from a long and tiring day of careful analysis and number crunching...I suppose the next step is to just make up a bunch of intangibles as a defense for picking

The Saints were my Super Bowl winner.

(the Saints) to win the Super Bowl.

Anyway, the Saints didn't really look any worse at the end of the season than they did when Dr. Z picked them. The offense, passing offense at least, really didn't go anywhere from the prior year. Per DVOA, the Saints had the very worst pass D in the NFL last season. I don't think they were expected to be that bad, but they were 22nd against the pass in 2006, so one might assume that their 11 win season was sort of a fluke.

Anyway 7-9 wasn't a particularly poor season for them. They were just a really weak Super Bowl pick.

So why do I get this real hunch about [the Vikings]? OK, yeah, right now they're my choice for the winner of Supe (sic) XXIII. And here's why:

Let's get down to basics. Run the ball. Stop the run. Best in the league at both last year. I can't help it -- I'm hooked on the fundamentals. Their middle triangle of tackles Kevin and Pat Williams, backed up by E.J. Henderson, is classic, and now there's a serious element added to that mix.

DVOA doesn't actually have the Vikings the best at either, but I think I can ignore this point for now. They had Y/C numbers in the 3-4 range on defense, and in the 5-6 range on offense: which are both phenomenal. They were the first team in NFL history to finish with a greater than 2.8 yard difference between rushing yards for and against per play. Very good.

Of course, there are two major problems with this argument:

1) Assumption that trends will carry over from one year to the next. Sure the personnel is much of the same. But ESPECIALLY in the case of Pat Williams (dude's 36!), it's not smart to assume that career high performance is repeatable. And with Adrian Peterson's rookie year: the smart money is on his second season being not as good. Tremendous talent, but if he only averages 4.8 (only?) YPC, does this SB pick look smart then? Also:

2) Last year with elite rushing and rush stopping units (that really have zero room for improvement), the Vikings won (only!) 8 games and posted a 4.9% total DVOA, losing a must win game at home to a superior Redskin team in Week 16.

So yes, Dr. Z is predicting that 1) The Vikings will sustain their run production, and 2) somehow, they will win more games.

Of course, part of that somehow could be:

A trade with the Chiefs brought them defensive end Jared Allen in April. He brings with him the 2007 NFL sack title, plus a two-game DUI suspension at the beginning of the year. A gamble? Childress says no. Allen says he's on the wagon.


It's almost a miracle to get a guy like that in a trade. Sack specialists are like diamonds, and Allen's a young one -- only 26 years old! And he's not one of those wild-angle loopers who leaves a couple of acres inside for the runners. He's a technician who honors the down home of the game.

What the fuck is the "down home of the game"?!

I honestly think that Jared Allen is one of the five best defensive players in the game. There is no doubt in my mind that the 2008 Vikings are a better defensive team with Jared Allen than without him. He's probably worth every penny he got. And the Vikings do need a pass rush.

"Why," I was asked, "did Allen's production usually fall off in the second half?" And my answer was because he was on the field too much. The way the game is now, no defensive lineman, especially an edge rusher with a high motor, can do it without relief. And the Chiefs kept Allen on the field.

Allen's production really didn't fall off in the second half. Sure, a majority of his sacks came in the first half of ball games, but the Chiefs ranked 3rd (read: Third) in adjusted sack rate last year, so that 2nd half bs was probably just a sample size issue.

Anyway, I'm helping you make your argument, which isn't my job here.

Pass rush begets pass defense, which begets better statistics than the Vikings had last year, one of their big failings. They finished last in yards allowed. Where's the fix there? Madieu Williams, an active free safety for the Bengals last year. Charlie Gordon, a good, quick, free-agent cornerback.

I'll accept Williams being a decent addition, he's younger than the departed Dwight Smith -- but probably not any better.

Here's Charlie Gordon's PFR page. Let me know if you see anything there that screams Super Bowl caliber pass defense.



Okay, then. Moving on.

And I know where we're headed. Tarvaris Jackson, QB. Just 25 years old. Fine athlete, terrific scrambler, able to make big plays, but so far in his two years in the league, not enough of them. Sixth from the bottom among the ranked passers last year. When does it happen? Third year? Fourth? Not at all?

America voted: and they think it's...Not at all!

"(says Vikings coach Brad Childress) Besides the production, there's something to walking into the building every day and being the man. I mean every day. Tavaris is pretty good with that."

Tavaris Jackson, 2007

Comp %: 58.2%
QB Rating: 70.8
DVOA: -12.4%
the "man" efficency: 101.9

"I told him that when those legs go, you're going to have to learn to rely on other things," the coach says. "You've got to evolve. It's like a wounded animal. All the other senses are heightened. And he went out and had some of his most accurate games, passing the ball.

For 3 weeks (12-14), Jackson did an impressive impersonation of an NFL QB.

The next two weeks: 1 TD, 5 INTs.


(Childress, still) "When I got the job here, well, in my wildest dreams I didn't think I was going to have to get rid of a franchise quarterback. But after three weeks in the spring, it was just obvious that it wasn't going to work, with Daunte Culpepper. So I replaced him, and everybody pilloried us.

"Daunte was a guy who always used his legs. He wasn't an anticipatory thrower. He had to see the whites of their eyes. And once he got hurt, well, coming back from the injury, he couldn't play that way."

Per Wikipedia: "The pillory was a device used in punishment by public humiliation and often additional, sometimes lethal, physical abuse."

Given the circumstances: Justified.

(Again, Childress)"As a franchise quarterback, there's the matter of the work ethic, putting in your hours," Childress says. "Tarvaris knows that, how important it is that people see you working when they come in. Is he in the right place for a guy evolving? Yeah, I'm convinced he's got what it takes.

Except that

"We just have to see how he does on the field."

I suppose the next step is to just make up a bunch of intangibles as a defense for picking (the Vikings) to win the Super Bowl.

(Zimmerman here) So en fin, do I like the Vikings to go all the way? Well, yeah, why not? A feeling of destiny, that's what I sense about Brad Childress and his baby quarterback.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Making Something Out of Nothing

ESPN is on an odd streak of producing insightful content that isn't painful for me to read. Go figure. I think I actually miss the days when the front page articles made me cringe.

Luckily, the magic of ESPN's archives allow me to go back in time, and discover more sub par analysis, courtesy of Dennis Green's favorite son -- Jeremy -- who apparently thinks that the Cleveland Browns are the favorite to win the AFC North this year. Green pimps the job Browns' GM Phil Savage is doing in this article, apparently unaware that perhaps not all personnel moves have positive results.

QB Derek Anderson -- Anderson was a restricted free agent entering the offseason, and the Browns put a first- and third-round tender on him to possibly scare away potential suitors. There was some talk about listening to trade offers for Anderson, but his experience in Baltimore taught Savage that a constant quarterback merry-go-round is not good for an offense.

Derek Anderson was certainly a breath of fresh air in 2007. I won't argue this point. Going forward though, is there any reason to think that Derek Anderson will be a better pro than Brady Quinn.

Consider these facts about Anderson in 2007:

Anderson completed 56% of his passes.

His 19 interceptions ranked him one behind Eli Manning for tops in the NFL (something that his completion percentage would indicate is a very real trend).

Chase Stuart, at PFR, adjusted QB numbers for strength of schedule, and Anderson's totals came out below average -- ranking below both Chad Pennington and Jon Kitna.

KC Joyner's bad decision % totals had Anderson at second worst, ahead of only Jay Cutler with a 4.7% bad decision rate.

Now, consider that Anderson went to the pro bowl in 2007 with all these problems with his game. Is that really a recipe for improvement the next season? If anything, the pro bowl invite seems like it would falsely inflate Anderson's value in his own mind, which can be dangerous for the development of a young QB.

The process here tells Savage to sell high -- try to cash in on his value and grab a few picks. What Green fails to mention is that Savage had no serious offers for Anderson because people are skeptical. The Browns had a soft schedule, and they missed the playoffs in no small part because Anderson imploded down the stretch. 10 wins is nothing to spit on, but as we'll see later, a repeat of that performance remains a pipe dream in Jeremy Green's mind.

RB Jamal Lewis -- The team made it a priority to get a deal done for Lewis, another great move. Lewis is coming off his best season (1,304 yards, 11 touchdowns) since 2003, and his legs looked rejuvenated last season.

Jamal Lewis DVOA (Yards/Carry) 2002-2007:

02- -1.7% (4.3)
03- 3.4% (5.3)
04- 3.5% (4.3)
05- -25.2%(!) (3.4)
06- -9.9% (3.6)
07- 1.9% (4.4)

The numbers absolutely support Jeremy Green's claim that his legs looked rejuvenated last year. Of course, that rejuvenation is who Jamal Lewis is and always has been throughout his career: a league average running back when healthy who is capable of having insane games when he plays the Cleveland Browns defense. He's probably the very best practice back in the NFL.

He will also be 29 before opening day, and with the mileage on his tires, it's safe to assume we've seen his peak. The smart move would have been for the Browns to invest the money they spent on extending Lewis elsewhere, but again, Phil Savage may not be the genius that Green likens him to be.

DTs Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams -- Acquiring Rogers in a trade with the Detroit Lions was one of those risks I talked about earlier.

Williams came over in a trade with the Green Bay Packers and will add more size to a defense that was one of the worst in the league against the run last season.

These are the two moves that will for sure determine how we remember Cleveland's offseason. This is who the Browns dealt their top two picks in the 2008 draft for.

I'm skeptical on Rogers, but KC Joyner pretty much says concisely what I am really thinking here:

Overrated: Shaun Rogers, DT, Detroit -- He was named the NFC player of the week at one point during the 2007 season, but his 4.4 YPA allowed on point-of-attack runs was quite disappointing for a player who had been dominant in that area in the past. And that wasn't all: 30 of the 97 POA runs directed at Rogers gained at least 5 yards, and 11 went for 10-plus yards.

Keep in mind that Joyner wrote this about a month before Rogers was dealt to Clevland: for a third round pick and shutdown corner Leigh Bodden. Cleveland has (or, at least had, prior to Daven Holly's season ending knee injury) corner depth, and though Rogers' impact on the Browns is yet to be seen, it's hard to see a scenario where the Browns' improved their team in this deal.

Also: Getting fleeced by Matt Millen is grounds for dismissal in 40 states.

I think Williams is a good pickup for the Browns D. Keep in mind though, the price on him was a second round pick -- a price that no team was willing to pay the Browns for Derek Anderson. Certainly, Anderson could have been a Packer for the price of Williams, but the Packers certainly don't think Anderson is franchise QB material.

Yes, it's early, but I'll make two predictions: The Browns will win the AFC North, and Savage will be the GM of the year.

Based on his track record this offseason, I'll make a bold prediction also: Dennis Green gets another job in the NFL before Jeremy Green gets a single prediction correct.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dynamic Running Duos

Jeremy Green, y'all:

One recent trend in the NFL is that teams are creating depth at running back and more and more teams are using a two-back system. Here's a look at [five] duos that will have success this season and [five] others that will struggle.

Five and five here. That's one third of the NFL. Fine. Green mentions Minnesota and Jacksonville at the top of his list. Both are totally deserving tandems. So far so good.

Dallas' Marion Barber and Felix Jones
As soon as the Cowboys selected Jones, I started envisioning how this backfield would shape up in 2008. The rest of the NFC East likely started having nightmares. Now that Julius Jones has left for Seattle, Barber is now the lead back. He is one of the most physical runners in the NFL and leaves a mark when he runs over a defender. Jones' quickness and speed make him the perfect complement. One of the toughest adjustments a defense has to make is when it goes from seeing a physical, between-the-tackles runner to a speed guy. In terms of pure explosiveness when combining strength and speed, this duo is unmatched.

Okay, Marion Barber is very good, runs with power and authority, is a great receiver out of the backfield. But he doesn't break the big run, so we give him...Felix Jones. Who did not start in college. And has never played a down in the NFL.

This would be one think if it was Barber and Darren McFadden. But it's pure speculation right now that Felix Jones will ever be an NFL quality back. Well, whatever. You're stretching here, Jeremy Green, but you still have two more chances to,

Pittsburgh's Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall
Pittsburgh wasn't supposed to be on this list. But then the second-best rookie running back in the 2008 class fell into the Steelers' laps. Though Parker is a speed back who has shown he can carry the load, depth has been a concern for the Steelers. Plus, Parker is coming back from a season-ending injury, so adding Mendenhall made sense. He is a physical runner who should provide nice balance in the backfield to "Fast Willie" and a Pittsburgh offense that will try to re-establish its tough, blue-collar mentality this season.

Willie Parker DVOA (2007): -11.3%
Willie Parker DVOA (2006): 1.1%
Willie Parker DVOA (2005): 0.2%

Alright. In Willie Parker's BEST season, he was an average back. Last year, at age 27, he averaged 4.1 yards/carry. He was a probowler the last two seasons, though in 2007, Najeh Davenport was twice as valuable in half as many touches (20.4% DVOA). Willie Parker also broke his leg in December 2007.

Willie Parker is good enough to start somewhere in the NFL, but he's not a top running back in the league. Probably not even top 25.

Mendenhall has never played a down. He's a good prospect with a lot of hype, and that's the kind of player that Jeremy Green wants on his team. Of course he just tried that Felix Jones could improve the Running Back situation in Dallas now that that lazy bum Julius Jones is finally elsewhere.

Seattle's Julius Jones and T.J. Duckett
Unhappy with his backfield, Mike Holmgren decided to shake things up. In a rare move, the Seahawks dipped into the unrestricted free-agent running back market twice in the offseason in an effort to get one star running back via two bodies. A change of scenery will help Jones, who was never given a full opportunity to succeed in Dallas. Once he got the "soft" label, his days of being given the opportunity to carry the load went by the wayside. Duckett is a journeyman but is a proven backup with solid size and the power to run between the tackles.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

Gentlemen, your fifth most feared RB tandem in the NFL today: some guy who got replaced by a rookie in Dallas, and TJ Duckett.

TJ Duckett -- one of the very worst first round running back picks of the last ten years. Literally did not carry the ball 20 times in 2005, his 4th and final season in Atlanta, despite being healthy the whole year. Got traded to Washington, and posted a DVOA of -20.8% in a (rightfully) small sample size. Better last year, still didn't qualify for the DVOA leaderboard.

Now (apparently) part of one of the five best duos in the NFL. Better than Bradshaw and Jacobs. Better than Turner/Norwood. Better than Tomlinson/Sproles. Better than Westbrook/Booker.

For the rest of the article, a good case could be made for each of the five "Destined Duds" to be more successful this year than TJ Duckett and Julius Jones, and especially so with Ronnie Brown who was so good last year before getting injured that his combined rushing and receiving DPAR in seven games ranked fifth for all RBs...over the entire fucking season.

And yes, he is coming off a torn ACL and Ricky Williams can no longer be counted on, but remember: Willie Parker broke his fucking leg.