Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to present some questions to the good folks over at Football Outsiders. Football Outsiders is, quite frankly, the best statistical site on the internet for my money, and the 2010 version of their football almanac is now available on their website or, if you insist on having a print copy, you can check out Amazon.com.
The folks from Football Outsiders were kind enough to answer ten questions about the Vikings for me, and I'm sharing the first five of those questions here with you. The other five will be located over at The Daily Norseman, SBNation's Minnesota Vikings haven. Thanks to Bill Barnwell of Football Outsiders for taking the time out of his schedule to answer these questions for me.
1) Football Outsiders notes the drop of the Vikings' pass defense from a very good unit in 2008 to one that was below average in 2009. There was a very unusual correlation in there that says that the Vikings hurried the quarterback on a higher percentage of plays than any team in the league, yet had the worst DVOA in the NFL on plays where they hurried the quarterback. Is such a correlation normal? What led to the Vikings declining so much in pass defense if opposing quarterbacks were under duress so frequently?
That sort of correlation isn't normal, but it's hard to pinpoint a definitive reason why that happened to the Vikings. I think you have to look for anecdotal reasons -- the coverage wasn't as good as it was the year before, probably owing to the absence of Antoine Winfield and Darren Sharper. Or maybe it was a total fluke. I'm guessing it's a combination of those two factors.
2) Nobody could have seen Brett Favre's amazing 2009 season coming. Obviously, nobody is expecting a 33/7 TD-to-INT ratio over the course of the 2010 regular season, but given the relative youth that the Vikings have at the skill positions and the chemistry that Favre seems to have built with Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, not to mention Visanthe Shiancoe, how much of a drop-off do you see for #4 in 2010?
The interception rate is going to rise. He was historically low for a fair amount of the season for any quarterback, let alone Favre. Everything else about his performance is sustainable.
3) Speaking of Harvin, there has been word flying around that he, along with rookie Toby Gerhart, could see a more prominent role in the backfield on third downs with Chester Taylor having moved on to average three yards/carry with the Bears. How do you see the Vikings working Harvin and Gerhart into the rushing attack with Adrian Peterson?
I don't see Harvin playing a serious role in the running game. I think he ends up as too breakable to play any sort of consistent role as a back, even if it's just 2-4 carries a game. As for Gerhart, it depends on AD's health and Gerhart's development rate. If he's handling pass protection well in camp and in the preseason, I think he sees a fair amount of time as a third down back and change of pack for Peterson. Otherwise, it could be a lot of Peterson early on.
4) For a team with Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the Vikings' rushing game was pretty awful in 2009. Much of this, as the Football Outsiders Almanac notes, falls at the feet of the offensive line. It appears that the Vikings are content to go with the same starting offensive line they went with for most of last year. How do you think the unit will fare in 2010, given that John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt are no longer first-year players and everyone will be healthy (at least to start with)?
I think you have to expect them to improve. I don't think Bryant McKinnie is as bad as he looked a year ago, and certainly, while you might expect Steve Hutchinson to play a little worse each year as he gets old, Sullivan and Loadholt should be getting better as they mature.
5) We all saw the gruesome injury that E.J. Henderson suffered against the Arizona Cardinals last year, and we know he means a lot to the Vikings' defense. But on the surface, it didn't appear as though the defense fell off that much with Jasper Brinkley manning the MLB spot. Given the deeper statistics that you folks have, how much of a difference was there between the Vikings' defense with Henderson in the middle and the Vikings' defense with Brinkley in the middle?
It's only a four-game regular season sample, and one of the games was basically meaningless, so I don't think you can really make any broad statements. With that being said, the defense had a -0.1% DVOA with Henderson as the starter, and were at 7.2% with Brinkley in there. (On defense, a negative DVOA is a good thing, so this suggests they were better with Henderson than with Brinkley.) Correlation here isn't necessarily causation.