The Vikings made headlines for a number of reasons on Monday (naming your starting quarterback will do that), but it was how head coach Mike Zimmer decided to end his opening statement that actually added some shock value to the day’s events (naming Matt Cassel your starting quarterback doesn’t bring much shock value).
Zimmer went out of his way to talk about his feelings towards Pro Football Focus, the internet’s most popular source of football analytics, and the message was seemingly directed at media outlets and Vikings fans. Since I technically qualify as both, and Zimmer is kind of scary, I listened to him.
“The last thing that I want to talk about before I let you guys go is this Pro Football Focus thing,” Zimmer said, as transcribed by S.I. “I know everybody wants to get the scoop on this, but quite honestly there’s not really anybody… I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people that are grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside, if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who is in our blitz package and what they are supposed to do. I would just ask everybody to take that with a grain of salt, including our fans. We as coaches get paid a whole bunch of money to do the jobs that we do, evaluate the players that we evaluate and grade them how we grade them and not based on someone else.”
“That’s off my chest,” he said before prompting the Q&A portion of his presser. “Go ahead.”
I see that the folks at PFF have handled the situation with grace, and as a big fan of their work I can understand why they would be comfortable letting their product speak for itself. They openly admit that they are not scouts, grade the outcome of a play as opposed to technique, and never claim to be the definitive authority on football talent.
On the other hand, though, I “get it” when it comes to what Zimmer was trying to say. Or, at least, what I think he was trying to say.
In recent years, we have seen a major shift in how football is discussed amongst fans on a daily basis. You have to go to the water cooler armed with some pretty heavy analysis these days, it seems. Otherwise, that jackass from the I.T. Department will simply pull some derivative cosign to the twelfth degree yadda yadda yadda out of his you-know-what and make you question everything you ever thought you knew about how to play H-back in the NFL.
Next thing you know, you’re having to replace your Miller Lite with a TI-89 (or newer) on Sundays or consider switching to fandom of a different sort… like curling.
The value of “I like this guy because I think he’s good at football” type of statements has never been lower in the football-watching world and Zimmer is clearly annoyed at how many self-anointed experts are telling him how to do his job after a career’s-worth of exhaustive work.
In the end, what Zimmer said is absolutely true, PFF‘s gradings should be taken with a grain of salt. In fact, anybody‘s evaluations and observations should be taken with a grain of salt. Determining how a player performed on the football field is not an exact science, and trying to project how a player will perform in the future is an art (if you’re good at it).
The professionals within Winter Park that are employed by the Vikings might have the upper hand when it comes to evaluating their players on a daily basis, but even those people only make up a portion of the total equation. The coaches, assistants, trainers, cap guys, P.R. department, and owners all make up other parts of the equation, too.
I will finish, though, by saying that I would be a little disappointed if Zimmer isn’t at least open to using analytics available to him as an added resource. It might only be a part of the equation, and it might need to be accompanied by a grain of salt, but ignoring an inexpensive resource that seemingly puts all NFL players on a somewhat equal plain might not be the wisest thing in the world.
In the meantime, however, you guys know by now that I’m willing to put my name on an opinion without data or analysis to back it up.
“I like this guy Teddy, coach Zimmer, because I think he’s good at football.”