Friday, October 9, 2015

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The Pro Bowl list was announced and the Minnesota Vikings have no selections to the squad. This is a fairly big disappointment given the high level of play from some players, like safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen. Outside shots like Xavier Rhodes and Jerome Felton also figured to receive votes, but not enough to make the Pro Bowl. If they are not high enough alternates on the list when players begin pulling out due to injury (or personal preference), then it will be the first time the Vikings do not have Pro Bowlers since 1983.

Everson Griffen, with a game remaining on the season, ended with 12 sacks, while Pro Football Focus has him with 11 additional hits and 38 hurries. In addition to that, Everson is credited by them to have 29 run stops, the third-most of 4-3 DEs. Advanced Football Analytics ranks Griffen as third overall in Win Probability Added of all defensive ends (3-4 and 4-3) behind Jason Pierre-Paul and J.J. Watt.

The defensive ends who made the Pro Bowl ahead of him are 3-4 DEs Calais Campbell and J.J. Watt and 4-3 DEs Demarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Mario Williams. Three of those 4-3 DEs (Ware (10.0), Quinn (10.5) and Wake (11.5) had fewer sacks). Only Wake had more total pressures (including sacks) noted by Pro Football Focus (with 61 total pressures over Griffen’s 60), while only Quinn had a higher run stop percentage. None of them had a bigger impact in winning games by AFA’s WPA metric, and only Williams had a higher run defense grade from Pro Football Focus.

Given that Everson was generally a more impactful pass rusher than many of the selections and that he was a better run defender than many of them, this was a snub.

The safeties who made it ahead of Harrison Smith were Tashaun Gipson, Glover Quin, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Kam Chancellor and T.J. Ward. In ancillary duties like pass-rushing, Harrison Smith ranks second out of all safeties in Pro Football Focus’ pass rusher productivity scores, with two sacks, three hits and five hurries. In coverage, only Gipson of the Pro Bowl safeties allowed a lower passer rating when targeted (41.9 versus Smith’s 67.9) and only Weddle and Chancellor have more total pass deflections. Gipson and Quin have more interceptions (7 and 6 respectively) compared to Smith’s 5 and of those two, only Gipson allowed fewer touchdowns (2).

Weddle, Ward and Chancellor beat out Smith in run stop percentage, though Smith had by a significant margin the highest run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus of any Pro Bowl safety. Quin and Weddle missed fewer tackles, but Quin also only had four stops in the run game. Harrison Smith had the second-highest Win Probability Added of all safeties in AFA’s analytics and the highest expected points added. He had the fifth-most “successful” plays, meaning he had more plays that resulted in offensive losses than all but four safeties, none of whom made the Pro Bowl above him.

It’s difficult to really evaluate the impact of defensive players using advanced statistics, especially ones that use down-and-distance (AFA) over individual play grades (PFF), but the margin by which Smith and Griffen exceed their competition in both measures is quite large at times and significant enough that they should have been first-team Pro Bowlers. On film, it is difficult to say Smith was worse than Ward this year, and though Glover Quin had a stellar year in Teryl Austin’s defense in Detroit, Smith played like the better safety this year.

Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake and Demarcus Ware may be riding on latent recognition as defensive ends, but neither performed at nearly the level Griffen did, especially when accounting for impact in the run game, where Wake and Quinn were liabilities. Wake not only couldn’t finish his pressures and turn them into sacks, but he was the only one who could even get into the backfield more than the other 4-3 ends.

Jerome Felton likely didn’t play enough snaps to truly argue that he was snubbed, but it should be significant that between consistently overrated John Kuhn and quick ballcarrier Marcel Reece, that Felton did more to enable offenses while running. The Vikings lead all teams in the NFL in yards gained per carry with two running backs on the field (versus one), and Felton’s run blocking was from a technical and on-field perspective much better. It seems as if Kuhn’s 3.8 yards a carry and one touchdown was worth more than the traditional role assigned to a fullback, because though he has improved significantly as a run blocker, it wasn’t as consistently on-point as Felton’s.

Still, Anthony Sherman and Kyle Juszczyk were more deserving of the “snub” title at the fullback position.

At cornerback, Xavier Rhodes was beat out by Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Joe Haden, Chris Harris, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and Aqib Talib. It’s a tough class to break, though I think Rhodes outperformed Peterson (who had a mediocre year, all being told). Peterson allowed eight touchdowns to gain only three interceptions. Rhodes allowed a 74.6 passer rating when targeted in coverage, while Peterson’s below-average 97.9 was a liability to an otherwise rock-solid defense. That said, Rhodes was not consistent throughout the year, and other cornerbacks may have a better case to be called snubs, like Buffalo’s Corey Graham or Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant

The Pro Bowl is always a flawed process that draws ire every year, but it’s important to recognize those who didn’t make it who deserve it, especially because bonuses and salary ride on this kind of recognition. Injury and withdrawal will allow some of these players in and gather Pro Bowl recognition, but it’s no guarantee.

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The Vikings have released Ben Tate, per Field Yates at ESPN. Tate, who the Vikings claimed off of waivers after the Browns released him, carried the ball 13 times for the Vikings for only 38 yards. The Vikings have confirmed this report.

Source: the Vikings have released RB Ben Tate.

— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 23, 2014

Tate was coming off of an injury when the Browns signed him and was reinjured with the Browns. Shortly after he turned healthy enough to play for Cleveland, Cleveland waived him. He carried the ball 106 times for them for 333 yards.

No word yet on why the Vikings have released him, though it could either be because of concerns that have followed him since the draft (that he could only be a zone blocking system running back) or because he was taking too long to return to full health.

An explosive running back for the Houston Texans, Tate was exhibiting the physical talent that made him a Combine superstar. Unfortunately, it seems like injury has robbed him of that suddenness and burst, an issue that showed up in Cleveland as well.

There is no word on who will replace him on the roster for the final game.

Given the lengthy legal process Adrian Peterson will need to go through and the fact that the Vikings can have a number of players signed on the roster past the 53-man limit after the season is over in anticipation of training camp, it probably does not provide any insight into Peterson’s situation with the Vikings or the NFL.

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The Vikings game against the Dolphins was another heartbreaker with a fourth-quarter collapse that saw a team that hadn’t led all game to put up 23 points (21 of which one can pin on the defense outright) on three drives—seven points a drive, if we count the one play at the beginning of the quarter that gave the Dolphins a lead.

Most concerning about the collapse might be the way it happened. While it was clear from the broadcast that there were instances of confusion in the second half, Zimmer made the point stark about how the defense fell apart:

Misalignment is a pretty serious problem, though it’s fair to wonder if the cause is a new player taking on “green dot” duties, wearing the helmet that receives the defensive playcalls. Chad Greenway sat out the second half with a knee injury, and it fell upon Gerald Hodges to relay the plays to the rest of the defense, along with occasional duties to call audibles and redetermine alignment. At times, however, players like safety Harrison Smith may be more responsible for seeing the offense and making adjustments.

While I’m not sure that Gerald Hodges taking the green dot helmet caused the issues, it could be the case. It’s hard to parse this sort of thing from halftime adjustments, but Ryan Tannehill passed for 5.2 adjusted net yards per attempt and Lamar Miller ran for 4.7 yards a carry (5.4 yards a play) in the first half and they improved those marks to 11.8 adjusted net yards per attempt and 5.0 yards a carry, while the Dolphins moved to an astounding 7.5 yards a play.

Three touchdowns in the fourth quarter (and two more in the third) stands in clear contrast to the one touchdown allowed in the first half. A quick review of the broadcast tape in the second half may reveal why. Though the final drive involved a number of blown coverages that were simply the result of talent and technique, there were a number of plays where it seems obvious that misalignment was at fault (and a few others where it could be debated):

Misalignment - Clay Completion 2 Misalignment - Clay Completion Misalignment - Landry Completion 2 Misalignment - Landry Completion

Those are only the ones that are easy to identify and in the passing game—a few runs could have come about as a result of bad gap discipline and misalignment (the zone read with Tannehill may be a good example) and a few other completions in the second half could have been at fault; for example the Clay completion above that Xavier Rhodes ends up tackling may have been a mid-play adjustment by him to chase Clay, or it could have been an assignment he badly blew.

Whatever the cause, defenders out of alignment leads to offensive points. The Vikings played terribly, and this may be one reason why.

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The Vikings aren’t losing games in the same predictable fashion week-after-week like they did last year.  Still, finding exciting new ways to lose football games doesn’t feel any better.

The Vikings had to fight a losing battle in Miami against the Dolphins, the bounce of the ball, and the officiating crew.  They weren’t necessarily their own worst enemy in this one, but they were definitely in the top five as boneheaded mistakes certainly helped the Dolphins crawl out of an early 14-0 hole.

Past Winner’s of our weekly award:

WEEK ONE:  Cordarrelle Patterson

WEEK TWO: Harrison Smith

WEEK THREE:  Harrison Smith

WEEK FOUR: Teddy Bridgewater

WEEK FIVE:  Harrison Smith

WEEK SIX:  Linval Joseph

WEEK SEVEN: Everson Griffen

WEEK EIGHT:  Anthony Barr

WEEK NINE:  Everson Griffen

WEEK ELEVEN: Charles Johnson

WEEK TWELVE:  Xavier Rhodes

WEEK THIRTEEN:  Everson Griffen

WEEK FOURTEEN:  Teddy Bridgewater

WEEK FIFTEEN:  Xavier Rhodes


The nominations for Week Sixteen are…

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Inactive lists for the Minnesota Vikings and the Miami Dolphins have been released. Vikings below:

Rudolph, Kyle TE Ankle/Knee DNP DNP LP Doubtful Inactive
Johnson, Charlie G Ankle DNP DNP DNP Out Inactive
Barr, Anthony LB Knee DNP DNP DNP Out Inactive
Dixon, Ahmad S None N/A Inactive
Prater, Shaun CB None N/A Inactive
Line, Zach FB None N/A Inactive
Bykowski, Carter T None N/A Inactive
Blanton, Robert S Ankle/Knee DNP DNP LP Questionable Active
Joseph, Linval NT Ilnness DNP DNP LP Probable Active
Floyd, Sharrif DT Knee LP LP FP Probable Active
Jennings, Greg WR Hamstring LP LP FP Probable Active
Asiata, Matt RB Foot LP LP FP Probable Active
Robison, Brian DE Ankle LP FP FP Probable Active
Rhodes, Xavier CB Wrist FP FP FP Probable Active
Sendejo, Andrew S Thumb FP FP FP Probable Active
Greenway, Chad LB Not Injury Related DNP Probable Active
Loeffler, Cullen LS Illness DNP Probable Active

Chad Greenway is playing after leaving to deal with a personal matter—his father passed away on Friday.

Anthony Barr will not play, as he’s had season-ending knee surgery, and in his place will be Gerald Hodges, per usual. This will give the Vikings and fans further ability to evaluate Gerald Hodges as an outside linebacker as they wrestle with the position in the offseason and figure out what to do.

Andrew Sendejo’s showing last week was impressive, and is supplanting Robert Blanton as the starter at strong safety. This is a big change, I think, and may determine the direction of safety acquisition to come. He moved downhill extremely well, played his run fits to a T and did an incredible job sussing out the flow of play. He deserves another look and he’ll get it.

Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen are both fully healthy at the same time, which should do a lot to help stifle the underrated run game Lamar Miller is putting together, and may be critical for a Vikings defense that overall is good, but has some issue with the run at times. Xavier Rhodes’ wrist issue from the Lions game seems to have not had a lasting impact; same with Andrew Sendejo’s thumb injury from the same game.

Miami inactives:

Garner, Nate G Illness DNP DNP DNP Out Inactive
Thomas, Dallas T Foot DNP DNP DNP Doubtful Inactive
Thomas, Daniel RB Knee DNP DNP DNP Doubtful Inactive
Jones, Don S Shoulder LP LP LP Questionable Inactive
McCain, Chris LB Ankle FP LP Probable Inactive
Hazel, Matt WR None N/A Inactive
Matthews, Rishard WR None N/A Inactive
Clay, Charles TE Hamstring LP LP LP Probable Active
Finnegan, Cortland CB Ankle LP LP LP Probable Active
Freeny, Jonathan LB Hamstring LP LP LP Probable Active
Jenkins, Jelani LB Foot LP LP LP Questionable Active
Misi, Koa LB Hamstring/Knee LP LP LP Probable Active
Taylor, Jamar CB Shoulder LP FP LP Questionable Active
Tripp, Jordan LB Shoulder FP LP Probable Active
Wilson, Jimmy S Ankle FP Probable Active

Miami has two linebackers—Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins—who were inactive last week that are active this week. There aren’t many significant changes from this report that should raise any flags, however. Dallas Thomas isn’t good, so his being inactive shouldn’t change too much for the Dolphins, who are benefiting from a much improved offensive line versus last year. Containing Ryan Tannehill may be more about containing their receiver crops, who outside of Jarvis Landry is not the most impressive unit in the league—even with former Minnesota free agency target Mike Wallace.

A healthy game from Miami’s end could tip the scales in what some already think is a lopsided game in favor of the Dolphins (the Vegas spread opened with a 6.5-point advantage for the home team).

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