Saturday, February 6, 2016

matt asiata

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The theme of today’s Sleeper Sunday is Big-10 football. This morning, Carl introduced readers to Wisconsin strong safety Michael Caputo. He’s a physical member of the Badgers secondary with a style of play and frame similar to that of Harrison Smith. Now, a look at one of the conference’s best-kept secrets; Indiana running back Jordan Howard.

Jordan Howard — RB, Indiana

Measurements

Height – 6’1″
Weight – 230 lbs.
Age – 21

At First Glance

As a first-year player at Indiana, the junior rushed for 1,213 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2015. Howard was named to the First Team All-Big Ten after the season and was a member of the Doak Walker Award and Maxwell Award Watch Lists. He caught 11 passes for 106 yards for a touchdown and also finished second in the conference with 134.8 rushing yards per game.

Before the 2015 season, Howard had spent two seasons a the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). A two-star recruit in 2013, the Alabama native opted to stay in-state for his collegiate career. There, he rushed for nearly 2,500 yards and scored 15 touchdowns on the ground. In November 2014, UAB disbanded it’s football program and left Howard without a home. Fortunately, other Division 1 schools had kept an eye on the productive running back. With his pick of more than 20 programs, Howard made the decision to replace Tevin Coleman in Indiana. That choice appears to have been the right one.

“I think a lot of us, me and my former teammates we realize it was kind of like a blessing in disguise,” Howard said in October. “It gave us an opportunity to be more in the spotlight and show we can play on any type of level.”

Who will coach Adrian Peterson next season?

running backs coach Kirby Wilson
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In his first full season under running backs coach Kirby Wilson, Adrian Peterson put together one of his most successful campaigns. Last year, he rushed for 1,485 yards and won the league’s rushing title at 30 years-old. Unfortunately, he’ll be without Wilson on the sidelines in 2016. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Wilson signed a contract with the Cleveland Browns to become their running game coordinator next season.

Earlier this week, the Vikings blocked the Browns’ request to interview Wilson prior to his contract expiring on Tuesday, per ESPN 1500. While addressing the media last week, Zimmer refused to speculate on Wilson’s future in Minnesota. “Kirby is under contract. Period,” he told reporters. Once Wilson’s contract expired, the Browns were free to negotiate. They offered the 17-year coaching veteran an upgraded title, making it impossible for the Vikings to retain Wilson.

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A data dump of interesting stats and splits for the Minnesota Vikings.

Random Vikings Stats Overload - Adrian Peterson December Breath
Photo courtesy of Vikings.com

When it comes to football analysis, I’d say there are three major camps. Some believe you can tell most of the story with stats alone. Another feels stats are meaningless, it’s about what your eyes tell you – it’s about watching the game. The final, and the one I believe I’m a member of, believes the truth falls somewhere inbetween.

I’m not an analytics fanatic and am not a football purist who believes there is no place in the game for data and fancy formulas. I see the value of both and think each is critical to form a well rounded opinion (or hot take!).

But there will be no tape discussion here today. There won’t be any screen grabs or animated gifs of interesting plays. What we are about to have here is a complete data dump.

While other people are on Facebook or Youtube, sometimes I randomly find myself on a site like Pro Football Reference using their play index and looking for interesting nuggets. Like who’s the best quarterback in the league in the 4th quarter on 3rd down with more than 15 yards to go? (Andrew Luck) Or which running back in the league has the most 20+ yard runs in away games? (Doug Martin)

See, isn’t that fun?

So because I get so much enjoyment out of digging for stats, I thought It’d be fun to find a bunch of, what I thought were, interesting nuggets and leave them here. I’m going to do my best to omit any sort of analysis or opinion and instead will leave that to you all in the comments.

However, I will point out some things along the way or further explain what exactly it is we’re looking at.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Adrian Peterson had just one catch for 17 yards against the Arizona Cardinals last Thursday, but his impact in the passing game was felt far beyond the stat sheet. Not typically known as a third down back or receiving option, Peterson played much more in two and four-minute situations, creating new opportunities for Teddy Bridgewater and the Minnesota offense.

He’ll never be a great pass blocker or receiver, but the threat of Peterson in the backfield is enough to alter the alignment and assignment of a defensive front. When Peterson is on the field, defenders stack the box, piling bodies near the line of scrimmage to sell-out against the run. This opens up the coverage down the field and exploits mismatches in the secondary, especially for big-bodied players like Kyle Rudolph and MyCole Pruitt. After the game, Mike Zimmer explained Peterson’s expanded role on passing downs and the team’s plan for him moving forward:

“We’ll probably continue to want more. When he’s in there, he’s a threat. One of the first things you do before you make the calls are, ‘Who is the back?’ so you can determine run-pass kind of things. So the more he’s in there, the more it helps your passing game as well.”

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

At 8-3, the Minnesota Vikings are the surprise team in the NFC and a legitimate threat to claim the NFC North division title. With the league’s second-best scoring defense and Mike Zimmer’s steady hand leading the ship, Minnesota has — at the very least — a 90 percent probability to reach the postseason.

When the Vikings lost to the San Francisco 49ers to open the season, a playoff berth appeared unlikely. The defense couldn’t stop the run, Adrian Peterson ran like a 30-year-old running back, and the offensive line looked lost without John Sullivan and Phil Loadholt. Mike Zimmer’s team lacked an identity early on, but they’ve slowly established themselves as one of the NFL’s most physical, technically sound teams on both sides of the ball.

As I’ve written these “What Went Right” pieces, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern. When the Vikings win, it’s because of the defense and the legs of Adrian Peterson. Specifically, the defense plays with discipline, filling run gaps correctly, tackling in space, and preventing big plays down the field. On offense, Minnesota wins when they unleash Peterson, who has at least 19 carries in every Vikings victory this season. Any less, and they’ve gone on to lose.

While the defense created turnovers against Atlanta in Week 12, it was Peterson who powered Minnesota to victory. This Sunday, when the Vikings host the Seattle Seahawks, he’ll need to do the same against an aggressive, stout run defense that hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season.

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