VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
Sunday afternoon, many of you watched the Green Bay Packers knock Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys out of the NFL Playoffs. As it seems to go more often than not lately, the game went the way of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. For the third time in the past eight seasons, the Packers are on their way to the NFC Championship game, one win away from another Super Bowl appearance.
It’s tough to look across the Hudson, at the landscape of the NFL in Green Bay and not feel like they have everything and we have nothing. They have Rodgers, we’ll start our third new quarterback in as many years. They have the reigning rookie of the year (Eddie Lacy), we have a question mark at running back. They have Lambeau, we are currently displaced. They are playing in the NFC Championship game next weekend, we are watching from our couch.
For the past 10 or so years, outside of a flash in the pan in 2009, this has been the way things have gone. The future is starting to look a little brighter in Minneapolis, but the gap is still wide.
But how wide is it? It’s time to quantify the gap and answer the question, just how far behind the Green Bay Packers are the Minnesota Vikings?
To do this, we’ve created a fictitious 100-point grading scale with five categories. Each category brings with it a value scale of 0-20 points, with 20 points being the highest. Grading each of these teams across the Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching and Fan Base, we’ll come up with a number to show us just how far the Vikings are from where the Green Bay Packers currently reside.
Buckle up, Vikings fans, the results are not expected to be pretty.
OFFENSIVE SCALE (20): Green Bay 19, Minnesota 8
The Green Bay Packers hold the trump card when it comes to the offensive category, his name is Aaron Rodgers. A-Rodg is currently the best quarterback in the league and I’m not sure there are any questions any more. He has the skills, he has the attitude and he has the confidence it takes to be a star in this league, and he does it on a regular basis, calf injury or not. Sprinkle in a decent offensive line, a top-5 wide receiver in Jordy Nelson and a dominant running back in Eddie Lacy and the Green Bay Packers offense is one of the best in the league. The only knock that kept them from a perfect 20, is the offensive line that lacks consistency from time-to-time.
For the Vikings, we’ll split the middle and give them a 10, based mainly on potential. Teddy looks like he’s going to be the guy, but there’s really no telling what that ceiling is. Does he have the potential to be a guy like Aaron Rodgers or will he be an adequate starting quarterback, something like Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan? We just don’t know. With a gigantic question mark in the backfield given Adrian Peterson’s current situation, holes at the wide receiver spot and an offensive line that functions like a leaky sink, there are some big concerns for the Vikings on offense after the 2014 season.
DEFENSIVE SCALE (20): Green Bay 13, Minnesota 14
This may be the only category where the Vikings walk away on top, but I’m not sure that a one-point loss will mean much to the Packers. The two teams finished 14th (Minnesota) and 15th (Green Bay) during the regular season this year but the Minnesota defense is younger and seems to be trending in the right direction. Julius Pepper is playing on borrowed time and despite still being a dominant defender, even Clay Matthews is starting to show signs of normalcy. For the Vikings, Zimmer’s scheme mixed with Rhodes’ progression, Smith’s steady play and the upside that is Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr, the Vikings played poorly down the stretch and still finished ahead of the Pack. Give some of these young players another year or two and it will be very interesting to see where these two defenses stand.
SPECIAL TEAMS (20): Green Bay 12, Minnesota 12
By most accounts, this year was one of the worst special teams years for the Vikings in recent memory. Bad punts followed up by missed field goals preceding poor kick returns, that seemed to be the recipe for the Vikings season this year. Locke, Walsh and Patterson all had down seasons and their stats were all still better than the Packers lot.
Masthay, Crosby and Cobb had a down season across the border too. That said, the problems seem less pressing when your offense is able to score no matter the starting position. Giving both teams a 12 in this category is kind of a cop-out, but trying to weigh potential on something like special teams is a bit of a crap shoot. Just ask the Minnesota Vikings how their assessment of Cordarrelle Patterson played out this year?
COACHING STAFF (20): Green Bay 18, Minnesota 12
The most promising thing about comparing the two coaching staffs for these teams is the fact that last season, the gap within this category would have been twice as wide. Mike Zimmer has given the Vikings hope for the leadership of this team in the future. Norv Turner adds to that equation and we’ll sprinkle in the GM here too, Rick Spielman seemingly makes more good decisions than bad ones (yes we remember Christian Ponder). The attitude, the direction and the coaching seem to be the right mix for a successful team here in Minnesota.
Over in Green Bay, they’re working off of the same recipe card, but they are about six steps ahead of us here in Minnesota. Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson have this football thing figured out. The way they have not only identified the talent, but then go and utilize those skills is second to none right now. Again this is trending in a positive direction, but it has to be the Packers by a good margin right now.
FAN BASE/GAMEDAY ATMOSPHERE (20): Green Bay 20, Minnesota 8
I’m sure that this will upset certain factions of Vikings fans, but anybody that has ever visited Lambeau Field on Green Bay Packers gameday cannot argue that the atmosphere around that stadium, the level of passion inside the gates and the overall knowledge of the game among the fan base is top-notch. That’s what comes with a history of winning. I’m not saying that Minnesota doesn’t have those fans, but 4 Super Bowl losses and 0 victories followed by decades of disappointment have left those fans in hibernation mode. The new stadium in Minnesota will bring out the fan base again, if the team can pair that with a quality product on the field the fan base will mobilize again and this number will even out a bit. That said, mainly because they’re crazy, I’m not sure that Vikings fans will ever fully catch up to that of the Packers fan base. Trust me, I hate saying this, and they are annoying as can be, but they might be the best fan base in the league.
GREEN BAY 82 - MINNESOTA 54
It’s obviously not a scientific scale, but doing our best to compare the two franchises as a whole, the Vikings are currently 28 grade points behind the Green Bay Packers. Understanding that the Vikings are trending in the right direction in almost all categories, I honestly thought it was going to be worse. Let’s take another look at this in two years when the Zimmer/Spielman crew have had a few more draft classes and Teddy has a few more games under his belt. I’m not saying they will have usurped the Packers on top of the division by then, but this conversation will likely be a lot more interesting then.
It’s been equated before that the New England Patriots are to football what the New York Yankees have been to baseball. The dominant team of their era, led by their captain who is so cool, so calm, that winning almost seems to a part of his biological makeup. They’re the evil empire that looms over top the league for years at a time, forming a dynasty and having their way with almost every foe that stands in their way.
While the Yankees did so primarily through a loophole in the salary cap/luxury tax relationship, the Patriots did it on the backs of a duo, so daunted, so unparalleled that the artists might already be in the early stages of molding each of their bronze busts in Canton, Ohio.
Even if it is only because of their grandiose success, many refer to the Patriots as the NFL’s “Evil Empire.” Breaking it one step deeper, giving them this Star Wars themed nickname makes a bit more sense, and it also gives me an excuse to completely nerd out on too of my favorite things, the NFL and Star Wars. It then immediately becomes clear to me that if New England is the Evil Empire, then Bill Belichik is the scheming and powerful Darth Sidious while Tom Brady is his pimped out, über talented Sith Lord (insert Darth Vader here).
On the matter of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, you have a man who is sitting on the cusp of history as he enters TCF Bank Stadium this weekend. With 199 regular season wins in his pocket, Belichick is looking to become the sixth NFL coach to hit the milestone (Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry, Curly Lambeau and Marty Schottenheimer).
In 14 seasons as the head coach of the Patriots Belichick has accounted for thirteen winning seasons (2001-2013). One of only three coaches with 100 more wins than losses over his career, he has three Super Bowl rings and an undefeated season under his belt as well.
Recently, Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning had this to say about Belichick. “Coach Belichick is the best coach that I’ve ever competed against. I think it’s safe to say he’ll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all-time. His teams are always well-coached, always well-disciplined, and you know it’s going to be a 60-minute fight. To me, that speaks to his coaching.”
As Peyton said, Belichick coached teams are always disciplined and tough. One other thing that they are, at least during his time in New England, is Bill Belichick teams have always been led by their Darth Maul, their Darth Vader…Tom Brady.
Outside of three attempted pass during a 2000 fill-in job, their careers have almost completely overlapped in New England. With Belichick taking over as coach in 2001 and Brady taking over as starting quarterback the same year, two of the best the game has ever seen teamed up to form a dynasty that will always be remembered as one of the league’s most dominant.
Brady has lead the Patriots to 148 victories in 192 regular season starts since 2001, compiling a .771 winning percentage and giving him the best record of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Leading his teams to all three of the New England Super Bowls under Belichick, Brady sits on the verge of crossing the 50,000 yards passing mark (602 away) and becoming just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to join that club.
Lethal, yet stunning, Brady finds ways to silence his opponents in a way that only he can. With four 30 touchdown seasons, six 4,000 yard passing seasons and 19 career 4-TD games, Brady is a dangerous combination of attitude and athleticism and he brings it onto the football field on a weekly basis.
Together, Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, er Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have put together one of the most potent offensive attacks in the history of the league. Calculated and precise, they pick apart defenses on the legs of Bill’s defensive genius (the force) and the precision of Tom Brady’s arm (a sick, red colored light saber).
In fact, the duo of Belichick/Brady are the winningest tandem of head coach/starting quarterback since the 1970 merger. Their 148 wins tops Dan Marino and Don Shula (116) for the most victories while their .771 winning percentage tops Ken Stabler and John Madden (.756) as well. With 192 starts and counting under Belichick’s tutelage, Brady looks to extend his all-time marks against the Vikings this weekend.
While it would be easy to sit back and roll over for the Evil Empire this weekend at The Bank, the Vikings need check the blueprints and fly along the Death Star’s trench this week to exploit any and all weaknesses in the super weapon’s armor that they can find.
With Matt Cassel (Obi Wan Kenobi) under center, Adrian Peterson (Luke Skywalker), Greg Jennings (Han Solo) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Yoda, because of all the cool flips and stuff) led by head coach Mike Zimmer (Admiral Ackbar), the galaxy has never before been more convinced that the Vikings may very well be equipped to battle the Empire this weekend in a Galaxy far, far away (aka, TCF Bank Stadium).
On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.
Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.
This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.
I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.
Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.
The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.
I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.
The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.
The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.
So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.
Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans. Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.
On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
Cordarrelle Patterson may have Vince Lombardi to thank for his big game.
Though Patterson owes the rich history of the NFL, perhaps it is more accurate to say the Vikings can thank Norv Turner’s willingness to engage in a time-honored NFL tradition of borrowing what works from other NFL coaches, which in this case is an adaptation on the Buck Sweep and Lombardi Sweep concepts from the 1960s translated to modern Vikings football.
It’s somewhat similar to the play the Steelers called in the 2005-2006 Super Bowl against the Seahawks to give Willie Parker a 75-yard touchdown run, the famous “Power O”.
Sometimes called a Toss Power Sweep, and occasionally a Crack Toss Sweep depending on who you ask and how much they care about tight end alignment, the Vikings found a way to turn one of football’s oldest plays and add their own twist, all while highlighting one of the preternatural talents in the NFL.
In this case, it involved some of the toughest blocking angles one could ask of offensive linemen, all while converting a halfback into a fullback to seal the lane.
With the Vikings lined up in “12” personnel—also called “Ace” personnel—and lining up with both tight ends on the line, they were still a moderate pass alert for defenses, especially with the running back line up relatively close to the line, at six yards upfield.
Generally speaking, with three eligible receivers on one side of the field and one on the other, a “3x1” look, the defense is looking to defend against either a “Tare” route combination or a “Snag” route combination that sees Cordarrelle Patterson go deep or hit a corner route in order to take the cornerback out of the play and stress the defenders in the hook/curl zones and the flats by sending the two tight ends in either high/low routes (Tare) or splitting the near defender (Snag).
The Tare and Snag concepts are the most common route combinations when offenses line up in 3x1, so the defense tends to key in on them, especially with the backside receiver outside the numbers (“plus” alignment)) to run a complementary route, often a delayed slant.
Different defenses will respond to this look in different ways.
For some, the primary response is to either run a “box zone” where four defenders are lined up in a box and have rules for who takes which receiver based on whether or not they break outside or in, or have a pattern-matching concept that allows the outside defender (the strong safety in this case) to take whichever receiver moves outside first while the inside defender (the Sam outside linebacker) takes the other receiver, regardless of his route (moving inside or a delayed move outside), all while the corner carries Cordarrelle Patterson where ever he goes.
Other defenses, and occasionally a Williams defense, will check into a Cover-3 zone.
But Gregg Williams loves to play man coverage, even when not blitzing, and that gave the Vikings the edge in both a literal and figurative sense.
The defense is in pass alert until Patterson motions into the backfield, which carries the corner with him and reduces the number of defenders at the point of attack (making it four blockers on four defenders instead of five on five in a scenario where Matt Asiata gets the ball and runs outside).
This empties the alley entirely and makes blocking on the edge extremely predictable. Ten times out of ten, the strong safety will react to a run not by attacking the ball carrier but getting depth and moving outside, making him an easy target for either of the lead blockers to kick him out of the play. In this play, Brandon Fusco does it, and he buries T.J. McDonald.
Just like Lombardi demanding the Packers seal the lane, the Vikings ask their blockers to create a track between the red line (an imaginary line between the numbers and the sideline) and the hash marks that the runner can use to gain yards, with blockers moving defenders one way or the other out of the lane, in some ways paving a road when leading out in front of him.
Easily, one of the most identifiable features of any of the “power” series of runs or the Buck and Lombardi sweeps are the pulling guard(s), this time Brandon Fusco. But the Vikings did something here that was unique, difficult, and risky (well worth it on first down).
Though the backside defensive end is rarely blocked on a play like this, it is extremely unusual to ask an offensive tackle—or any lineman—to block a playside defender away from the play when he’s one gap away at the snap. Kalil is in an extremely difficult position to get his block, and to his credit, he slows Michael Brockers down enough to get the rest of the play going.
The reason they asked that of Kalil was so that they could free up Charlie Johnson and John Sullivan to make crucial second-level blocks and double team the middle linebacker.
The risk is that the Vikings sacrificed the likelihood of a successful, albeit likely short, gain in favor of a high-yardage play, essentially forcing the run to either boom or bust instead of getting an acceptable four yards.
It also theoretically freed John Sullivan up to get off the double team and prevent the weak-side linebacker, who for most teams is the most athletic linebacker, from disrupting the play. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, but it was still good enough.
Loadholt’s job was simple, and he did it well, which was to push Alex Carrington out of the play, whether that meant forcing him to overpursue or blocking him out entirely.
Both tight ends had fairly common jobs, and Rhett Ellison performed his (down-blocking the defensive end) to his consistently high standard, while Kyle Rudolph blocked the Sam outside linebacker well enough to ensure at least a ten-yard gain, which Patterson turned into much more.
As the corner rushes back into the alley he abandoned, Asiata plays his role to a T, and blows the defensive back out of the play—meaning the Vikings’ initial and most important set of blocks were both mismatches in favor of the offense, allowing a guard and a fullback to take on a safety and a corner.
Adam Thielen’s job on the edge is to beat the backside corner to the alley and either block the free safety or the corner trailing him. He sort of does this until Patterson outruns him to the end zone (and Thielen absorbs a Michael Brockers tackle for no well-defined reason).
You can see the whole video here.
In the end, the Vikings combined the old with the new, took some big risks and allowed their biggest playmakers the room they needed to make a difference, hopefully a steady pattern for years to come.
The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.
Before every Vikings home game at Mall of America Field the public address announcer tries to get the purple-clad fans all riled up by yelling about it being the loudest stadium in the NFL as Led Zeppelin blasts in the background and Ragnar's motorcycle roars.
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