VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Phil Loadholt

VikesCentric: What's the greatest area of need?

Posted by: Updated: December 1, 2011 - 3:44 PM

 It’s a sad commentary that the Vikings will head into the offseason with so many glaring areas of need that it’s necessary to determine which of them is the greatest, but that’s the situation for this team. In no particular order, it’s not difficult to ascertain that the Vikes need serious help all over the secondary, on the offensive line, and at wide receiver. In my estimation, those are the three areas of greatest need. With what’s shaping up to be a top-5 (if not top-3) pick in next year’s draft, the Purple will be in a great spot to immediately address one of those three areas; let’s take an early peek at each and start to map out a plan for the offseason, which can’t come soon enough at this point.

Wide Receiver
With Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, the Vikings already possess two of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the NFL, but with Harvin best-suited for a multi-dimensional role out of the slot and occasionally the backfield and Peterson obviously being a running back, the team lacks a dynamic talent that can stretch defenses on the perimeter. The now-injured Michael Jenkins is not fast enough or talented enough to serve in that role. Devin Aromashodu has proven he’s not the answer, and nobody else on the current roster has any chance of becoming the answer. 
 
With a top-5 pick, the Vikings would probably be in position to grab the top-ranked college wideout – Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State. Graded by most draftnicks as a top-5, game-changing talent, Blackmon has been described as being better than Dez Bryant, his predecessor as the top dog wide receiver at Oklahoma State. But wide receivers are generally much easier to find late in the draft. ESPN’s Todd McShay gives first-round grades two three other wideouts, in fact, including former Cretin Derham Hall star Michael Floyd, who could conceivably still be available at the top of the second round. Furthermore, there are a number of intriguing wide receivers that could become free agents after this season. From a long list that includes Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Mario Manningham, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, the Vikings would be able to address this position via free agency if they so desire. Some of those names may re-sign before they ever hit free agency, but on first blush it appears plenty of wide receiver talent will be available on the open market.
 
Offensive Line
First, the bad news. Charlie Johnson is most definitely not the answer at left tackle. Steve Hutchinson is getting older and less effective right before our eyes, and while he’s still slightly better than average at his position, the Vikings won’t be getting full value if they opt to continue to pay him his $6.7 million salary in 2012. Overall, the Vikings line has been just short of disastrous this season. Football Outsiders ranks the Vikes 15th in run blocking and dead last in pass blocking. Pro Football Focus is more optimistic – ranking Minnesota’s offensive line the #1 line in all of football in the running game, but 24th in pass protection.
 
John Sullivan has developed into a very good center this season, but he’s set to be a free agent and could command a huge pay raise to keep him on board. Given the state of the rest of their line, I’d expect the Vikings to sign him to a long-term deal. Right guard is not a position of strength, but it could be worse. While giving Anthony Herrera a long-term contract extension has proven to be the wrong move, veteran Joe Berger has proven surprisingly effective as his backup this season. It wouldn’t be a total disaster to bring both players back next year.  At right tackle, Phil Loadholt has shown talent at times, but remains maddeningly inconsistent. If you assume the team re-signs Sullivan and that Loadholt, who’s still young and promising, is safe at right tackle, it’s possible the team could have three new starters along the line.
 
If the Vikes land a top-2 draft pick, they’d be foolish not to take USC tackle Matt Kalil. He’s head-and-shoulders above any other offensive lineman in the draft and could step in at left tackle immediately. And since it’s very difficult to address that position in free agency (the best left tackles are so valuable they are almost always locked up with lucrative deals by whatever team drafted them), grabbing an anchor for Christian Ponder’s blind side for the next 8-10 years makes all the sense in the world. But if they’re not in the top-2, it’s not so clear cut. The other top-rated offensive linemen are Jonathan Martin of Stanford and Riley Reiff of Iowa, neither of whom project as stars. If Kalil is off the board, it may not be worth reaching for Martin or Reiff.
 
In the end, you can get by for another year with Hutchinson, Sullivan (if he re-signs), Herrera/Berger, and Loadholt, assuming you do something to upgrade at left tackle. It’s not a perfect situation by any means, but it’s not a total trainwreck either.
 
The Secondary
In my mind, this is the greatest area of need. Wide receiver can be addressed in other ways – either later in the draft or in free agency. The offensive line is a weak spot, but it’s not as if Ponder is being pummeled on every single play, and if indeed the team does bring back four of the five players along that line, consistency and familiarity is a huge aspect of good line play. But the secondary is a total and complete disaster from top to bottom.
 
The Vikes can’t possibly be depending on Chris Cook, who showed glimpses of promise prior to his off-the-field incident that has de-railed his entire career. Even if he stays off the police blotter, there’s no guarantee that he’ll turn into a consistent NFL performer. Antoine Winfield simply can’t be counted on to stay healthy any longer. He’s due $7 million in 2012, which is an awfully steep price to pay for five or six games. It’s possible they could move him to safety, but it’s also possible the Vikes will decide $7 million is too much to pay for him. Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen are both awful, and shouldn’t be retained. Neither is capable of being a starter in the NFL. At safety, I’m told the team likes Husain Abdullah. While I personally don’t see it, he’s probably still locked in as a starter in 2012, assuming Minnesota signs him (he played 2011 on a one-year, $1.8 million deal). Assuming Abdullah returns, that leaves gaping holes at three of the four secondary positions, and absolutely no depth whatsoever. 
 
Using the draft to eliminate one of the three open spots would be a wise move. While using a top-5 pick on a defensive back might seem high, most of the best corner backs in the NFL today were high draft picks. Among them are Darrelle Revis (14th overall in 2007), Nnamdi Asomugha (31st pick in 2003), Carlos Rogers (9th overall in 2005), Johnathan Joseph (24th pick in 2006), and Joe Haden (7th pick in 2010), while others like Champ Bailey (7th overall in 1999) and Charles Woodson (4th selection in 1998) have proven that elite, shutdown corners can also have long and productive careers. 
 
As luck would have it, the top of this year’s draft appears to be well-stocked with elite-level corner backs. At the top of most lists is LSU corner Morris Claiborne, ranked as high as the third-best player in the entire draft (by ESPN’s Todd McShay – ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranks Claiborne fifth). Others include Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard.
 
Given that the team must replace as many as four starters in their secondary (three if you assume Abdullah returns, two if you have the misguided belief that either Chris Cook or Antoine Winfield can stay on the field for any length of time), it’s the greatest area of need going into 2012 unless something unforeseen happens over the final five games of this season. 
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

VikesCentric: Stats (probably) don't lie - the offensive line is improving

Posted by: Updated: October 13, 2011 - 3:01 PM

Football doesn’t lend itself to “sophisticated” statistical analysis quite like baseball does. The entire game of baseball essentially boils down to a series of one-on-one confrontations (between pitcher and batter, for example, or fielder vs. ball), the outcome of which is easily measurable (a batter either gets a hit or he doesn’t, a hit is a single, a double, a triple, or a homer, etc.). In the NFL, there are 11 moving parts on both of sides of the ball that largely have to work in unison to make anything happen. There are no traditional statistics to measure the play of an offensive lineman, for example, or anything but the most rudimentary stats to measure the effectiveness of, say, a cornerback (interceptions and passes defensed don't tell the whole story).

There are, however, a couple of websites that have made inroads into the world of in-depth statistical analysis for the NFL. The two most prominent of these are Football Outsiders (FO) and Pro Football Focus (PFF). Others include KC Joyner’s work at ESPN and ESPN’s recently unveiled and shamelessly over-promoted Total QBR statistic. From time-to-time, I plan to use these sources (primarily FO and PFF) to enlighten you, trusty VikesCentric reader, on... well, anything that strikes my fancy as being more than passably interesting to Vikings fans.

An important caveat here is that there is a huge element of humanity involved in how both FO and PFF compile their advanced statistics. By that, I mean that they aren’t able to simply take “traditional” stats that are easy to measure, twist them up in impressively mathtastic ways, and spit out a new stat that more accurately describes an individual player’s performance (like a baseball sabermagician might do when referring to a pitcher’s FIP, for example). Instead, they have an army of presumably intelligent people that analyze every play of every game in extremely minute detail. This is referred to, generally, as game charting. And it’s not for the faint of heart. According to PFF, charting a single game takes roughly 16 hours. These people are intimately familiar with their televisions and the pause/rewind/slo-mo functions of their DVR remotes. And, as with any human endeavoer, it involves a certain amount of subjectivity on the part of the game charters. A play deemed successful by one charter may not necessarily be graded the same way by another, etc. In any case, after the charting is complete, FO and PFF have their own systems of grading the performance of, say, a cornerback or an offensive lineman.

Which brings me to a nice starting point; the Vikings offensive line, which by most accounts was expected to be a serious cause for concern coming into the season. While the results have been mixed – particularly in terms of pass protection – the game charters and math wizards would have us believe there are several notable trends emerging along the Purple’s offensive line:

1) Phil Loadholt is quietly becoming a very good right tackle.

2) John Sullivan isn’t as bad as you may have been lead to believe.

Let’s begin with Loadholt. According to PFF, Loadholt registered the highest single-game run-blocking score of his career during last week’s win over the Cardinals. Loadholt, matched up primarily with Pro Bowler Darnell Dockett, paved the way for the Vikings to average 7.0 yards per carry on runs to either side of Loadholt a week ago, and according to the ICSIWMOTE Index that I just made up (I Can See It With My Own Two Eyes Index), he threw key blocks on two of Peterson’s three touchdown runs. Loadholt was given a +3.8 rating for run blocking last week, bringing his yearly total to +9.4. Generally, a grade of 0 means a blocker did essentially what you’d expect the average NFL offensive lineman to do on any given play. A grade of +0.5 or +1 (up to a max of +2) is an indication that the player made “a positive intervention on the game” of varying degree, a negative grade means the opposite (a “negative intervention,” I suppose... soon to undoubtedly be coined a "T-Jack"). In the Loadholt example, you add up all the zeroes, positives, and negatives for every single play of last week’s game to eventually arrive at a total of +3.8. It’s science.

Putting it in a little more perspective, Loadholt’s cumulative +9.4 run blocking grade ranks first in the NFL through five weeks, well ahead of the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga and the Patriots’ Matt Light. If that hasn’t yet sunk in, according to smart people who watch every play of every game over and over and over (and over) again for up to 16 hours at a time, Phil Loadholt is the best run-blocking tackle in all of football. Even if you include guards and centers, Loadholt is still the No. 2 run-blocker in the NFL, according to PFF. Side note:  For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll conveniently overlook the fact that Loadholt has graded out at -9.7 in terms of pass blocking, due primarily to the fact that he allowed six quarterback pressures, a hit, and a sack in the come-from-ahead loss to the Lions three weeks ago. We’re talking about run blocking here, folks, not pass blocking.

The Football Outsiders tend to agree with this assessment. According to FO’s “adjusted line yards” stat (for a detailed description and to see the full rankings, click here, and consider yourself warned that it includes terms like “regression analysis,” “normalize,” and “move out of your mom’s basement already.”), the Vikings’ offensive line ranks third in the NFL on runs over right tackle, and eight in overall run blocking.

As for Sullivan, he’s also been noticeably better this year than he was during an injury-plagued 2010 campaign. Sullivan has graded out positively in the running game in all but one game thus far, and at a cumulative +4.4 for the season, he ranks as the No. 5 run-blocking center in the NFL. Last year, Sullivan earned a cumulative -7.9 grade, and only garnered positive rankings in five of the 14 games in which he played significant snaps. For the record, Loadholt came in at a whopping -14.3 in run blocking last season.

The idea of Sullivan and Loadholt creating running room can also be shown through an analysis of Adrian Peterson’s yardage gained by “rush direction.” PFF’s analysis shows that Peterson has gained 8.4 yards per carry on rushes between Sullivan and right guard Anthony Herrera, 4.7 per carry to the right of Herrera (and left of Loadholt), and 4.3 per carry over right tackle. As previously noted, FO ranks the Vikings as the third-best team in terms of runs over right tackle. And finally, if you’re looking for any additional corroboration from a more "traditional" source, Peterson's situational stat page on Yahoo indicates that he averages 5.9 yards per carry when running “right” and 5.7 when running “wide right”.

Another side note Jared Allen and Brian Robison migh find interestig heading into Week 6: The Bears' starting tackles from 2010 (and for most of 2011 after first-rounder Gabe Carimi got injured), D'Marcus Webb and Frank Omiyale ranked as the 77th- and 75th-worst tackles in the NFL last year (out of 78 that qualified for the ranking), according to PFF. In other words, with only one exception (Cardinals' revolving door Levi Brown, who finished 78th overall), neither of the two starting tackles for the Bears would have been good enough to start on any other team in the NFL.
 

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com, the 2011 Maple Street Press Vikings Annual, and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

VikesCentric: The error of their ways

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: September 20, 2011 - 11:28 AM

 

After watching five-plus months of dismal defense across town at Target Field, Minnesota sports fans have probably had their fill of errors from the hometown team. But the second half of the Vikings loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday played out like a Twins infield of Brian Buscher, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Todd Walker and Craig Kusick.

(Pardon the blatant cross-promotion but we're trying to create some synergy with our big brothers in the TwinsCentric crew. If VikesCentric can capture a even a fraction of their loyal audience in Upper Blogistan, we'll feast like kings on those crumbs.)

To wit: Beginning at 15:00 of the third quarter, here's a list of plays that left the purple-helmeted warriors a bit red in the face: 

  • 14:18 – OT Phil Loadholt jumps the snap, turning a 3rd-and-3 into 3rd-and-8
  • 13:10 – RB Adrian Peterson commits a holding penalty in pass protection (sure, it was kind of a shaky call, but we're not here to complain about the officials … today)
  • 12:02 – P Chris Kluwe hits a line-drive punt just 38 yards, allowing Preston Parker to return it 11 yards to the Vikings 44
  • 10:59 – After a two-play touchdown drive, Tampa Bay surprises the Vikings with an onside kick. LB Kenny Onatolu can't recover it. The Bucs can, and do.
  • 3:41 – DE Brian Robison jumps offside, negating a Vikings fumble recovery at the Tampa Bay 11
  • Fourth quarter, 7:07 – DE Jared Allen is flagged for roughing the passer
  • 6:39 – KR Lorenzo Booker decides to return a kickoff from six yards deep in his end zone and is stuffed at the Vikings 9
  • 4:19 – DE Everson Griffen jumps the snap on a Vikings punt, pushing them back 5 yards
  • 0:31 – KR Percy Harvin botches an eminently returnable kickoff, leaving the Vikings to start their last-gasp drive at their own 10

That's nine brain cramps in the span of two quarters. And we're not even talking about physical errors – incomplete passes, blown coverages, missed tackles – or Leslie Frazier's curious decision to hang onto three timeouts while the Bucs drove for the winning touchdown (as my colleague Christian Peterson so ably chronicled yesterday).

For instance, we've left out Tyrell Johnson's dropped interception that would have thwarted Tampa Bay's game-winning drive – tough play, maybe, but an NFL safety has to hang onto that ball. We're leaving out Donovan McNabb's many miscues – passes thrown at the feet of his targets, wide open receivers inexplicably ignored, another pass batted down at the line even though he's FOUR WHOLE INCHES taller than Doug Flutie!

We're leaving out those physical errors because every team commits physical errors – some more than others, sadly. But every team has to overcome physical errors. The difference between championship teams and teams that find themselves updating their draft boards two games into the season is the elimination of mental errors

Well, that and talent, I suppose. But when you're a talent-challenged team, you can ill afford to dig the hole even deeper by giving your opponents free yards and extra possessions.

Maybe we're overreacting a bit here – that's par for the course in the NFL, where you spend three hours playing a game and the next 165 hours (over-)analyzing it. But it sure looks like Leslie Frazier has more on his plate than a budding quarterback controversy in his first full season as head coach.

He'll need to exorcise the ghosts of Todd Walker at the Metrodome.

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, contributor to the Maple Street Press Vikings 2011 Annual (on newsstands now!), and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press.

 

You can follow Patrick on Twitter at @donnelly612.

 

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