Mark Craig's Sunday Insider: Lack of pre-snap penalties a positive change

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 13, 2012 - 6:37 PM

It's the lack of pre-snap penalties (false starts, etc.) that have been a problem for the Vikings in years past.

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Christian Ponder lines up against the Detroit Lions.

Photo: Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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The Vikings offense is built around strength and intelligence.

The strength part is obvious nearly every time Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin or even Toby Gerhart touches the football for what's become the league's ninth-ranked rushing attack. But what about the brainy part of the equation?

Well, it's not a tell-all statistic, but pre-snap penalties -- such as false starts, illegal motion, illegal formation and illegal shifts -- are signs of players who aren't focused, aren't very smart, or both.

In coaching circles, the pre-snap penalty is the equivalent of missing a tap-in putt. They just shouldn't happen.

In that regard, the Vikings obviously have smiles throughout their coaching staff. Why? Because the Vikings lead the league in fewest pre-snap penalties with two.

Two.

They have one false start and one illegal motion. And that's it. The only other teams in the league with fewer than five pre-snap offensive penalties are Detroit (three) and Green Bay and Atlanta (four apiece). The Lions have two false starts, while the Packers and Falcons have three apiece.

"We are trying to adhere to what we want our identity to be as a football team," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said after the Vikings became relevant this year by pulling the NFL's upset of the season with a 24-13 win over the 49ers in Week 3.

"We want to be a smart football team, want to be a tough football team, want to be a disciplined football team. We have a lot of work ahead of us, there's no question about it, but we saw some things in that ballgame that gives us some hope that we're definitely headed in the right direction."

The Vikings haven't lost since. They're 4-1 entering Sunday's game at Washington.

As for penalties, well, only three of the teams that have played five games have fewer than the Vikings' total of 27. Atlanta, 5-0 and the team the Vikings offense is modeled after, has just 16 penalties. Carolina has 25, and the New York Giants have 26.

A year ago, the Vikings were 1-4 and had 38 penalties, including eight offensive pre-snap penalties. Having four times the pre-snap penalties needlessly stalled a lot of drives prematurely.

That's one reason this year's ball-control offense is working a lot better than last year's version. This year, the Vikings rank fourth in the league with nine drives that have lasted five minutes or longer. Eight of those drives have resulted in points, including four touchdowns.

The Vikings also rank eighth with 10 drives that have lasted 10 plays or longer. Nine of those have resulted in points, including four touchdowns.

A year ago, the Vikings had only 18 five-minute drives and 24 10-play drives the entire season. This year, they're on pace for 29 and 32, respectively.

Of course, overcoming pre-snap penalties isn't impossible. The Bears (4-1) have 14 of them, including 12 false starts by a jumpy front line that struggles to protect Jay Cutler.

The Cowboys are averaging a league-high four pre-snap penalties per game. They've had 16 of them, including 12 false starts, in just four games.

The Vikings, meanwhile, are on pace for just six pre-snap penalties for the season. That, of course, would require them maintaining the brainy part of their identity.

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Atlanta - LP: J. Teheran 2 FINAL
Philadelphia - WP: C. Hamels 9
Washington 0 FINAL
Miami 8
Boston 4 FINAL
Minnesota 4
Detroit 2 FINAL
Houston 3
Toronto - WP: C. Hynes 9 FINAL
Boston - LP: D. Hinojosa 7
Tampa Bay - WP: J. Norberto 3 FINAL
NY Yankees - LP: C. Whitley 0
St. Louis 5 FINAL
NY Mets 4
Los Angeles 4 FINAL
Kansas City 4
LA Angels 1 FINAL
Oakland 4
San Diego 8 FINAL
Chicago WSox 2
Chicago WSox 12 FINAL
Seattle 4
Cleveland 2 FINAL
San Francisco 5
Milwaukee 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs 11
Arizona 3 FINAL
Cincinnati 0
Texas 4 FINAL
Colorado 10
Pittsburgh 3 FINAL
Baltimore 3
Detroit 78 FINAL
Charlotte 102
Philadelphia 93 FINAL
Washington 106
San Antonio 103 FINAL
Orlando 91
Indiana 87 FINAL
Boston 100
Brooklyn 100 FINAL
New York 98
Chicago 91 FINAL
Milwaukee 95
Dallas 135 FINAL
Oklahoma City 131
Sacramento 111 FINAL
Houston 115
Toronto 113 FINAL
Minnesota 99
Denver 84 FINAL
Utah 98
LA Clippers 126 FINAL
Portland 122
New Orleans 113 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Toronto 3 FINAL
Buffalo 4
Philadelphia 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Edmonton 1 FINAL
Anaheim 5
Colorado 1 FINAL
San Jose 5
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ULM 62
UCLA 69 FINAL
Michigan 65
Temple 58 FINAL
West Virginia 66
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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