Numbers Favor the Vikings in Washington -PurplePain
History has been very kind to Viking teams who have started as
strong as the 2012 squad has in their first five games. Prior to 2012, in 51 seasons of Minnesota
Viking football, the team has opened a season with a 4-1 record just seven
times (1969, 1970,1971, 1977, 1992, 1996 and 2004). In EVERY
one of those seasons, the Vikings reached the playoffs; advancing to the NFC
Championship Game in 1977 and to the Super Bowl in 1969.
This week, the Vikes will try to push their record to 5-1 at
FedEx Field in Washington. However, the
Vikings have proven to be an unreliable road team in the past decade, winning
just 31 of their past 85 road games (36.5%), and registering only 5 wins in
their last 20 attempts away from the Metrodome and TCF Bank Stadium. All those trends seem to become irrelevant
whenever they travel to D.C to play the Redskins. The all-tie series record shows the Vikings
winning 10 games and the Redskins victorious 11 times, but, Minnesota has won 7
of 11 games in Washington, and their last three contests at FedEx Field.
Even though the Vikings have won both games in Washington
under Head Coach Leslie Frazier, they will field a squad with a decidedly
different attitude and style of play on both sides of the ball than the
Redskins have seen in those contests. For example, Christian Ponder is expected to
take the majority of snaps at quarterback as opposed to 2010 starter Brett
Favre, and Joe Webb last year when he finished the game against Washington when
Ponder was injured.
The Vikings on
While Ponder struggled in his first season as a Viking
signal call, throwing as many interceptions (13) as touchdowns, this year he
has shown an ability to consistently move the offense and turn drives into
points. In fact, the Minnesota offense
has scored on 25 of 54 drives this season.
That success ratio becomes even more impressive when you discount the
drives where the Vikings were simply trying to run out the clock late in the
game versus San Francisco, Detroit and Tennessee.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the 2012 Viking offense is
the ability to sustain drives. While
most die-hard Viking fans will note that the offense seems predictable at
times, with a run, run, pass short and punt mentality, that style of play has
resulted in only 11 drives that were “3-and-Out” series this season. And, three of those short drives occurred clock-draining
mode to seal victories.
Why does all of this matter?
As a result of a more efficient offense, the Vikings rank 14th
in points scored this season.
Conversely, in 2011, the team lost several games by less than 7
points. For most of that season, the
Minnesota offense ranked in bottom quarter of all teams in points scored. Scoring just a few more times per game on
average this season, has resulted in a 4-1 record, as opposed to a 1-4 record
after the first 5 games of 2011.
Much of the improvement in the Viking offense can be
attributed to better execution of the offense designed by Offensive Coordinator
Bill Musgrave. Upon arriving in the
Twin Cities, Musgrave made it clear that the team would rely on the run, as
well as a ball-control pass game that focused on short passes to Percy Harvin, and
featuring the Tight Ends.
Adrian Peterson returns to the scene of his knee injury last
season, and appears near 100%, racking up 420 yards rushing on limited work,
and averaging 4.4 yards per carry. But,
the Redskins have seen little of Peterson the last two seasons, as Toby Gerhart
got the lion’s-share of the rushing attempts in both wins. Should the Redskins attempt to focus on
stopping Adrian, Musgrave will be sure to move to his short-passing game.
Ponder’s improved understanding of the offense, coupled with
much-improved pass blocking by his line, has increased his 2012 completion
percentage to 69%, while his passer rating has jumped to 95 from 70 last
season. Clearly, Percy Harvin is the
key target in the passing game. He has
caught 38 balls for 407 yards this season, versus 18 at this time last year for
just 177 yards. Ponder’s timing and
accuracy enables Harvin to quickly gather the ball and turn up-field for
Meanwhile, even though some fans are wondering where John
Carlson is in the offense, the tight ends are making a huge impact in
2012. Kyle Rudolph, Rhett Ellison and
Carlson have accounted for 23 catches and 205 yards. Comparatively, last season under the passing
leadership of Donovan McNabb, the Viking tight ends only had 13 catches after
five games. It remains to be seen
whether injured speedster Jerome Simpson will be able to play this week, but if
not, Ponder will look to stretch the field with deeper throws to Devin
Aromoshadu and Michael Jenkins.
The Vikings on
While the improved offensive performance helps the Vikings
move the ball more efficiently and put points on the board, the largest factor
in Minnesota’s surprising 4-1 start is the dramatically improved play of their
defense. Seemingly out of nowhere, a
more passive defense in the first two games of the season, literally changed
its personality 180 degrees since that time.
Starting with the upset win against the 49ers, first-year
Defensive Coordinator Alan Williams defense has become an aggressive,
ball-hawking and smothering unit. It is
as if, all of the sudden, the light went on, and the defenders knew their
assignments in the Tampa 2 defense. The
Viking defense has returned to it long tradition of stone-walling the run, as
they rank #6 against the rush, giving up a paltry 78.6 yards per game.
In past years, a stout run defense, meant teams
pass with relative ease against the soft zone defenses of the Vikings.
Not so in 2012. With Viking opponents often facing comeback
scenarios against Minnesota this season and being forced to throw, the
are only giving up 225 yards through the air per contest, and are ranked
respectable 15th against the pass.
The national media has rightfully singled-out the improved
play and hard-hitting style of the Viking safeties, but cornerbacks Antoine
Winfield, Josh Robinson and Chris Cook have also played much tighter in their
pass coverages. Such “press” coverage
has resulted in more passes knocked-way, forcing errant throws by quarterbacks,
and limiting the yards by receivers after the catch. Put simply, the Viking defense’s ability to
cover receivers and make sure tackles is getting opposing offenses off the
field with more regularity.
Combine the results against opposing offenses rushing and
passing attacks, and you will discover a Viking team defense that has improved
from 21st to 7th in total yards allowed, and have jumped
from 31st in points allowed in 2011, to 6th this season.
When you consider how different this Viking team is from
last season, the 4-1 record really should be no mystery at all.