It’s not often we go to Deadspin for in-depth football analysis but today that’s exactly what we are doing. Well okay full disclosure: the actual data-crunching in the Deadspin piece I’m citing here was done by Football Outsiders, but the Deadspin people did put together the pretty charts. Hooray for visual aids!
This particular article is entitled Infographics: Where Does Your Team’s Offense Come From? What follows from there is a series of charts breaking down the offense of each team by position – quarterback, wide receivers, tight ends, running backs and offensive line run and pass blocking – using highly advanced mind-exploding analytical methods.
To put it in simple terms that even a mind as limited as mine can understand, each position is evaluated and given a number, either positive or negative, that reflects the performance of said position on a per-game basis, rated against the expected norm. It’s the old “value above replacement” bit that Sabermetricians love so much. Actually the exact stat the Deadspin people used in compiling their charts is something called Defense-Adjusted Yards Above Replacement or DYAR. A full explanation of this stat can be found on the Football Outsiders website.
Yeah I know, my head is beginning to hurt as well. Let’s just skip over the nerdiness and get to the main point here: when you look at the Vikings’ offense using these advanced metrics, you find out unsurprisingly that the Vikings’ offense isn’t very good. There are three specific areas where the Vikes are shown to be under-performing: quarterback, tight end and pass blocking. They rate out pretty well at receiver, running back and run blocking.
Here is the chart if you need the visual to help you really absorb this:
Woah, that circle for the tight ends is really big. Why is that? In this case it’s not a good thing. The bigger your red circle is, the worse you are in that area. As a matter of fact, the Vikings’ tight ends have the biggest red circle of any tight end unit in the NFL. If you combined the worst-rated units in the league into a single team, you would end up with this:
It’s not good to be in the same chart with the Jaguars’ quarterbacks and Ravens’ running backs.
I think we all realized, even before seeing this chart, that the Vikings were not exactly maximizing their tight ends in the passing game. But looking at the chart, especially that “worst units” one, really drives home the point. The Vikings just aren’t getting their tight ends involved enough.
It’s not simply a matter of John Carlson dragging down the entire unit either. Look closely at the numbers under the big circle and you’ll see that Carlson and Kyle Rudolph are performing at right around the same level. Rudolph grades out under this system at a minus 44 and Carlson at a minus 46. Basically they have been equally bad.
The question you have to ask is, why is this happening? How can a team with the Pro Bowl MVP at tight end be the worst in the league at that position? Is it simply a function of bad quarterback play? Is it the offensive coordinator’s fault? Is it a matter of the Vikings throwing the ball less than other teams and the tight ends not getting targeted just as a matter of course?
There are certainly multiple factors involved here. A big one has to be the way defenses are lining up against the Vikings. Because of Adrian Peterson, the Vikings see a lot of stacked boxes, which tends to clog up the middle of the field. If the Vikings had more going outside the hashes and deep down the field, we’d see less congestion over the middle, and Rudolph and Carlson would have more room to operate in there.
You can hang this partly on the quarterbacks, sure. But mostly it just comes down to the reality of how defenses scheme against the Vikings. This really isn’t going to change until the Vikes find that elusive downfield passing game, or discover some other means of throwing defenses off-balance (a dual-threat quarterback perhaps?).
In the meantime, I think there are things Bill Musgrave can do to help open things up a little bit and get more production out of his tight ends, especially Kyle Rudolph who is sadly becoming an afterthought in the Vikings’ offense. How about run Rudolph on more deep sideline routes? Get him out of all that traffic in the middle of the field, especially early in the game when teams are really loaded up to stop the run (of course the QB still has to deliver the ball, which is a whole other can of worms).
There must be something Musgrave can do schematically to help this situation. But putting it all on Musgrave would be unfair. The quarterbacks have to step up their performance as well. Christian Ponder has to stop with his one-read nonsense and let stuff develop a little bit. Rudolph and Carlson would get more action if Ponder would ever get to his second and third reads, but by the time they’re open he’s usually running around with a terrified look on his face.
As usual, when one area of a team is glaringly non-functional, it’s never on one person. Multiple people are responsible for the mess the offense has become. Rick Spielman will have to sort this all out in the offseason, and put people in these roles who can make it happen. The only thing I know with certainty is that Kyle Rudolph has the talent to be a star in this league, and if it doesn’t work out for him in Minnesota, it won’t be his fault.
Adrian Peterson isn’t the only top-notch player going to waste on the Vikings’ roster.