Anyone with two eyes and some basic football knowledge knows that Matt Kalil was not as good in 2013 as in his rookie season of 2012. Not as aggressive. Not as focused. Not as effective.
Kalil is trying to bounce back in 2014, and he may very well be successful in the end, but so far in preseason it doesn’t look good. The Kalil we saw this past weekend against Kansas City looked like a flat-out liability in pass protection, getting owned several times by the Chiefs’ Tamba Hali.
It doesn’t take a football expert to see that Kalil is struggling. But when making a point, it doesn’t hurt to have the opinions of football experts backing you up. That’s where a service like PFF comes in.
And that’s where things can get a little bit touchy.
The grading service PFF is being employed with ever-greater frequency these days not just by fans trying to win arguments on Twitter but by media people trying to back up their own observations with more in-depth stats and breakdowns. Most responsible media folks are quick to point out that PFF isn’t the last word but merely offers one more tool in the toolbox.
The value of the PFF grading tool is up for debate. There are some inside the world of NFL football who believe this particular tool isn’t worth nearly as much as some make it out to be. It just happens that Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner are among those who aren’t sold on PFF.
Zimmer made small waves in the media world Monday by calling out PFF and media people who use it without giving enough context. What made Zimmer’s remarks interesting was that they emerged suddenly and without prompting out of seeming thin air (via ESPN.com):
“The last thing I want to talk about before I let you guys go is this Pro Football Focus thing,” he said. “I know everybody wants to get the scoop on this, but quite honestly there’s not really anybody…I look at the grades and I can’t tell you what a 0.7 is or anything like that, but I know that the people grading our games and our defenses and our offenses, they don’t know if the tackle gets beat inside; if we weren’t sliding out to the nickel or who our guys are supposed to cover. I guarantee they don’t know who is in our blitz package and what they are supposed to do.
“We as coaches get paid a whole bunch of money to do the jobs that we do, evaluate the players that we evaluate and grade them how we grade them – and not based on someone else. That’s off my chest, go ahead.”
You can’t argue with Zimmer’s underlying point – that PFF’s breakdowns should be taken for what they are and not be treated like the last word – but it’s not so much what he said as how he said it. His remarks came so out of nowhere that you knew they must have been triggered by something specific.
What could have gotten Zimmer so worked up? We could only guess. Now, thanks to Zimmer’s crony Norv Turner, we don’t have to guess anymore. We know exactly why Vikings coaches are so hot under the collar about PFF.
It’s all about Matt Kalil.
After Kalil’s obviously bad game against Kansas City, PFF came out with a rather scathing breakdown of the left tackle, slapping him with a -3.6 pass protection grade. In case you’re not familiar with PFF’s grading system, -3.6 isn’t good.
Norv Turner took note of PFF’s poor grade and offered what amounted to a defense of Kalil, while adding to Zimmer’s own remarks about keeping PFF’s contributions in their proper perspective:
“I think [Matt] has been really good,” Turner said. “One of the things, um, when people try to evaluate our tape and not know what we’re doing — it doesn’t make any sense.”
“When you’re on the road, in a noise environment against that player he played against [Hali] the other night, that’s a challenge,” Turner said. “We didn’t give [Kalil] any help on purpose. One of the plays where we got pressure was not a good play call; we didn’t get a good combination route on so we ended up holding onto the ball too long.”
Turner’s extra context certainly helps the average fan to better understand what was really going on when Kalil was being pantsed by Tamba Hali. All the context in the world doesn’t change the fact that Kalil has been a below-average left tackle for a season-plus now.
Clearly, Kalil is suffering from some confidence issues. It’s understandable then that his coaches would stick up for him in the face of criticism both authoritative and not-so-authoritative. They know how important Kalil is and the last thing they want is for him to get down on himself.
Ultimately, Kalil may get back his form from 2012, and then he’ll be fine. In the meantime, it’s not against the law to point out where Kalil has come up short. It’s not against the law to cite PFF, who have established a firm reputation as solid, fair-minded and objective evaluators in their time on the planet.
It’s also not against the law to take into consideration any extra info the Vikings want to offer up about specific mitigating factors that might take some heat off a given player.
In the end, each of us has to trust our own judgment on this stuff. Some take multiple viewpoints into consideration when making such judgments, others just lap up whatever teams dish out, regurgitating PR spin and calculated coach-speak as their own opinions.
It’s all too complicated for any one person to truly grasp, whether that person be employed by a team or by a website or by no one. Believe it or not, coaches don’t know everything either. If they did, none of them would ever get fired.
Bottom line is, PFF isn’t going anywhere. People trust it, people use it. Going to war against PFF and the information they provide is an exercise in futility. This is a fight Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner would do well to let drop. They are not going to win.
And Matt Kalil still has issues. Sorry guys. Even us simple, non-PFF people can see that.