Five Minnesota Vikings Questions with Bill Barnwell

Alrighty, folks, since we're stuck waiting until TOMORROW to watch the Beloved Purple win their first game of the season and everyone else gets to have fun today (well, except for Bronco and Raider fans), let me get something up here that I've had sitting in my inbox since before all of my hurricane-related fun and excitement got started.

Bill Barnwell is one of the Football Outsiders.  I'm a big fan of their site, as anyone that's come here for any length of time already knows, and they've really taken football statistical analysis to a higher level.  They're also the folks behind the Pro Football Prospectus, where they take the statistics they generate and apply them to the upcoming NFL season.  The 2008 PFP is probably on a shelf at a bookstore near you. . .but, as I've said before, you can get it for less than $15 if you grab it through Amazon.com.

I had the opportunity to send Mr. Barnwell five questions about the Minnesota Vikings and their 2008 prospects.  Here, now, are those questions and their answers.

Gonzo:  The Vikings made one major acquisition on each side of the ball during this past off-season, signing Bernard Berrian on offense and trading for Jared Allen just before the draft.  Whose effect on the team will be more profoundly felt. . .Allen's or Berrian's?  And, as an off-shoot from that question, which will improve the Vikings' offense more. . .acquiring Bernard Berrian or getting rid of Troy Williamson?

Bill Barnwell:  If they both stay healthy, Allen by far. Berrian isn't a #1 receiver. He's yet to put up a positive DVOA as a full-time starter, and although he hasn't played with a great quarterback, well...he won't be playing with one this year, either. Berrian's a downfield target that keeps safeties honest -- essentially, what Troy Williamson was supposed to be. He might catch those bombs that Williamson dropped, and that'll add a few extra scores, but he's not a great fit for the West Coast Offense -- he is neither the route-runner nor the middle-range technician that the team needs.

Allen, on the other hand, is an elite defensive end. He takes a situation that was an absolute weakness (Minnesota ranked 28th in our Adjusted Sack Rate statistic last year, which takes into account context and opponent) and turns it into a strength singlehandedly. Allen will suffer some from not having Tamba Hali across from him, but there's every reason to think that Allen also creates separation for the Williamses and should benefit from being single-teamed more frequently. Certainly, at the end of the year, I think Vikings fans will be much more excited about having Jared Allen in purple and gold.

I pretty much have the tendency to agree here, although I think a bit more highly of Bernard Berrian than Bill does.  We have a couple of route-running technicians in Bobby Wade and Sidney Rice.  What the offense lacks is a guy to get open downfield and not have the ball clang off of his face mask.

G:  Tarvaris Jackson was selected by the Vikings in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft.  In that same year, the Tennessee Titans drafted Vince Young #3 overall, and the Arizona Cardinals selected Matt Leinart with the 10th overall pick.  After two years of putting up fairly similar numbers, why are Young and Leinart still viewed by many as potential franchise quarterbacks while Jackson is largely seen as some schlub that barely belongs on an NFL roster?

BB:  Well, because they haven't played at the same level. Using our stat, DYAR, Leinart's averaged 18.16 DYAR per game, Young's averaged 8 DYAR per game, and Jackson's averaged... -2.75 DYAR per game, despite having a much better offense around him than either player. Now, granted, Jackson was way better in 2007 than 2006. He also had more DYAR and a higher DVOA than Eli Manning.

The bigger factor for us, though, in doubting Jackson's future is our Lewin Career Forecast for Jackson. One of our writers, Dave Lewin, has found that the two biggest indicators for a quarterback's success in the NFL are their games started in college and the player's completion percentage in those games. Jackson couldn't beat out Matt Jones (albeit with a shoulder injury) in college, and he completed 55% of his passes on the I-AA level. It's almost impossible to find a quarterback who succeeded with similar statistics in college.

Stats and forecasts be damned. . .right now, I'll take Tarvaris Jackson over either Vince Young OR Matt Leinart.  I may be the only person in America that thinks that way, and I'm fine with that.

G:  As someone who's a bit further removed from the situation than most of us Viking fans are, what do you think of what Brad Childress has done in Minnesota in his first two seasons?  He talked about how great the Vikings' job was when he took it, yet he's spent the past two seasons leading this team to records at or below .500.  Do you think he can get it done over the long term, or is this team just treading water under the tutelage of the man who once beat Gerald McRaney in a Gerald McRaney look-alike contest?

BB:  It's hard to detach Childress' performance from the new level of spending undertaken by Zygi Wilf. That being said, there are many good indicators. Childress has hit on both his first round picks. He hit on his biggest free agent signing; it was unheard of to offer a guard $49 million for seven years when Childress offered it to Hutchinson, but a year later, every free agent guard was getting that much, and Childress had already gathered the best. His obsession with Tarvaris Jackson might be his weakest point, but it's still up for debate whether that's going to be a failure or not. I don't see a coach who would've done a particularly better job with what he's been handed and/or working with player personnel to acquire the right guys.

Many Viking fans, including myself, have had a love/hate relationship with Brad Childress over the last couple of years.  I think that this season, however, Zygi Wilf's patience with Dr. Funke Major Dad Coach Childress will be rewarded.

G:  We've been made well aware that the Vikings were "ranked last against the pass" in 2006 and 2007 in terms of yards allowed.  However, anyone that's read Football Outsiders or the Pro Football Prospectus knows that you folks look beyond yardage numbers when determining how good or bad different units are.  So, has the Minnesota pass defense really been as bad over the past two seasons as many people are led to believe, and have you seen anything that would lead you to believe that there will be an improvement in 2008?

BB:  It's been slightly below-average. In 2006, it ranked 15th in the league; in 2007, it was down to 23rd. The thing that we stress is that the relationship between a secondary's ability to cover and a pass rush are symbiotic; take the Giants, for example. A great pass rush masked up the deficiencies of a mediocre secondary who, because of the rush, only had to cover for three, maybe four seconds on a good amount of plays. How long did Vikings' corners have to hold their coverage? Realistically, it's a longer period of time. Adding Allen will improve the secondary, even though he doesn't play there.

G:  The Vikings are a chic pick to make a lot of noise in the NFC in 2008.  In your view, what's the realistic best-case scenario for the Vikings?  How do you see them faring in terms of the NFC North, and the NFC as a whole?

BB:  I think the Vikings could win anywhere from six to 14 games and I wouldn't be surprised. Honest. There's a huge level of variance in their performance dependent upon the difficulty of their schedule (specifically the four games against Chicago and Green Bay) and how healthy they stay. Our book projects them to win 10.1 games, and that sounds just about right to me.

I would like to thank Mr. Barnwell for taking the time to answer these questions for me, and I apologize to him and to everybody else for taking so long to get them on the site.

Back with more as the afternoon progresses!

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