The consensus here at DN seems to be that OMGWENEEDASTARTINGLEFTTACKLE. I’ve been on that bandwagon before, and after watching Charlie Johnson stink it up game after game after game, I think it’s a pretty glaring need. But, I was looking over team stats and rankings for the offense and defense up to this point in the season, and I discovered some surprising statistics. For as bad as our offensive line has seemed, our offense is currently ranked 18th in yards per game with 327.5, 19th overall in points per game with 21, and 20th overall in plays from scrimmage with 878. We’re obviously not in the top half of the league in any of those measurables, but we’re far from the worst in the league. Our running game is better than our passing game, and to break up the components of our offense, it looks like this:
Yards Per Game: 142.7 (4th)
Average Yards Per Rush: 5.2 (1st)
Rushing TDs: 15 (5th)
Fumbles: 5 (10th)
Yards Per Game: 184.4 (28th)
Average Yards Per Pass: 6.4 (28th)
Sacks Allowed: 45 (29th)
Completion %: 56.2 (26th)
Passing TDs: 18 (16th)
Interceptions: 14 (17th)
Now it can be argued that Adrian Peterson makes our running game what it is, but you have to give some credit to the offensive line in opening up holes for both Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart to run through. We have a lot of room to improve in our passing game, and there are a variety of things to blame: rookie QB, injuries/lack of talent at the WR position, pass protection at the O-Line. We’ve discussed these deficiencies ad nausea here at DN. Regardless of the main reason(s), we need to improve in the passing game if we want our offense to be in the top half of the league next year. I am not going to argue with anyone that addressing our offensive line and wide receivers heading into next year is a big need for our team.
So, what about our defense? Is there anything surprising there? Well, our defense is ranked 28th overall in yards allowed per game, giving up 366.1, and dead last in points allowed per game, allowing 29 points per game. After ranking 8th last year in yards and 15th in points, and 6th and 23rd in 2009 respectively, I’d call that a regression. We’ve gotten used to having a solid defense in Minnesota going all the way back to Mike Tomlin’s tenure starting in 2006. Like I did with the offense, let’s look at the components of the defense a little more closely.
Yards Per Game: 105.6 (10th)
Average Yards per Play: 3.8 (6th)
Touchdowns Allowed: 10 (13th)
Forced Fumbles: 4 (24th)
Rushing Attempts per game: 27.9 (18th)
Yards Per Game: 260.4 (30th)
Yards Per Play: 8.3 (32nd)
Touchdowns Allowed: 31 (32nd)
Interceptions: 6 (32nd)
Passer Rating Against: 110.8 (32nd)
Passing Attempts per game: 33.7 (16th)
As you can plainly see, our rushing defense is decent, placing in the top ten of the league in yards, but still respectable in the other categories. We fail to force turnovers in our rushing defense, but the good sign is, our rush defense is still decent even though teams are running on us with a fair amount of regularity (27 times per game). Our passing defense however, is either dead last in the league or close to it in every measureable statistic. And it’s not even that teams are throwing on us a ton. Our pass defense is just that bad.
So, if we made no changes to the roster heading into next year, and we assume that Chris Cook gets over his legal troubles without any jail time and/or suspensions and is back with the team, then this is what our starting lineup would look like in the secondary:
It’s tough to grade those 5 guys as a group, because only 2 of them have been starting recently: Sanford and Griffin. And those 2 guys haven’t even played all 14 games thus far either. But, do we think this group of guys would dramatically improve the passing defense statistics if they were our starters again next season? Winfield is getting old, and injuries have nagged him the past few years. We simply can’t rely on him as an every week starter at CB anymore. Cedric Griffen looks done, leaving us with Chris Cook as the only viable option at CB. Cook has shown promise, but is he ready to step it up as a full-time starter at corner? With the exception of a few backups in Benny Sapp and Brandon Burton, that’s really all we have. Heading into the 2011 season the general consensus was that Abdullah and Sanford were the weak links in the secondary, and that an upgrade at the safety position was definitely a need. I don’t think that has changed one bit after watching both guys play this season. Compounding that is now a glaring need at CB.
So, that brings us back to the original question. Which is a bigger need for the Vikings heading into 2012, the offensive line (specifically Left Tackle) or the defensive secondary (specifically Cornerback)? I would argue that, looking at the team stats, our passing defense is by far the worst aspect of our team. We rank dead last in passing defense. Sure, we’re starting guys off the street in our secondary due to injuries, but the fact remains, we’re THE WORST IN THE NFL. We’re in the position we’re in, because we had average starters and no quality backups. While our passing offense isn’t great either, at least it’s not dead last (and we've dealt with a few injuries there too). While getting an elite left tackle to secure our offensive line for the next decade is certainly a high priority, what about shoring up our dead last in the NFL passing defense? Isn’t THAT a more pressing need? Now, whether or not an NFL prospect at the CB or S position is available when we draft in the top 6 is entirely beside the point. This post isn’t meant to be a discussion about what position we need to spend a 1st round draft pick on. It’s merely a discussion of what is the biggest need of our team. How we address that need is for another post. I think my views are pretty apparent here, but what do you think?